What to know about employee benefits and the law
About 41 million Americans are serving as a caregiver for a loved one, and about 6 in 10 of them are doing so while also trying to earn a living.
Many working caregivers report health problems, depression, and lost time and lower productivity at work. If you're taking care of an aging or ailing family member, you may also find that you have cut back on community involvement and are spending less time with other loved ones and friends.
If you are frequently distracted at work, emotionally drained and physically exhausted, consider the following steps to find workplace solutions and build a caregiving support network.
Workplace benefits for caregivers
"We need people to know what their rights are under the law, and we need companies to change their culture, because companies can always be more generous than the law,” says Ellen Bravo, the co-director of Family Values @ Work, an organization that advocates for family-friendly workplace policies.
Meet with your manager or human resources representative to discuss the policies and resources available to you. These might include:
Understanding the Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles certain workers to take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks per year, without losing job security or health benefits, to care for a spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition. FMLA does not cover leave taken to care for in-laws.
Am I eligible for FMLA leave? You are covered by FMLA if you work in the public sector, or for a company or organization that employs at least 50 people who work within 75 miles of your work site. You must have worked for that employer for at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months — about 24 hours a week. The U.S. Department of Labor's Family and Medical Leave Act Employee Guide can help you determine your eligibility.
How do I request FMLA leave? Notify your employer as soon as possible. If the need for leave is “foreseeable” — for instance, taking time off to care for a loved one after a scheduled surgery — 30 days’ notice is required.
What can I expect? Your employer is required by law to tell you your rights under FMLA and, if you qualify, to offer you leave. You may be asked to submit certification paperwork that includes confirmation from a health care provider of your loved one's condition and need for care. Employers may not threaten you or make your work life difficult because you requested leave.
Do I have to use all 12 weeks consecutively? You may take the 12 weeks of leave all at once or intermittently — for example, three days twice a month when a parent is receiving chemotherapy. Generally speaking, paid time off used for caregiving leave that is also FMLA-eligible counts toward your annual 12-week entitlement.
What about state caregiving laws? As of September 2019, four states offer paid time off for caregivers through family-leave insurance programs. Five other states and the District of Columbia have approved similar legislation that will go into effect between 2020 and 2023. It is your employer's responsibility to comply with all applicable laws, whether your leave qualifies for both state and FMLA leave or just one or the other.
Building a caregiving community
Connecting with other caregivers can help you share resources and talk to those facing the same issues.
Working caregiver? Make a plan
When it comes to caring for an aging loved one, most families don't have a plan until there is a problem. But as many working caregivers have discovered, the stress of making caregiving arrangements in crisis mode can be overwhelming.
AARP's Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Families, is a step-by-step guide for creating a caregiving plan in advance. Even if you have been a caregiver for years, the guide can help you get support and stay organized. Tell your employer about it!
Editor’s note: This article, originally published in October 2019, has been updated with information from a November 2019 report by the AARP Public Policy Institute on the economic value of family caregiving.
AARP was founded in 1958 and has over 38 million members. It is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for people over the age of 50. AARP is well-known for its advocacy efforts, providing its members with important information, products and services that enhance quality of life as they age. They also promote community service and keep members and the public informed on issues relating to the over 50 age group.