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FMLA To Care For Elderly Parents

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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal family law enacted in 1993, often covers caregivers for new members of a family, such as babies. However, this family leave act also extends to persons who assume the responsibilities of loco parentis. Which is when adult children assume the role of a parent over their aging parent.

As more and more adult children begin caring for an elderly and ill family member, demands for improved and expanded rights for family caregivers is a call that is becoming louder and more prominent here in the United States.

On April 26, 2021 The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), The Arc, and UsAgainstAlzheimer’s joined forces alongside nearly 60 state and national disability rights and patient advocacy organizations in a letter urging the White House to prioritize unpaid caregivers when developing additional economic recovery policies, including a permanent paid family and medical leave policy inclusive of all family caregivers across the lifespan.

Taking on the role of a primary caregiver is a difficult job and can be overwhelming for many adult children who have their own family responsibilities to manage.

Full time caregiving responsibilities of older adults can often last for many years which can place a difficult financial burden on many families. Therefore, some protection for these individuals is important for many obvious reasons.

The federal law, FMLA is provided through employers for their caregiving employees who find themselves having to provide elder care for their aging parents. FMLA also covers caring for an immediate family member such as a spouse.

As of this time, FMLA does not cover time off for care of a domestic partner.

Caregiver’s Rights (The Family and Medical Leave Act)

In case you are not familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – It is a United States labor law that entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work so that they can take care of an elderly parent. 

The rights that the employee is entitled to are outlined in this 25 page PDF about the Family and Medical Leave Act (or FMLA) from the U.S. Department of Labor. 

This leave can be taken anytime over a 12-month period and can last for approximately 12 weeks. During this sabbatical, the employee does not receive payment from their employer.

The eligible employee can take intermittent leave which means that the 12 weeks can be taken in blocks of time instead of consecutively.

Certain jobs and roles prohibit participation in the FMLA. These include those who are considered “highly compensated” individuals, as well as elected officials like politicians.

Even if you can take the time off, there are still some restrictions that apply to private and public sector workplaces.  The FMLA rules would not apply to anyone with the following conditions:

  • If the number of employees at your place of employment is less than 50
  • If you have not worked 1,250 hours in a year
  • If you haven’t been with your current company for at least a year

In these cases listed above, you wouldn’t qualify for the FMLA.

Does Caring For An Elderly Parent Quality For FMLA?

As we mentioned above, although FMLA is most often used by parents of newborns, it can certainly be used as well for adult children of aging parents who are seriously ill.

So if you were wondering if the FMLA covers caring for elderly parents the answer is YES but as we outlined above – there are some restrictions which may make you ineligible.

What Is Considered A Serious Health Condition For FMLA?

Serious health conditions that could qualify you for FMLA leave include any of the following:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Late stage dementia
  • Complications from diabetes, stroke, asthma, Parkinson’s and other serious and/or terminal illnesses and medical conditions
  • Illnesses that require multiple surgeries or weeks or more of therapy and treatment
  • Serious conditions that require inpatient hospital stay

Since FMLA is provided by your employer, we recommend that you speak with your human resources department or management team to discuss what employee benefits and options are available for you.

I have a friend whose father was living in a long-term care facility with severe Parkinson’s. My friend was able to take FMLA leave which she used to spend time with him and care for him one day a week.

So, FMLA is not necessarily only for care of aging parents who are living at home.

How To Apply For FMLA Leave

If you need to take time to care for an elderly parent and you determine that you qualify for FMLA leave you must provide your employer with at least 30 days notice.

Note that some employers may require that you use up any vacation time that you have accrued before you begin your FMLA leave.

Also, some employers may request a medical certification which states that your elderly parent requires care.  You can download this form here.

Examples Of Situations When You Could Request FMLA For Caring For Your Elderly Parent(s)

Following are some situations where an employee could request for FMLA leave:

  • If an elderly parent is suffering from a serious condition which keeps them from being able to care for themselves.
  • If the elderly parent is unable to travel the doctor or hospital as needed
  • If the elderly parent is unable to properly care for themselves, their nutritional needs, self care, etc.
  • If the elderly parent requires psychological comfort due to their serious condition
  • If the elderly parent is incapacitated and requires treatment by a health care provider for 3 consecutive days or more.

A friend of mine took FMLA leave to care for her father who was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease and was unable to care for himself – requiring 24 hour care. She was able to go with him to doctors’ appointments and spend time with him.

It’s important to remember that the FMLA leave is only up to 12 weeks – so it’s not indefinite.  And as many family caregivers know – their senior loved ones can deteriorate for many years.

So, we do encourage you to take this time away from your work to look for a home care aide or consider how your elderly parent can continue to receive care after you return to work again.

If in home care is not possible, you may have to consider an assisted living or nursing home type of facility.

Final Thoughts

Although the FMLA federal law is a wonderful program, it does not cover everyone that could use it.

While the FMLA is an important step forward, 40% of people are not eligible for FMLA. They either work for an employer with 50 or fewer employees, didn’t work enough hours or simply can’t afford to go without pay for 12 weeks.

We hope that as the senior population continues to grow and the need grows for more family members to become caregivers – that FMLA programs become expanded to cover more individuals and their loved ones.

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