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Medical leave: An employee’s perspective

October 25, 2017

By Gary Churnovic, SPHR®, SHRM-SCPSM, HKP, Senior Human Resource Consultant

As a human resource consultant, I have frequently helped employers navigate the sometimes complicated world of the Family Medical Leave Act. Recently, I had a firsthand experience with what this act is designed to do for employees.

First it is important to understand it. FMLA is a federal leave law that applies to private-sector employers with 50 or more employees, employed within a 75-mile radius.

Employees must have worked for the employer for a least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours during that 12-month period.

The leave entitles a qualified employee to take up to 12 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The birth of a son or daughter or placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care.
  • To care for a spouse, son, daughter or parent who has a serious health condition.
  • For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his/her job.
  • For any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a spouse, son, daughter or parent is a military member on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status. (Covered employees can take up to 26 weeks off to care for a service member with a serious injury or illness.)

In my case, I used FMLA to cover my serious health condition. About a month and a half ago I was diagnosed with coronary artery blockage and required emergency bypass surgery.

I have only been hospitalized once in my life years ago, so the experience was foreign and pretty scary, since my condition was life-threatening. It all happened very fast and I quickly went from a very productive, energetic and capable person to someone who was relatively helpless, weak and dependent on others.

Of course, I was unable to work. The recovery period for this type of surgery is 12 weeks, per my surgeon. So, I was facing up to 12 weeks of lost wages, plus the expense of health insurance deductibles.

It goes unsaid that these types of medical events can be financially devastating to a typical employee. Having the assurance that my job would be waiting for me after my recovery period certainly helped my state of mind. I knew I would have additional bills to pay, and I needed a job to be able to pay them.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through something like this and then not have a job to return to.

I’m lucky. My condition was discovered and treated in time, and I’m on my way to a full recovery. I’m also lucky in my employer supported my medical leave and encouraged my return to work when I was able.

My FMLA request was processed smoothly, and I got calls and cards from my firm’s executive team wishing me a speedy recovery. I felt genuinely cared about, and I can’t express how good that made me feel at a time when I most needed it.

Additionally, my employer offers a paid medical leave benefit, making a significant difference in helping me to maintain some financial stability. I’m back to work after five weeks.

I attribute my early return to the excellent medical care I received and to my employer, who has created policies and an environment that is supportive and encouraging. I was eager to get back to work and to be as productive as possible.

I’m lucky. I’m on the road to healing, and I work for an employer that cares about and supports its employees when they need it the most. It’s one of the reasons I chose to work here, why I stay and why I want to do my absolute best.

We will likely all have some sort of medical event at some point in our lives. FMLA has demonstrated that it isn’t necessarily a burden to employers.

In fact, in today’s competitive workplace, it can be seen as a way to engender employee commitment and retention, helping organizations become an employer of choice.

This article was originally published in the Tri-State Business Times.

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