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Fernan’s Story – Putting the family back into FMLA

Fernan’s Story – Putting the family back into FMLA

June 11, 2015

My wife was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. As a human resource professional I have signed off on countless requests for family medical leave. Now I find myself submitting a request. I flashback to my wedding day twenty years ago where I said “I, Fernán, take thee Nannett, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my troth.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor: “FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal opportunity for men and women.”

I should be grateful that the law of the land is allowing me, albeit paltry, twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for and assist my wife on her road to wellness and recuperation from a major illness. The challenge is that she is facing surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy that will be at least a six month journey. Under the FMLA twelve weeks is equivalent of three months of support from me, unpaid of course. Fortunately I have banked seventy-two days of sick leave with an additional five weeks of vacation that I have not used yet. This covers, roughly right, the FMLA period and an additional three weeks and two days of paid leave. If I lived and worked in France my leave entitlement would be 310 days of paid leave over 3 years for serious disability or illness.

Friend and author Andrew Harrison interviewed me for his book, Love Your 84,000 Hours at Work: Stories on the Road from People with Purpose. When he interviewed me for the book I really loved my job, and today I really still do love my job, I love, however, my wife more. So now at a time when she needs me the most I can only give her 856 hours or .01% of the 84,000 hours I will give my employer in a lifetime. I don’t fault my employer at all for this. I do fault the cult, not culture, of work that has been created in the United States.

My wife is going to get 100% of my .01% on her road to wellness. This will mean going off the grid and disconnecting of from emails, text messages, etc. What’s the point of taking medical leave to take care of someone if you’re going to be distracted by work? Who is your first love anyway? I will give her that and more for her and my daughter, Kari-Elyssa. I will figure out how. If I am going to be catalyst to change the cult of work to a culture of balance between work and family in the true sense it has to start me with me here and now. I am married to my wife but I am not married to my job. I am putting the family back into FMLA. Who is with me?

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