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The Career Guide for When Your Loved One is Sick

Feb 15, 2019 4 Min Read Heather R. Johnson

Key Takeaways

  • Talk to your employer about your situation and ask for accommodations.
  • Keep your job if possible so you don't lose career and financial traction.
  • But if you need to quit, practice living on less.

 

For many working parents, it can be hard to take off a day or two when their child has the flu. What if you had to take several weeks off? How would you pay the bills with a reduced income or none at all?

The good news is, if you have to take extended leave to care for your child or another loved one, you can do so without seriously damaging your career or your finances. Here are a few things to keep in mind if a serious illness affects your family.

 

Understand your rights

The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member. In most states, that's unpaid leave. However, California, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey have passed various forms of paid leave Opens in new window, up to a weekly wage cap. Companies with less than 50 employees aren't required to offer paid or unpaid leave.

Whether or not your employer offers family medical leave, federal law prevents companies from firing you for taking care of a sick family member. Visit the National Conference of State Legislatures Opens in new window for a list of family and sick leave laws by state.

 

Don't quit your job unless it's absolutely necessary.

Before you give two-weeks' notice, consider the long-term impact of leaving Opens in new window. Not only will you lose your salary, you'll lose 401(k) contributions, profit sharing and health benefits.

Rashelle Brooks of Greensboro, North Carolina, put her plans to start a food truck business, Mac & Cheese Ministry, on hold when her son, Joshua, was diagnosed with leukemia. To give her son the round-the-clock care he needed, Brooks had to quit her job. (Learn more about Brooks’ story on Prudential’s Everyday Bravery podcast Opens in new window.)

Recently divorced, Brooks moved herself and her daughter, Alanna, into a home for cancer patients near her Joshua's hospital. She lived on savings, food stamps and a little bit of nonprofit funding. Because she was a single mom raising two young children, one of which had ongoing medical treatments, including a bone marrow transplant, Brooks saw no other way.

Brooks and others in crisis situations give up more than a paycheck. A National Alliance for Caregiving Report included a profile of a 56-year-old woman who left a $70,000 per year job to care for her mother for three years. She lost $350,000 total in salary, social security, retirement and other benefits.

Before you quit, ask yourself: can you really afford to leave?

 

 

Explore alternative work arrangements

According to FlexJobs's 2017 State of Telecommuting Report Opens in new window, 3.9 million Americans work from home at least part of the time. More employers that recognize how telecommuting has a positive effect on employee productivity and happiness give employees this option.

Ask your supervisor or human resource manager about alternative work options such as telecommuting, flexible hours or a reduced schedule. That flexibility may give you the freedom you need to get your child to doctor's appointments or fix them a snack while maintaining your career and income.

 

If you do have to quit…

Like Brooks, you may have no choice but to leave your job. If that's the case, start living on one salary as soon as possible and save what you can of the second Opens in new window. If you're a single parent, you may need to trim your budget to the essentials only: food, housing and health.

If you're married, ask your working spouse to make spousal IRA contributions so you can continue retirement savings. With a spousal IRA contribution, a spouse with earned income can contribute to a Traditional or Roth IRA for a partner that has no earned income.

In some states, caring for a sick relative may entitle you to unemployment benefits. Visit this unemployment benefits finder Opens in new window to look up your state's benefits.

When you part ways from your employer, try to give more than two weeks' notice to ensure goodwill. During your absence from the workforce, maintain your network as best you can. That way, when it's time to return, you may have an easier re-entry.

 

Ask for help

When Joshua went through his first round of chemotherapy and radiation, Brooks stayed afloat with savings, help from friends, nonprofit funding and food stamps.

When your friends and family offer to help, let them. If they don't, ask. Can someone watch your child while you run errands? Can a family member help with cooking or laundry?

Several nonprofits provide financial support to seriously ill children and their families. Ronald McDonald House Opens in new window provides temporary homes and support services. Pediatric Angel Network Opens in new window and Pennies From Heaven Opens in new window both provide financial assistance to struggling families. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Opens in new window and other regional and national nonprofits also provide financial assistance for medical bills, copays and travel costs.

It took four years, a lot of perseverance and unwavering encouragement from her kids, but Brooks now has a thriving "Mac & Cheese Ministry" and a working food truck — pending the addition of an oven.

Joshua recently had another round of chemotherapy and didn't go into remission. This time, Brooks managed to balance caring for her son and running her business. "Things are just so up in the air," she says. "But I've learned that I've just got to keep working now."

Joshua and Alanna wouldn't want it any other way. "They'll give me hugs and remind me why I really wanted to do this," she says. "The great thing is they'll also back it up with, 'But you know what Mom? Whatever you are able to do right now, of course we still love you anyway.' That makes a big difference."

 

 

What you can do next

Use Prudential's Debt Manager Opens in new window tool to get insights on how to manage debt more efficiently.

 

Heather R. Johnson writes about finance, small business and healthcare from Oakland, California. Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle, and with major brands.

 

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