Throughout the part-time employment years of my adolescence I will admit to occasionally killing off, wounding and/or infecting a loved one with a serious illness in order to score a day off.

Not literally, of course, just figuratively and only….in my mind….for the duration of time required to make the phone call necessary to report my absence.

In what I consider to be fairly typical teenage behavior, I could be selfish, self-centered and inconsiderate.  I didn’t necessarily intend to be, but I didn’t yet have the life experiences necessary to fully understand that a last minute call-out meant a co-worker or supervisor would be required to pick up my slack, or that the business might suffer from my absence.

Furthermore, it never occurred to me to consider the potential Karmic consequences of fictitiously reporting that a grandparent had broken a hip, or that a great-aunt had passed away, or that a close family friend had been injured in an automobile accident.  I never stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, the universe would pay me back some day.

As an adult, it’s something I would never do.  Not just because of my professional obligations, but because although I am not a particularly spiritual person, I do believe we tend to reap what we sow….and it therefore seems a foolish risk to take.

All of this came to mind earlier this week, when an employee came to me with a vacation problem.  When our conversation was over and I watched him go….I silently wished him a half-hearted good-luck as he headed out to face the universe….Here’s why:

Employee:  I have a problem.

Me:  Come on in, let’s talk about it.

Employee:  I need some time off.  All I’m asking for is some unpaid time off and my supervisor won’t approve it because no one is available to cover my shifts.

Me:  Ok, can you share some additional information with me about your situation so we can consider your options?

Employee:  My wife is sick.  Very sick and I need to be with my family.

Me:  I’m sorry to hear that.  Is she in the hospital or requiring care at home?  If that’s the case, you may be eligible to take some FMLA time to care for her.

Employee:  She’s not in the hospital, but she’s been bad the last few weeks.  It’s, like, cancer.  I really need to be with her….this could be it.

Me:  I’m so sorry to hear that!  Is your supervisor aware of all this?  You are eligible for FMLA given the circumstances and I have to say I’m surprised your supervisor didn’t discuss this with you.  It seems largely out of character.  Here, let me provide you with the instructions for getting the process started.

Me to myself:  I’m going to smack his supervisor….verbally…in an HR friendly way….

Employee:  Well, my wife hasn’t had the tests yet.

Me:  I think maybe I’m misunderstanding you….didn’t you say your wife has cancer and is essentially dying?

Employee:  Well, her doctor hasn’t confirmed it.

Me:  Um….hasn’t confirmed that she has cancer or that she’s dying?  Is your wife ill and requiring care?

Employee:  Yeah, she’s sick, but we don’t really know what’s going on.  It might be cancer….but see, we have this trip planned for next week.  It’s already been paid for and because we’ve been going through a really rough time….with her being sick and all….I need to be able to go.

Me to myself:  WTF….

Me:  I see….so, the time off you’re requesting is for a pre-planned vacation?

Employee:  Kind of, but also because my wife is sick….

Me:  Let me make sure I’m clear here… want time off for a pre-planned vacation, the timing of which has unfortunately coincided with an illness your wife is battling….one you fear she won’t recover from in the next week….but a medical professional hasn’t confirmed any of this?  How do you know it’s safe for her to travel?

Employee:  Well, we’re waiting on information….and also my neighbor died.

Me:  Huh?

Employee:  I was the one who found him.  I’ve been really messed up over it for weeks.

Me:  Wow, sounds like you’ve had a lot going on….

Employee:  Yeah, so I really need some time off.  I’ve been seeing a therapist about my neighbor.  His death was really unexpected and I feel like I’ve been in shock ever since.  I did everything for him.  It was just such a shock that he died and I’ve been having a hard time sleeping and eating…. my therapist thinks I need some time away.

Me:  Oh, was your neighbor disabled or something?

Employee:  No, he was in his late eighties.  I took care of his lawn and did his shopping….he had a home health aide…but my wife cooked most of his meals and took him to a lot of his appointments.

Me to Myself:  Oh yes, it’s incredibly shocking when an eighty-something-year-old with limited mobility passes away.

Me:  Ok….so are you also telling me you have a health care provider who has indicated you should not be working at this time?  If that’s the case, you could be eligible to utilize your short term disability.  I can provide you with the instructions for pursuing that option.  It would of course require something from your therapist or a physician indicating you are unable to work at this time.

Employee:  Well, he really just thinks this vacation would be good for me….I won’t need more time than that….so I would rather not have to deal with the stress of filing all that paperwork….on top of everything else….ya know?

Me to Myself:  Your mental health care provider thinks a weeks vacation….during which you’ve predicted your spouse may succumb to a mystery illness….is all you need to bounce back?

Me:  There are certain benefits you are entitled to when you need them, but we have to go about the process the right way….Just curious, how long ago did you plan this vacation?

Employee:  Oh, months ago, like, in the fall.

Me:  Then why didn’t you make the vacation request during the vacation selection process just a few weeks ago?

Employee:  (crickets)

Me:  I’m just trying to understand why you wouldn’t have elected this particular vacation week when you had the option….it would have saved an awful lot of trouble and….(under my breath)….creative juices….

Employee:  (crickets)

Me:  So…..

Employee:  I’ll be honest with you…

Me:  That would be nice…

Employee:  I was planning to quit.  I didn’t like my job assignment so I decided to look for something else.  When we planned the vacation, I didn’t think I’d still be here by the time it came around.

Me:  What’s changed?

Employee:  I got a new job assignment so I’m happier now and I want to stay…..But, all that other stuff…it’s true too.

Me:  I’m sure it is Pinocchio….

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