An acquaintance was recently fired from her job. The reason? She needed too much time away from her job to deal with “family obligations.” I don’t know all the details, but she was missing a lot of work to deal with some issues with her kids and extended family.
This was not a case of an employer denying someone maternity leave or medical leave, but rather a case where this person had used up all of her sick and vacation time and was running on the good graces of her employer. At some point the employer had enough and told her, in essence, “We can’t afford for you to miss this much work. It’s hurting our business and you have to go.”
Since the firing, this person has been posting on Facebook and telling anyone who will listen how unfair and uncaring the employer was. While I can understand her disappointment and frustration with the situation, I find that I can’t fault the employer. Businesses need to make money. If an employee can’t do the work, for whatever reason, and it’s hurting the bottom line, a business is going to make the decision to let that person go and bring in someone who can contribute to that bottom line.
In our modern world we expect employers to bend over backwards to help us manage our work and personal lives. We expect them to let us off when our kids our sick, when we need to go to the doctor, or when we want to tend to a family matter. Those expectations are normal, when they are within reason. Most employers have vacation or sick leave (paid or unpaid) for just such events and many are willing to work with valued employees beyond that. The problem comes when we expect an employer to bend well beyond what they can sustain.
When an employee is taking so much leave that their duties are going undone or that other workers are complaining because they have to pick up too much slack, it becomes a problem. It’s not fair to the business and it’s not fair to the other workers. The business isn’t working efficiently and the other employees are angry and tired. While we think our needs are most important, the employer thinks the opposite. At some point, the employer has to draw the line and say, “You’re hurting us and we have to let you go.”
When they do so, employees scream about unfair treatment and uncaring corporations. But in the eyes of the employer, they are simply rectifying a situation that was unfair to them. Is it cold? Maybe. But since most employees are “at-will,” meaning they can be fired at any time, it’s legal.
While there’s not much you can do to force an employer to bend in your favor, you can increase the amount of “grace” you might get by being a valuable employee at other times. When times are good, you need to be prompt, good at your job, helpful, and friendly to other people in the office. Valuable employees are often given more leeway than sub-par performers when it comes to extending leave or making exceptions to rules.
You’ll also get more help and support from your coworkers if they like you. If you’ve helped them in the past, you might find that they are more willing to pick up some of your shifts or take on some of your tasks. If you’ve been a pill to everyone, they’ll turn on you in a hurry and complain to the boss that you should go.
You should also be able to demonstrate that you are making every effort to minimize the impact on your employer. Offer to work from home, if possible. Offer to help train a temporary replacement if you need a lot of time off. Demonstrate that you are trying to put other caregivers in place for an ailing relative, if necessary. Be ready and willing to offer alternatives and to detail the steps you are taking to get the situation under control. An employer might be more willing to work with someone who is making an effort rather than someone who is sitting back and complaining about the situation.
What it comes down to is that we want to act in the best interest of our families and ourselves, and the employer wants to act in their best interests. The two viewpoints will always conflict. While the employer may make an effort to bend, they will never allow an employee to do whatever the employee wants or needs to do. And they shouldn’t be expected to. It’s up to the employees to find ways to deal with their lives that don’t impact their employers. Otherwise, the employer may have no choice but to let you go.
(Photo courtesy of gbSk)