Employee wants FMLA leave for his companion’s chemotherapy
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Employee wants FMLA leave for his companion’s chemotherapy

Bill Clark rolled a pencil back and forth in his fingers as he spoke. HR Manager Susan Lewiston could see how nervous he was.

“I came to talk to you about Barbara,” said Bill. “She is not getting better.”

Susan was genuinely concerned. Bill, an excellent employee, had taken a month-long family medical leave back in the spring when his companion had her first chemotherapy treatments. Now her condition was even more serious.

“The doctors think she is going to need another round of chemo, something even harsher,” he said. “It’s going to make her really sick for 8-10 weeks.”

Is FMLA leave an option for him?

“I’m sorry to hear this,” said Susan. “What can we do to make things easier?”

“I was thinking I’d need to take some more time off, but as it’s October, I’m out of vacation and personal days for this year,” Bill said. “How about FMLA leave? I understand I’m entitled to 12 weeks of family medical leave, which should be plenty to see Barbara through this treatment.”

“Hmm,” Susan said. “You two haven’t gotten married, have you? Last time I knew, you had not yet tied the knot.”

Spousal requirement for FMLA leave

“No, we haven’t,” Bill said, “and we don’t have any plans.”

“That’s a problem,” Susan said. “The FMLA allows family medical leave for a spouse’s serious medical condition, but not a companion’s.”

“Can’t you make an exception?” Bill said. “I mean, I’ve been working here for quite a while, and I like to think I am valuable to the company.”

What should Susan do?
Troubleshooter #1:

Mary Rector, senior VP/HR, company name withheld, San Francisco.

If Bill has the kind of job where he can work from home, I’d be flexible and let him telecommute. This would allow him to take care of his significant other. I wouldn’t make an exception on FMLA leave, though. What if he later asked for another 12 weeks of family medical leave to take care of his mother? You’d have to give it to him.

Troubleshooter #2:

Janell Peterson, Director of HR, Grand Hyatt, Denver.

In this day and age, you have to be flexible about who a family member is for family medical leave. As for Bill’s situation, you’d first have to know what the state law on common-law marriage was. Then, I’d suggest Bill obtain a doctor’s certification stating that he’s the person who needs to care for Barbara. If he got it, I’d grant the FMLA leave. If not, I’d find a way to accommodate him through some combination of personal and extended leave.

Troubleshooter #3:

Adriana Garcia Cherundolo, HR manager, Wilmington Country Club, Wilmington, DE.

Does the company offer domestic partner benefits? If so, I’d grant the FMLA leave. If not, I’d try to be flexible with Bill, based on the fact that he’s a long-term, valuable employee. If the company needs him around because of his unique skill set, I might ask him to arrange his schedule so he could cover his duties but let him arrive late and/or leave early.

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