I am a working “sandwich generation” caregiver for my parents and son. I know the daily challenges of caring for aging parents with cognitive and health care needs while holding down a full-time job and raising a family. I, however, am not alone.
According to AARP’s 2015 Caregiving in the U.S. Report, roughly 40 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult in the past 12 months. A report entitled “Valuing the Invaluable” indicated that only 6 in 10 caregivers reported having a job in 2014. For many, balancing caregiving responsibilities and a career can be tough, if not impossible.
The Working Caregiver
For employed family caregivers, choosing whether to leave their job or continue working can be extremely overwhelming. There may be angst and guilt about not being able to do more for a loved one who is sick or has a disability. The caregiver’s own children and/or spouse’s needs can be additional sources of stress. Concerns about lost income, retirement benefits and health insurance only muddy the waters further.
Important decisions take time and thoughtful planning. However, a crisis may lead a working family caregiver to quit their job without fully considering the consequences of this move. Before jumping to a conclusion, it is important to understand what options and benefits are available to help caregivers see to their responsibilities without forfeiting their careers.
Workplace Benefits and Accommodations
Help may be available from employers, but finding benefits and seeking accommodations often requires persistent effort, and usually at a time when a caregiver’s patience is already worn thin. For the 60 percent of family caregivers who work, employer flexibility and family leave are crucial. Examples of workplace benefits and accommodations include:
- Family and medical leave (FMLA)
- Flexible and part-time work schedules
- Job sharing
- Programs to help caregivers
- Paid sick days
- Paid family leave
Access to Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Workers who have no alternative other than to leave their job may be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Data from the most recent unemployment insurance benefits study for family caregivers shows that 25 states have caregiver-friendly unemployment rules that permit compelling family reasons to serve as good cause for voluntarily leaving a job.
In many cases, family caregivers who leave their jobs for family reasons can receive state UI benefits, but they can be very difficult to secure. Each state has its own eligibility regulations. However, some requirements apply across all states. In all states, individuals who file a claim for UI benefits must show that they left their job for a compelling reason. Depending upon the state, individuals are also required to be available to return to work either full-time or part-time. Visit your state’s unemployment insurance website for more information on whether you’ll be able to receive UI benefits before making a decision to quit your job.
Things to Consider Before Leaving Your Job and Filing UI Claims
- Quitting is a last resort! Calculate your lost wages, benefits and retirement income if you were to quit your job.
- What is the job market like in your area? Could you find another job once caregiving responsibilities lessen or end?
- Explore all alternatives, including workplace benefits and employer accommodations that could eliminate the need to quit in order to care for a family member.
- Let your employer know about your caregiving responsibilities in advance. It is always best for a caregiver to make their employer aware of any underlying situations that may cause conflicts with work. Do this as soon as they arise.
- Know your employer’s attendance policy and inform them of all scheduled and unscheduled absences from work.
- Contact your state UI office before you quit. Find out the conditions for receiving UI benefits and if you would be eligible to receive them. Keep in mind that UI benefits are not a substitute for a paycheck, employer-paid benefits or paid family leave.
- If you leave your job and are not available to return to work due to caregiving responsibilities, file a claim soon after leaving your job to establish eligibility, and then forego further claims. Once caregiving responsibilities lessen or end, you can begin to file claims for any weeks remaining in the 52-week benefit year.
Kathleen Ujvari is a policy research senior analyst with the AARP Public Policy Institute where she works on long-term services and supports research. She has an MBA and a Master of Science degree in health systems management.