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What You Need to Know About Caregiver Rights

Caregiving can present many potential challenges. Along with caring for your aging parent, you likely have to balance other responsibilities, including your job. This can be one of the most difficult things that caregivers face. After all, you not only have to decide what you need from your job and what you can realistically give, but you also have to communicate this to your employer. Fortunately, there are certain laws in place to protect caregiver rights. These laws have their limitations, but a basic understanding of the caregiver rights legally afforded to you can help you make better decisions when it comes to approaching your employer.

Your Legal Rights

The primary law that comes into play for caregivers is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave to provide for an immediate family member. Under this law, your job is also guaranteed to be waiting for you at the end of the 12 weeks. This time can be taken all at once or spaced out as needed. Unfortunately, not all companies are required to adhere to the FMLA. The company must have at least 50 employees, and you're required to have worked there for at least one year, accruing a certain number of hours.

Depending on your exact situation, you may be guaranteed some protection by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law doesn't offer you any time off but does require that your employer gives you the same amount of time off that they give to other employees who have family responsibilities. It also gives you protection if you lose your job or feel harassed.

Some states also have their own laws that may help you. Check your state government site for information.

Talking to Your Boss

Sadly, if there is no law in place that helps you, your boss is not required to give your situation any special consideration. Therefore, when you approach them, it's best to have a plan. How much time do you need for your caregiving? Is it a short-term circumstance that could be taken care of over one break or do you need to adjust your work schedule altogether? Could you take advantage of the recent trends of flextime or telecommuting so that you can see through both your caregiving and workplace responsibilities? Have an open-minded conversation to make a plan.

Why You Need to Speak Up

Regardless of how long you've been caregiving or the exact circumstances involved, you've likely felt an increased demand in terms of your time and energy. Often, this can lead to a condition called caregiver stress or caregiver burnout. Although it frequently goes unrecognized, caregiver stress is characterized by:

  • Denial regarding the severity of the situation
  • Anger
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep disruption
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Physical health problems

Considering that most caretakers invest about 20 hours each week in taking care of their loved one in addition to their regular employment, this stress is not really surprising. At the same time, the average yearly out-of-pocket expense for caregiving was $5,531 in 2007, according to an AARP report. So for many, maintaining steady work is vital.

Although it can be an intimidating conversation to have, the truth is that employers usually don't want to deal with the stress and expense associated with losing a good employee. If you can offer a solution and are willing to discuss things openly, many employers will do what it takes to support your situation. As a caregiver, you have the right to find a balance that works for you.

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