Ready to Plan for a Mid- to Long-Term Medical Leave? Part 1
The idea for this post was born on my most stressful day in recent memory: the day I took three of my children to the doctor for COVID-19 tests. If even one tested positive, all three would need to skip school and spend up to two weeks at home with me. Along with my fears for my children’s health, my concern that other family members might have been exposed, and my worry about classmates they may have infected, a little voice kept whispering in my head: If they all stay home and I’m taking care of them, will I have to stop working?
Of course, planning for emergencies is nothing new to freelancers. Whether we’ve done the planning or not, we know we should be ready for sick days, power outages, family crises, and other unexpected circumstances. If you’re like me, your standard emergency plans may only be adequate for a missed day or two at a time. Others of us who experience major personal upheaval may develop a long-term plan for juggling work and family or personal life. Nikki Graham gave us all an excellent template for doing just that back in 2017.¹ But a COVID-related sick leave is a different type of beast. Infection for any member of a household means that the entire household may need to be locked down for at least five days, with longer isolation periods for more severe illness.² As many of us can and do work from home (including interpreters now, thanks to remote simultaneous interpretation), you may think you’ll just do more of the same, and in some circumstances you’ll be able to follow through. If you only need to quarantine, keeping yourself separated from others because you’ve been exposed to someone with active COVID, you may be able to continue working, remotely if you’re an interpreter, and normally if you’re a translator who already works from home. If you do catch COVID, then you’ll need to isolate yourself from others, including members of your household, and depending on the severity of the infection, you may or may not be able to keep working. Even after you’re considered “recovered,” symptoms like brain fog and fatigue may lead to a drop in productivity. And what if you’re taking care of someone who’s ill? How much time will you lose from work? What if you then get infected after taking that precious time off? The unfortunate fact is, whether you’re the sick person or the primary caregiver for someone who is sick with COVID, you may be looking at an extended period away from work. Some salaried employees have support from their companies for a COVID-related sick leave, but as freelancers, we need to build our own safety nets. What do we need to think about?
Before continuing, I’d like to make it clear that I don’t have all the answers. This article does not contain iron-clad advice but rather a series of questions to ask yourself so that you can develop a plan that works for you. This is the thought process I used to start working out my own plan, which I am thankful I did not have to use – yet. In our family’s case, the sniffles turned out to be just a normal seasonal virus, but I’m now taking steps to make sure I’m not caught off-guard again.
The questions I used are divided into two groups: finances and organization. This week, we’ll focus on the financial questions. They address concerns about savings, budgeting, and health insurance. Reviewing these areas may show you steps to take so you can either weather a period away from work or keep working while a family member is sick.
Consider both your current financial situation and what your finances will look like if you or a member of the household catches COVID-19 while answering these questions, then try to address any concerns you find. Take these steps ahead of time, if you can. And please note that these questions cover financial situations for a US-based freelancer. Freelancers based in other countries will likely have different concerns.
- Do you have an emergency savings fund?
- If so, is it adequate to cover time away from work? The standard recommendation is to have 3-6 months of normal expenses saved and easily available (in a liquid account, not tied up in stocks, for example).³
- If you don’t have enough savings, can you add money to your emergency fund regularly? How much, and how often? If you’re not sure where to start, try saving 10% of any money you bring home and adjust from there. Before the year is over, you’ll have a month’s worth of living expenses saved.
- Can you cut any costs to decrease your financial burden in the event of illness and time off work?
- Will regular services, like television or phone service, be cheaper if you use a different provider?
- Do you pay for services or regular expenses that you can do without?
- If you cut some expenses, can you put that money into your emergency savings fund?
- What additional operating costs can you anticipate if you or a household member becomes ill?
- Will you need to rely more on delivery services? What are the fees, and can you pay them?
- What if the sick person is unable to eat their normal diet? Can you absorb an increase in the grocery bill?
- Is there a more cost-effective place to shop?
- Will the cost of over-the-counter or prescription medicines be a problem?
- Do your regular creditors offer emergency assistance?
- Does your mortgage company or landlord offer flexible payment arrangements for short-term emergencies?
- Do utility companies and other service companies offer any assistance?
- How can you access these programs?
- Are there community resources you can access if funds run low?
- Does your community have a food pantry, emergency support for paying heating bills or other utilities, free medical services, or charitable organizations?
- How do you access the community resources you’ve found?
- Do you need any documentation to prove financial need, and if so, do you have copies easily available?
- Can friends or family step in with a short-term loan or other financial support?
- Do you have health insurance?
- If so, which services are covered in full?
- Do you need referrals for treatment or additional testing, like blood tests?
- What is your deductible, and can you cover it?
- What about copays? What are they, and are they different for different types of health care?
- Do you need to use in-network doctors?
- How can you find out which doctors will take your insurance?
- Does your insurance include coverage for medication?
- If you don’t have health insurance, can you enroll in a low-cost or free plan?
- Do community organizations, like your local Chamber of Commerce, offer affordable insurance rates for members?
- Are you eligible for Medicare or Medicaid?
- Have you checked the health insurance marketplace in your state? Is there a plan listed there that works for you?
- Can you invest in any tools to make your working time more productive?
- Do you have speech recognition software, quality assurance tools like PerfectIt, or other tools that will help you to work more efficiently?
- Do you have the funds to purchase these tools?
- Are there free versions that you can use?
- After you’ve answered the questions above, are you prepared to cut your working hours or stop work altogether for two weeks or more, if needed?
- If not, is there anything else you can do to shore up your finances in case you get sick?
Now that you’ve taken a good hard look at your financial situation, you can take steps to improve it. For example, you may need to cancel extraneous services or check with your health insurance provider for a list of in-network doctors.
In the next post, we’ll look at organization. The organizational questions will help you to think about the nuts and bolts of running a household under lockdown because of COVID.
2. The World Health Organization’s guidance can be found here: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explains quarantine and isolation, plus steps to take when quarantining or isolating, at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/COVID-19-Quarantine-vs-Isolation.pdf. More detailed information on quarantine and isolation, including the latest guidelines on shortened quarantine periods, can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/quarantine-isolation.html. The CDC’s main COVID resource page is at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
3. This article suggests one way to determine how large your emergency savings fund should be: https://www.thebalance.com/is-your-emergency-fund-too-big-4142617
About the Author
Danielle Maxson has been translating since 2009 and specializes in medical translation with a focus on patient records. She is an ATA-certified Portuguese to English and Spanish to English translator and the chair of ATA’s Business Practices Education Committee. Before focusing on translation, she worked as a Spanish teacher and a medical interpreter. For more information, visit https://dmaxsontranslates.com.
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