Individuals diagnosed with serious medical conditions often experience employment challenges while working through treatment, taking time off work, or returning to work. But caregivers may face similar challenges. These include potential workplace discrimination because of the difficulty of balancing work and caregiving responsibilities. Caregivers who take extended periods of time off from work can also face issues getting back into the workforce.
However, there are some legal protections and resources to help caregivers better navigate work and caregiving.
Federal and state fair employment laws
Title I of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides eligible caregivers with protection against discrimination in the workplace. Most states have laws similar to the ADA, but some are more protective. For example, the state law may cover smaller private employers than the ADA. So, caregivers should look at their federal protections as well as the state laws.
Keep in mind, though, the law only provides a minimum of what employers must provide to caregivers. Many employers offer benefits above and beyond what the law requires. Therefore, caregivers should also investigate what their employers might offer them.
Taking time off work
The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides caregivers up to 12 weeks, per year, to care for spouse, parent, or child who has a serious medical condition. While taking FMLA leave, an employee’s job and their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage are protected.
Some states have a state law that is similar to the FMLA. A few states have an expanded definition of whom you can care for, and some cover smaller employers. Again, caregivers should look at federal laws, state laws, and their employer’s policies.
If you are taking time off work under the FMLA, the leave is unpaid. As a result, many caregivers need to find a way to replace their lost wages.
A few states offer paid leave programs for eligible caregivers who need to take time off of work, including: California, New Hampshire, District of Columbia, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, New York, & Massachusetts.
A few additional states have created programs that haven’t yet begun: Connecticut (1/1/22), Oregon (9/3/23), and Colorado (1/1/24). There are also a number of federal proposals to create a federal paid leave program.
In addition, some state Medicaid programs provide eligible individuals with in-home assistance to help with activities of daily living. Activities can include getting dressed, grocery shopping, cooking, and transportation to medical appointments.
These programs have different names in each state, such as In-Home Support Services or Home Help Programs. Some states allow an individual’s family member to provide the in-home assistance and get paid by the program. Contact your Medicaid program to see if this is an option in your state.
Other practical issues related to balancing work and caregiving.
For caregivers who are balancing work and caregiving responsibilities, other daily activities can become more challenging, such as cooking meals, housekeeping, gardening, taking kids to school, and other activities. These are all tasks that family members and friends may be able to help with, if you ask.
For more information about legal protections and other resources related to caregiving, visit: https://TriageCancer.org/Caregiving.
About the author and Triage Cancer
This post was written by Joanna Fawzy Morales, Esq., a cancer rights attorney, author, speaker, and CEO of Triage Cancer. Ms. Morales has spent more than twenty-five years working on behalf of individuals with cancer. She co-authored the book, Cancer Rights Law, for the American Bar Association and has presented nearly one thousand educational seminars on employment, insurance, health care, and advocacy issues for individuals diagnosed with cancer, caregivers, health care professionals, advocates, lawyers, employers, and the general public.
Triage Cancer provides free information about the legal and practical issues that may impact individuals diagnosed with cancer and their caregivers through events, materials, and resources. Triage Cancer also offers CancerFinances.org, a toolkit to help people navigate their finances after a cancer diagnosis.