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As both a full-time employee and a primary caregiver to one of my family members, I am worried about potentially exposing my family to COVID. Is there anything I can do? Elaine Varelas guides

Being a primary caregiver while working full time is a challenge in itself and even more so during the pandemic. Elaine Varelas guides on how to best keep your family members safe while maintaining your work responsibilities.

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Q: I am the primary caregiver for one of my family members. I work full time and I have to be in the office on occasion, which I am a little worried about because of COVID. How can I make sure I still meet the demands of work while also keeping my family members safe?

A: You are not alone in dealing with the challenges that come with caregiving, working, and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The complexities around what you are trying to do cannot be overstated. No one wants to put a family member’s health at risk, so it is important to first assess the strength of your organization’s practices on keeping their employees healthy. Is there a vaccination mandate? If not, are there regularly scheduled testing requirements for those who are not vaccinated? Are there rules for employees to be masked in all public areas? Having your company ensure that you and your colleagues remain COVID free are the beginnings of assuring your family members remain safe.

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Additionally, you mentioned you have to go into the office occasionally. Have you or are you able to talk to your employer about adding even more flexibility to your schedule? If you are able to, I would work with your company to see if you could utilize a more hybrid schedule where you could come in when there are fewer employees in the office and work from home when the expected number of people in the office is higher. This may help limit the risk of exposure for you and your family member.

Trying to minimize the risk is the first step, but the other significant challenge to caregiving (be it a child, a person with special needs, or an older relative) is when they fall ill and you need to provide more of your time. Many employers allow you to use your paid sick time to take care of an immediate family member. This could help you tackle the stress you may face. Other employers have generated additional flexibility with work hours to recognize that caregivers may have unexpected responsibilities to take care of. Pre-COVID, some law firms had emergency care provided by the office for those employees who had non-negotiable work activities to attend to, such as court dates.

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Additionally, you may find you need personal support during this time. Do consider using an EAP (employee assistance program) as you balance both your work life and your responsibilities as a caregiver. Being able to discuss things with a counselor, a religious leader, or another supportive person will be valuable to you until the circumstances change. Even without the additional stress of COVID, being a significant caregiver while working full time is a complicated relationship to deal with and can contribute significant stress to a working professional.

According to Dr. Paul Powers in his most recent LifeMap newsletter Caregiving and Working, “One geriatric nursing study found that 16.6% of the US population over the age of 18 self-identify as caregivers who provide support for adults with illnesses or disabilities.” Being a caregiver while working full time is difficult to balance, and employers need to offer support. Make sure you take the necessary precautions and steps to keep yourself and your loved ones happy and healthy.

For more information from Dr. Paul Powers, please see his newsletter at http://drpaulpowers.com/Resources/LifeMap-Jan.2022.pdf

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