Many of today’s workers are faced with a stressful caregiving situation as their parents become more and more dependent. Even if you don’t have an aging parent living with you, there’s a good chance you could be “on call”. Mom may fall and break her hip while she’s home alone; Dad might have a memory lapse and be found wandering the streets. As the emergency contact, you’re the one who is asked to come and sort things out.
If a health issue is ongoing, FMLA may kick in. This provides you with legally protected (but unpaid) leave to care for an ill family member if you work for a company with 50+ employees. However, when you pitch in to care for a mother or father in-law FMLA does not apply. So far, the law hasn’t caught up with the realities of elder caregiving. It’s up to employers to decide when and if emergency time off will be granted or if you will be fired for attendance violations.
Some Employers Have a Double Standard
Many employers seem to have a compassionate attitude about parents having to leave the office suddenly when a dependent child needs them. Part of this has to do with a wariness of being accused of discriminating against women. After all, it’s still usually Mom who gets the call to deal with a child-related emergency – even if both parents work.
However, employers don’t always view the elder caregiving relationship as a serious commitment. Apparently, they figure you can just get someone else to step in and take care of an emergent need. Unlike in the UK, there is currently no law protecting U.S. employees’ right to put family first in these situations. Employees can’t afford to wait for the law to catch up – they need to start negotiating for changes in the workplace now.