Employee fears that family leave spells trouble at work

Lynne Curry

Q. One after another of my three children took ill during the last two months, passing their colds back and forth from one to another. Although it wore me down, I continued working full-time, I luckily never took sick and had enough paid time off (PTO) to nurse each kid through the worse of their illnesses. I also had the good fortune for my mom to come for an extended visit to help me out.

Last Friday she took seriously ill. I'm out of PTO and am torn. I've never in my 15-year career let my personal challenges impact my work life but my mom was there for me and I can't do less.

My organization is large enough to offer employees the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefit but it's a sham. Two years ago one individual, a new father, took advantage of it to care for a foster child and has been sidelined ever since. We've had several new moms who wanted to take extra time off and didn't because they didn't want to risk career damage.

I'm up for a promotion and don't want to lose it by taking leave. What suggestions do you have?

A. You surface a real concern. Although the FMLA allows those who work in organizations of 50 or more employees for a year to take up to 12 weeks' unpaid leave annually to care for ill family members, some who take this leave experience repercussions when they return.

As most companies take FMLA leave seriously and your work history speaks for itself, you may have nothing to fear. If you want to further protect your promotional future, meet immediately with your manager. Let him know how seriously you take your job and the unavoidable dilemma you now face. Show him your commitment by suggesting how your organization can minimize the workplace disruption your leave creates. Give him specifics concerning the time off you need and whether you can work a few days on and a few days off to make it easier for everyone. Further, let your co-workers know the situation so they realize you're doing the best you can and aren't slacking.

Then take your leave -- it's your right. If the organization truly lashes back against you, protest. You have several options, from meeting with your organization's human relations department or senior management to filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division to hiring an attorney. Congress passed the FMLA because employees shouldn't need to choose between caring for their loved ones and their jobs.

Q. My manager betrayed me and every employee in our company. He sent us all an email this morning that he'd loved his time with our company but had taken another job and would be gone in a month.

He was charismatic and had recently led a company-wide strategic planning event that charged us all in terms of our company's future. Those of us who believed in this man feel left hanging. The least he could have done was to have told us weeks or months ago when he started to look for a job elsewhere so we wouldn't invested our energy making plans he won't be here to make happen.

A. What would you have had him do? Tell you when he began looking for work elsewhere so you could have enjoyed weeks or months of limbo? Or give his full effort to your organization until he decided to move on?

Your manager apparently put his all into your recent strategic planning effort, leaving you and your company in the best possible place to continue without him. What leads you to think you can't carry out these plans without him?

You can.

Finally, while your manager didn't betray you, he made a mistake. When leaders switch directions, they need to answer employee questions. Instead of sending an email, your manager should have called a company meeting, told everyone his news and addressed your concerns head on. If he'd done so, you would have been able to express your feelings and hear his thoughts. My guess -- he'd have told you that you didn't need him to make your plans a success.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management-employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Co. Inc. For questions, Curry can be reached at thegrowthcompany.com.