There are specific federal and state laws that can be valuable tools for people needing to balance work and caregiving. Knowing which laws apply to you, as a caregiver, and how to approach your employer can provide some relief — and help you get everything you are entitled to in terms of benefits and leave time.
What the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Offers
If you are eligible under FMLA (see “Your Legal Rights in the Workplace: Cancer and the ADA, FMLA, Etc.” to learn more about eligibility), you can take a total of 12 weeks of unpaid but job-protected and health insurance–protected leave during a 12-month period (the 12-month period is determined by your employer) to take care of an immediate family member (i.e., a spouse, child or parent) with a serious health condition, including cancer. This leave may be used in either large or small increments of time (e.g., taking the 12 weeks altogether or a few hours every week for doctors’ visits). The FMLA requires that you be reinstated to your role or an equivalent one (defined as one with the same pay, benefits and responsibilities) when you return from approved FMLA leave.
For additional information on the FMLA, including the documentation you will need to provide to your employer, please visit www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla.
What the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Offers
Eligible caregivers (visit “Your Legal Rights in the Workplace: Cancer and the ADA, FMLA, Etc.” to learn more about eligibility) may be protected from discrimination under the ADA. There is a provision that prevents employers from discriminating or taking negative actions against an employee or job applicant who is providing care for a family member with a disability. For example, if an employer chooses not to hire a qualified candidate because of an unfounded concern that the person will be unable to fulfill his or her job responsibilities as a result of having to care for a loved one, that could be a violation of the ADA.
You may be familiar with another aspect of the ADA: reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations are modifications to a job that makes it possible for an employee to perform the essential functions of his/her role. This provision is not provided to caregivers; however, we advise caregivers to think through job modifications that might support their ability to do their job, and to ask their employer about it anyway. Quite often the modifications are small adjustments that an employer might be willing to make to support a valued employee. We encourage you to think strategically about what you need and how to ask for it — and not to forget to take your employer’s needs into account as you think about your request. For more on reasonable accommodations, see “Requesting Reasonable Accommodations.”
For additional information on the ADA, please go to www.ada.gov/ada_title_I.htm.
Check Your State Laws
Depending on where you work, you could be afforded expanded leave or protections under state laws. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, several states, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as Washington, DC, have additional family medical leave laws, which can sometimes offer more-generous benefits.
It’s a good idea to research your state’s laws to know what other options might be available to you. For a list of legal resources for each state, visit Triage Cancer’s Employment-Related Laws page, at triagecancer.org/employment-state-laws.