Recently, I took time off from work under the provisions of the US FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). A family medical/caregiving need required that I step away from my work as a hospice chaplain to be… a hospice family member. While my transition to family leave was well-supported by my hospice agency, and essential to my family, I couldn’t help but think about people who are not able to stop working in order to take FMLA. Financially and logistically, it is not possible for everyone. I recognized my ability to take family leave was… another form of privilege.
According to a 2012 study provided for the US Department of Labor, only one in six workplaces are covered by FMLA. In addition, employees have to meet eligibility requirements that exclude 41% of those at eligible workplaces. But of those who could take up to 12 weeks of leave, many could not because they simply could not afford to. Over 65%! This was a sobering statistic.
As I helped with my family’s needs, and was able to have the time I needed as a sister/daughter to say good-bye, I was reminded over and over again of the rare privilege I was afforded. I expressed my thanks to my employer and my co-workers. They shouldered my workload on top of their own. They made it possible for me to receive full benefits and pay.
I realized that many people I knew would not be able to use this same benefit. Either they worked a job at a lower pay, or had multiple jobs where they could not arrange a lengthy time off. Others run a small business, are in retail or food services, or are not working enough hours to be eligible. Their family needs were no less important than mine… Again, I was reminded of my privilege.
How do we address this as people of faith? First it would be imperative that as congregations, we treat our clergy and our employees as though we were a large company, not a small nonprofit. But for many smaller congregations, providing medical insurance is a challenge, let alone agreeing to extensive family leave. In “COVID-time” the need for medical leave may increase, for either the clergy or staff. Can a congregation step forward to meet that need?
Jesus admonished us to care about the one sheep over the 99, encouraged children to come to him for blessing and nurture, and demanded we care about “the least of these” among us. That same Jesus expects that we will not make this an issue of “privilege” but a hallmark of loving and care for one another.
I filled out my timesheet last week and stopped, in tears, to thank God for the blessing of family leave. Each day I spent with my loved ones was truly a privilege. Now part of my Calling is to advocate for others who will need to take family leave in the future, and to hold the Church accountable for the least of these…
Rev. Deborah Vaughn, BCC is a board-certified hospice chaplain endorsed by the Alliance of Baptists. She blogs at An Unfinished Symphony and was a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. She is an avid Buckeye fan down to her scarlet-painted toes!
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