Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Putting the human back in human resources, redux

As a parent of a child with some medical issues, I am very sensitive to the needs of working parents. Luckily for me, I work at business that understands these needs and has never batted an eye when my son spent 19 days in the hospital, or I want to attend an echocardiogram or some other appointment with one of his doctors. Some employees, however, are not as blessed.

Consider, for example, the case of Wegelin v. Reading Hosp. & Med. Ctr. (11/29/12). Rachel Wegelin’s daughter, Carolyn, suffers from pervasive developmental disorder, which manifests by delays in social and emotional functioning, sensory integration difficulties, and attention deficit. Carolyn attends before and after daycare at a facility to and from which she can be transported to school. When the hospital moved Wagelin’s parking space to a more distant lot, she no longer had sufficient time to pick up Carolyn from the daycare before it closed. So, she requested FMLA leave for the express purpose of finding a suitable daycare that would accommodate her new work schedule and her daughter’s medical needs. The employer refused and fired the employee when she took off the time anyway.

In defending against the inevitable FMLA lawsuit, the employer argued that the FMLA does not provide leave for a parent to locate childcare. The court, in denying the employer’s motion for summary judgment, vehemently disagreed:

Making arrangements for “changes in care” is expressly covered by the regulations. Significantly, the regulations are silent on whether the facility needs to be one that provides medical treatment. The fact that Carolyn’s daycare is not a specialized facility is not dispositive. What is relevant is that Carolyn has a chronic serious health condition resulting in an inability to perform regular daily activities and Wegelin had to make arrangements to find a suitable daycare that could care for her. Bowmansville daycare center was suitable, but no longer available. Therefore, when Reading Hospital changed Wegelin’s parking assignment, she had to make arrangements for a change in Carolyn’s care, entitling Wegelin to FMLA leave.

I’ve written before about the importance in putting the human back in human resources. I also discuss this idea in detail in my latest book, The Employer Bill of Right: A Manager’s Guide to Workplace Law. This case perfectly illustrates this principle. How hard would it have been to accommodate this employee? And, no, I’m not suggesting that the hospital should have given her back her old parking space. As someone whose first question after making partner was, “Do I get a better parking space,” I understand the turmoil that accommodation would almost certainly cause. All kidding aside, this employee did everything she could to balance her job and the unique needs of her family. All she requested was some small amount of unpaid time off to find a childcare solution to accommodation her new work schedule and her child’s serious medical needs.

Or, let me put it this way for those of who are more dollars-and-cents oriented in your thinking. Employers, what do you think costs more? Accommodating a few days of unpaid time off, or defending this lawsuit?

[Hat tip: Pennsylvania Family Law Blog, c/o Employment Discrimination Report]