my friend is in trouble for attendance issues caused by her dad being sick

A reader writes:

I’m wondering if you have any advice on encouraging a coworker (or former coworker) to stand up for themselves. I have a feeling there’s not a lot I can do, but I feel so helpless watching this situation.

My former coworker and friend, Jane, is still at the job where we met. It’s not the worst employment situation I’ve ever heard of, but they keep salaries low, are extremely cliquey, and encourage in-fighting among staff. HR is primarily concerned with pressuring employees to give up federally protected rights, spreading confidential information, and micromanaging people’s clock in/out times.

Jane’s father is in hospice. He is unfortunately terminal and is unlikely to be around for very much longer. She is in her late 20s, so still quite young to be losing a parent. Due to the distressing nature of this, she had some issues with attendance as she tried to balance her ill father and multiple jobs. HR’s response to this was to place her on a PIP for attendance. Am I crazy to think this is totally bananapants and unbelievably unsympathetic? (I only left this job a few months ago, and I’m unsure how much it warped my idea of what is normal.) I get that it is technically allowed, but I can’t imagine my new team or company doing this — I’m hard pressed to think it’s now the professional standard.

I’ve encouraged her to look into FMLA and various forms of paid (or unpaid) time off to be with her father, but she’s extremely averse to conflict. Additionally, I’m fairly new to the corporate world and I’m unsure whether I’m giving the right advice or if I need to be more specific. I’ve tried to encourage her to look for new jobs but with so much going on obviously now is not a great time for that.

Because of her nature and now being placed on a PIP, she’s concerned about bringing it up or pushing back on these circumstances at all. For various reasons, she can’t afford to be without a full-time job for long and she’s also relatively inexperienced in the professional world. I think while she values my support she’s unsure if she can take my advice seriously (I’m a bit younger but a little more world weary, having been on my own since I was 17 years old). I’m wondering if someone with more experience than either of us confirming this is indeed insane would help give her a push.

(To be clear, she is in no way integral to the functioning of the company. The team could absolutely handle her taking a week or two off. They are griping about being short staffed but they just walked out an employee on the team who put in their two weeks, for no reason other than to make some kind of point? None of us under the manager that runs that team had or have access to confidential information/trade secrets.)

Is the answer simply “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”? Or is there something I’m missing beyond general advice-giving?

Do you know exactly what the attendance issues have been? If it’s just that she’s missed some work because her dad is terminally ill, then yes, her company is being horrible. They instead should be talking to her about options for time off (including things like FMLA).

On the other hand, if it’s something like she’s missed work without alerting anyone she’d be out, or that her presence at work has been unreliable without talking to anyone about the reason why … well, she still shouldn’t be on a PIP if they now understand what’s happening; they should be explaining what they need on her end (like an alert when she’ll be out, to the extent that’s realistic) and what her options are for time off.

You mentioned some of the attendance issues may have stemmed from working multiple jobs; if that’s been part of it, that’s going to draw a less sympathetic response. Either way, her dad is still dying and they should assume she’s devastated and not working at optimal capacity, and they should be trying to work with her on getting everyone’s needs met, not being punitive. But some of this depends on how much has been “my dad is sick” versus “I’m working multiple jobs” (as well as on how much of the situation with her dad has been communicated to them).

As for what she should do from here, you’re absolutely right that she should be inquiring about FMLA. Some things to know about FMLA: to be eligible for it, her company needs to have 50+ employees and she needs to have worked there for at least a year and have worked at least 1,250 hours during that year. But if she meets those requirements, FMLA should be her next step since it will protect her job while she’s out for dad-related reasons. It’s not adversarial to use FMLA! It’s there for exactly situations like this. And that PIP is her company telling her that she risks getting fired if something doesn’t change; one thing it would be smart to change is the legal framework they’re using for that leave, and FMLA will do that.

{ 147 comments… read them below }

  1. Ultimate Facepalm*

    I could have written this about my coworker (except for her age). She keeps having to go back to her home country because her dad stabilizes and then gets worse. Her job is in jeopardy even though she has been communicating clearly. Her emails got missed but she sent them. I feel for her and there’s nothing I can do for her except lend a sympathetic ear and give well wishes to her and her family.

  2. CommanderBanana*

    HR is primarily concerned with pressuring employees to give up federally protected rights and spreading confidential information.

    We must have worked for the same organization. The fastest way to ensure that everyone knew about something was for HR to tell you it was “confidential.”

    1. Goldenrod*

      Came here to say something similar! The description: “they keep salaries low, are extremely cliquey, and encourage in-fighting among staff” perfectly describes one of my former workplaces.

      Obviously, this workplace stinks and this friend should find a new job AND apply for FMLA. But I believe the bigger problem is her refusal to communicate and advocate for herself.

      This drives me crazy – I have a friend in a similar situation. If a person refuses to fight for themselves…what can you do about that? You can suggest options but when people are too passive or insecure, and they just take any action to defend themselves…I don’t have a good solution for that. As a friend, it’s hard to stand by and watch, but that’s sort of all you can do beyond a certain point.

      It reminds me of a quote from Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

    2. Artemesia*

      It is critical to get those FMLA papers filed as it does provide protection. HRs try to discourage it. I know someone who was seriously mentally ill and tried to avoid it as long as possible and then was told ‘it is too late.’ I told him — take those paper in tomorrow and make sure they take them. This probably gave him a year of employment he might not have had as they were required to protect his job when he was out for treatment. Alas in the long run he didn’t make it, but it did made it at least possible.

      Since your colleague isnot personally disturbed but has a family situation, this might well save her job.

      1. WootWoot*

        I had an employee who we all knew had serious health problems, but HR kept demanding I put her on a PIP for minor shortcomings instead of encouraging her to get ADA accommodations.

  3. Eldritch Office Worker*

    It’s not the worst employment situation I’ve ever heard of, but they keep salaries low, are extremely cliquey, and encourage in-fighting among staff. HR is primarily concerned with pressuring employees to give up federally protected rights, spreading confidential information, and micromanaging people’s clock in/out times.

    It’s not the worst employment situation I’ve ever heard of either – but that doesn’t mean it’s not pretty bad. We can be conditioned to tolerate a lot of things we shouldn’t.

    It’s also worth checking to see if your state has different standards for an equivalent FMLA policy. Some are more generous than the federal program.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      This. The bar is in hell.

      This employer is atrocious. The fact that there’s worse places, I fear are somewhat making you, she and every other employee feel like it’s acceptable.

      It’s not and she should be job searching. I know that hell on top of what she’s already dealing with. You indicate desire to help so maybe you could help with brushing up her resume and helping her find places to apply?

      1. Concerned Friend*

        Thank you! I actually re-wrote her resume for her a little while back and offered some pointers on interview skills shortly after I left the company. She’s indicated that it’s all too much at this point and she doesn’t have the capacity to go through the job hunt process, so I’m trying to help where I can. Largely that seems to be lending a sympathetic ear.

    2. ampersand*

      Yep, there’s almost always a worse employer out there—but at the same time, the bar for being a bad employer is really low, and this employer, frankly, sounds awful. HR pressuring employees to give up protected rights falls into the “very bad” category. Could they be worse? Sure! Are they still sounding like they’re morally bankrupt and should be avoided at all costs? Yep.

      OP, it’s commendable that you’re trying to help your friend. I hope she’s eligible for FMLA.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      Agreed. This is like saying well, only a couple of rooms are on fire, we’ll just use the rest of the house, it’s fine.

    4. Sacred Ground*

      “It’s not the worst employment situation I’ve ever heard of,…”
      After all, we still use prison labor in the US.

      1. Star Trek Nutcase*

        We do. But life is tough in and out of prison/jail. Like the rest of our population that must work to pay bills, prisoners should too. Pay them minimum wage, hold to standard employment behavior, and charge realistic amount for their stay. The charge should include a portion of prison costs, room, board, health care, education, training, etc. I didn’t commit the crime and as a taxpayer shouldn’t have to pay their share too. Does that mean they’ll have debts upon release? Sure, but why should they be exempt when law abiding citizens aren’t.

        1. HollyTree*

          That would only further incentivize the police to arrest innocent people for crimes they didn’t commit.

        2. Chirpy*

          Not only would that incentivize police to arrest more people to make money, it would incentivize people to commit more crimes when they get out, in an attempt to pay those debts and still stay afloat. This is not the way to reduce crime or prison costs.

        3. Moira's Rose's Garden*

          “And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge Star Trek Nutcase. “Are they still in operation”?

        4. FL*

          Don’t worry, prisoners are working to pay their bills and then some. In fact, we keep charging them for being in prison long after they have been released, and we avoid releasing people who are eligible for parole because the prison is making too much money off of them to let them go.

          But yeah, prisoners are slackers who have it way too easy in this country, I say while sitting on my butt in the air-conditioned house I own with clean water and healthy food, doing my remote job where I work about 5 hours a week while getting paid for 40.

        5. Happy*

          This take is so incredibly cruel, I can only imagine someone with stock in for-profit prisons making it.

  4. Sand Johnson*

    I think that if she is a tenured employee, she is qualified for FLMA, and should talk to an employment lawyer, about it. She would be able to receive back pay, and other damages. I think she should also find other violations if other employees are willing to share, and then the problem HR will be removed from the company with all the legal headaches. If they don’t care that an employee is losing a parent, then they should have it coming to them. OP I would recommend looking into helping your friend if you can, if she does lose this job. That way the company will think twice before walking over someone else in the pursuit of Profit.

    1. protectyourself*

      FMLA does not provide any pay, it just protects your job if you need time off. Your employer might let you use leave time so that you’re paid.

    2. Hyaline*

      I mean it sounds like this company isn’t winning any HR awards, and some of the other stuff the LW mentioned might be lawyer-worthy (spreading confidential information!?), but if the friend never formally applied for leave or inquired about their options because they didn’t want to seem like they were causing conflict…I don’t think there’s a case here.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      FMLA is for using from this point onward.

      She did not make use of it before, so the company had no obligations related to it.

      1. AnonForThisOne*

        Meh… that might not be entirely true. Depending on what she has communicated to the company, enough information might have been provided for the company’s duty to treat it like an inquiry to be activated. Hard to tell from the letter.

      2. I'm just here for the cats!*

        actually from what I’ve read if both parties agree then they could use FMLA retroactively. But an employer could not include past absence’s without employees permission.
        And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If someone has an accident and is in the hospital for 3 weeks FMLA should cover the past not be from that moment forward.
        Unfortunately you need to have a good HR for this, and I’ve seen it where they will find some other reason to fire the employee.

    4. Managing While Female*

      This isn’t the way FMLA works… It’s not a paid leave, there’s no ‘back pay’ or ‘damages’ associated with it, and if she didn’t ask for FLMA leave, then there wasn’t any kind of ‘violation’ here. Not saying that the company aren’t potentially being jerks, but this is simply not the way the law works.

      1. Curious*

        Sand Johnson’s comment is somewhat ambiguous, but I think they may have meant that if she is fired in violation of FMLA, she could get back pay for that?

    5. Pretty as a Princess*

      The company has not committed any FMLA violations by putting this person on a PIP. The individual hasn’t submitted a request or notice for FMLA leave. (And it is also not the employee’s obligation, nor is it her business, to be trying to hunt down FMLA violations regarding other employees.) There is no back pay, there are no damages.

      Now, if the friend is FMLA eligible and actually files FMLA notice, the game does change. If the absences are now FMLA leave absences, they can’t count against the PIP. (But the employee can still be held to the PIP when they are not on leave.)

      If the manager *knows* that the absences are due to an ill parent, there is bad management happening here but there’s no legal violation. (If the manager didn’t inquire with the employee about an unusual absence pattern to ask if there was help to offer, that’s also bad management but not a legal violation.) But we also don’t even know if the employee has approached their manager about the issue or explained the ill parent situation.

      On the surface this does not sound like a good place to work, and does not sound like a good HR team. But we simply don’t know what we don’t know.

      It sounds like this person is really overwhelmed, and I can appreciate the OP trying to be a good friend. I would also suggest telling the friend to look into whether the company has an EAP. I am very sorry for OP’s friend.

    6. Heather*

      OP specifically says that her friend refuses to ask for FMLA. The legal responsibility lies on the friend to make the request, not the company to offer.

      1. DramaQ*

        You can 100% be put on a PIP during FMLA if they have paperwork that can prove you aren’t performing at the level you need them to.

        FMLA is to protect her from being punished for taking time off to care for her father or take him to doctor’s appointments and stuff. It is not a magical get out of jail free card.

        She still has to be able to do her job as best she can and if she can’t they can still fire her for cause while on FMLA. They just can’t fire her for taking care of her dad.

        Fire her because she does not call in on those days so no one knows where she is at? Yes they can fire her over it.

        People really need to read the fine print of FMLA. It doesn’t extend nearly the protection that people think it does. I was actually surprised at how little protection it provides you might as well wipe yourself with the paperwork for all the good it does.

        If she is going to be the primary caretaker for her dad absolutely she should file but if she’s not performing due to unrelated reasons FMLA isn’t going to go all that far for her.

      2. MaxPower*

        No. FMLA is quite clear that the employer is required to notify the employee of their eligibility for FMLA once they become aware that the employee has a potentially qualifying absence. Typically this is done with form WH-381. It notifies the employee that whether they’re eligible for FMLA based on their hours/length of service, and spells out what information is required if the employee wants to actually get certified FMLA.

        The DOL has been quite clear that the onus is on the employer to notify the employee, even if the employee hasn’t asked directly since the employee may not understand FMLA in the way that the employer should. In this instance, based on comments in the thread, it is clear the person’s HR department is well aware that the absenses are due to the sick father, which means that they’re potentially FMLA qualifying absenses.

        1. Hyaline*

          Not to be an annoying fact checker, and I’m not an expert, but I believe form WH 381 is for after an employee initiates a request for leave, correct? So the employee still notifies the employer of the need for leave–not the employer interpreting (or divining, depending!) that that is what the employee needs, if I’m understanding correctly. But even if the employer is supposed to provide anything beyond posting and distributing the policy (I think the only thing federally required?) this is cuspy–if the LW’s friend has framed this mostly as “I am trying to visit my father and also I am very sad” rather than “I am serving in a caregiving capacity in some way” I don’t know that the employer would be obligated (or, rather–they can probably claim they were not in any way obligated).

          1. MaxPower*

            DOL Fact sheet 28 says: “Requesting FMLA leave. Employees do not have to specifically ask for FMLA leave but do need to provide enough information so the employer is aware the leave may be covered by the FMLA. Employees must provide notice to their employer as soon as possible and practical that they will need to use FMLA leave. For example, if an employee knows that they have a procedure for a serious medical condition scheduled in three weeks, the employee needs to provide notice to the employer as soon as the procedure is scheduled. Employers may ask for information from the heath care provider before approving FMLA leave and must allow 15 calendar days to provide the information. In some circumstances, such as when the employee’s health care provider is not able to complete the certification information timely, employees must be allowed additional time.”

            Fact sheet 28E provides this example: “LaTarsha’s spouse, who has previously been healthy, develops a serious health condition. LaTarsha tells her employer that she needs leave to care for her spouse who has been hospitalized overnight, and that she anticipates being out for the rest of the week. This is enough information for the employer to know that LaTarsha’s leave may be covered by the FMLA. If LaTarsha had stated only that her spouse was “sick”—without any other details—she may not have provided enough information for an employer to recognize that the leave request may be covered under the FMLA.”

            In the case of our letter writer, she has clarified that the HR department is aware that the absences are caregiving of a parent with a terminal illness. As a HR person, I absolutely would be providing form WH-381, if it were me. I’d be aware of a need for time off that is for what sounds like a qualifying reason. Once I’ve done my duty by providing that form, the employee is free to decide to follow the steps and get FMLA, or decide to ignore. In trainings for HR on this, they’re pretty clear that you default to notifying the employee whenever you’re on notice that something sounds like it might be FMLA.

            1. Hyaline*

              I think this might hinge on the interpretation of “requesting leave.” All we know is that the employee has been absent. We don’t even know if those absences went through appropriate “call in” procedures! If you interpret any absence as a “request for leave,” ok—but I don’t think that’s what is stated here and I’m not sure it would hold up legally. I’m not saying their HR is doing a good job—they’re not—but I think they’d be able from the info we have here to cover themselves against legal liability. The LW’s friend probably wouldn’t be helped by lawyering up right now, but she would benefit from beginning the conversation about leave so that this dynamic of liability shifts.

            2. Star Trek Nutcase*

              But OP doesn’t say the PIP is simply a result of father’s issues. It’s just as likely it exacerbated her work issues (timeliness, absences, no notices, 2d job conflicts). I worked with a woman who took FMLA due to cancer treatment, but she was a very problematic worker before diagnosed, during her intermittent treatment, and after remission. A PIP should have been issued at any point on the timeline, but management didn’t want to first deal with her whining and later give impression of being mean. Just one more reason I left – good workers shouldn’t have to cover for bad management or coworkers.

    7. mbs001*

      This employee did not notify her employer that she needed to take time off due to her father’s medical condition. Our employers are not mind-readers. Employees have certain responsibilities too and communicating with your employer when you’re unable to perform as usual — whether that involves attendance or work quality — is number one. So too bad about anything that occurred in the past. Now if she does finally let her employer know about her situation, things going forward should be handled differently — as long as the issue is her father’s illness and NOT that she’s working multiple jobs.

  5. protectyourself*

    Just so you know, you can apply for something called “intermittent FMLA” that can be taken in increments as needed. I file that paperwork (signed off by a doctor) once a year and that covers me for the whole year as I need time off work here and there to take care of my aging parents. You say she’s “conflict adverse” but this is EXACTLY why FMLA was created. I don’t know where the “conflict” part comes in? If she qualifies (per Allison above), download the paperwork, fill it out, have the doctor sign off, and submit it to HR.

    1. DyneinWalking*

      A lot of people seem to think that “conflict” = “the merest mention of potential issues”.

      And I want to scream at every single one of them that talking about issues is how you reduce conflict!!! It’s not some supernatural beast that’s summoned into existence by voicing problems – it’s something that exists either way, and not talking about it merely means that it gets infinitely harder to actually resolve it.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “conflict” = “the merest mention of potential issues”.

        YES, agree with this! People need to advocate for themselves – especially at work!- and not doing so out of some misguided fear of conflict is crazy.

        1. Crooked Bird*

          People generally have these avoidance patterns for a reason–and often the reason is that they grew up in or have experienced situations where people blew up at them at the merest mention of potential issues. From a comment the LW left below, this workplace is pretty close to being that type of situation.

          The best I have to offer is, there are ways to pre-defuse conflict that you see coming, even if they aren’t guarantees. One of the best ways for a non-confrontational person to do it is to act as cheerful and friendly as if you’re quite sure everyone’s on the same side and is going to be reasonable–ask for what you need as if you’re going to get it. It’s not a guarantee, but at least it sets a friendly tone and forces the other person to be the one to break it if it’s going to be broken–rather than pre-loading the conversation with anger or fear. And it’s certainly the oppoiste of conflict! Of course, it takes some ability to hide your feelings–anger or fear are natural when you fully expect (esp. from experience) that the other person’s going to act hostile toward you. But it can be done.

      2. Gabs*

        I always remind people that it’s a “conversation, not confrontation” when you’re addressing issues in the work place. Treat it with that mentality and you’ll likely get better results (both from the conversation itself but also your own mental space)!

        1. 1-800-BrownCow*

          All above are great points!!! But I can totally relate to OP’s friend. I was raised to avoid conflict, negativity, or anything that might upset someone else. Former 20-something year old me would likely say what OP’s friend is saying about requesting FMLA. Current 40-something year old me would be requesting FMLA immediately and no one better make one single negative comment about my request or they’ll will get a snappy response. Thankfully, I’ve become much better advocating for myself as I get older. My parents though? Not so much. Which now that I’m helping aging parents with medical issues, the “conflict avoidance personality” of my parents is frustrating, especially since I don’t live close by.

          1. Quill*

            Yeah. If you’re conditioned to expect that asking for ANYTHING will lead to conflict… 1) that’s a fast ticket to an abusive or exploitative situation 2) You end up not getting information, benefits you’re entitled to, legal protection.

    2. ecnaseener*

      I’m guessing the horrendous HR LW describes has given her reason to expect that there’ll be conflict no matter how professionally and non-confrontationally she approaches them.

      1. Concerned Friend*

        Correct, and I appreciate your take on it. Having worked there as well, they are absolutely people who make all communication into a conflict somehow.

    3. Woodswoman*

      THIS!!! I never want to defend HR too hard, because I am HR. . . and while I work really, really hard to prioritize the humans in human resources and run an HR department that isn’t awful, I am fully aware that many (most?) HR departments are kind of terrible for employees.

      In this case, though. . .I’m not saying HR at OP’s employer isn’t bad, because the other stuff sounds like they are. But it does feel like in this instance, they might not have any idea that the absences are FMLA-qualifying. We’ve gotten recognition from our employees’ union for the way our HR department functions, so I think we’re on a good path but we still need employees to tell us what’s going on so we can help them utilize all their options.

      1. Juju*

        Agreed 100% . Predictable attendance is an essential function of most jobs and the one that caused the most issues for entry level positions. It’s really important that employees know their rights and utilize the benefits that are available to them. Employers shouldn’t be treating people differently (like, letting them have terrible attendance) unless the employee does their part and helps qualify the absences as related to protected leave.

        1. Woodswoman*

          Yes, for sure! Of course, a good HR department and good managers should also be doing their part to educate employees about the options they have AND to make sure there is no informal cultural stigma attached to using FMLA and other types of leave.

    4. CL*

      I’ve been looking to do this based on the volume of medical and school appointments needed for my son’s health condition.

  6. Justin*

    Her workplace sounds terrible, but as Alison says I can’t tell from the letter if she has communicated all of these things upfront.

    1. amanda706*

      We also can’t tell if the LW actually knows the extent of the attendance issues. Is it more like being late occasionally, or multiple no-shows with no communication? Did the friend start having problems when her dad got sick, or is this a longstanding problem?

      The company MIGHT be the villain it’s being portrayed as, but LW should be aware that friends don’t always tell friends about all of their screw-ups.

  7. Hyaline*

    It may not be the worst employment situation in the world, but it sure isn’t fantastic–lots of flags in that letter! Long term maybe the best advice you could give is commiseration and insight into your own job search if she’s ready to look for work elsewhere. But for this moment–it’s not about “conflict,” it’s about communication. I know it’s probably really hard, but she does need to be proactive about going to HR and discussing her leave options and the potential to use FMLA. I’m also really unclear how, if she’s been using PTO or other “normal” avenues for her absences and following all policies concerning time off she could be placed on a PIP–so I’m guessing she may have, from their perspective, been flaking out on work without adequate communication. Knowing what you know, that’s a horribly unfair thing to say about someone whose dad is dying, but if someone doesn’t communicate clearly and follow standard policies and protocols for taking leave, what else is a workplace going to think? Since she’s new to working, I wonder if the “you have to follow the protocols” part may be unclear for her since there’s a lot of handholding and shielding from consequences through many folks’ school years.

    I see this a decent amount with my undergrad students, and I wonder if it’s carrying over here: If something is Bad in their lives, they don’t communicate about it, but they don’t realize that communication is necessary to avoid the natural consequences of absence, not turning in work, whatever. They tend to think they can swing back in when they’re ready and pick up and because they had a good reason for what looked like a flake out there should be no negative consequences (even if that reason was never shared). Since they’re still undergrads I can usually get them back on track, but in the workplace it often just doesn’t work like that. I hope she can be open with HR and they can be helpful in coaching her in how it does need to work to accommodate her.

    1. Concerned Friend*

      I’ve posted elsewhere but you put a lot of thought into this! So I want to clear up that shes always been good about being communicative. HR and her manager both know exactly why and when she’s not coming in.

      I know many people are hearing “conflict averse” and thinking “this isn’t conflict, it’s just communication!” But that’s unfortunately not always true with some people (or employers!). In my experience with both, some people make all communication into a conflict, there’s no avoiding it.

      1. Pretty as a Princess*

        So there’s plenty of bad management there, but also – an employer can’t force an employee to take FMLA leave. (And to be honest, in my experience a lot of managers never get any kind of training about the resources available to their employees for dealing with family and medical crises. I had to learn all of that all on my own self.)

        If your friend is eligible, she HAS TO do the paperwork and make the request if she wants to protect her job. You could offer to sit with her to help her understand the paperwork when she gets it, offer to take time off if she needs to go get a form filled out by a doctor (or deliver and pick up forms for her with a signed release).

      2. Hyaline*

        I see what you’re saying and appreciate the follow up, LW! It sounds like there is zero compassion for her when it comes to actually giving her leeway and flexibility, which sucks. But it’s also how some workplaces function—follow the protocols and policies or else. If FMLA (or an equivalent state law or company policy) is an option, she needs to protect herself with that—because if clear communication isn’t sufficient, she needs to pull other levers to cover herself. But there’s this basic underlayment of “you have to follow the rules and advocate for yourself within that framework” that honestly I kinda feel like is missing from how it seems like she’s approaching this.

        For example—You say elsewhere she’s squeamish about FMLA because it’s unpaid. I’ll be honest, that tripped me up a bit because…well, even a very accommodating workplace isn’t going to pay beyond allocated PTO for someone to be not working. It sucks that this workplace seems inflexible and problematic, but she does kinda have to learn the framework and how she can use it to her advantage.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Every professional job I’ve worked has had ways to support employees after they’ve exhausted their PTO. That might be allowing them to use PTO they hadn’t earned yet, allowing other employees to donate PTO, or just giving the affected employee additional PTO.

          The letter about bereavement policy earlier this week had lots of examples of an employer giving their employee additional PTO just before or after the death of a loved one. It tends to inspire fierce loyalty, both from that employee and others who are aware of it.

  8. S*

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t eligibility for FMLA dependent on whether the employee is caregiving? So if dad is in hospice care at a hospital, I’d expect she wouldn’t qualify, but if it’s palliative care at more, she would?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      ” The care recipient must be unable to care for their own medical, safety or other needs and/or need help being transported to the doctor or require psychological comfort and support.”

      Typically hospice care falls under psychological comfort and support

      1. anonymous caregiver*

        iirc, stuff like dealing with insurance paperwork for the patient, coordinating doctor calls, etc can still count.

    2. FMLa*

      I think caregiving can be broadly interpreted and the main thing is having a doctor who is able to sign off on the paperwork such that it gets approved. I supported my parent through knee replacement surgery and that took different forms (from personal care and cooking to raking leaves to emotional support) over the time I was out. But the paperwork can be a beast — mine got sent back because the doctor didn’t fill it out right even though I gave some clear information and he thought he had — so honestly if you want to help her, working on the paperwork with her and making sure she understands rules and deadlines would be great.

      1. RLC*

        I was thinking this too, the most helpful things OP could do may include “administrative assistant” tasks for their friend. Researching pertinent rules and guidance, downloading forms, assisting with filling out forms, mailing forms, etc. Often what an overwhelmed and exhausted person most needs is an administrative assistant to take care of these tasks. Speaking from the experience of 24/7 full time carer for both parents over 6 years, I most wished I had a trusted, clear headed person to do all that.

        1. anonymous caregiver*

          The paperwork is the worst! Our current company goes through a 3rd party benefits company and we have to apply through them rather than through the government. I applied through the government in the past and somehow the paperwork is 10x worse!!

    3. Seven If You Count Bad John*

      It’s dependent on what you can convince the FMLA administration to agree to. (That’s a separate company entirely from your HR and they keep your personal info confidential.) There’s an application process, with supporting documentation and sometimes even interviews with a nurse or social worker. I did this a couple of years ago, once for my own health issue and once for traveling to help out with family. I was worried my reasons for needing the time wouldn’t be considered “good enough”. In any case, the key is to apply and see what they say.

      1. protectyourself*

        Weird, that wasn’t my experience. I filled out as much as possible on the form ( and put a “sign here” sticky for the doctor (several different doctors over time) and they were all THRILLED not to have to fill out the paperwork. They did glance through before they signed off but never made any changes. I then provided the form to my employer. I didn’t have any sort of interaction with an “FMLA administration.” If your employer requires additional medical certification, I think they have 5 days from when you submitted the form to them to ask, then you have 15 days to get that additional info to them. Also the definition on the form that seems to fit this scenario is “Permanent or Long-term Conditions: A period of incapacity which is permanent or long-term due to a condition for which treatment may not be effective, but which requires the continuing supervision of a health care provider, such as Alzheimer’s disease or the terminal stages of cancer.” And as others have said “psychological comfort” is one of the categories. This is all assuming she needs time off to be with her dad and not her second job.

        1. wavefunction*

          If it’s possible I’ve found this to be the best way to get doctor/official signatures. Literally do all the work so they only have to sign, and let them make changes if needed.

      2. MaxPower*

        FMLA can be administered by a third party (separate company), but it is also quite common for companies to administer their own FMLA.

      3. Banana Pyjamas*

        This depends on the workplace. When I had my son FMLA at my job was in-house. My mom was going to do caregivers for me because I wasn’t allowed to lift anything except the baby. The third-party her work used declined the application. Meanwhile, my son had oral surgery and I extended my leave because he needed OT exercises after every feeding, and my HR rep called to double check because she’d never heard of that. Ultimately they approved that.

        In my personal experience not only do some employers do FMLA in house, it’s better when it’s done in house.

        1. Judy*

          I don’t think your mother would be eligible for FMLA since her child (you) was over 18 and she was not your legal guardian (assuming both).

          1. I can read anything except the room*

            Yeah, FMLA is surprisingly (to me) restrictive in who you can serve as a caregiver for and expect legal protection. Caring for adult children doesn’t qualify (unless you’re still legally a guardian due to incapacity of the adult child), caring for siblings doesn’t qualify (unless they were your legal guardian as a child), and I was most surprised to learn that providing care for in-laws is explicitly called out in the fact sheet as not being covered.

            I know at least a few married couples where the relationship between at least one spouse and their in-laws is very close, and if the spouse died before the in-laws I expect the widowed partner would remain close to the in-laws, and it’s sad to think someone in that situation who might want to provide familial care to their deceased partner’s aging parents would be denied job protection under FMLA to do it.

            That’s not even getting into families where cousins are as close as siblings and would feel just as strong a moral obligation to help a cousin who had no one else to care for them, but evidently in the eyes of the law, unless you’re their legal guardian now, they were once yours, or you’re married to them, it’s not worthy of protecting your ability to do so in even this most basic (limited and unpaid) way.

            It seems a really shame to deny this small amount of grace if someone has a relative in need and they’re willing to be there for them, and could potentially avoid the need for professional in-home care. Which is an industry that, as far as I can tell, has a lot of problems figuring out a model that can ensure caregivers get an adequate wage and reasonable working conditions, patients get adequate care, AND can be offered at a price point that people who aren’t wealthy can afford. If people have the resources in their own familial networks to provide part-time or short-term care and the only thing they need is a little flexibility so they don’t lose their job while providing it, it seems like as a society we should want to support that.

    4. Concerned Friend*

      This was my line of questioning as well, people have given some great responses and it appears that hospice care within a facility does indeed qualify.

    5. An Honest Nudibranch*

      If she’s regularly visiting her father in said hospice, she almost certainly qualifies – doubly so if she’s also helping with administrative communication with medical providers, helping lift things, bringing over specific food, etc. People really underestimate the amount of caregiving that relatives are still doing even if their loved one is getting palliative care in a facility. FMLA is intentionally broadly worded on what qualifies as caregiving to account for this sort of thing, too – it’s generally understood that often what’s needed for employees deal with close relatives having severe medical emergencies is the time off to visit them or accompany them to procedures.

      (At the very least, I can confirm I got FMLA approval for when my own mom was in hospice, despite it being at a facility. And it’s a good thing I did, too – I was there in loud medical rooms overnight, often woken up to deal with everything ranging from potential emergencies to “would like water” – there was no way in Hell I was going to be able to be a functional employee the next day. There’s a lot more going on for relatives than you might expect if you’ve never had someone in hospice, it’s rarely a “yep just drop them off then you have no responsibilities” sort of thing. )

      1. kalli*

        When my grandmother was in a nursing home, my mum was still getting her out of bed and feeding her and had to visit multiple times some days. When my grandmother got to the point of needing 24/7 observation and hospice care, THEN other family members helped, and then my grandmother wasn’t moved to hospice because with the family help and the assumption it would just be a couple of days, they didn’t think it worth it.

        this is all fairly normal in an underfunded overcrowded aged care system where a common philosophy is ‘involve the family as much as possible for the wellbeing of the patient’.

        Everyone basically goes ‘yeah, do what you have to do, just let us know what you need’ around here, but if FMLA is even remotely an option, it’s a no-brainer – any extra protection and wiggle room you can get, you take. It isn’t even about protecting your job, just not having to worry about it as much lightens the cognitive load.

    6. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Even if she is not the primary care taker (i.e. nurse) it sounds like she is still caring for other duties. We don’t have any info if there are other family members but I think we can assume that she is at least helping with things like doctors appointments, insurance, and other end of life plans. The father might not be able to communicate his needs or make certain decisions.

  9. Windaria*

    HR is primarily concerned with pressuring employees to give up federally protected rights, spreading confidential information, and micromanaging people’s clock in/out times.

    Gotta stick up for my HR colleagues on the “micromanaging people’s clock in/out times” issue. Here in CA at least, wage & hour issues are a HUGE target for lawyers just looking for class action suits. Employees were 2 minutes late starting their lunch break and you didn’t catch it and pay a 1 hour premium? Class action lawsuit incoming! We are nit-picky about it because we have to be. We’d be happier than the employees if we didn’t have to deal with it.

      1. Concerned Friend*

        We are not in CA and I can confirm it’s not due to potential lawsuits/fines/consequences. It is entirely related to them being busy bodies on a power trip. Even when OT was approved and unlimited for my team HR was complaining to the managers.

    1. Reebee*

      “HR is primarily concerned with pressuring employees to give up federally protected rights, spreading confidential information, and micromanaging people’s clock in/out times.”

      What incredible nonsense.

      Just stop.

  10. Lucia Pacciola*

    Personally I would recommend not focusing on how to coach your friend to better protect her job. It puts more pressure on her to “do the right thing”, and makes you more frustrated if she’s not able to hit the mark you’ve set for her.

    As her friend, you’re in a position to help relieve some of the emotional burden of what she’s going through. Listen to her. Let her tell you what’s stressing her the most, what weighs on her so much that she’s blowing off work (not just the general losing a parent thing, but what specifically about that is hurting). Listen for her signals about when she wants to be “hugged, heard, or helped”, and respond accordingly. Maybe she doesn’t want your advice about managing her job (even if she needs it). Maybe she just really needs someone to say “wow, that sucks, I’m so sorry”, and sit with her in her lowest moments.

    1. Concerned Friend*

      Yep, I’ve given a few gentle nudges but mostly I explained that I totally understood of everything was too much, and I was just here if she wanted to talk.

      I’ve helped her draft/rehearse for conversations with bosses that she finds anxiety inducing before, which is why I started more towards the “career advice” side of things.

      1. Agent Diane*

        I was coming here to say this, as nothing in the original letter indicated your friend was asking for your advice.

        You cannot solve your friend’s PIP for her. If she’s been given all the advice here about FMLA etc, and all the advice from Alison about being sure her primary employer knows why she is out, but she doesn’t act on it? That’s her choice, and her consequences. Your old employer will still suck horribly. Your friend will still be distraught and struggling financially and emotionally. But absolutely none of this is within your power to change. Step back and ask her what she wants from you. Is it a day where she wants mentoring from you on how to go in and battle this situation into some kind of order? Or is it a day to buy huge tubs of ice-cream and vent against the dumb world? On an ice-cream day, don’t give her battle plans.

  11. V.*

    You might encourage your friend to talk to the hospice social worker as well – when my dad was in hospice last year, the social worker helped me sort out applying for caregiver leave.

    1. Girasol*

      Hospice and hospital social workers are amazing in the range of knowledge they have and advice they can give in situations that normal folks have no idea how to navigate.

    2. Concerned Friend*

      Amazing advice, thank you! I hadn’t thought of that but it seems so obvious now that you say so.

  12. A Pinch of Salt*

    I was this co-worker when my dad was sick and then died. I was 27, visiting him on his deathbed at lunch, working remote from his deathbed, all of it. And was still chastised for missing a couple deadlines.

    Please, please encourage her to get FMLA if it’s available. Jobs come and go…but your parent only dies once.

    1. Concerned Friend*

      I’m doing my best – I don’t have the greatest relationship with my parents, but (ironically) I’m now going through something similar with my Mom. Seeing how my company is handling the process has only made me more upset for my friend.

  13. The Straight Truth*

    Went through this with two parents and spouse.
    Yes, they can be in hospice.
    The employee is still eligible for FMLA to give aid and comfort. For my parents, their doctor filled out a form. For my husband, I told HR he had Stage 4 cancer and they sent me a form for the chemo treatment place to fill out.
    My company follows federal rules and errs on the side of the employee.

    1. Concerned Friend*

      I’m so sorry for your losses. Thank you for your advice – I was having trouble debunking some of the legal wording online.

  14. Not your typical admin*

    This is such a tough situation. You want to extend as much grace and understanding as possible, but at some point work needs to be done. For instance, there’s a huge difference in someone who has been out 5-6 times over a couple of months and someone who’s missing 1-2 days every week consistently. I don’t agree at all that a pip is the best way to handle this. The employee and her manager need to have a meeting where they discuss the person’s availability, the company’s expectations, and together come up with a plan.

    1. Anonforthis*

      I recently went through this with I was training. She was allowed to take the equivalent of FMLA even though she had only been working a few months,l and we advanced as much sick time as we could after her father died. But ultimately she wasn’t getting her work done or meeting the standards for over half a year after her Dad died and we had to let her go. It was terrible but we’d given as much leeway as we could and we couldn’t continue paying someone who wasn’t getting work done.

    2. Kyrielle*

      1-2 days a week is 52-104 days in a year. 12 weeks is 60 work days. So the lower end of that is reasonable for FMLA if the parent is in hospice for the whole year. In many but not all cases, it will sadly be much briefer, in which case 2 days a week is also within the FMLA allotment.

      The work does still need to be done. FMLA requires the employer to find a way of doing it that doesn’t involve requiring the employee to be superhuman or ignore their dying parent, however. Certainly they need a plan, but unless this is a small employer or they otherwise avoid FMLA being required, they are going to need to come up with a plan that allows for that leave.

    3. mbs001*

      Agreed. There is a lot of paying employees for NOT working — and companies can’t succeed that way. Work has to get done and needs to be spread around fairly. Yes, have some leeway and grace for people with medical or personal issues, but only to some extent. If they can’t pick up their share of work again, they shouldn’t be kept on the rolls.

  15. K Smith*

    I don’t have any practical advice to add here, but OP: you seem like a really kind person, and your friend is lucky to have you in her life, regardless of how you end up helping/advising her in this situation. Just showing up and lending an ear in this incredibly stressful time in your friend’s life is worth A LOT.

  16. Girasol*

    She may not get as much sympathy if she’s working multiple jobs, it’s true. However, a company that underpays such that people need multiple jobs to survive is slimy if they make an excuse like that.

  17. Lenniesmom*

    In addition to FMLA, many states (including Oregon) have their own state based program (here it is OFLA) that covers folks much like FMLA, but for businesses that have less than that threshold of 50 employees. More states now also have a Paid Leave program that would bear looking into as well.

  18. Bob*

    Being “conflict averse” because you’re already on a PIP and dont want to mention FMLA will be a painful lesson for your friend. Hoping she takes it to heart.

    1. Concerned Friend*

      Sigh. I agree, but trying to be supportive while she still has a chance to be with her father.

      1. Ginger Cat Lady*

        Supportive doesn’t mean taking on her problems as your own. She’s *choosing* not to stand up for herself. It’s not a good choice, but you need to let her make it.
        There’s no workaround you can do for your friend’s refusal to advocate for herself. Her job, her choices, her consequences.

  19. Berin*

    I’m so sorry that your friend is going through this, especially while working for a company that does not seem to care about their staff.

    It’s not clear from the letter whether she’s calling in or using existing PTO, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt, but: if she’s missing work without using PTO, any company, not just a shitty one, would likely be pretty frustrated with that, especially if your friend hasn’t notified them of the need for FMLA. She’s got a TON on her shoulders right now, and I sympathize, but she has to to advocate for herself.

  20. Not So Super-visor*

    I really hate how many managers/HR depts don’t advise struggling employees about FMLA. This assumes, however, that the conflict-adverse friend has let her work know that her father is in hospice and that they have been at the company long enough for it to apply.

  21. Concerned Friend*

    Hi everyone, I’m the LW for this post. Thank you to everyone who has commented regarding FMLA, etc. I’m looking through and reading them all. I’ve never had to deal with it myself, and I know the “unpaid” part of FMLA is difficult for her (hence the second job).

    To clear up the confusion regarding absences – HR is absolutely aware of the reason for the absences, and Jane has been upfront about it being directly related to her father. I’m told the HR director cried in the meeting where Jane was placed on the PIP *because* they felt bad and knew her father was sick. So to recap, they know, and made sure to sound very sad in the meeting where they punished her for it. If I sound spicy, it’s because I am.

    (I mentioned a second job more as a “my friend is drowning” tidbit. Her second job is not related to the field and part time, so if she has to pick between the two she *always* picks her full time job. She’s also been extremely clear with HR and her manager about this.) She also isn’t allowed to work from home or be in the office beyond certain hours, so the two rarely overlap.

    To my knowledge (and I witnessed it firsthand when we worked together) Jane has always been clear and timely in her communications about absences or tardiness. Everyone involved is aware of why she is absent often lately, and are updated with her schedule as soon as possible.

    (The company also shortly afterward walked out a member of Jane’s department when they gave their two weeks, for no reason. The person had no access to confidential information and was not a disgruntled employee. So complaints about them being shorthanded or work needing to be done have slightly less weight IMHO).

    1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

      That company sucks. Jane should definitely be trying to get out of there ASAP. The only benefit to staying would be that to qualify for FMLA, she needs to have a year in the job, and if she moves to a different company that clock starts over. I have a couple of friends with chronic conditions who reapply for FMLA every year and don’t move jobs specifically because of that.

    2. 1-800-BrownCow*

      So based on you mentioning FMLA in the original post, it sounds like it’s an option at the company and your friend qualifies. I’m a bit surprised then that HR didn’t suggest FMLA if the know the reasons she misses work and acts all sad about placing her on a PIP.

      You mention the unpaid part of FMLA is difficult for her because of her financial responsibilities. But is she using PTO when she does call out and miss work? Even on FMLA, she can still use PTO. Some companies even require that you use it if you have the time available. So if she has PTO still available, she can use it and under FMLA, the company cannot fire her. But it also does save her if she uses up all her PTO and something dire happens to her father and leaves her no choice but to take time off without getting paid. Essentially, she’d be no worse off than if she didn’t go on FMLA and she was out of PTO but had to take off anyway because of her dad.

      Between the PIP and her concern of conflict if she request FMLA, requesting FMLA is the much safer and less conflict causing action. That sucks that HR there doesn’t help her out and encourage her to use it. I feel that either your friend is going to find herself unemployed by no choice of her own, or she desperately needs to find a job elsewhere, which likely isn’t going to go too well starting out in another job due to her father’s health.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        “I’m a bit surprised then that HR didn’t suggest FMLA if the know the reasons she misses work and acts all sad about placing her on a PIP.”

        I don’t think we actually know that they haven’t suggested, it seems like friend is opposed to requesting it. If they refused to use/request FMLA HR can’t force them.

        If people refuse to use the proper policies/procedures not much the company can do.

        1. 1-800-BrownCow*

          True, we don’t know if they suggested or not. I made my assumption based on OP’s original letter where OP said “I’ve encouraged her to look into FMLA and various forms of paid (or unpaid) time off to be with her father, but she’s extremely averse to conflict.” Based on that, it sounds to me like maybe the company did not bring up FMLA and that OP’s friend is afraid to pursue it herself because of possible conflict. But I could be wrong, the OP doesn’t specify either way. But I would think IF HR suggested FMLA, then maybe the friend wouldn’t be concerned about conflict.

    3. Phony Genius*

      I say this with the full understanding that Jane cannot afford to be without a full-time job for very long. In the long run, I think she needs to get out of there more than she needs the paycheck.

      1. mbs001*

        If she leaves for another company, she’ll need to wait 1 year before she’s eligible for FMLA at that new employer.

    4. Anonforthis*

      the issue is does she have PTO to take? if she’s not taking unpaid leave and she’s used up her PTO, the problem is, what is her employer supposed to do? That’s what FMLA is for.

    5. MaxPower*

      If HR is aware that absences are due to caretaking, they have likely violated the law by not providing her with notice of her FMLA eligibility, via form WH-381.

      1. Hyaline*

        As she did not request leave, I’m not sure that this applies? (This may be splitting hairs, but since we’re getting into the hair splitting of legality, it does not sound like the friend ever requested leave. It sounds like she has been sporadically absent, which is not the same thing and maybe absolves the company from liability here.)

        1. MaxPower*

          I responded to this on another comment in more detail, but the DOL has stated that just knowing that the reason for the absence is due to what sounds like a qualifying reason is enough. Clearly this HR does know that much.

          Per DOL fact sheet 28E: “LaTarsha’s spouse, who has previously been healthy, develops a serious health condition. LaTarsha tells her employer that she needs leave to care for her spouse who has been hospitalized overnight, and that she anticipates being out for the rest of the week. This is enough information for the employer to know that LaTarsha’s leave may be covered by the FMLA. If LaTarsha had stated only that her spouse was “sick”—without any other details—she may not have provided enough information for an employer to recognize that the leave request may be covered under the FMLA”

          The HR person is crying in meetings because she knows how sick the father is, and that the absences are due to that illness. Sure as heck sounds to me like she has enough info to suss out that this is (intermittent) leave that may qualify for FMLA.

          1. An Honest Nudibranch*

            Ya, I was going to say – HR *absolutely* has an obligation to bring up the potential applicability of FMLA at this point. If they did, and she decided to not pursue it, then I guess that would be one thing. But if:

            – HR did not inform her of her likely qualification for FMLA (or otherwise discouraged her from taking it because of implied “inconvenience” for HR or “conflict”)

            – HR then put her on a PIP for absences that would likely be protected under FMLA would she have applied for it

            Then HR is on shaky legal ground.

            Honestly, I’d ask her more about why applying for FMLA feels like conflict. In a functional HR department, FMLA is *less* likely to cause conflict – it gives HR very clear instructions on what everyone is required to do, decreases legal liability for the company, and overall makes their job much easier. So if that’s anxiety talking, sometimes it’s helpful to remember that filing for FMLA really is a benefit for HR, too, not a burden.

            But if HR (or her boss, or other members of her company) are openly framing it to your friend as “don’t inconvenience people by filing for FMLA (so that we can punish you for taking leave via a PIP)”. . . then they’re assholes, and potentially assholes that are violating the law.

    6. PotatoRock*

      Is it possible that HR has suggested/encouraged FMLA but your friend hasn’t pursued it because it’s unpaid?

      If your friend is following the policy for taking PTO and has it available, a company putting her in a pip for that is really terrible, and she’ll do better almost anywhere else

      But it sounds like this might be closer to: your friend needs more PTO than she has. And that is an unfortunate reality of a lot of companies – even when it’s a really terrible situation, a /lot/ of companies will not give you as much paid time as you actually need to manage an emergency like this. It sucks, but that’s a fairly common stance from a company, and unlikely to change by getting a new job.

      If there’s additional paid sick leave available to your friend that she can use for personal illness but not caregiving, does she possibly qualify for it medically for complex grief, anxiety, etc. There may also be resources through hospice services – she can ask to talk to the social worker

    7. AnotherLibrarian*

      Most employers (mine included) require employees to use PTO while on FMLA, so the FMLA is only unpaid once the PTO runs out, but provides additional employment protections. Additionally, many work places have a leave pool, so if your friend runs out of PTO while on FMLA, than she might be able to tap into the leave pool and request donated leave. That’s what I did when I was out on intermittent leave for nearly a year while recovering from a major surgery.

    8. Dawn*

      Just for the record, they can both genuinely be sad and still have to do their jobs and carry out the directives they’ve been given; the two are not mutually exclusive.

      I understand why this is so upsetting for you, but I feel like you’re taking on too much emotion over it; you don’t work there anymore, this is not your direct problem, and they are not doing this maliciously. Many people throughout their lives have to deal with the death of a loved one and continue working.

      This is very rough and she has all of my sympathy, but nothing so far sounds like HR are actually moustache-twirling villains beyond your own editorializing and assigning motives to them, and that’s not helping you see the situation objectively.

  22. Sneaky Squirrel*

    Federal has a minimum eligibility requirement that the employee must work for their employer at least 1,250 hours over the employee’s last 12 months (a little bit more than 6 months of full-time, 40 hour per week work, if I did my math right) and work at a location where the company employs 50+ employees within 75 miles. The states and the HR policy manual may have different/more generous policy requirements. But I’m wondering if FMLA never came up as an option between HR/employee because employee is not eligible? LW implies that the friend doesn’t have a lot of working experience yet, so I’m wondering if that means she’s new?

    Regardless, even if FMLA didn’t apply, it would be good for the employee to have discussions with manager and HR to figure out

  23. Abigail*

    Learning to manage conflict is a skill. Negotiating and advocating for yourself is a skill.

    Some people only develop this skill when they refuse to do it and have extremely negative consequences.

    This is a really hard thing to watch. It’s hard to watch somebody you love learn this. I can tell you care a lot and that’s wonderful. What you can do, though, is limited.

  24. Ginger Cat Lady*

    It’s not “conflict” to speak up for yourself and advocate for what you need. If she thinks it is, that’s something to address.
    If she’s not willing to stand up for herself, you cannot save her. Will it suck if she loses this job? Yes. Very much so. But that’s not on you. Her job, she needs to navigate it, and you’ve given her the best possible advice.
    If she loses her job, she loses her job and learns a VERY hard lesson on standing up for herself.
    You need to be less personally invested in her management of her employment situation.

    1. spiriferida*

      It’s not conflict, but it requires emotional reserves that she may not have at this time. Especially if, as the LW’s comments indicate, she has reason to believe the company won’t be supportive, and if she can’t afford to take unpaid time off (as having a second job might indicate).

      Times like the death of a parent are when people most need to be able to rely on their support network. The LW probably can’t do this for her, but I don’t blame someone who knows their friend is receiving poor treatment from trying to find an easier solution for their friend by writing in here.

  25. gvmtgirlie*

    Please look into your state’s sick time/family leave laws as well! My state recently passed a very comprehensive sick time law that is much more generous than FMLA and would allow for the type of time off she is taking. Maybe you have something similar.

  26. Zero Calories*

    30+ year HR professional here. This is a really crappy place to work with a really crappy HR department. But from the information presented here, there are thus far, no legal violations. It is admirable for you to want to help your friend, it really is. But unless you have a 360 degree view of the situation (which is likely you don’t because even if you are getting the *whole* story from your friend, you don’t have any of the employer’s perspective), then it is difficult to know if there are other contributing factors to the PIP. And even if there aren’t, again, crappy management but not illegal management. Your best advice for your friend is to look into FMLA stat. And as soon as they are out of personal crisis and has the bandwidth to do so, work on getting out of there. (This is assuming they are as unhappy working there as you were and assuming they aren’t fired first)

  27. ZK*

    Please show your former coworker Alison’s advice. She absolutely needs to look in to FMLA. Years ago my husband’s dad and brother had severe health problems and it looked like he was going to have to go help his mum with them. He immediately filled out the FMLA paperwork. It absolutely saved his job, both from a time off perspective and the fact that his mind was occupied elsewhere a lot of the time. Not to mention, his boss at the time was absolutely untrustworthy and liked to promise things while stabbing you in the back, so it was good to have that protection in place.

  28. Holm*

    > she needs to have worked there for at least a year and have worked at least 1,250 hours during that year.

    Incorrect. She needs to have worked there at least a year within the last 7 years, and have worked there at least 1250 hours in the last year (so the past 12 months). It’s not necessarily the same year, as you imply.

  29. TLC Squeak*

    Also look into state laws. Oregon, for example, has OFLA, which is more generous than FMLA.

    1. anonymous caregiver*

      Yes, depending on where you are the requirements might be easier, too. I’m in MA and was just shy of one year but still qualified for the state paid leave.

  30. WellRed*

    This is all really hard to read and I feel for your friend but at this point, you’ve done what you can. I’m unclear on why she won’t ask for FMLA (her job is at risk right now!) and I’m unclear on these “other jobs.” But you’re a friendly former coworker with no insider knowledge here, yes? Make another attempt to encourage her but otherwise let this go. It’s not your battle. Be there for her.

  31. Name*

    I attended a continuing ed session about FMLA done by an employment lawyer. What many get confused is that FMLA doesn’t begin once you file paperwork or get it approved. FMLA begins once your employer knows you have a qualifying event, one of which is “to care for the employee’s…parent who has a serious health condition”. If the employer is aware that she is absent due to care for a dying father especially if related to a health condition, she is already protected by FMLA. If her employer does meet the requirements for FMLA, she should talk to her employer about her situation and possible an employment lawyer as well.

    1. Hyaline*

      I think the company can safely cover themselves, though, as it seems the employee never requested leave (she’s just been absent an unidentified number of times and it’s unclear how those absences were communicated/approved) and has not framed any of this as a caregiver situation. I’m not saying the company is in the right, but I don’t think the employee gets anywhere on this one attempting to lawyer up or anything. She needs to start framing the situation in a way that covers her and ask for leave, though!

      1. Orora*

        An employee is not necessarily required to specifically request leave.

        “When an employee seeks leave for the first time for a FMLA-qualifying reason, the employee does not need to specifically assert his or her rights under FMLA, or even mention FMLA. The employee must, however, provide ‘sufficient information’ to make the employer aware of the need for FMLA leave and the anticipated timing and duration of the leave…The regulations provide additional guidance for employees regarding what is ‘sufficient information.’ Depending on the situation, such information may include… whether the employee or the employee’s family member is under the continuing care of a health care provider…”

        Telling her employer that her dad is in hospice could be enough to “notify” her employer that she may need FMLA. She should definitely tell them now and assert her rights. If they continue to give her trouble about her absences due to her father’s illness, that could be retaliation of expressing her FMLA rights.

  32. AnonForThisOne*


    I started a new job less than a month ago. It’s on site…which matters in a bit.

    My husband became ill at work and it was serious enough that 911 was called and he was taken to the hospital on the advice of the paramedics.

    I called my very new boss who told me to leave work and go to the hospital… before I could even ask if that was an issue. Granted I was going either way but it was nice to know that it wasn’t turned in to an issue.

    My husband is off work until next week. (Everything was fine with all the tests at the hospital which is great… but left us not really knowing what caused the issue which isn’t great.)

    My new boss is allowing me to complete my training from home (even though my job is not remote) so I’m not leaving my husband home alone while we make sure it was a one time thing and not something that might likely happen again. (He feels fine… but also felt fine before the incident so it’s a little disconcerting.)

    I’m being treated like this, at my brand new job and my husband is by all accounts just fine…to treat someone like this with a terminally ill parent is awful and appalling. I know it happens but it’s just awful.

    Now might not be the time to add the stress of a job search…but I would definitely tell her to work on her resume and get it ready as that’s not a company to remain at long term.

    Please extend her my best wishes.

  33. Lizard*

    Between working two jobs, the anxiety of a PIP, and caring for her dying father, I don’t think this is about self advocacy so much as it is about exhaustion. When people are grieving its normal to ask them where they need support, but the reality is that their grief takes away the mental energy and executive function required to analyze their own needs and then delegate them out. She might fully agree with your recommendations and yet be too overwhelmed to start the work it takes to execute them.

    If you have the capacity and really want to help her, I’d suggest walking her through as much of the application process as you can. Schedule a time to meet with her (make it easy by offering to go to her home), clearly outline how FMLA would work in her situation and what the limits are, and then fill out and file the paperwork together. If she’s dreading the conflict this could cause with her employer, help her write an email to them or practice that conversation. When she is ready to search for another job, do the same thing with resume and cover letter help. This approach takes a lot of work, but its the kind of support people need in moments like this and it could really make a difference.

  34. Buffalo*

    I think the “bananapants” coinage is usually shorthand for something that’s unusual. And as Alison says, depending on the context, this behaviour is somewhere on the spectrum between “somewhat callous” and “extremely callous”. But I don’t think it’s in any way unusal. A lot of jobs treat their employees callously. This is less-than-kind behaviour, but it’s not a jaw-dropping, “Wait, your boss did *what*?” situation, for me.

  35. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

    You know that saying “humans are inherently good,” or “there are more good people than bad people in this world.” I just don’t believe that anymore, with so many endless accounts of issues like this one where bosses and HR seem incapable of treating people with basic human decency. And it seems to all have gotten significantly worse in the last several years, with the political warring and pandemic effects. Maybe it’s better outside the US but it’s extremely depressing here.

  36. SickTime*

    As someone with chronic medical conditions requiring frequent medical care (not to mention having days when I am not functional), I loathe combined PTO. It means I don’t get non-sick time. When you take more than average sick time there’s an impression you are taking too much sick time and if you don’t have artificial levers like separately designated vacation time or expiring if you don’t use it bosses often won’t approve it.

    The best setup I ever had offered sick time (10 days which is fairly normal – most places here give 10 or 12), combined PTO (vacation and personal days, they were separate when I started and combined later), and holidays (mid range – more than the minimal 6 but not every single federal/state holiday). You started with 2 weeks vacation + 5 personal days (3 weeks PTO in the new system), got an extra week starting year 2, two more extra days starting in week 3, then an extra day per year up to 5 weeks vacation/6 weeks PTO. You couldn’t have more than either 3 or 4 weeks of PTO on the books at any given time so you had a lever to get time approved, even if only a day every pay period when you were hovering around the max.

    1. SickTime*

      Huh? I submitted this comment in response to the combined vacation/sick time post, not this one.

  37. Abogado Avocado*

    LW#1, unless you work for a very high-rend law firm or financial institution, check out and, where conference room tables go for as little as $10. You do have to arrange for pick up and transport, but replacing that lost furniture can be a lot cheaper than you expected because there’s a glut of office furniture due to the prevalence of WFH and hot-desking post-COVID.

    This isn’t to say you shouldn’t fess up to your error here. You should. But do be aware that the situation isn’t as dire as you may have thought.

  38. Orora*

    Reiterating to check to see if your state has “mini FMLA” laws. Some states do, and the requirements for qualifying are different than federal.

  39. Luanne Platter*

    This place sounds like a terrible company to work, however: I always take it with a grain of salt when we’re getting a second hand description of the company. The friend is going to provide the perspective that is most favorable to them.

    That being said, with the way this company was described, Friend should probably just quit anyway.

  40. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I too have an aging parent that has required me being out of office on various occasions. I got some grousing about how I “wasn’t here” when this happened and “well if you were here we could probably…”

    So finally when I got the last, “I know you’re having issues but we need,” I got fed up and asked them what they THINK I should do. Literally, “Tell me right now if I need to decide between a critically ill mom, or this” as I waved my hands around wildly. I didn’t care anymore and I told them that even between 8 and 5 life still exists beyond this (now I’m waving around wildly). I offered to look into FMLA or a unpaid leave, or just leave. “I am your employee, not another one of your PROBLEMS.”

    Mom fortunately got well, and I believe it or not, got an apology.

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