The workplace sent me to one of those high-octane professional development gabfests, and I was grateful to go, and mindful of its expense. I wanted to make the most of it. It was about public speaking and being coherent on TV. But that was the day I realized my father was really dying this time.
I delivered my sample speech, something about human rights. I called my boss. I told her what I just told you.
I’ll always remember the kindness in her voice when she said, “Take all the time you need.”
I was with him when he took his last breath. My hand was on his shoulder.
The years that led up to that moment called for some sudden departures from work and some planned ones, trips to the doctor, vigils at the bedside. There was a form to fill out. The FMLA form, named for the Family and Medical Leave Act, started a clock that protected my job while I looked after my father.
Certain employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to welcome a new baby, to care for a sick parent, or to recover from an illness or injury. If an eligible person had to leave work for three months, his employer would have to either save his job for him or offer him an equivalent different job.
A Tale of Two Workplaces
This is good. But it’s too limited. There was a tale of two workplaces right in front of my eyes. I had paid leave, running concurrently with and covered by FMLA. I never got into unpaid time off.
I also had the good-hearted boss. Anne Haimes. I will always remember her, and always know I owe her a debt.
The same workplace had what we liked to call part-timers. An employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of FMLA leave, according to Findlaw. Some of them worked there for years, years upward of 10 years, allegedly on a temporary basis. Some of them did not get enough hours to be covered by FMLA. Even if they did, they had no paid leave. Nor did they have the kind of wages conducive to building up a nest egg.
I remember one colleague putting off going to visit an ill, elderly aunt who had helped raise her. The colleague could not afford to take the time off.
Roll of the Dice
And as for flexibility for the part-timers, it all depended. Kind boss? Unkind? Roll of the dice.
So I take today’s White House Summit on Working Families personally. America needs to do better about supporting family life. I’ve read some political analysis that this is about positioning Democrats for the midterm elections. That may be, but the need for the work world to support people’s full responsibilities is not a partisan matter or a gender issue. It’s universal.