We conducted a study with our partners at the University of Michigan Center for Managing Chronic Disease on the obstacles facing the chronically ill and the strategies used to surmount them. The results were fascinating in a lot of ways, one of which was the fact that 81 percent of respondents were women. We didn’t do anything that should have led to that result, anymore than we at Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness do more outreach to women than to men. And yet we know that we get more requests for assistance from women than from men. Why is that?
There are some statistics out there that support the view that women seek medical attention more than men, but I think it’s more than that. I think it has at least something to do with the fact that women not only are patients, but they’re also caregivers. They call us for their child, their spouse, their parent, their friend. That’s not to say that there are no male caregivers; just that women play that role most often.
And so the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is critical to women. It provides that an individual who works for an employer with 50 or more employees is entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period for one of a handful of reasons – the birth or adoption of a child, to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, parent) with a serious health condition, or to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work due to a serious health condition. Many people don’t realize that FMLA leave may be taken intermittently, so if you have to accompany a family member to doctor appointments, for example, that can be covered as FMLA leave. Not only can you not be fired for taking FMLA leave, but your employer cannot retaliate against you for taking FMLA leave either.
The definition of a serious medical condition is sort of technical and long-winded, but generally, any illness that is expected to last more than three days that includes treatment by a physician on an ongoing basis will qualify you for FMLA leave. You will have to fill out a form, and your doctor has to fill out part of it, as well to establish that you or your family member has a serious health condition. But the test is a pretty easy one to meet.
Women shouldn’t have to fear losing their jobs simply because they fill the caregiver role so often. The FMLA protects us against job loss and retaliation, whether we are the patient or the caregiver. So submit your FMLA paperwork and take job stress out of the equation.