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What's OK, what's not OK in caregiving work?


Question: I am a caregiver and I work for an agency whose clients are quite special. Clients ask me to clean the garage, do gardening, bath the dog, clean up the dog’s poop, cook for family members, prepare for a yard sale, and do the packing when a client is moving. I do the shopping in my car and don't get paid for gasoline. I've talked to my employer about few of these things and all I get is "we'll talk to the client" or "Please help them—they need help". What can I do?

Dr. Amy: Caregiving is not a regulated profession and, as a result, rules that govern what you can and cannot do are set at the agency level, or as part of an individual contract that you have with a client. The truth of the matter is that caregiver is a mixed role. Generally, caregiving includes companionship, light housekeeping, running errands, and assisting with personal care. It’s really all about helping people live independently as they get older for as long as possible, and adding to their quality of life. Because each one of your clients is a unique individual, the role will may vary considerably from one client to the next.

It sounds like with some clients you are working for an adult child of the person needing care. When this is the case, you are really helping them in their role as caregiver, as much as you are attending to their aging parent. I have a great deal of empathy for people who take on the care of an aging parent on top of taking care of home, family and— as is often the case— full time paid work. To say it is stressful really doesn’t do it justice. You may be in this situation yourself. At the same time, you have a right to be treated with dignity and respect, and you have a right to be assigned a reasonable work load.

It is absolutely reasonable for you to be reimbursed for the cost of gasoline and wear and tear on your car. This is often paid as a flat fee based on mileage. As to other tasks such as gardening and tidying the garage, these sound like reasonable requests so long as three conditions are met:

  • your client is not being neglected while you do this other work
  • you get to take a break at appropriate times
  • these tasks would generally be considered light housekeeping

If you prefer not to take on these extra tasks perhaps you can ask for a new clients. If your agency will not reimburse you for gas, you may also wish to consider switching to a different agency.

Good luck.


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