Employment Issues for Parents

Lost wages of the caregiver(s). The burden of lost wages can be particularly hard on parents whose jobs pay by the hour, those who have had to move far from home for their child’s treatment, and single parents. Parents and other caregivers who are entitled to paid sick leave and/or vacation time at their jobs should determine in advance how much time they will be able to utilize. The human resources department, person who handles personnel matters for your employer, or your union representative, should be able to provide you with this information. If you are covered by a private disability plan, you should check to see if it allows any coverage for your time off from work to care for your sick child.

In some workplaces, other employees may donate sick leave to a fellow employee when they learn of their co-worker’s need to take time off to be with a critically-ill family member. At the present time, in the US there is no national program of paid leave to care for an ill child.

Note: only the state of California has a paid family-leave program. Washington passed legislation this year to allow $250 per week of paid parental leave starting in 2008, but it is as yet unknown how the program will be funded and implemented.

There are certain state and national employment-protection laws that may be of help to parents whose child is undergoing a transplant. These include:

Washington State Family Care Act. Under state law, any employee who earns paid leave time, incluidng sick leave, vacation time, etc. is entitled to use any available paid leave to care for a sick family member, and regardless of the number of employees  at her or his workplace. More information about this state law are available from the Department of Labor and Industries.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the provisions of the FMLA, employees who work for private, and most public, employers generally may be qualified to take off up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their seriously-ill child, without losing their job .If an employee was  enrolled in  their employer’s group health insurance plan, s/he can remain enrolled in the plan while off work to utilize the FMLA benefit. (the employee is resposndible for paying their regular  insurance premiums during this time). Not all employees are covered by the FMLA. Eligibility is based on meeting specific requirements relating  to the type and size of the workplace, and the length of time that the employee has worked there. Generally, in order to qualify for leave under the  FMLA, an employee must:

  • work for a covered company or organization with 50 or more employees within 75-miles of the worksite
  • have worked for the employer for at least 12 months (not necessarily consecutively)
  • have worked for at least 1250 hours during the 12-month period immediate prior to the start of the leave period

The FMLA restricts eligibility also by relationship, to self, spouse, child, or parent. Thus, grandparents and other relatives, domestic partners of a parent, and employed siblings of a patient (including BMT donors) are not eligible for this benefit. The 12 weeks of leave do not have to be concurrent, and may in fact be calculated by the hour, day, or week, or involve a schedule adjustment for the worker. There are various intricacies to the law, so it is best to talk to the human resources staff at your workplace, your union representative if applicable, and to visit the US Department of Labor FMLA website.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also offers some job protections for family members whose loved one is undergoing transplant or other medical treatments. The ADA prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals. The law also applies to immediate family members of the person who has the disability or life-threatening disease. Protections under the ADA  extend to job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other employment-realted situations. The law applies to  employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local, but NOT federal government agencies nor the military. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations. For more detailed information see the main ADA website .

Other helpful websites are Washington LawHelp (covering all legal topics and issues relevant to resdients of the state) and Workplace Fairness offers in-depth information on workplace rights and issues of all types, including but not limited to the FMLA and ADA.

Remember that while these laws set the minimum standards with which many employers must comply, individual employers can choose to be more generous with the assistance that they offer to their employees.