Downside of FMLA

Thursday, December 28, 2017

When my brother received a devastating diagnosis, we had to quickly figure out how to help him. Brian lived alone, and my husband and I were ready to be that support. But, in addition to dealing with the sadness of my brother’s prognosis, I was shocked to learn that siblings are not family under the provisions of the Family Medical Leave Act. Under FMLA you are allowed job-protected, unpaid leave to provide care for a spouse, a child or a parent. Some employers (mine included) allow you to use your sick days to cover leave time, but you cannot access those sick days to care for a brother or a sister. The assumption is that adults have life partners, but not all of them do.

So what are the options if you believe a sibling is entitled to loving care when facing catastrophic health issues? Social services can place them in a nursing home, but what is the cost of that? Or, you can take an unpaid leave.

We brought Brian into our home in western Massachusetts, and I took a leave. With a circle of family and friends, we figured out how to get him to treatments in neighboring New Hampshire, his home state. Though I would not trade those months with my brother, we did weather financial hardship.

Sadly, his treatments were ineffective; he died nine months after diagnosis. Today is Brian’s 64th birthday. I write this letter in his honor, hoping it will move legislators and employers to broaden their view of “family” in the Family Medical Leave Act. We need policies that allow us to be a compassionate presence in the lives of those we love dearly. We are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

Robbie Murphy