I seem to have misplaced my sympathy


Employers would get more authority to check on the reasons workers give for excused absences, under proposed changes to the U.S. family and medical leave regulations, a rule-tightening sure to trigger a political firestorm…

One major change would allow employers to contact health-care providers who authorize the leave, access they don’t have now…

Some employers complain about the effect of sudden, unscheduled leaves. Honda North America said such absences disrupt job rotations on manufacturing lines, require the hiring of extra workers and cause lost productivity.

So far as engineering goes, I think Honda is swell. But they lose productivity when workers get sick? Well boo friggin’ hoo. This kind of attitude by employers, along with a big imbalance in the employer-employee relationship, is precisely why a Family Medical Leave Act is necessary. In my humble opinion, the act is an extremely modest attempt to make employees more than a commodity.

Then there’s this line they drop in:

The Torrance, Calif., subsidiary of Honda said 20 percent of the 178,003 hours of short-term leave taken in 2006 was for headaches.

It kinda sounds like they’re poo-pooing headaches, like it’s some frivolous complaint. Any sufferer of severe migraines can attest headaches can be more than just a “hang-nail.” One could just as easily turn their statement around, asking: “why are so many of your employees suffering from seemingly chronic headaches… in many cases so severe they have to miss work?”

Now that I’ve got you all worked up into a lather, I should admit there’s probably some room to tweak the law; and the article makes a few reasonable points along those lines.

Still, some of the requests are a bit chilling… like giving employers access to our doctors. What for? So they can cross-examine them? And just how much access do they want? Employees are already required to get documentation from their doctor, and companies are given leeway to ask for a TON of documentation. We’re not talking about a small note on a slip from a prescription pad that says, “John’s sick.” Just ask my doctor, who’s pretty sick of going through my department’s best efforts towards deforestation.

“It’s not our intent to make it harder for people to take leave,” said Assistant Labor Secretary Victoria Lipnic, who administers the law.

As someone who’s used “FMLA,” I can attest that it can already be difficult. I suspect that rules which are more favorable to employers aren’t going to make it any easier for me.

And lets not forget, “FMLA” is not exactly all that generous by western standards. Sure, it gives someone the right to take 12 weeks of leave in the course of a year, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll be PAID for those weeks. And twelve weeks isn’t all that long when you’re battling serious illness… and your only means of access to affordable healthcare is our asinine, employer benefits model of healthcare delivery.


  1. It shows how naive I am; I wouldn’t have seen the need for companies to have their own docs in a country with universal health care. On it’s face (admittedly, without thinking about it too much), it seems like a pretty transparent ploy to game the system in their favor.

    It is interesting though, and even more disappointing. The only kind of car I’ve owned is a Honda (for the reliability and gas mileage). I’d kind of hoped it was an isolated thing.

    Thanks for stopping by Kristina. I hope the weather’s been better. I saw your post from a few days ago, and although it was about more than just the weather, I felt a little bad for complaining about sunshine a week or so ago.

  2. It’s interesting that Honda is involved with FMLA, since it’s currently embroiled in an important disabilities case here in Canada- a man with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, whom they dismissed after he refused to meet with the company doctor a second time (the first visit culminated in the doctor threatening the man with demotion to the assembly line). It’s an interesting case because it deals not just with invisible disabilities like migraines or CFS, but also with accommodations all employers may be compelled to make.

Give the gift of words.