Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An "unreasonable restraint on business” – What are they thinking?

Recent legislation has come before Congress concerning amending FLMA to allow coverage for time taken after the death of a child.   Currently FMLA offers no protections, and from a technical standpoint, only 2 or 3 days are normally offered by companies to allow a parent to grieve after they lose a child. 

Now, honorable businesses would most likely do the right thing, and would allow an employee to grieve (and many companies do).  However, protections like FMLA exist because of the companies that are not “honorable”, the companies that put profits over people, which treat their employees like cattle. 

FMLA is not a handout.  The only protection that FMLA offers is that, when an employee goes out on sick leave, or leave to care for a family member, that these unfortunate souls will be able to get their former job, or a position of equivalent responsibility and salary after the traumatic family event unfolds. 

FMLA currently does not cover the death of a child.  Therefore, if an employee takes FMLA to care for a sick child, that subsequently dies, that employer could require the employee to return to work in as little as 2 or 3 days, or threaten them with the loss of their job.  In today’s economy, threats of job loss, and the potential for the unemployment line are significant.  Furthermore, if an employee does not return to work, they technically could be considered “no call / no show” and terminated for cause – therefore eliminating their ability to receive unemployment compensation.  

After going through the loss of a child, it is easy to see how many parents who have lost a child end up homeless.   It’s actually very simple, lose a child, you don’t care about your job – which you lose – then you lose your house, and it’s a vicious downward spiral to homelessness.  

Most of us would think extending FMLA (which again does NOT guarantee money) is not a bad thing.  Essentially, someone gets to keep their job, and allows them to put family values first – i.e. allows them to care for their ill or ailing loved one.  However, this legislation is currently meeting some opposition, and the opposing forces are saying that extending FMLA to protect parents in a time when they are absolutely the most vulnerable is an “unreasonable restraint on business”.  

Many businesses will treat their employees properly, but one thing I have seen firsthand, is that many businesses treat parents who have lost a child horrifically.   My wife, who works for a children’s hospital, was told, after receiving a doctor’s note for an additional two weeks of leave and after her co-workers were willing to pool and give her their sick time – that her FMLA time was up, and she needed to come back to work.   We delivered triplets, our two daughters only needed two weeks in the NICU, but our son was stillborn.  Despite having issues with delivering her babies, my wife was grieving over the loss of our son.   Her employer – again, a Children’s hospital – threatened her job.  

The point here is that, even a hospital, a firm that should understand grieving, birth and death, treated her as a number, and put their profits first above the “human element”.   Like unions, legislation like this protects those that do not have a voice, those that need help when no one else is helping them.  FMLA is not a handout; it is just a protection that can limit our unemployment lines, which can help someone keep their job, their home and their sanity.  An unreasonable restraint on business is a cold, callous and laughable argument.  Again, FMLA does not force a company to dole out money, it just forces them to hold a position for a worker in a time when they need compassion, help and understanding, and a time when they need these things the most. 

If businesses put people first, if business people acted with integrity and honor, there would be no need for FMLA reform.  Unfortunately, we need this because business, ethics, honor and integrity are four words that do not mesh very well in our present society.  Perhaps future generations will not need things like FMLA, but until we can become compassionate and not put profits above people, revenue above doing the right thing, we need to protect those without a voice, and the new FMLA reforms do just that.