Life with MS

Nine Pointers to Keep Caregivers on a Smooth Career Path

By Gay Falkowski


If you’re a primary caregiver with a full-time career, you may worry about being able to “do it all.” Can I keep up with this workload? Do they notice I’m still committed to my job? Am I missing opportunities for promotion? These concerns are understandable. But instead of worrying, take action to minimize the effect caregiving has on your career. With the right approach, you can strike a good balance between your roles as caregiver and employee – and stay on a smooth career path.

1. Learn your legal rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on a worker’s association with an individual with a disability. Also, if you must miss work to handle caregiving responsibilities, you have legal rights as outlined in the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Someone from your employer’s human resources department should be able to give you more information about these rights and qualifying conditions.

2. Be honest with your boss. While each work situation is unique, and only you can determine what’s best for you, it is generally beneficial to share some basic information. Describe your responsibilities as a caregiver to someone with multiple sclerosis. Give a brief overview of MS, including why the needs of your care partner can be unpredictable. Be realistic about what you can take on at work. Let him or her know what you need in order to be successful at work. Emphasize your commitment to your role and organization.

3. Ask about flexible work arrangements. Some options that might be available include:

  • Flextime Hours: Vary your workday start and stop times within a certain range, such as allowing you to arrive at work any time between 8 and 9:30 a.m. and then work for eight hours.
  • Flexible Days: Opportunities may include compressed work weeks, such as working four 10-hour work days.
  • Telecommuting, Work-at-Home: These options would allow you to work from home or an alternate office location closer to home.

4. If it’s financially feasible, consider working part-time. Reduced-time options include:

  • Part-time hours: Ask for proportionate wages and benefits compared with full-time workers as well as earn proportionate credit for relevant experience needed to qualify for promotions, training programs, or other employment opportunities.
  • Job sharing: Share one full-time position with another employee and receive a proportionate share of the salary and benefits.

5. Request permission to use sick leave for caregiving responsibilities. This includes taking leave with little notice in case of an emergency and to use leave in short increments rather than full days or weeks.

6. Keep your boss informed. Though you may have an equal opportunity to participate in complex or high-profile work assignments that will enhance your skills and experience and help you get a promotion, be responsible about your duties. Tell him or her as soon as you realize you might not be able to complete an upcoming project or task. Maybe you can renegotiate deadlines or take on different tasks so you continue to meet your boss's expectations.

7. Have a contingency plan for important work situations. What would you do if your care partner needed you unexpectedly on the morning of a critical presentation? What if work asked you to take an important assignment at the same time your care partner had a doctor’s appointment? Having solutions in hand before an emergency arises is a win-win for you, your employer, and your care partner.

8. Create goodwill with fellow employees. They’ll have emergency situations, too. Whenever possible, step in and pick up the slack when they’re away. These are people who’ll likely be covering for you when you have to take off. Reciprocating favors strengthens work relationships, and you’ll feel good.

9. Take care of your own health and wellness. Sign up for health incentives or gym discounts offered through your employer. Do your best to exercise, eat a well-balanced diet, and get a good night’s sleep. This can help you avoid "presenteeism," being present at your job but not working to your full potential. Set time aside to rest and relax, visit with friends, or take up a hobby. Making time for yourself helps manage stress and ensures that you have the physical and mental energy to do your best.