There are some experiences that simply fall into your lap. Experiences you don’t see coming and many times aren’t quite prepared for. However, these situations usually teach us the biggest lessons: lessons about patience, empathy and grace. This certainly has been the case during my 17 years as an HR pro, especially when dealing with employee leaves of absence (LoA).
I’m happy to share with you one of my toughest LoA situations and the lesson I learned from it.
A Lesson In Generosity
Early in my HR career I dealt with what was the most trying of all my LoA experiences. A beloved employee who had been with the company over 15 years lost her teenage son in a horrific car accident. The event was sudden, violent, and shocking. Some would describe it as senseless. The news shook all company members to the core and was catastrophic for the employee.
Naturally, employees sought advice from our HR team on how to handle the situation. As you would imagine, we tried to balance care and empathy with regulations and consistency. When the CEO talked to my supervisor, my supervisor advised him on the company’s PTO and bereavement policies. He also advised the CEO that FMLA doesn’t cover family deaths.
The response from the CEO, ‘That’s not enough time.”
‘But that is all we have to provide under the law,’ my supervisor said.
The CEO’s reply: ‘Screw the law, we’re giving her more time.”
The CEO was proud of the family-first environment he created, and to him it made no sense to not be family-first during an unimaginable crisis.
As a young HR generalist, I certainly had concerns about consistency issues and vacancy costs if the employee was out too long. The HR team did too. But in this unusual case it was the right thing to do. When all was said and done, the company didn’t suffer and the team member had a more intuitive amount of time to grieve. I’m sorry, but three days of bereavement just wasn’t going to cut it.
I also learned an important lesson: We sometimes get wrapped up in what we have to provide rather than what we should provide. When it comes to providing employees leave, more than is legally required is welcomed in the eyes of the law. If a leave of absence practice ever comes into question, regulators will usually look favorably towards a company that goes above and beyond what they are minimally required to do. Which should give company decision-makers peace of mind when determining what should be provided.
The other lesson learned? When you do the right thing for an employee, especially if you consider yourself a ‘family-friendly’ organization, goodwill may come back to all ten-fold. In this case, teams rallied around this employee, work got done, and in many ways employees felt closer to each other than they had before.
Generosity is a value often unappreciated in corporate America. When advising team members on all leave of absence situations, HR pros should always remember that generously offering more than is required in the face of a tragic event, if even only a little more is possible, isn’t only the right thing to do, it can provide a dose of goodwill that may benefit the entire organization in ways you never could have predicted.
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