Leave of absence likely more difficult in small company

Can They Do That?

Your Money

August 22, 2004|By Carrie Mason-Draffen

My husband and I are adopting a child from Russia. We don't have definite travel dates yet, but could get the word within the next few weeks. Once we bring our child home, I would like to take a leave of eight to 12 weeks.

What rights do I have as an employee of a small firm? I believe the Family and Medical Leave Act applies only to companies with at least 50 employees. Ours is much smaller.

My boss doesn't seem receptive to my suggestions, such as letting me work from home or hiring a temp to cover for me.

What happens if I leave? Can the company consider it job abandonment? I'm confused.

Your company's size definitely works against you, as does the fact that you are adopting. Some laws, which would cover employees at smaller companies, have been slow to catch up to the reality that many families are formed through adoptions.

As lawyer Jeffrey Naness of Naness, Chaiet & Naness in Jericho, N.Y., points out, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is the primary law protecting employees who want time off to care for an adopted child.

But as you rightly note, that law covers companies with at least 50 employees. It grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to qualifying workers, while protecting their jobs and benefits.

"The reason the FMLA only applies to larger employers is based on the notion that smaller employers will face substantial hardships if they were required to grant leaves of absence [and maintain health benefits] while employees take leaves of absences," Naness said.

Another avenue of hope might be your employee handbook. Naness said you should check to see if it addresses leaves of absence.

Having to choose between work and family is an agonizing situation a company shouldn't force employees into, especially talented employees.

If you're a real asset to your company, remind your bosses of your value and how much you want to continue contributing. Also stress how it's much more economical to keep you compared with the cost of looking for and training a replacement.

Carrie Mason-Draffen is a columnist for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail her at yourmoney@tri bune.com.

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