Being a caregiver is not an easy responsibility for anyone. When you mix in other important life responsibilities like your job, caring for an elderly parent or family member becomes a tricky balancing act—it might be difficult to meet tight weekly deadlines when you have to drive Dad to regular doctor’s appointments. You do have rights you’re entitled to as a working caregiver, but only a few, and not as many as you might think.
The most important thing to remember as caregiver is communication. Communicate to your boss or the Human Resources department at your workplace and let them know what your situation is, what your needs are and when you’re struggling. People are more likely to be flexible if you are upfront and honest about your concerns from the start.
In conversation with your boss or HR representative, you will likely hear about two options available to you. The first option is the Family Medical Leave Act, or the FMLA. If you qualify, the FMLA will provide you with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for you to take care of a family member. This time does not have to be taken all at once, and can be split between separate doctors appointments, surgeries and hospital stays. However, this act only applies to places of work with 50 or more employees, and you must have worked at the company for at least 12 months. After you’ve used the 12 weeks of leave, you must return to work to secure your job.
The second law that applies to you as a working caregiver is the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, if you’re caring for someone with a disability covered by the act, your employer cannot treat you any differently than a person they might allow to go take care of their children. The act protects you from workplace harassment and secures your job. It is also important to note that discrimination of the application of this law between men and women is against federal law.
In the event that neither of these laws apply to your situation, offer up solutions or ideas to make your work-life balance easier. You can include this in the conversation with your boss or HR, and they will likely have a few ideas to offer as well. One good idea is to try to schedule medical appointments at either the beginning or end of the day, or to choose slower days with a less-packed work calendar. You may also offer to telecommute from home or from waiting rooms.
Managers want to keep productivity high, and the most important way to show them you are capable of balancing caregiving and work is to not let your performance slip. Aim to complete the same amount of work you did before you became a caregiver, but be realistic about when and where you can do the work. Above all, be sure to communicate and compromise.