How much is too much? No, that’s not a drinking question, but one I’ve heard more recently in connection with ADA, FMLA and other leave requirements. Business leaders struggle with balancing adherence to the law, upholding a value system (whether organizational or personal) and the feeling of being taken advantage of. Am I a schmuck for being too kind?
When Joyce took leave to take care of Will, she didn’t do so excitedly. She let her boss know that her son was ill, and they weren’t sure what was wrong with him or how long she’d be out. Her boss didn’t know what to say to her, but just let her do her own thing (I don’t really think Joyce was asking his permission). The reality was that Will was having issues with the Upside-Down and his body was invaded by the Demogorgon. I mean, does that sound like vacation to you?
People have needs. There is no escaping that. Whether it’s the arrival of a baby or the unexpected journey of disease, our staff will likely have something affect them. And very often, the management involved is sympathetic to the issues. And then there are those who seem to ruin it all…
Yes, I know there are apps available that track your eligibility for FMLA usage. Yes, I know there are some unions who have used leave laws as a squeeze tactic in renegotiations. Yes, I know that there are “doctors” who do their discipline a disservice by mass-marketing excuse-from-work documents. I know. It ticks me off as well.
The first consideration to keep in mind constantly is that those bad apples are not the majority. Those having babies, surgeries or caring for someone are not eager to be without work and pay. It’s not unusual for an employee upon getting back to work to share how much he/she needed to get back. Work can be a healthy outlet and distraction from the health difficulties at home. A little bit of an escape is helpful. Those people are not your problems, so don’t legislate against them.
And secondly, FMLA is job protection, not income protection. Staff who take right advantage of this leave are not doing so for extra paid time off. Often, their needs surpass any concurrent vacation time payout. And while some states have paid leave options, they don’t last the full 12 weeks of FMLA available, and that pay is a fraction of what they might normally make. It’s a stressor and most can’t wait to get back to work to earn full pay.
But thirdly, it’s important to document and follow a consistent process in leave requests and management. An employer has a right to have federal and/or state documentation completed as part of the leave request. An employer should use its HR department well here. The cause is not protecting the employer or protecting the employee; it is both. Allow HR to have great clarity around the process and expectations with management, and then to express the same transparency in process to the employee. Communication is a great weapon here.
Of course, legal counsel is helpful when it gets to the point of problem. If someone cannot return after 12 weeks of FMLA and is extended another 30 or 60 days under ADA, there is a reasonableness that must be considered. Counsel can often help with this.
Just remember that not every employee is a jerk. There are some, for sure, but not the majority. Maintaining tight process, inclusive of an independent medical examination when needed, will make it less likely that someone will try to circumvent.
It’s in our best interest to provide leave of some kind to our employees. It’s a benefit of employment, as much as it’s a rule of law. We hire people. And people, including you, face circumstances that are not always in our control. Lay aside the defensive posture at the onset and lead with compassionate consideration.