As We Age: Taking time away from work to care
Employers know that when an employee's child is sick, there may not be too many options for child care, thus the employee might have to take time off work.
With the average employee taking three days a year off for the care of sick children, it is not a small cost to the employers and, if employees have to take more than their allotted sick time between their own illnesses and those of their children, to the employee as well.
The one thing that is relatively certain with sick children is that they will bounce back fairly quickly and routines will return to normal.
But what about an employee who is a primary caregiver for an aging parent?
If you think services to support child care are few and far between, try finding services to support elder care, particularly on short notice.
Complicating this even more is the fact that an illness might last a lot longer or get a lot more complicated in the elderly. They just don't bounce back in the same way as youngsters do. So taking time from work to tend to an ill parent may not have a clear boundary to it.
If and when a primary caregiver is faced with the prospect that trying to work full-time and care for an ill parent full-time is just not practical, there are some decisions that must be made.
It is possible to hire in-home care services, although for many people the cost of this is greater than the income from their employment.
As well, not everyone feels comfortable with the privacy issues, or at least lack of privacy issues, that arise with a stranger in the house all day.
Those who can might arrange an unpaid leave in order to provide care themselves or have the time to make appropriate arrangements for care.
The federal government does allow Employment Insurance for compassionate care purposes and there are tax deductions for being a primary caregiver.
Some others may simply decide to accept that being the primary caregiver is a full-time job and will choose to step back completely from employment outside the home.
Again, compassionate care benefits may help with that transition.
It can all be quite stressful when circumstances change suddenly and adjustments have to be made on the fly. Just as we tend to build networks for dealing with child care issues, so too is it a good idea to develop a strategy for dealing with elder care issues before being caught off-guard.
Whether it is a network of family to help out or a network of social services that can be called in, there should be some sense of the steps that are available to cope with a change.
Of course, I don't mean to imply that only employees should consider such a strategy. Anyone who is serving as a primary caregiver to the elderly should be aware of the services available to help them and the steps necessary to access such services.
A little research ahead of time can plot out some reasonable paths to take in the event of an emergency.
There is no way to predict exactly what will happen or exactly what steps will be needed, but at least knowing how to access help in making some of those decisions will relieve a lot of the stress of coping with such circumstances.
Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and elder care.