Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Working Things out at Work: Flexibility Helps Parents - and Employers

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Working Things out at Work: Flexibility Helps Parents - and Employers

Article excerpt

Many caregivers work outside the home--some because they want to, many because they have to. Regardless of the reason the stress of trying to balance all those responsibilities ran sometimes be overwhelming, and adjustments need to be made. Fortunately, American companies today are much more willing than ever before to help employees find a balanced solution to their work/family responsibilities.

"Business leaders recognize that people are less productive when they are overstressed," says Diane Burrus, senior consultant with WFD Consulting, a division of Work Family Directions, the country's largest provider of corporate work/life services "That is one of the driving forces behind the change in corporate attitudes."

Regardless of the reason, things are changing in the workplace, and family caregivers can reap the benefits. Family-friendly benefits offered by American companies run the gamut from personal leaves of absence and resource and referral services, to job-sharing opportunities and flexible scheduling.

Family leave legislation

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows an employee 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year for one of the following purposes:

* to care for newborn or newly-adopted children;

* to care for children, parents or spouses who have serious health conditions;

* to recover from your own serious health condition.

The law also ensures that either your own job, or an equivalent one with the same pay, benefits and other conditions, is waiting for you upon return.

The Act covers employees who work for private organizations (with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the workplace) or for a federal, state or local government offices and who have worked for that employer for one year (at least 1,250 hours during the previous year). If you fit the criteria, your employer must also continue to pay your health insurance premiums at the same rate.

To take advantage of the FMLA for the birth or adoption of a child or for a planned medical procedure, 30 days' advance notice is required or as much notice as possible under the circumstances. No advance notice is required for unplanned medical situations. Your employer may require you to get a doctor's or other health care provider's verification that leave is necessary for a serious health condition, whether it involves you or a family member. The Department of Labor provides a form for that purpose.

Efforts have just been launched to expand the FMLA to include unpaid time off to attend parent! teacher conferences and medical appointments. In proposing this legislation, President Clinton noted that being a parent is "the toughest job any person can have."

State legislatures are also passing laws that require organizations to give their employees family leave under certain circumstances. To date, 40 states and the District of Columbia have some form of family leave legislation on the books. It varies from state to state, but many of the statutes cover family caregivers. These laws can be even more generous than FMLA--none can provide fewer benefits.

In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodation," not only to persons with disabilities, but also to individuals who must care for a person with a disability. Lawyers we spoke with seem to think that flexible work schedules may well be part of that "reasonable accommodation. …

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