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Helping Dad Have More Time at Home

May 1, 1996
Related Topics: Employee Leave, Telecommuting, Featured Article
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The Dilemma:
Ted’s youngest child recently developed a health problem that requires a great deal of home care. Ted and his wife both work full-time jobs and they can’t afford to give up either of their incomes. So, Ted’s idea is to reduce his work-week to 30 hours. He’s willing to tele-commute a few additional hours, but is concerned that his workload, without adjustment, will swallow up 60 hours a week as usual. The challenge? Ted is a well-respected and well-liked supervisor of seven full-time employees. The trouble is you’re worried he may be setting a dangerous precedent. Telecommuting has been a popular option, but never job-sharing or working part time. Should you find a way to work with Ted and create a schedule you both can live with? Or should you let Ted know that his job requirements can’t change based on the demands of his personal life?

Readers Respond:
We would first hand Ted a copy of our FMLA form and notice with information on the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. We would ask Ted if he felt that he would qualify under the criteria and if he could produce documentation from a physician regarding the serious health condition of his child. If Ted met the established criteria, we would have no problem approving a leave and arranging a reduced work schedule until he had utilized his prorated 12-week period as provided by the FMLA. We would then suggest reviewing the situation if necessary after the exhaustion of the FMLA leave.

Regarding the exemption for the highest paid 10% employees—our company policy is to extend the benefits of the FMLA to all employees.
Robin Bartanen, Benefits Manager
& Naomi Richards, Employee Rels. Rep., Marquette General Hospital Inc. in Marquette, Michigan

Ted’s request is not unreasonable. The organization should find a way to work with him and find a mutually satisfying solution. The Family & Medical Leave Act allows Ted to take up to 12 weeks of leave to attend to his child’s health problem, if he so desires. It would likely benefit the organization to accommodate Ted’s request for a modified work schedule, rather than lose him for 12 weeks. Ted and management need to discuss schedule options to determine the number of work days and their duration. The modified schedule should be temporary, not permanent. If Ted’s onsite supervision is not essential, telecommuting is one frequently used solution for cases in which the employee needs to be at home.

Ted’s job responsibilities, however, should not be reduced if a modified schedule and telecommuting are provided in response to his request. This would place an undue hardship on the organization and other employees—particularly other supervisors who have to pick up his share of the workload. If Ted wishes to go to part-time status in order to attain a modified schedule and reduce his workload, he must recognize the potential for change in his total compensation and benefits package—a reduction most employees do not want to make even without the addition of the family health problem that Ted is facing.
Martin B. Kormanik,
Senior Associate,
O.D. Systems Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia

I would first try to work with Ted and his wife for a low-impact solution, such as moving one of them to an alternative shift. If that could be done in our firm, it would be top priority.

Failing that, I would next explore whether both wage earners need their onsite time halved, in order to care for the son. If only Ted is seeking a 50% cut, I would encourage, and perhaps insist that they share the child-care impact equally.

The constraints on Ted’s onsite time come more from the character and complexity of his and his employees’ work, than from a concern about precedent setting. It may help to fit the 30 hours of onsite time into three days, also saving him two or more round-trip commutes weekly. With his long and successful supervision, one or more of his employees may be ready to take on some newly delegated tasks for self-development.

Ted could take 10 hours per week of FMLA leave for 48 weeks, and his wife could do the same. In several states, such as Washington, each also could use sick pay to care for a seriously ill child.

It seems possible that either of them might be at risk to lose pay or position if performance in their jobs were to suffer substantially over an extended period. Long term, they may need to consider and plan for lifestyle adjustments in consideration of the home-care and health-care costs of the child.

Gerald W. Hedman,
VP Human Resources,
Teknon Corporation,
Spokane, Washington

Personnel Journal, May 1996, Vol. 75, No.5, pp. 130-131.

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