My dad who lives in Florida just had a massive stroke. I need to help my parents arrange for long-term healthcare and sell their house to pay for it. Is there a way I can assist them temporarily without quitting my job in California and moving across the country?
Dear, Worried Daughter,
I’m sorry your family is going through this difficult time.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted to assist in situations such as yours. The FMLA allows eligible employees at companies with 50 employees or more to take unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons without losing their jobs or health coverage. Covered employees who have worked at least one year and have accumulated 1,250 hours within that year are entitled to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:
- a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
- to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
- the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
- the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
- any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty” (military caregiver leave allows servicemembers themselves 26 workweeks of leave)
California also has a similar California Family Rights Act. The CFRA would run concurrently with the FMLA, but there are some differences (for instance, pregnancy is not covered as a serious health condition by CFRA, but is under FMLA). View the California Department of Human Resources’ chart for a comparison.
Your employer may require you to use any paid time off (PTO) before taking FMLA leave. And just like the requirement to get out of gym class back in school, you’ll need the customary doctor’s note to be excused from work under FMLA.
Note also that if you make a contribution toward your group health insurance premiums that is normally deducted from your paycheck, you will have to pay for this out of pocket while on leave. In fact, if you don’t have an emergency fund, 12 weeks of unpaid leave may not be feasible. Unemployment is generally not an option, as you voluntarily went on unpaid leave and you must be available to work to qualify. (Tip: Some utilities such as cable providers may allow a “seasonal hold” while you are away from home, which can be less costly than turning off and then having to pay to reconnect when you return from your leave. Mortgage lenders and landlords may or may not be as willing to defer payments.) If your parents are financially able, they may be able to compensate you for your caregiving time with a personal care agreement. For elderly parents with few assets other than their home, Medicaid’s Cash and Counseling program (available in about 30 states) may help them pay for home health care services – including cleaning, meal preparation, or transportation – from whomever they choose.
Four states have approved paid family leave programs – California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington (whose program has been deferred due to budget shortfalls). If you are eligible, you may receive a percentage of your base wages for a period of time. Here’s a handy chart showing eligibility and coverage by state.
Readers: When and how has the Family Medical Leave Act benefitted you?