Family and Medical Leave Act and Caregivers at Work
By Isabel Fawcett, SPHR
It is a safe assumption that many caregivers who work outside their homes are aware of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA.) Even if some American workers are not aware of FMLA yet, this blog steers you in the right direction and shares one caregiver’s perspective on when and whether you wish to invoke your FMLA rights, *if eligible.
FMLA is Federal Law
FMLA requires *eligible employees to take an unpaid leave up to 12 work weeks in any 12 month period. *The 12-month window is defined by the employer’s prevailing practice or policy. With *required medical certification, *subject to employer approval the eligible employee is allowed to take the approved leave for the birth of a child, to care for a family member who has a serious medical condition, or, if the employee has a serious medical condition which requires such leave.
(*The above layperson’s descriptive of FMLA does not constitute legal advice by this blogger and/or the owner of this website and/or any third parties involved in the publication or dissemination of this blog. Comprehensive information on the FMLA is available through the U.S. Department of Labor’s website at <www.dol.gov>.)
Caregivers at Work
Some workers view FMLA as an all-or-nothing package. Nothing could be further from the truth. FML can be a strategic work and life decision if you so choose and are eligible under the law.
Timing is Everything
If the person in your care is chronically ill with multiple chronic diseases requiring primary physician, specialized medical, and other healthcare intervention, using FML for one serious medical condition may preclude using FML for other equally serious medical conditions. Such a scenario would hold true if the caregiver exhausts the 12-week FML entitlement through consecutive leave use.
I cannot and would not tell anyone else how to handle your FML eligibility. I am happy to share the conscious decision I made for 10+ years in my then-part-time caregiver-worker bee roles.
I chose to not invoke my FML for one reason only.
My mother has multiple chronic illnesses as medically diagnosed. I mindfully considered worst-case outcomes for each of her medical diagnoses.
I decided that brief hospitalizations, major surgeries without medical complications, and post-surgical weekly follow-ups were best managed through advance planning, scheduling, and careful management of my accrued (paid) leave benefits at work. Non-emergency surgeries were scheduled in advance, allowing me ample time to take an approved vacation day, or 2, while I actively monitored and evaluated whether I might need to apply for FML, or not.
For me, only, it really was that simple. I never invoked my FML right nor did I use all of my accrued leave for caregiving in any year. Think strategically is all I can say.
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