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What Working Caregivers Must Know

Learn best strategies for dealing with your employer and what rights you have

* Other federal laws, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), may help you as well. Your employer can't treat you differently if you're caring for someone with a disability covered under ADA. That means if the boss allows coworkers to take time off to care for their kids, they have to let you do the same with your disabled parent. The ADA also gives you protection if you lose your job or are harassed. And know that different treatment of men and women in the workplace is gender discrimination prohibited by federal and state laws.

The U.S. Department of Labor, legal aid organizations and other advocacy resources such as the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law Hotline (415-703-8276) can help you with your discrimination questions.

What if you don't qualify for FMLA or other laws? If no law applies, your employer does not have to give you time off or make any accommodations. That makes it all the more important to sit down and have a conversation with your boss and find solutions that will work for all parties.

Start by offering solutions. If you must take a parent or spouse to the doctor, schedule appointments early in the morning or at the end of the day and suggest making up the time on either end, at night or on weekends. Can you telecommute on days when you're needed at home most, or perhaps once a week? Flextime and telecommuting are becoming more common in the workplace.

"Employers don't want the lost productivity, disruption, poor morale or turnover that comes from conflicts with workers," says David Rosenthal, a Boston labor and employment lawyer. "They just want to know that the work will get done. Most bosses will find a way to keep good employees."

Most of all, communicate, and be prepared to compromise.

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