Acting as a caregiver to an elderly loved one is an awesome responsibility. Along with being responsible for obvious things such as assisting your loved one, you may also have other responsibilities, such as your regular job, other family members, and your own mental, emotional, physical, and financial health.
A full exploration of all the legal rights and responsibilities of a caregiver would be beyond the scope of this article, particularly in light of the fact that these rights and responsibilities may very well vary from state to state.
Legal rights of caregivers may even vary from city to city. For example, New York City's mayor, Bill Blasio, signed into law a bill that amended the New York City Human Rights Law in order to expand its protections to cover caregivers. Employees may now sue employers if the employees are discriminated against or otherwise not accommodated or given leave when they need to give care to a person covered by the law, including their own parents, grandparents, or other relatives, spouses, and others.
You should consult an attorney in your state or city to learn your exact rights in relation to your caregiving responsibilities. This article will focus on some of the general concepts of federal law related to a caregiver's legal rights in relation to the workplace.
...caregiving for an elderly loved one is now the "new normal" for adult life.
It is important to understand such things, since more and more Americans are becoming caregivers for at least some portion of their adult, working lives. The proportions of people giving care to elders will only increase as the "silver tsunami" gains in power due to the populous Baby Boomers growing older and the ever-expanding human life span. A research report done jointly by the AARP Public Policy Institute and members of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law say that caregiving for an elderly loved one is now the "new normal" for adult life.
You may be legally entitled to extended time off from work
There are a number of state and federal statutes that provide certain protections to caregivers who must take time off of work. Depending on your relationship with the person for whom you are caring, and depending on some other factors, your situation may fall under one or more of these laws.
Probably the most well-known law in relation to taking time off of work is the Family Medical Leave Act (also known as "FMLA" for short). Under the FMLA, you may be entitled to take off an extended period of time--possibly as long as 12 weeks--in order to provide care for qualifying family members.
Be aware, however, that although your employer may be obligated to give you the time off of work, the law does not require that you be compensated for this time off. If you don't have significant savings or an alternate source of income you may want to carefully consider whether exercising your rights under FMLA is the best choice for you.
You may have other protections as well
Another well-known act is the Americans with Disabilities Act (also known as "ADA"). While most people understand that the ADA comes into play by requiring certain businesses or other organizations to ensure that their buildings are accessible to disabled people, most are not aware that the ADA also confers some protections upon employees.
If you have a disability, or if you are a caregiver for someone who has a qualified disability, the ADA may offer you some protections at work. In some situations employers are prohibited by the ADA from discriminating against or retaliating against people who are acting as caregivers for certain disabled persons.
These statutes--and other state statutes--are highly technical and complex, so if you think one or more may apply to you, you should be sure to check with an attorney in your state.
Other things to consider
Although your employer may be required by law to make certain accommodations, remember that you will always get better results when someone wants to help you as opposed to being forced to help you. To this end it is wise to approach the matter with a pleasant disposition and try to refrain from being demanding or threatening. Chances are good that your employer will happily work with you, and he or she may even give you additional accommodations beyond those that are required by law. Your likelihood of achieving such a positive outcome is greatly influenced by your demeanor during the discussion, so again try to keep things upbeat and pleasant.
Acting as the caregiver for an elderly loved one can be very demanding and require significant time off of work. Fortunately, there are a number of laws that may protect you and prevent your employer from terminating your when you are required to miss work due to your duties as a caregiver. The laws are complicated and--at least at the state level--vary from state to state, so be sure that you consult the appropriate attorney in order to be fully informed about your rights and responsibilities.
Abrahms, Sally. (Oct. 16, 2012). What Working Caregivers Must Know. AARP. Available at http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/info-10-2012/what-working-caregivers-must-know.html. Last visited January 8, 2016.
Kurz, M-A., Smith, C., Whitman, R. (January 11, 2016). New York City Human Rights Law Amended, Expanding Protection to "Caregivers." JDSupra Business Advisor, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP. Available at
http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/new-york-city-human-rights-law-amended-94616/. Retrieved 1.11/2016.
Williams, J.C., Devaux, R., Petrac, P., & Feinberg, L. (August 15, 2012). Protecting Family Caregivers from Employment Discrimination. AARP Public Policy Institute. Available at http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/public_policy_institute/health/protecting-caregivers-employment-discrimination-insight-AARP-ppi-ltc.pdf. Retrieved 1/11/2016.