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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

A caregiver’s allies in the work/life tug-of-war


August 3, 2016, by Hannele Kivinen and Pat Morden

Assisting Caregivers' Find Balance

It’s one of those days. You’ve got an important meeting at work. Your son needs a lift to soccer practice, and your daughter missed the school bus. And then you get a call from your mother – she’s had a fall and is in the emergency department.

If you feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone. More than one in three working people in Canada is providing unpaid care a friend, family member, or neighbour. That’s more than six million people -- and the number will only grow as our population ages. Employed caregivers need all the allies they can get to help them balance their multiple roles.

Your biggest ally in the workplace may well be your employer. Many employers are realizing that they need to support their caregiving employees, and are now offering some creative solutions. These include more flexible hours, part-time options, short or long-term leaves, and the option of working from home. It’s better for you and it’s better for them. Lost productivity as a result of caregiving is said to cost 1.3 billion dollars annually in Canada alone.

Some employers are going a step further, and offering programs at work designed to support caregiving employees. We wrote about the one offered by St. Elizabeth Health Care here.

Of course, not every employer will respond positively to the challenges of caregiving. It’s up to you to bring your needs forward in a clear and timely way. Be sure to show that you’ve explored all care options, are willing to be flexible and creative, and are committed to doing your job to the best of your ability. Stay in touch and let your employer know as your situation changes.

Remember, your employer has a legal obligation to accommodate your caregiving needs. Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, employers have a Duty to Accommodate when an employee’s family obligations make it impossible to fully participate at work. You can read more about that in A Guide to Balancing Work and Caregiving Obligations, which we wrote about here.

Your colleagues at work can also be allies. They might be willing to job share with you. That’s an arrangement where two employees perform the duties of one full-time position, dividing the number of hours in a way that suits their needs. Job sharing gives you flexibility, enables a colleague to learn new skills, and benefits your employer too.

The government is another ally for caregiving employees. The Ontario provincial government has implemented the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Leaves to Help Families). This law allows up to eight weeks of leave for employees to provide care to a family member with a serious medical condition. If you have a critically ill child, you can receive an additional 29 weeks of leave. While these leaves are unpaid, they are job-protected – so your job will be waiting for you when you are ready to return to work.

As of this January, the federal government extended Compassionate Care Leave from six weeks to six months. Compassionate Care benefits come from Employment Insurance (EI), and enable people who are looking after someone who is terminally ill to take time off from work with some financial support. You can find more information on Compassionate Care Leave here.