By Ron Mori
More than 40 million Americans are taking care of a loved one 50 or older. Approximately six in 10 of them are doing it while also trying to earn a living. I am not there yet, but I know that that day will come in the not-too-distant future. When the time comes, I will have to make lifestyle changes and navigate in unchartered waters.
Fortunately, I work with people at AARP who have been or currently are caregivers. Here are some helpful tips to consider.
- Ask your HR representative about your company policies and programs to support caregivers. Many companies have a plan in place to help employees find community services, counseling, respite care (https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2017/finding-respite-care.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-CLB-IL), legal and financial assistance and caregiver support groups. Others offer caregiving leave or flexible work arrangements.
- Employee assistance or your loved one’s insurance carrier might cover visits with a therapist specializing in caretaking or family issues. Sometimes one small thing can be a big help.
- Be prepared: Even within the same company, different managers may be more accommodating than other managers to your situation.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/), eligible workers are entitled to unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks per year without losing job security or health benefits in order to care for a spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition.
- Companies that employ fewer than 50 people are exempt from FMLA.
- To qualify, you must have worked for the company for at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months. Check with your HR department to see if you qualify. The company is required by law to tell you your rights under FMLA and, if you qualify, offer you leave. Employers may not threaten you or make your work life difficult because you requested a leave.
- You may take the 12 weeks of leave all at once or in pieces — for example, three days twice a month when a parent is receiving chemotherapy (https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/care-guides/cancer/?intcmp=AE-CAR-CLB-IL). When your leave is up, you must return to work to protect your job.
- Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), employees taking time off to care for a disabled parent or spouse are entitled to the same treatment as coworkers who take time off to care for disabled children.
- The ADA also gives you protection if you lose your job or are harassed.
- Some states have laws similar, but not identical, to the federal FMLA. They may provide different benefits.
If no law applies, your employer is not required to give you time off or make any accommodations.
Look Close to Home
Investigate and participate in your local caregiving community. An adult day care (https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/home-care/info-2017/adult-day-care.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-CLB-IL) program is good for socialization and structure, and it has activities designed to maintain or strengthen skills. It may help you to talk to others who are facing the same issues. You also may be able to find people with whom you can have a mutual backup agreement or share a part-time caregiver.
Talk to Your Manager
If you work for a small company with no HR department, make an appointment with your boss. Be upfront about your caregiving responsibilities from the start. Most bosses value good employees and will work to keep them.
- Don’t go in with the idea that there is a single answer.
- Present solutions that won’t cost the company money or time.
- Flextime and telecommuting (https://www.aarp.org/work/on-the-job/info-05-2013/is-teleworking-right-for-you.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-CLB-IL) are accepted practices in many offices.
- Employers may be more likely to agree if you suggest a trial period that could be continued if successful.
- Be ready to compromise. A flexible schedule might not be possible, but your company may be willing to change your schedule, let you work from home one day a week or pay for respite care when you travel for work.
- If your supervisor lets you work from home, make sure you are always accessible by phone and email. Respond quickly.
- Attend meetings from home by conference call or Skype. If Skyping, find a quiet room where you won’t be interrupted, and dress as you would at the office.
- Check in regularly to make sure the arrangement is working for all sides.
Manage your time efficiently (https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2017/scheduling-apps-ag.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-CLB-IL). Set priorities. Tackle the most important items first. When you are stretched between two obligations, it’s easy to forget something.
- Keep focused by using two to-do lists — one for caregiving and one for work.
- Put obligations for both caregiving and work on a single calendar.
- Delegate at work and at home.
- Finally, show appreciation to your co-workers.
Ron Mori is a member of the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.
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Caregiving: Important Numbers to Know
The following organizations, groups and agencies offer caregivers a variety of resources, ranging from support services and webinars to tip sheets, care guides and how-to videos.
AARP Family Caregiving
Find free care guides, legal checklists, care options and an online community that supports all types of family caregivers
www.alz.org | (800) 272-3900
Information and support for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. Operates a 24/7 helpline and offers care navigator tools
The government’s free information resource about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias
ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center
Find programs and services that allow caregivers to get a break from caring for a loved one
Caregiver Action Network
Formerly known as the National Family Caregivers Assn., provides information and education for family caregivers, including a volunteer support network in over 40 states
Community Resource Finder
Easy access to a comprehensive listing of Alzheimer’s and dementia resources, community programs and services
www.eldercare.gov | (800) 677-1116
Connects caregivers to local services and resources for older adults and adults with disabilities across the U.S.
Family Caregiver Alliance
www.caregiver.org | (800) 445-8106
Information, education and services for family caregivers, including the Family Care Navigator, a state-by-state list of services and assistance
Hospice Foundation of America
www.hospicefoundation.org | (800) 854-3402
Provides information on issues related to hospice and end-of-life care
www.medicare.gov | (800) Medicare
Provides information about the parts of Medicare, what’s new and how to find Medicare plans, facilities or providers.
National Alliance for Caregiving
A coalition of national organizations focused on family caregiving issues
National Institute on Aging Information Center
www.nia.nih.gov | (800) 222-2225
Research leader on aging issues; information on common age-related health problems
The National Clearinghouse for Long-term Care Information
Information and tools to plan for future long-term care needs
Social Security Administration
www.socialsecurity.gov | (800) 772-1213
Information on retirement and disability benefits, including how to sign up
State Health Insurance Assistance Program
A program that offers one-on-one insurance counseling and assistance to people with Medicare and their families
www.caregiver.va.gov | (855) 260-3274
Support and services for families caring for veterans. Maintains a VA caregiver support line
Well Spouse Assn.
www.wellspouse.org | (800) 838-0879
Provides support for spousal caregivers