Michelle Chaffee is an ovarian cancer survivor and a member of the MOCA Board of Directors. She is the founder of alska, a caregiving technology solution she created as an extension of her professional patient advocacy service. As a caregiver, healthcare professional and, most recently, a patient herself, she is passionate about educating and empowering individuals with the tools and resources they need.
MOCA has asked Michelle to weigh in on a variety of topics related to caregiving over the next several months. Have a question about caregiving or patient advocacy for Michelle? Email us.
Nearly one in six American workers provide care to a loved one and that number is expected to grow. If you’re a working caregiver, you know that staying productive and maintaining your obligations at work while caring for a loved one can be hard.
It would be great if every employer had corporate policies in place as well as support for their working employees. Unfortunately, that is not the case. So, it’s important to know what rights and options you have while struggling with the challenges of caregiving.
Laws Working Caregivers Should Know
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that ensures your job is protected if you have to take time off to care for an immediate family member. It doesn’t require your employer to pay you during your time off but at least you won’t have the added stress of finding employment when you are ready to return to work. To qualify, your employer has to have at least 50 employees and you must have been at the company for at least 12 months. The law also states your employer can’t discriminate against you for leaving to care for a loved one. This includes pressuring you to return to work, threatening your job if you take time off for caregiving and not considering you for promotions because you are a caregiver.
The Americans With Disabilities ActThe ADA is another federal protection you should know if you are caring for a loved one with a disability. Your employer can’t discriminate against you for caring for a loved one with a disability. While it doesn’t address or ensure your job is waiting for you if you must take time off work to care for a disabled family member, FMLA is likely to cover any gaps the Disability Act creates.
How Equal Opportunity Applies To Caregivers
Employers should be aware of discriminatory activity that falls under Equal Opportunity Employment laws. While they are not specific to caregivers, they still apply. Some examples are:
- assuming that female workers’ caregiving responsibilities will interfere with their ability to succeed in a fast-paced environment
- assuming that female workers who work part-time or take advantage of flexible work arrangements are less committed to their jobs than full-time employee.
- assuming that male workers do not, or should not, have significant caregiving responsibilities.
- assuming that female workers prefer, or should prefer, to spend time with their families rather than time at work
- assuming that workers who are caregivers are less capable than other workers.
- asking female applicants and employees, but not male applicants and employees, about their child care responsibilities.
- making stereotypical comments about pregnant workers or female caregivers.
- treating workers without caregiving responsibilities more favorably than female caregivers.
- steering workers with caregiving responsibilities to less prestigious or lower-paid positions
- treating workers who have caregiving responsibilities differently than other workers with caregiving responsibilities due to gender, race and/or national origin-based stereotypes.
- treating male workers with caregiving responsibilities more, or less, favorably than female workers with caregiving responsibilities.
- denying male workers’, but not female workers’, requests for leave related to caregiving responsibilities.
The Changing Understanding of Employers
Employers are starting to understand that the number of their employees who are also caregivers is growing and that supporting those workers makes sense for everyone involved. If you are a working caregiver, a good place to start is with an honest conversation with your employer. Tell them about your caregiving responsibilities and ask if there are any accommodations that can be made such as flexible work hours, telecommuting or job sharing.
While you may be hesitant to have your employer know you are being pulled in many directions, making your desire to continue to excel at your job known, should go a long way in creating a situation that is favorable to both you and your employer.
Encourage them to offer solutions and support for the other working caregivers in the organization. Tools like educational events and caregiver support groups are steps in the right direction for any employer.
Michelle Chaffee Founder & CEO alska