Reading the letter from “Sam the Supervisor” and the employee who is “working” the sick leave and vacation system made me think of my own employee who may be about to work the system. This employee has lived with his girlfriend and her son for the past three years. The son is around ten years old. The couple has no plans to marry and my employee has no plans to adopt the boy. Nonetheless, he keeps calling in sick so he can take care of his girlfriend’s kid. We are coming into our really busy season and my employee just told me that his girlfriend’s son has been diagnosed with cancer. I just know he is going to try to use this to get more time off and I can’t do without him right now. It would be one thing if this was his real son, but they are not even related. I wouldn’t let him take time off to watch a neighbor’s kid or some other non-relative. Do you have any magic words that I can use to keep my employee from taking advantage of our sick leave program?
Dear Marsha –
How inconvenient for you that the young man was diagnosed with a serious disease. That news must have absolutely ruined your day. You poor thing. Perhaps you can kick a puppy to get the bad feelings out of your system.
— Evil Skippy
Marsha, Marsha, Marsha . . . There is more news that you won’t like. A few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Labor greatly expanded its definition of “son” and “daughter” for child-related leaves under the Family and Medical Leave Act. According to the DOL, in order to qualify for parental status under the FMLA, an employee need only establish one – not both – of the following elements: (1) he or she provides day-to-day care for the child; or (2) he or she is financially responsible for the child. There is no requirement that the employee be related to the child, have adopted the child or be married to a biological parent of the child.
The DOL’s action could affect many employees from grandparents to stepparents and other relatives and guardians, including your employee. (The DOL’s opinion is groundbreaking to the extent that, for the first time, it expressly mentions same-sex partners as qualifying for benefits under the FMLA).
Legally, the DOL announcement is merely that agency’s opinion about how the FMLA should be interpreted. It remains to be seen whether courts will be persuaded by the DOL’s new interpretation and whether courts will be willing to adopt the same definition. As a practical matter, however, employers should consider extending FMLA leave time for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a sick child, to employees who can establish that they provide day-to-day care for the child, or that they are financially responsible for the child.
Right. Here they are:
I am so sorry to hear about the diagnosis. Let’s set up a time today with Human Resources to go over our benefit program and your FMLA entitlements to determine how much time you can take off if it comes to that. I’ll appreciate you giving us as much notice as possible if you are going to be away so we can arrange a good schedule. Would you also like some information about the Employee Assistance Program? This must be a stressful time for you and your family.
Using this approach, you will achieve several goals:
- The employee will know that there are benefits available, but also that he needs to follow certain rules about advance notice and how much time he can be away.
- The employee and his co-workers will see that the company offers support when times are tough.
- You won’t look like a heartless jerk.
- By setting expectations at this point, you reduce the likelihood that the employee might “work” the system in the future. (By the way, using the benefits to which you are entitled is not “working” the system.)
- You have laid out the ground rules so if the employee is one of those rare breed who does take advantage of an employer’s generosity, you are ready to apply your regular progressive discipline and corrective action policies.
Good luck to you. Our thoughts are with the young man with cancer.