My Toughest Leave of Absence Situations: Part 3 – A Lesson In Humility

Dawn Burke Benefits Communication, Industry Insights

Toughest LOA 3 copyHello, ALEX friends!

As I stated in parts one and two of the series (My Toughest Leave Of Absence Situations: A Lesson In Generosity, My Toughest Leave Of Absence Situations: A Lesson in Action), there are some exceptional benefits-related experiences we aren’t quite prepared for. However, these situations usually teach us the biggest lessons about patience, empathy and grace.

I have so enjoyed sharing these experiences with you and would love to hear about some of your ‘toughest’ situations as well. I believe we learn the most from the hard situations. Here’s the third and last installment in this series:

A Lesson In Humility

Some pros believe that since they have lots of HR experience they automatically know more ‘HR’ than the average employee. Mmm…not always. How do I know? Because I once ate some humble pie when an employee schooled me on FMLA regulations.

The employee was new to our organization. She was also new to the company, new to the workforce and generally speaking, inexperienced. I, on the other hand, was not new to the company, not new to the workforce, and generally speaking, quite experienced. Yay, me.

After about 10 months with the company this employee delivered some great news. She’d found out she was chosen by a birth family to adopt a beautiful baby boy. If you’re not familiar with the adoption process, usually the adopting family finds out they will be taking home a precious child only a few days before the event. Can you imagine the excitement and stress?

Naturally, our employee’s first stop was to the HR department to put in for FMLA leave, pronto. I told her good news and bad news. The good news: adoption is covered under FMLA! The bad news: She needed to be employed for one year before she qualified. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t qualify since she was only employed 10 months.

The next day she emailed me and very professionally told me she thought I was wrong. She explained she had read up on the current law and based on her specific circumstances (too lengthy to detail in this post) she would, indeed, qualify for FMLA leave when she hit her 12-month mark. Uh, no, I thought. If you don’t have 12-months pre-leave, you don’t qualify. Now understand, her email didn’t upset me. I believed this was just a case of wishful thinking on her part, and I mentally prepared myself to deliver her a second helping of bad news.

The next day I talked with her and gave her that second helping. In response, she more adamantly told me I was wrong. To de-escalate the situation, I told her I would look into it and get back to her ASAP.

Of course, you know how this story ends. She was right. And had she not pushed back she may have missed out on protected leave. And it would have been my fault. That would have been a horrible outcome.

Here is what I learned from this tricky situation:

Lesson One: Employees being inexperienced in one area doesn’t mean inexperienced in all areas. Rest assured, this employee was very up-to-date on current FMLA regulations.

Lesson Two: Don’t assume your employees don’t know the complexities of laws. Yes, they aren’t lawyers, but neither are you (HR pro)! The difference between the affected employee and the HR pro? HR pros are expected to understand numerous employment laws in real time. Employees usually only need to know the one that affects them. Chances are decent they just may know a little more than you.

Lesson Three: When someone disagrees with your interpretation of a leave of absence law, don’t be lazy and assume you’re right, just because. Check out their claim before you give them incorrect information. If you don’t, it will be on you (and your conscience) if they don’t get protected leave.


If you liked this post, you should also check out:

6 Tips for Helping Millennials Navigate a Leave of Absence (also by Dawn Burke)

12 Benefits Your Company Would Offer If Our Dads Were In Charge

The All-New 2017 Ultimate Open Enrollment Communications Playbook (eBook)