When FMLA Comes to Life
Nothing sends an HR Tech running for their Tylenol quite like an employee’s request for intermittent FMLA! It’s a big fat pain! Years ago, my employee Peggy, would sit at her desk and beg us not to interrupt her while she ensured her FMLA spreadsheet (leave tracking at its finest) was accurate. We used to tease Peggy incessantly about entering the “FMLA zone.”
I have been working in HR for nearly 18 years and I’ll admit, FMLA has made me cringe. It’s a complex web of forms, communication, and follow-up and it’s often overlooked, misinterpreted or abused, which makes it thorny and “a pain” for all involved.
My cynicism came to an abrupt halt this month. In the past four weeks, four people I love very much have been diagnosed with cancer. With the exception of one, all will face their cancer head on and dare it to take them from their families, their friends, or their work. These women are all facing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation; they will have a minimum of four months of total hell on their bodies, their minds, their families and their faith.
I spent today in the hospital with one of my closest friends who was diagnosed on Thursday. She needed some company and some good books and her family needed my chicken enchiladas! In addition, she wanted me to explain FMLA and her rights. While I was there, she took a call from her Supervisor. As I watched her proud but frightened face tell her boss that she would try to get some work done in between her surgery this coming week and her first chemo treatment, I was quickly reminded of the intent of the law.
As you probably know, the FMLA was enacted nearly 20 years ago. This was a sad time in US history. It was common to see discrimination against women during their pregnancy or immediately after the birth of their children. Perfectly good employees…stripped of their jobs because of their desire to juggle motherhood and their careers. Twenty years ago, it was not uncommon for employees to lose their jobs when an injury or illness kept them away for more than a few days. Perfectly good employees…stripped of their jobs because of a car accident, a surgery, or ongoing treatment of an illness.
The FMLA represents the end of that era…the end of someone needing to choose between work and health or having to choose between work and family. The FMLA represents what America prides itself on – freedom to choose, having the best of both worlds, being safe and protected. This law has made a huge difference in the lives of millions.
FMLA is a good thing. It’s good for business, it’s good for our economy and it’s good for our country. I sit here today, never having used the protection, but thinking of my years of cynicism and skepticism about others who did. Honestly, I’m a bit ashamed and I can only hope that the employees I served never felt or saw my jaded opinions on the matter.
None of my friends will be able to work full time during these next four + months; some of them will barely be able to “be” given the aggressive treatment planned for them. All of them are weary about FMLA; whether it is because they don’t want to appear needy or whether it is because they fear asking for something they know their employers don’t want to give them. I don’t know…but I can only hope that the HR Professional who receives their requests offers helpful information, empathy and continued support.
My eyes were opened this month; may I be a better HR professional because of it.