How to Talk to Your Employer When You Are a Family Caregiver

Family caregivers who work full or part time know the struggle of having to balance the needs of their home responsibilities with a career. It’s very difficult, if not downright impossible, to fully manage the day in and day out demands of providing care at home and providing support at work – no matter what job you have. At some point, you may need to speak with your employer and ask for their understanding in finding creative ways to help you manage your dual work load. We recommend the following four steps to help guide you in asking for assistance.

1. Understand That You’re Not Alone

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that more than 21% of all U.S. households also shoulder the burden of family caregiving. The typical caregiver is a 46 year old woman that provides more than 20 hours of weekly care to her mother or other loved one. Roughly 37% of these caregivers responsible for someone aged 50 or older end up reducing their work hours or quitting their jobs entirely to meet the demands of their additional family-related responsibilities.

The Caregiver Action Network (CAN) takes it a step further, saying that 29% or 65 million Americans are currently providing care to a chronically ill, disabled or elderly family member or friend each year. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, this number is expected to increase in the United States.

Taking care of a loved one is a deeply personal experience, but it’s very important to understand that you are not alone in your struggles. You have one of the most challenging roles in a family situation; the fact that you still manage to function at a full or part-time job is astonishing. Like many caregivers, you probably are used to shouldering the majority of this burden yourself. When you’re ready, the CAN provides a number of resources for family caregivers. No matter how strong your own personal support network is, the next step may be to consider sharing your burden with your employer – and asking for their help.

2. Do Your Research

Before talking to your employer do your research. There are several federal laws that govern how employers should treat employees with caregiving responsibilities. Probably the most relevant to the working caregiver’s role is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

FMLA requires employers to allow employees unpaid leave from work for up to 12 weeks within a one-year timeframe for a family or medical reason. You cannot be fired during this time. Some of the circumstances covered under this legislation include:

  • The birth of a child or to care for a newborn
  • To transition into caring for a newly adopted or foster child
  • To care for a spouse, child or parent with severe illness
  • If you have a health condition that prohibits you from working
  • To care for or support a military service member

However, there are some frustrating loopholes in FMLA that you should be aware of. It’s estimated that this law does not cover 40% of the U.S. workforce, because it exempts business with 50 employees or less. It also leaves out those who were recently hired; you must work for your employer for at least 12 months before you can qualify. One last thing – remember FMLA isn’t a great safety net if you need the security of a regular paycheck. FMLA leave is unpaid leave.

Next, take a look at your employee handbook, if your company has one. If you work for a large company, you should be able to speak directly with a human resource manager to find out the details of what employee benefits can you take advantage of, including:

  • Personal time
  • Sick leave
  • Flex time, including telecommuting
  • Leave or job sharing
  • Mental health benefits
  • Employee assistance programs

Flextime, if you can manage it, can go a long way toward allowing you to be available at home, while still working.

3. Take a Walk in Your Employers Shoes

Before sitting down with your boss it might be helpful to try and understand your employer’s perspective. They’re under pressure to run a business. If it’s a small business, your absence could be even more keenly felt than in a large corporate department. A useful exercise might be to consider: What will be the cost of your absence and how will it affect the business?

If you’re willing to problem solve with your employer by finding creative ways to continue to support the business, they may appreciate your effort. Could you work from home one day per week? Could you delegate trade some of your job duties temporarily with someone else?

Prepare yourself for your meeting with your boss by jotting down some suggestions for ways to help the business accommodate your absence, or schedule change. Staying positive in your approach is important; stress how these changes may benefit your employer by helping you be more focused, or how job sharing will accomplish the same tasks more efficiently.

Too, think through how much you’re willing to share with your employer. Sometimes in these situations less may equal more – but it’s all about what you’re comfortable with. Stay patient during this process, and if you can, try to remain unemotional, even though this is difficult.

AARP has an excellent guide for employers struggling to support the employed family caregiver.

4. Communication is Key

Once you’ve established the change in your work schedule, whether it’s a reduction in time or use of full FMLA benefits, the ongoing communication you establish with your employer will be crucial going forward. Here is an excellent guide if you’re considering full leave from work under FMLA.

No matter what approach you decide, keep a clear head and do your research. Recognize that you're attempting to do the right thing for your family and your career. Taking care of yourself as you provide care to someone you love may not come easily to you, but you must try.

Make Time for Yourself

The relationships we have sustain us. We need them to survive, especially during the times when we think we can’t possibly maintain them because of other overwhelming responsibilities. Please take the time to care for yourself and make sure that you maintain your relationships because chances are you’ll need them to help you. Just as you help others. 

We provide respite care services for those times when you need to take a break. We also offer free home care assessment, consultation, and the first 3 hours are on us if you book 10 or more hours.

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