I was very lucky to be working as a therapist in private practice when I was a caregiver for my father. My work schedule was and is completely at my discretion. I never had to worry about conflicts with bosses and co-workers over the time I spent helping Dad. I was safe from worries about being laid off or fired because of the time I spent on caregiving.
These are serious worries that many caregivers do have. Our healthcare system depends heavily on unpaid family caregiving for the elderly. But unless an employee works for an employer covered by state or Federal law, jobs are at risk when workers need to take time off to respond to an emergency or attend to medical needs of their loved one.
While I did not worry about losing my job because of absenteeism, I was among the many millions of caregivers who experience a loss of income as a direct result of caregiving tasks. A recent MetLife study reports that the lost income of caregivers over the past 15 years amounts to $3 trillion. That’s a lot of zeros. I personally lost 25% of my income per year at the height of my caregiving years.
When people worry about tax increases to provide services for caregiving, they may not consider that the enormous costs are going to be borne one way or another. Nor do they take into account the ongoing costs in the years after a loved one has died resulting from the considerable physical and emotional stress of caregiving on family members.
Some workers are fortunate to qualify for a modicum of relief through the Federal law called the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or through similar state laws. Under the Federal law caregivers may qualify for 12 weeks annually of unpaid leave under certain circumstances.
There are many flaws in this law. For instance, it covers caregiving for specifically identified family members. These identified family members do not include in laws or siblings. Also, 12 weeks is generous if a caregiver is taking time off to help a spouse, child or parent with post-op care or recovery from a broken bone, but not nearly enough time to give consistent care to an elder with many needs and multiple chronic health problems.
Employers covered by this law sometimes are not particularly helpful in letting employees know that they may be eligible for leave or supportive of them taking it. Now there is an on-line FMLA Eligibility Widget that will give you information on your eligibility before you approach your employer.
Answer a few straightforward questions about your situation, and you will soon have an email outlining whether or not you may be eligible and why. There is also helpful advice on preparing a leave request letter and support for applicants who run into snags in the process.