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Your Job is Safe When You Take Time Off for Caregiving

Caregiving is a huge personal and family activity in the United States, with more than 65 million Americans providing care sometime during the year. When a call comes at 2 am that Mom has broken a hip and is in the hospital, a daughter (and it is most often a daughter) will drop everything and rush to help. Their lives are disrupted, but their devotion is essential.
About two-thirds of caregivers are women. The average family caregiver is a 49 year-old married woman who cares for her mother, a 69 year-old widow who lives somewhere else. When these caregivers must take time off from work, they have protections under federal law to keep their jobs.
The Family and Medical Leave Act covers companies with 50 or more workers. Anyone who takes leave must have been with the company for at least a year, and have worked 1,250 hours in the past year.
Our typical caregiver-call her Renee-can take up to 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave to perform her caregiving duties. She can apply her vacation time and sick days to the leave, and be able to receive that money while she is absent.Renee is part of the sandwich generation under a squeeze because she has children, a 13 year-old girl, and a six year-old boy. About 37% of caregivers have children under 18 living with them. The company is required to keep Renee’s job and seniority available for her when she returns to work.

These are some of the medical conditions deemed serious enough to require the company to grant the leave, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families: “ heart conditions, strokes, back conditions, injuries caused by accidents and conditions such as cancer, asthma, pneumonia, diabetes, epilepsy, serious infections, Alzheimer’s and arthritis.”
Renee has to get a certification from her mother’s doctor listing the condition and explaining that it is serious enough to require medical treatment. The certification form is available from the Labor Department’s Wage and Hours.

She has her mother’s doctor fill out the firm, which she then gives to her boss to justify the leave. Renee’s employer is then legally required to grant the leave. If she doesn’t get the certification, her company can fire her for excessive absences.

The law allows for taking leave in blocks of time, as illustrated by this question and answer form the Partnership for Women and Families: “I need a few hours every week to take my father, who is recovering from a stroke, to physical therapy. May I take that time as part of my family leave under the FMLA?” Answer: “Family leave may be taken intermittently when medically necessary. You may take leave in blocks of time — such as several hours, a half day, a day, a week, four weeks or 12 weeks — to care for a family member with a serious health condition. If you are going to need intermittent leave regularly, your employer may require you to temporarily transfer to another position that has the same pay and benefits but is better suited to recurring periods of leave.”

When Renee takes the unpaid leave, the law requires the company to return her to her old job, at the same pay, benefits, and seniority she had when she left to care for her mother.

In addition to covering care for a worker’s parent, the law also allows leave for the worker who has a serious medical condition, or who is caring for a sick spouse, or for a sick child. There is also unpaid leave guaranteed for someone who has a newborn child, or who has adopted a child.

Pregnancy also is a protected condition. Here’s a Q and A from the National Partnership for Women and Families

“I’m having a very difficult pregnancy and my doctor says I may need to take off time before my baby is born. Can I do that without losing my job? Yes . The FMLA covers any pregnancy-related leave that is medically necessary. As long as you are eligible to take leave under the FMLA you can do so at the time it is medically necessary, intermittently (in chunks of time) or all at once. For example, if you have to be out of work due to morning sickness for two weeks, or you need to take leave for prenatal doctor’s visits, your job (or an equivalent one) will be protected, and you can take time later in the pregnancy if needed.

Some states allow more weeks of leave beyond the 12 guaranteed under the federal law.
A guide to frequently asked questions is available from the Labor Department.

Here is a general guide to the law from the  National Partnership for Women and Families.


Written by Bob Rosenblatt

Bob Rosenblatt is a researcher, writer and journalist who helps people looking for up-to-date answers and information on the perplexing issues at the intersection of finances and aging. Bob publishes a weekly report — please take a moment to subscribe in the upper right hand corner of this page.

One Response to Your Job is Safe When You Take Time Off for Caregiving

  1. […] tab (above). Also of interest:“Tax Breaks For Caregivers: Siblings Can Share Deductions and “Your Job is Safe When You Take Time Off For Caregiving” Check them […]

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