Novak, who was never able to find steady employment after the firing, is attempting a career change: She's in nursing school.
"If I had to do it all over again I would do it the same way," she says. "But what I wish is that I had known that the FMLA doesn't cover grandparents or daughters who are over 18."
Understanding your rights
Confusion over the law is a big part of the problem, says Ellen Bravo, executive director of the Family Values @ Work consortium. "There are two sides to this," she says. "One is the rights people have that they don't know they have, and [the other is] how to educate both employers and workers on what these are."
Grandparents can be protected under the FMLA if they are acting in loco parentis, which means you are responsible for the day-to-day responsibilities to care for and financially support the child, even if you are not a legal guardian, says Sharyn Tejani, director of workplace fairness at the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Also, Oregon, Hawaii and the District of Columbia have more generous FMLA policies that specifically cover grandparents caring for grandchildren. In addition, Maine, Oregon, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia have laws that would make it easier to care for an adult child in situations such as after the birth of a child.
If you find yourself needing time off to care for a grandchild, Tejani recommends talking with your supervisor to find out what your employer's policies are regarding FMLA leave.
"Find out what timelines they have, what deadlines they have," Tejani says. "You might have to do things like hand in a certification form, hand in a medical form. If you can't meet those deadlines, you have to keep your employer apprised of your efforts to meet those deadlines."
If an emergency occurs, inform your employer as soon as possible of your need for time off. "You've got a million things on your plate, and the last thing you're thinking of is pulling yourself together and calling work," says Tejani. "But communication is absolutely key."
You also have to ensure that your employer offers FMLA leave — only companies with more than 50 employees have to — and that you're entitled to it. The federal guidelines state that you need to have worked for the company for at least a year, and worked at least 1,250 hours in the last year, to qualify.