For caregivers of loved ones living with disabilities, meeting the demands of your professional life while carrying out the responsibilities of caregiving can be immensely challenging.
Depending on your situation, you may qualify for an extended leave from work that will allow you to keep your job while you focus your time on caring for your loved one.
What Is FMLA?
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that may protect your right to unpaid leave to care for a family member. The law, established in 1993, applies to private employers with at least 50 workers. For employees whose spouses, children, and parents have severe health conditions, the FMLA allows up to 12 work weeks of leave within a year. Twenty-four work weeks of unpaid leave are available for those caring for active service members.
Under the FMLA, employers cannot fire employees because they took leave, protecting employees’ right to leave work when certain family members become severely ill.
As a caregiver, you play a crucial role in your family as you support your loved ones, but caregiving responsibilities can conflict with work commitments. The FMLA can help employees balance their responsibilities.
Is FMLA Paid?
FMLA is typically unpaid leave. However, it allows you to hold on to your job while also requiring your employer to continue your health benefits while you are on leave.
What Conditions Qualify for FMLA Leave?
Employees who qualify for FMLA can use this type of leave in a number of different circumstances, including if they are having a baby, adopting a child, donating an organ, or suffering from a severe health problem. For those who are caring for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, FMLA may also be an option.
In addition, employees with a child who is unable to care for themselves due to a disability may be able to take advantage of FMLA leave. Under FMLA, “disability” is defined as “conditions that substantially limit one or more major life activities or bodily functions.” In certain cases, such conditions may include such health issues as epilepsy, asthma, diabetes, or cancer that is in remission.
The U.S. Department of Labor launched a new series of webpages over the past year to help people understand their rights under the FMLA. The webpage is a useful resource for caregivers, providing a library of guides, frequently asked questions, and fact sheets. One such fact sheet details the criteria for using FMLA leave to care for a child with a disability. Another focuses on taking leave when a family member has endured a serious injury, illness, or other physical or mental condition that has left them incapacitated.
How the FMLA Resource Helps Family Caregivers
The Department of Labor’s dedicated family caregiver webpage addresses several challenges you could face.
- Being away from work can pose challenges for the caregiver’s career. Some employers are not supportive of employees who take FMLA leave, and employees may face illegal workplace retaliation.
- In addition to work obligations, many caregivers have multiple roles at home. For instance, an individual might need to care for a sick parent as well as their own children.
- Caring for a loved one with a severe health condition can take an emotional toll, and caregivers might feel overwhelmed.
- Those caring for older adults might need help finding elder care services.
Information Related to the Family and Medical Leave Act and Caregiving
The U.S. Department of Labor webpage supplies information to help you navigate the workplace while also caring for a loved one.
Available information includes:
- Speaking with an employer about taking leave
- Taking leave when a family member has a serious health condition
- Utilizing FMLA for a parent of a child with a disability
- Using military family leave
- Leaving to care for a parent or other past caretaker
- Proving that you have a severe health condition
- Filing a complaint against an employer, such as a complaint for retaliation
- Accessing caregiver resources
- Locating a nursing home, assisted living facility, or other care
- Finding services for veterans
- Identifying state agencies where individuals can learn about their rights and apply for benefits
Know Your Rights: Consult With an Attorney
In addition to reviewing the U.S. Department of Labor webpage, speak with an attorney if you are contemplating taking FMLA leave. A special needs planning lawyer can help you understand your right to leave, including how to protect yourself should your employer retaliate against you. While the U.S. Department of Labor resource has detailed information for the general public, an attorney can provide guidance tailored to your unique situation.