26 January 2011

Filing VL to be at Your Child's Sickbed

UPDATE (April 11, 2017): The leave I'm describing in this post is called "Parental Leave". I learned the term from a research I did for a work article that compares maternity/parental benefits across Asia Pacific countries. In APAC, among the few countries that have a policy similar to what I described here, Australia's and New Zealand's are worth checking out. Australia calls it "Childcare Leave", while NZ calls it "Extended Parental Leave". Look them up!


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UPDATE (Feb. 4, 2011): A friend, who's also a dad and has experienced an ER situation with his son, suggested that maybe there should be a policy that allows SL credits to be converted to ELs (Emergency Leaves).  I think that's a good idea.  I hope someone can turn it into a reality.

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Early in the morning one day in late August 2009, I got a call from a dear friend, Nette, who at that time was supposed to be en route to Boracay with her family on their annual vacation.  But when I heard her speak in a controlled quiver instead of cheerful excitement, I immediately felt that something was very wrong.  She asked, "I need help with getting our airplane tickets cancelled or rebooked."

"Why?" I was suddenly fully awake, preparing myself for the worst.  And then it came in the next words she uttered: "We rushed Mariel to the ER last night."

Mariel is her youngest daughter, barely a year old at the time.  She came down with high fever the night before.  The doctor advised them to check her in for additional tests and observation.  They "lived" in the hospital for several weeks after that.

Nette and I exchanged text messages with prayers, encouragement, updates during those difficult weeks.  Whenever she was able to -- and it was rare for her to do so -- she'd drop by for a surprise visit in the office for a quick chat.  One time she showed me a picture of Mariel hooked up to machines and what-nots in her hospital bed.  It broke my heart.

As expected, Nette was exhausted in every way.  After Mariel was given the all-clear, relief and joy erupted among friends and family, but her parents' sacrifice wasn't over yet.  They had medical bills to settle and lost time at work to make up for.  They could no longer take a vacation to rest from their ordeal, largely because they had no vacation leave (VL) credits left; they had to file all their VL credits to cover the days they didn't go to work so they could take care of Mariel in the hospital.

Another friend, Shem, experienced a similar medical emergency just a few months ago when his two-month old son had to undergo surgery for hernia.  He and his wife also had to "live" in the hospital for several days, and they, too, had to use their remaining VL credits in order to do so.  When he returned to the office and we got to talking about the upcoming holiday break, he sighed that there would no holiday break for him.  "I have no VL credits left.  I didn't even use them to go on vacation.  Being cooped up in the hospital, worrying about your child is no vacation at all."  Shem added that he had to work on some weekends as well, to make up for lost time.

"Lost time" -- that just riles me up.  That does not sound right at all.  Why should a parent who was put into such a painful and scary situation like that have to make up for lost time at work?  It's not as if s/he wanted to miss out on those workdays.  That parent had no choice.  What parent can focus completely at work when his/her child is in a critical medical condition?

Workplace ethics require professionals to separate their professional and personal concerns.  But just try and make a parent stick to that rule when his/her child is lying half-conscious in a hospital bed after contracting dengue.  "Professionalism" takes a backseat; humanity and common sense need to be exercised in such situations.

That's why I propose that a law should be passed that entitles employees who are parents to a special medical emergency leave when their child/ren become/s involved in a serious medical emergency.  This especially applies when the child is still a minor and certain medical procedures need to be done, since doctors will need to consult with the parents personally and get their signed consent in order to do the procedures.  I'm highlighting the word "serious" to rule out other less critical situations like colds, cough, sore eyes, a slight fever, scraped knees, a little bump on the head, etc.

Moreover, additional medical benefits from their company's HMO and government agencies like SSS and Philhealth should be made available to parents in these situations -- given, of course, that parents submit required documents that prove the legitimacy of their need.  And for goodness' sake, the requirements shouldn't be a ton of paperwork; these parents are already dealing with an amazing amount of stress.  Medical certificate from the doctor, photocopy of the hospital bill, medical records -- those should be sufficient.

I really believe that if parents have this option (which isn't really something they want to use, of course, but just in case -- knock on wood -- they have to, at least it's there), and their precious but limited VL credits won't be affected, they'll be more likely to willingly figure out an arrangement with their employers so they could appropriately and adequately make up for lost time at work.  Happy employees give better results.

Sacrificing for their child's welfare is a non-negotiable for parents.  The least that employers should do is to be compassionate.
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