Legal and Financial Rights for Family Members as Caregivers

Ronnie Friedland
Jan. 30, 2008

Federal protection and state reimbursement.

As more and more of us are providing care for family members, the federal government has moved to provide us with some protection.

Family and Medical Leave Act protection

If you work full time for a company with 50 or more employees, and have been there for 12 months or more, you are entitled to protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

What you are entitled to

  • You can take up to 12 weeks of leave annually to attend to personal or family medical issues, pregnancy or adoption.
  • Although the leave itself will be unpaid, you are entitled to continued health care benefits while you are on leave.
  • After your leave, you have the right to return to the same or an equivalent status job, with the same or similar salary, hours, work responsibilities and job security.
  • You have the right to sue for lost wages and other damages if your employer does not extend these benefits.
  • If your employer doesn't recognize these rights despite employing 50 or more people, approach your HR representative. You are legally entitled to these rights. If they or your employer seems unresponsive, you may need to schedule a special meeting to discuss these issues. Another option is to approach the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) -- a federal agency with regional offices that enforces laws prohibiting discrimination in employment -- to see if you can get help from them. If all else fails, there are many attorneys who specialize in these matters and will have suggestions to help protect your rights and job security.

State financial reimbursement to caregivers

Recently, some states have begun paying family members other than spouses to provide the care necessary to keep an elder at home. Although the pay often amounts to less than the caregiver would make at work, it can help with some expenses. States have also begun to reimburse home care on the same level that they reimburse institutional care. In those states that offer this type of reimbursement, it's very helpful to family caregivers. Also determined on a state by state basis is payment for respite care.

To find out about the policies in your state, contact your local representative, your Council on Aging (call HIDDEN for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging), or your local senior center. You can also check the U.S. Administration on Aging's eldercare locator, which will link you to services in your area.

Ronnie Friedland is an editor at She has co-edited three books on parenting and interfaith family life.

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