Chronic Health Issues in the Workplace

I have a co-worker who is at the beginning of the journey with our employer (Dept. of Defense civilians) over her use of leave in relation to chronic health conditions. The workplace accommodates permanent disabilities and health emergencies readily and pretty uniformly. Workers know what to expect.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides us with up to 12 weeks annually to deal with family or personal health issues. However, most people believe is only pertains to absences that fall within a specific defined period and/or encompass a specific treatment. The truth is that it also applies to chronic illnesses. I live with several chronic conditions that are not life-threatening, but can flare unpredictably. My FMLA paperwork says “2-3 incidents of 1-3 days in a 3-month period,” but it is only an estimate.  I am required to renew it for them annually, although this is not legally required.

As my positions and my supervisors have changed, I’ve been forced to deal with attempts to micromanage my use of leave. Sick leave used for any reason (not just FMLA) first deducts from accrued sick leave, then accrued annual leave and finally leave without pay (LWOP). I’ve filed and settled one EEO complaint and called in my union representative on two other occasions. I’ve been put on restricted leave which required lengthened notification times and additional appointment documentation. I believe this was discrimination … but it was within the rules.

What really offends me is having my supervisor attempt to manage my leave for me. Recently, I booked a non-refundable trip to Hawaii despite my supervisor stating that she was approving it contingent on my having leave available to cover the time. She means ANNUAL leave. This is not actually allowed. She can approve or disapprove based on the impact to the workplace. if she disapproves, she needs to identify alternatives. If I am willing to have it roll over into LWOP, the issue is moot.

My co-worker has been talking to a union representative because they are worsening her health issues by creating additional stress and discord over the same type leave issues. I am trying to be supportive and make suggestions about how to communicate with them, what recourses are available, and what I’ve learned from my experiences. She the second co-worker that I’ve explained the use of FMLA for chronic health issues to at this location in the past couple years.

Medical care has made many more health issues manageable without being able to “cure” them. As that happens, the workplace needs to adapt. I’ve seen little sign of it since by chronic conditions began to have an impact … back in 1994.