Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy Anniversary, FMLA!

On February 5, 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). (Yeah, I’m a few days late with the anniversary wishes – I blame the puppy). J

FMLA provides unpaid protected leave to eligible employees employed by a business with 50 or more employees.  Specifically, the Department of Labor defines the FMLA as follows:

The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to:

·         Twelve work weeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

o   the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;

o   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;

o   to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;

o   a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;

o   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;” or

o   Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).

According to the Department of Labor, the “findings and purpose” of this revolutionary leave act was to “balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families.”  

Twenty years ago, the President and Congress recognized that the majority of caregiving roles fell to women and these caregiving responsibilities affected women in the workplace more than they did men, therefore one purpose of the FMLA was to “promote the goal of equal employment opportunity for women and men.”

While the majority of caregiving responsibilities do fall to women, that has even changed over the years as more men become primary caregivers.

In a 1997 study, the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP showed the face of caregiving looking like this:

o   There were more than 22 million caregiving households;

o   73% of caregivers were women;

o   23% care for more than one person;

o   85% of caregivers care for a relative; (Robert’s Sister note: the specific relatives were not broken down in this study);

o   64% of caregivers were employed;

By 2009, a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP shows the changing world of caregiving:

o   65 million caregivers provide care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged;

o   66% of caregivers are women;

o   33% of caregivers take care of more than one person;

o   86% of caregivers care for a relative; 33% of caregivers care for a parent. The rest care for a child, in-law, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, spouse or other relative or friend;

o   73% of caregivers were employed at some time when they were caregiving;

o   Among the working caregivers, two-thirds have needed to revise their work schedule in order to take care of caregiving responsibilities;

The number of caregivers exploded over those years, with an increase in the number of working caregivers and those caregivers caring for more than one person.
It is obvious many of those being cared for do not meet the definition of family under FMLA: there are caregivers providing care to grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and adult children (who are not dependents) in addition to those who care for a spouse, parent or dependent child.
In order to keep up with the growing caregiving population – and keep those growing numbers of caregivers in the workforce – FMLA needs to change.
Keep in mind, FMLA is an UNPAID protected leave. 
Would a paid leave help family caregivers stay in the workforce longer?  Of course.  However, as an employer, I understand this could be a strain on employers so I am not asking for that (okay, not yet). 
What I’d like to see changed in the near future is an expanded definition of family.  Why not include siblings, in-laws, grandparents, domestic partners, adult children (non-dependents) and grandchildren? 
What I would like to see changed is a lower employer threshold.  Why not allow eligibility to those employed by businesses that have fewer than 50 employees?
FMLA needs to expand the definition of family and FMLA needs to lower the threshold of the minimum number of employees in a business to qualify for coverage. Many states have taken steps on their own to address these limitations within FMLA. 
California is one state which has made strides in changing the definition of family under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) by including domestic partners but has stopped short of including any other type of family care.  Legislation has been introduced the last few years to expand the definition of family under CFRA but, unfortunately, has not yet succeeded.
I would like to see change in the definition of family on both the national and state level of these family leave acts.
I am grateful for what President Clinton did twenty years ago for the working family caregiver but it is time to recognize caregiving responsibilities have changed and include more than what was envisioned in 1993. 
I hope you had a nice anniversary, FMLA.
Now let’s make some changes.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Puppies, Turkey Sandwiches and Adjustment

I’ve been MIA.

Thankfully, it isn’t because Robert is in the hospital or because caregiving duties have become overwhelming.  (Unfortunately, my mother-in-law is in the hospital but that has been a recent development).

The reason for my absence? 

This little guy:

Meet Taz - not usually this still!
We had no intention of adopting a puppy. 

In fact, we had recently claimed a cat that was living on our porch which was enough for me.  We fed him, named him Rambo, got him his shots, neutered him and brought him in to a warm house with other cats.
He hates it. 
Rambo lived on the streets for 18 months and now he’s trapped in a house.  I recently walked in on him trying to climb out a second story window – he was between the glass and the screen and two steps away from flying out the window.  I rescued him but realize how unhappy he is now.

 Rambo isn’t the reason I’ve been MIA, though.  Heck, cats are usually super easy.

Meet Rambo - Not loving the indoors
It’s the puppy.  Taz came to us by way of my daughter.  She works for RedRover which is an animal rescue organization that helps out animals that are displaced during a natural disaster and provides financial assistance for those who need help with urgent veterinary care.  It’s a wonderful organization but it is not a shelter.  Just over a week ago a man came to their office with a puppy he had found roaming a WalMart parking lot.  He couldn’t keep him, the shelters were closed that day and the good-hearted people of RedRover couldn’t turn the animal away. 
I mean, who could resist this face?

Taz came to live with us and it has been quite the adjustment.  He is a bundle of energy and has lived up to his name.  Our middle-aged lab, Oz, wasn’t quite sure what to make of him; after all, he was used to smaller dogs but they were all old and not nearly as energetic as this little guy.
It’s taken a week of adjustments (and realization the little guy wasn’t going anywhere) but Oz is starting to come around (for the most part).  It’s not perfect (yet) but I’m not such a nervous wreck when they’re together (well, maybe just a little bit).

I’m adjusting but it is taking time.  The whole family schedule is completely thrown off and I don’t have near enough computer or relaxation time.  I’ve been so used to old dogs and cats just lazing around while I write or watch television. 
It’s only been a week so there are more adjustments to be made.  I’m hoping to be able to write another blog post in six months or so. J
Robert has only had one day with Taz and it mostly involved Taz trying to steal Robert’s turkey sandwich. 
Robert was not a fan.   
Again, more adjustments are needed. Along with time.
My problem is I am impatient with adjustments but I know they do happen and things work out – in time.  Fitting in taking care of Robert took some adjustment but now we have it down to a routine which only gets thrown off by hospitalizations (we’ve even adjusted pretty well to how seizures throw off the schedule).
A friend of mine wrote a blog post on and shared information about adjustments  written by Lara M. Stepleman, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and Professor of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at Georgia Health Sciences University.  Dr. Stepleman was writing about adjusting to a chronic illness but her wisdom applies to any adjustment.  One observation by Dr. Stepleman really hit home with me, “Adjustment doesn’t just happen once, it happens over and over. Few, if any of us, are ever finished adjusting.”
Oz isn’t the only one who needs to adjust to the puppy and his boundless energy.  Robert needs to adjust, I need to adjust, my husband and daughter all need to adjust. 
Not to mention our cats and poor Rambo!
I have faith we’ll adjust and end up with another very happy member of the family (who, hopefully, will eventually realize how wonderful it is to curl up on a blanket and relax).  I have faith Robert will come to love Taz and look forward to having another animal to pet when he visits. 
I’m not quite convinced Rambo will adjust to the benefits of being an indoor cat but we’ll give that some time too or we will find another way to keep him happy. 
In the meantime, I’ll make sure the windows stay closed.