The Rights of Caregivers

By Shawn Kravich, JD

As hard as it is to believe that it’s already mid- November, the quick transition from one holiday season to the next can realign our thoughts from pumpkins and candy to the things that matter even more: family, friends, and our shared experiences together.

Regardless of where we exist along the cancer continuum—from a new diagnosis to decades of survivorship—we all need support to get through this process together. In the spirit of solidarity that the Fall and Winter brings, today’s blog is about the different laws that can protect the caregivers that are so vital in the fight against cancer.

In the employment context, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies in a limited capacity to caregivers—though the majority of protections apply to those people with a disability or a history of a disability, the ADA also protects caregivers from discrimination on the basis of an “association with” people with disabilities.

In addition to ADA protections, the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) is a federal law that allows certain employees to take up to 12 work-weeks of job and health benefit protected leave per year. Though the FMLA allows for employees to take leave for their own serious medical condition, the law applies to caregivers, too: allowing caregivers to take time off work to care for minor children, parents, and spouses with serious health conditions, including cancer.
As with any law, the devil is in the details, and a few special rules are important to keep in mind in terms of eligibility to take time off under the FMLA. Though the law applies to all federal, state, and local governmental employees, private employers have to have 50 or more employees with a 75-mile radius of the employee’s work site—and the specific employee requesting leave must have worked for the employer for at least a year and have worked for at least 1,250 hours during that time. For more information about the FMLA, or to determine whether the law applies in your particular case, you can contact the U.S. Department of Labor.

In addition to the federal FMLA protections for caregivers, depending on where you live, there may also be state laws that repeat and expand upon some of the federal rights. If you happen to live in California or New Jersey, you may have access to paid family leave programs—allowing certain caregivers to still receive income for limited periods of time when they take time off work to care for a family member going through treatment.

For some, getting support from our close friends and family isn’t always an option, so there are a number of organizations that may be able to help, such as the American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community, the American Psychosocial Oncology Society, and Cancervive.

There are even support organizations for caregivers, such as the Well Spouse Association—the only national organization focusing exclusively on the needs of spouses caring for their husband, wife, or partner.

Whatever stage you’re at in your cancer story, don’t forget that no one can do this alone—and that certain law protect caregivers so that they can focus on providing support along the way!

For additional information please contact

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