“Workers’ Voices” is a series on A Better Balance’s blog highlighting the firsthand experiences of workers from across the country. For some workers we are in touch with, they are covered by federal, state, or local workplace protections that make a world of difference in their ability to care for themselves and their loved ones. For others, their experiences highlight the glaring gaps that remain in our laws.
The below is a story from Samuel* (*name changed to protect anonymity), who called A Better Balance’s free work-family legal helpline and agreed to share his experience.
I have almost two decades of experience working in the truck driving industry with a pristine driving record and multiple driving safety awards to my name. Last year, I started a new job as a driver for a trucking company in North Dakota. With this job, I felt like I’d finally found my niche. I loved getting to travel to dairy farms across the region where I would often be welcomed with home-cooked meals by the farmers and their families after delivering my load. This was truly an awesome job, yet I lost it because I chose to be there for my elderly father when he was ill and needed me.
My father, a Korean War veteran, suffered a stroke last summer. At first, I tried to manage visiting him in the hospital while continuing to perform my job, but his condition was deteriorating, and it eventually got to a point where I had to make a decision. I told my employer that I needed to go home to say goodbye to my dad. I knew that if he passed away while I was on the road, and not there with him, I would regret it for the rest of my life. There was no discussion of taking a leave of absence. My company informed me that if I left my job to care for my father, I would be terminated, but I could “reapply” when I was ready to come back.
“I told my employer that I needed to go home to say goodbye to my dad. I knew that if he passed away while I was on the road, and not there with him, I would regret it for the rest of my life.”
Now that I am able to return to work, my employer is not willing to even consider bringing me back because they are so angry with me for leaving. Despite the company’s branding as a “family” company, the representative I was in communication with openly told me that their refusal to rehire me had nothing to do with concerns about my driving performance; they are simply holding a grudge against me for leaving. I even learned from my former coworkers that the company is desperate for drivers right now, making it all the more perplexing and hurtful that they refuse to rehire me. I feel like I am being punished for fulfilling my responsibilities to my family.
Had I been eligible for 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), this would have been enough time for me to provide the immediate care my father required from me and to make arrangements for his care moving forward. But I did not qualify for FMLA leave because I had not yet worked at my job for one year.
I believe everyone should have the right to take time off work to be with their loved ones in critical moments, and no one should be made out to be a “bad” employee for doing so.