For employees

Nursing and caring for sick or elderly family members

Nursing and caring for sick and elderly family members is not something one can anticipate when planning one’s career, but when the need to care for a loved one arises, these new responsibilities must also be balanced with professional activities.

In 2018, the findings of a qualitative study conducted in Ireland were published in the International Journal of Human Resource Management[1], which showed that a friendly organizational culture has a major impact on the ability of employees to balance work and care for elderly family members. Although there is an increasing focus on balancing work and personal life, measures to help achieve this balance are typically directed toward caring for children rather than elderly family members. When workplace policies do not include measures to help achieve a balance between work and caring for elderly loved ones, managers gain more power and employees become more dependent on the personal approach of their immediate superiors regarding these issues.

The study revealed that the problem also often lies in the attitudes of the employees themselves. Even in cases where the employer aims to help its employees balance their personal responsibilities with work, employees avoid using such measures. For example, employees may believe that taking days off to care for their family members will jeopardize their career and damage it in the long run. As a result, employees tend to use their annual leave and their personal days off to care for their elderly family members rather than using additionally provided measures. Reluctance to provide an immediate superior with information about the health condition of one’s family members also contributes to the problem. Although taking care of a family member for a while at one’s own expense, i.e. by giving up one’s free time and hobbies, is possible, it is only a short-term solution to the problem. Particularly in cases when a family member is dependent on others and requires long-term intensive care.

When it comes to caring for sick and elderly family members, gender also plays a very important role, since women are more likely to bear this burden than men. This is due to the fact that women are still stereotypically viewed by the society as gentle and attentive carers, and it is considered to be more acceptable for them to sacrifice their career in order to care for their loved ones. This results in a higher number of women working part-time, with some women giving up their careers altogether.

When a balance cannot be found, the quality of one’s life decreases since there is a significant increase in overall fatigue, constant anxiety and stress that, if left unchecked, can have a negative impact on one’s own physical and emotional health. It is therefore very important to be aware of the ways and measures that could facilitate your responsibilities. One of the first obstacles is the psychological barrier. Every employee is just a person outside their workplace, with their own personal lives and various commitments, which are all important. Remembering this will make it easier to take advantage of the available measures provided to you by both your workplace and the State to help you balance your professional and personal life, without feeling guilt or shame.

Support provided by other people and organizations

According to research, employees caring for their sick or elderly family members feel less stress and are able to balance their personal responsibilities with work more easily when they are helped by other people who take on some of the responsibilities of caring for a loved one. This is easiest to do when the person who requires care has a large family whose members can share responsibilities among each other and take turns. Even seemingly simple chores like doing the laundry may become a real challenge, so any kind of help can be very beneficial to both the person being cared for as well as your own well-being.

Even if you do not have any family members of relatives who are willing to help, there are many organizations and individual persons in Lithuania that offer their support in caring for seniors. City and district municipalities also offer social care services and integrated assistance, consisting of social services and additional work, to vulnerable seniors. These services are offered in 59 out of 60 Lithuanian municipalities (all except Neringa) and are partially paid for by the municipalities. When a family’s financial situation is difficult, it can be exempted from paying for the relevant social services. If you believe that you need such support, you should contact the municipal social welfare department of the city or district where the elderly family member you are caring for lives. It will give you all the necessary information, perform an initial assessment of your need for support, and select appropriate services for you, as well as the company that provides them.

What measures are available under the Labour Code?

In order to facilitate balance between working and caring for a sick or elderly family member, a number of different measures provided for in the Labour Code can be used, even if they are not directly related to the care of family members. These measures are as follows:

  1. Temporary incapacity for work. If a family member who depends on you becomes ill or has a significant deterioration in his or her health, you can contact your doctor for a medical certificate confirming incapacity for work. Upon receipt of the certificate, you should inform your employer thereof so that the employer can submit a filled out report to Sodra regarding the granting of benefit to the employee. In order to receive the sickness benefit from Sodra, you should also apply for it either online, by mail or by going directly to any Sodra branch office no later than within 12 months after the end of the illness. This benefit will be comprised of 65.94 percent of your reimbursable salary. You can learn more about the procedure for granting sickness benefits HERE.
  2. Unpaid leave. The employer is obliged to provide unpaid leave to an employee caring for a family member for a period recommended by a healthcare institution.
  3. Unpaid time off during the workday. At the request of the employee and with the consent of the employer, unpaid time off may be provided to the employee for personal reasons during his/her working day (shift). The parties to the employment contract may agree to transfer working time to another day, without violating the requirements of maximum working time and minimum rest time. This measure can be useful when a sick or elderly family member you are caring for has a scheduled visit to the doctor or a procedure provided only once within a long period of time, however this is not a long-term solution to the problem.
  4. Flexible work schedule. A flexible work schedule is a working time regime set by the employer, when the employee must be present at his or her workplace during specific fixed hours of the working day (shift), and may organise the rest of his or her working time by working before or after the fixed hours. Applying a flexible work schedule can help facilitate the day-to-day care of a sick or elderly family member. If the specifics of your job position allow this, the employer should satisfy your request to work under a flexible work schedule.
  5. Individual work schedule. Where the application of a flexible work schedule simply changes the start and end times of work, an individual work schedule allows employees to organize their work depending on the workload and personal life needs. For example, you can transfer your working hours which you normally work on Fridays to other days of the week, in order to be off work during Fridays.
  6. Remote work. If you are not required to be at your workplace for the entire day in order to do your job, you may request your employer to enable you to work remotely. This measure can help relieve anxiety that you may feel when being away from a family member you are caring for. You would also save time traveling to and from work, thus having more time to both care for your sick or elderly family member, as well as take care of yourself.

[1] Murphy, C., Cross, C. (27 December 2018). Blurred lines: work, eldercare and HRM. The International Journal of Human Resource Management.