Our nation’s family caregivers are vital for the health and well-being of our communities. Caregivers, — about 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.— are advocates, care coordinators and overall supporters to the physical and emotional health of those for whom they care. Family caregivers represent all backgrounds and care for individuals with a wide range of needs, including older individuals, people with disabilities, military servicemembers and veterans.
Family caregivers need a support system that ensures they can balance their caregiving responsibilities and employment; about 60% of caregivers work. Many working family caregivers often need flexible work schedules to accommodate competing priorities.
For 30 years, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has provided eligible workers with the right to take job-protected leave while continuing their health benefits, so they can care for a family member with serious health conditions or injuries. This includes using FMLA intermittently, as the need arises, or by reducing the employee’s usual weekly or daily work schedule so they can provide care.
For Kris Garcia from Denver, Colorado, these protections were invaluable: “When my mom was originally diagnosed with cancer, I used intermittent FMLA leave to take her to radiation appointments and oncology visits. Later, I used FMLA leave for meetings with the hospice team that helped me with her end-of-life care. Being by her side made a world of difference for both of us.”
While millions of caregivers have taken advantage of the FMLA’s protections, the Department of Labor estimates that many workers, particularly low wage workers and workers of color, don’t exercise their rights to FMLA leave. Many workers are unaware of FMLA protections, concerned with being treated differently at work, or cannot afford unpaid leave. Sadly, when workers forgo leave to care for a family member, treatment for the care recipient can be postponed or stopped altogether.
In recognition of the vital role of caregivers and as part of our ongoing efforts to empower workers to take FMLA leave, the Wage and Hour Division is launching a new webpage and updated resources to help workers seeking to take time off from work to care for a family member. This webpage includes a practical guide on how to talk to your employer about taking job-protected leave under the FMLA, and updated fact sheets on using FMLA leave when your family member has a serious health condition, because of a family member’s military service, or to care for an adult child with a disability. The new webpage also includes frequently asked questions on taking FMLA leave, and additional resources family caregivers may find helpful when navigating their caregiving responsibilities.
As part of our commitment to engage stakeholders in conversations on barriers to workplace leave, we’re hosting a virtual roundtable Feb. 23, “Working While Caring: A Discussion on Workplace Leave for Family Caregivers.” For this event, we’re joining the Women’s Bureau, Office of Disability Employment Policy, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, AARP, American Association of People with Disabilities, and Blue Star Families to discuss barriers to workplace leave for family caregivers.
Caregiving is expected to grow as the older adult population increases. The CDC estimates 20% of working-age adults will become caregivers by the year 2030. Our nation’s family caregivers deserve our recognition and respect. We are proud to enforce their right to take time to care when they need it.
Jessica Looman is the principal deputy administrator for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Follow the division on Twitter at @WHD_DOL and LinkedIn.