When you're a caregiver, you're likely to run into situations that collide with your work responsibilities, such as appointments in the middle of the workday. Or those nightmare calls: Dad just had a heart attack and you have to leave the office now. Or Mom needs chemo twice a week — treatment times not dictated by your schedule. And guess what? There's no one else to take her.
Wouldn't it be great if your boss just said, "Whatever you need to do — no problem"? Some will, but not all.
What are the best strategies for dealing with your employer, and what are your rights as a caregiver?
"Employees caring for elders have shockingly few rights," says Joan C. Williams, founder of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law and coauthor of AARP's new report "Protecting Family Caregivers From Employment Discrimination."
You may have legal rights. Or not. Regardless, you'll need to find a way to meet both your personal commitments and your employer's work needs. Here's what you need to know:
* Find out if you qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law that gives an employee 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of an immediate family member. It also protects your job when you return to work at the end of your leave. The hitch: Not all companies are covered. They must have 50 or more employees, and you need to have worked for the company for at least 12 months, logging a certain number of hours. You can take your leave all at once or in intermittent intervals that add up to 12 weeks. At the end of your leave, you must return to work to protect your job.
FMLA prohibits employers from threatening you ("If you take time off, there won't be a job for you when you come back") or making your work life more difficult because you requested a leave.
* Some states have laws that are similar, but not identical, to the federal FMLA and that may give you different benefits. Your first step should be contacting your human resources department, which is required by law to tell you your rights and to offer you leave if you qualify.