do i have to choose between my sick relative and my career?

We step into the caregiving role not knowing much about what it will entail and how our lives will change.

Typically we find our world shift to an unfamiliar ground. It’s incredibly difficult to remain a full-time employee when you are just finding your footing as a primary caregiver. Many caregivers quit their jobs for home-care, surrendering their main source of income. Others might be able to work from home. A staggering “73% of family caregivers who care for someone over the age of 18 either work or have worked while providing care; 66% have had to make some adjustments to their work life, from reporting late to work to giving up work entirely; and 1 in 5 family caregivers have had to take a leave of absence.” Caregiving in the United States; National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP. November 2009. These changes can result in stress, job-insecurity and resentment from both employer and employees. But it shouldn’t.

The reality is the demographics of the workforces are changing, facing new struggles and the only option is for the workplace to adjust. Fifty years ago, there was typically one worker in a family but now 70% of American children live in households where all adults are employed. A caregiver doesn’t have the option to forgo a job and risk financial instability, especially in the current economic climate. As the number of caregivers rises beyond 65 million Americans, our nation and treatment of its workforce compels change.

Fortunately, in the last two decades Congress has become aware of the ever-increasing number of caregivers in the U.S. and has attempted to create a balance in the workplace.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 allows eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave so that the employee may care for an ill loved one. Eligibility is contingent on the employer’s coverage, the length of time the employee has worked at the company, and the number of employees at the company. An employee is permitted a leave of absence to care for a spouse, son, daughter or parent with a serious health condition. The leave granted to veterans’ caregivers is slightly longer. Caregivers might be able to take FMLA leave discontinuously, allowing them to adjust their workweek schedule to fewer hours or taking leave in intermittent periods of time. For long-term caregivers, this allowance is extremely helpful.

Entitlement to leave is also based on the relationship of patient and employee as well as the type of health condition requiring care. A “serious health condition” is defined by “illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition” that necessitates either inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. For the full list of “continuing treatment scenarios, click here.” The patient must be a spouse, child or parent, or have an in loco parentis relationship with the employee. This means that you are eligible to time off to care for someone who was the primary caretaker for you when you were younger, regardless of legal or biological connection. You are also entitled to take a leave of absence to care for a child with whom you are in loco parentis.

While on leave, your job is protected.

Not only does your employer have to restore you to your original job (or one with equivalent pay and benefits) but also the employer cannot count your leave of absence against you in any way. Unfortunately, many caregivers have faced discrimination in the workplace based on employers’ bias. No doubt due to the changing workforce and the workplace’s inability to adapt, Family Responsibilities Discrimination lawsuits has increased almost 400% in the past decade (Family Responsibilities Discrimination: Litigation Update 2010 by Cynthia Thomas Calvert, The Center for WorkLife Law).

Employers doubt caregivers will be as committed to their work as their non-caregiver colleagues and let that prejudice affect the way they treat their caregiver employees. For example, one man was told that “he would be ‘cutting his own throat’ if he took time off to care for his ill father.” In fact, “…some employees have brought claims related to leave requests to take care of their own health problems caused by the stress of being a caregiver…” but were denied by their employer. The Family Responsibilities Discrimination: Litigation Update 2010 serves as a warning to employers. If a bias towards family caregivers impacts treatment towards employees, employers will lose trained, valuable and talented personnel.

As humans we have a duty to treat all of our fellows equally, caregivers included!

Stay updated: Take a look at the new FMLA guide and how the rights of caregivers in the workplace have become clearer.
Written by Alexandra Axel
Alexandra Axel was the first founding staff member at The Caregiver Space. As a New York native, Allie grew up people-watching and story-collecting, eventually pursuing her undergraduate degree from The College of New Jersey in sociology and creative writing. At The Caregiver Space, she worked with social media, graphic design, blogging, and program development to brand and grow an online community composed of, and focused on, caregivers. From the seedlings of an idea to the thriving community that it is today, Allie was there from the beginning to support the evolution of The Caregiver Space. Allie enjoys writing poetry and short fiction, devouring books, biking, crafting, urban agriculture and imperfectly cooking. She currently resides in Brooklyn with her pup, Hen.

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  1. Some states like NJ you get 6weeks paid leave out of the 12 weeks federal allows note to the wise make sure you’ve used up your vacation days first as according to the law your employer can force you to use vacation days first then get remaining 6weeks paid

  2. I can’t afford not to work. It would be better if we had some kind of paid leave. I keep a bank of paid time off, which means I only take off from work when I have to. This way, I have paid leave when I need it.

    • I did the same thing, banked some sick-dependent care. Never enough time. I had to work to help pay for a full-time caregiver for my Mommy. It took a full time caregiver, my sister and I to care for one beautiful, loving dementia patient. It took my Mommy’s income and some of my income and my sister, to get it done. I used paid leave for emergency, but caregivers could use so much exemptions, a way to help pay for outside caregiving for stay at home. I had the option to take FMLA, and my postmaster and fellow employees were wonderful and supportive when it came to my Mommy. For some FMLA doesn’t pay as much as if you are working. For some of us, we have to work!!!

    • Lucy Cordova We all struggle with this and I am so glad to see that you had the support of your sister. I know that made a huge difference. Some work environments are also more understanding than others. We just do our best for our loved one.

    • Yes a blessing to have support. The journey is tough, I could not imagine going alone, I pray you have some support Anna

  3. I quit my job 10 yrs ago, to stay home 247, care for my husband, he had a Cardiac Arrest, TBI Short Term Memory Loss, now i have Depression and anxiety, from staying home


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