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. And I’m not alone.
Roughly 40 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult in the past 12 months. In our recent Valuing the Invaluable report, 6 in 10 caregivers reported having a job in the past year. Balancing caregiving responsibilities with a job can be tough.
To Leave or Not to Leave
For working family caregivers, choosing whether to leave their job or continue working while caring for a loved one can be extremely overwhelming. There may be angst and guilt about not being able to do more for a parent who is sick or has a disability. Choosing between their own children and/or spouse and taking care of a parent becomes an additional burden. Concerns about lost income, retirement benefits and health insurance only muddy the waters. Important decisions take time and thoughtful planning. However, a crisis may lead a working family caregiver to make a rash decision to quit her or his job without fully considering the extent of what that means.
Workplace Benefits and Accommodations
Help may be available from employers, but finding benefits and seeking accommodations can require persistent effort — often at a time when caregiver patience is worn thin. With 60 percent of family caregivers employed, employer flexibility is crucial. During the 2015 White House Conference on Aging on July 13, President Barack Obama announced that he will fight to make family leave and workplace flexibility available to everyone in an effort to support employees who are caregivers. (For paid family leave, click here.)
Access to Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Workers who have no alternative other than to leave their jobs may be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Data from our 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.
Family caregivers who left their jobs for family reasons have received state UI benefits, but the number is low. 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 on the state, individuals are also required to be available to return to work, either full time or part time.
Source: Ben-Ishai, L., McHugh, R., and Ujvari, K., “Access to Unemployment Insurance Benefits for Family Caregivers: An Analysis of State Rules and Practices,” (Washington, DC, AARP Public Policy Institute, Research Report 2015-05, April 2015).
Tips and Questions to Consider Before Leaving Your Job and UI Claims
- Quitting is a last resort! Calculate lost wages, benefits and retirement income if you 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 to quitting, including workplace benefits and employer accommodations that could alleviate the need to quit work to care for a family member.
- Let your employer know about your caregiving responsibilities in advance. It is nearly always best for a caregiver to make the employer aware of any underlying caregiving situation causing conflicts with work as soon as they arise.
- Know the employer’s attendance policy and inform your supervisor of scheduled and unscheduled absences from work.
- Contact your state UI office before you quit. Find out whether you would be eligible to receive UI benefits and the conditions for receiving them. UI benefits, however, 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, then forgo further claims. Once caregiving responsibilities lessen or end, you can begin to file claims for any weeks remaining in the 52-week benefit year.
About the author: 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.