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THE QUESTION

My spouse is facing a terminal illness and I am her only caregiver.

My employer has allowed me to work from home some days, and on others I have taken a vacation day just to keep an eye on her. But my employer's actions have been less than supportive.

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They expect me to not to miss deadlines despite emergencies at home, and set unrealistic goals that do not take into account my situation. Even without my home issues, the stress of my job has been taking its toll on my health. I need to look for work before my health degenerates further or I am fired. My 15 years of experience means I should be able to find a new job, and as working from home is a fairly common practice in my occupation, it would help with my other responsibilities.

My question is: Would a prospective employer take on an employee with a difficult short-term situation?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Bill Howatt

President of Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

Most employers have empathy for employees in your situation, and it appears even your employer has made some efforts to accommodate you. At the core of this issue is that each employer defines what they believe is fair, reasonable and what they can afford.

If you are looking for time off without pay versus time off with pay, these are two different requests. It appears you are looking for an employer who can accommodate your needs on short notice and who will pay you whether you are working or not. When the stakes are high, it is valuable to step back and define exactly what you want from your employer. Write out your answer and be detailed. Then you will have framed your expectation for time off and money.

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Before looking for another job, it is worth meeting with HR and your manager. They know you are in a tough situation but they may be unaware of how you are feeling. If you have skills they value, they may be open to exploring what else they can do for you. Having a track record can be helpful in these kinds of cases. Before adding more change to your life, this may be a prudent thing to do.

There are certainly lots of employers out there who care deeply about their employees. However, as a new employee, it may be difficult to find an employer who is willing to compensate you if you are not able work within defined parameters.

Organizations create benefits programs to protect employees' income within limits they can afford. Insurance companies provide critical health and disability insurance to help employees bridge income gaps when their benefits run out or do not cover such situations. In your case, you will need to decide what you can afford to do, regardless of what your current or new employer is willing to do.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Kyle Couch

President and CEO of Spectrum Organizational Development, Toronto

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Caregivers in the workplace are becoming more common than many people realize. Therefore, more companies are developing programs and work policies that help retain and attract talented employees who also have caregiver responsibilities. In short, there are several employers who will certainly understand your current situation as part of the hiring process.

While there is not a definitive list of employers that will be more supportive of your situation, be on the lookout for companies that tout programs to promote work-life balance, including parental support, flex-time programs, and work-at-home potential. These companies all tend to take a long-term view of their employees, understanding that situations and lives change.

If you do pursue a new job, be sure your prospective employer is aware of the demands on your time, and get their commitment for support and flexibility.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Your confidentiality is ensured.

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