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Monday, January 3, 2011

Taking Care Of Business



It's off of work I go...
One of the things that can greatly impact people considering whether or not to donate a kidney is their job. A living kidney donation can mean anywhere from 2-6 weeks (on average) off of work depending on how quickly you heal, the type of surgery they do (laproscopic vs a "straight cut") and the kind of work you do. There are of course also all the tests and appointments you need to do to determine your eligibility and at least some of those have to be done during "regular business hours".

Its also not just about "time off".  How supportive is your immediate manager in general?  Your co-workers? After all, it is they who will be "picking up the slack" for you while you are gone. And of course they might not want to help you because you are a "do-gooder"... If they also are not the types to agree with organ donation, it can make pursuing the idea harder even if there are policies in place to support your sick leave.
I am very fortunate to work for a small bank which is a subsidiary of  a much larger organization, the Alberta Motor Association (AMA).  During the process of determining if I can/want to donate, I think this has given me the best of both worlds.

When you work for a smaller company, you tend to have a closer working relationship with your department and manager.  You likely also know what the members of the Executive look like and and they are more likely to have an "open door policy" . This means they are generally more accessible to the average employee than someone in a similar position in a much larger company. For me this has meant that I have a closer relationship with many of my coworkers which has allowed me to share this with them.  They've asked a lot of great questions and have been hugely supportive.  My boss, who leads a small but mighty team of 6 (if all positions are filled) has allowed me time for appointments no questions asked (knowing I am a grown up who can manage my time and projects around them). He'll also be ok me coming back for half days or needing to leave a bit early if I'm not up to par yet post surgery.  I've also had the opportunity to share my intentions with some of the executive so that they are aware should it impact any projects I'm involved with. The support of all of these people has taken the worry out of the projects and day to day tasks I may need coverage for and its also nice having such a great support system emotionally at your job as well.
Being part of an over all "larger" group of companies is providing me with a more ideal situation for taking the time off from an HR perspective (benefits, policies etc). I know this is not the case for many employers but it really should be, especially if they employ more than a few hundred people.  However only 43% of employed Canadians have access to Short Term Disability programs as part of their benefits. I've heard there are also some notable employers in Canada that in order to be "fair" will not allow employees special time off for doctors appointments and testing-that would make time off for surgery likely impossible.
In my case we are granted 10 sick/personal days a year (from July to June).  You lose them if you don't use them.  I realized in doing the research on kidney donation that I'd need  more than that (even for the best case, quickest healing scenario). While I also have the option of using holiday time or even going on short term disability, I thought I'd approach HR to see if under special circumstances there was any wiggle room on sick days (also considering I've yet to take one in three years).

The thing with HR in larger companies is that whatever you are requesting has to be fair and sustainable.  In other words they need to be able to extend it to everyone under the same circumstances (ie make it policy) and/or have it not negatively impact other employees. The difference between a good employer and a great employers is one that will also look past existing policies and try to come up with a solution that fits rather than get stuck on the fact that what you are asking for is outside of the realm of their existing manual. I made sure to position it with them that it was sustainable (they could do it because its not like there was a line up of 50 people behind me wanting to donate their organs).  I think that fact helped them look past the fact that nowhere in their policies was there anything resembling this situation. And because they strive to be a "top" employer they chose to review the situation and find a solution rather than just say "its not in the book".  After a few weeks of reviewing their options they informed my immediate HR rep that they could "find a way to support" on an exception basis.  The only condition was that the bank's Chief Operating Officer needed to be okay with it. It didn't take long for him to make the decision (100% yes) and he told me that out of the two of us in this situation, he has the easier job.
So if this donation gets the medical go ahead, I will just need to let HR know how long I need roughly and they will allow "special" time off for me so that I won't need to use vacation time or go on short term disability.

It just goes to show you it never hurts to ask what your options are an provide your employer with the tools they need to make an educated decision. I think the fact that AMA is a not for profit helped as they are very similar in mindset to the government (in a good way).  So far, the vast majority of employers in North America who have written special policies to allow time for bone marrow or organ donations have been in government, healthcare or educators.  It would be nice to see more of the private employers making that choice-it's rarely a policy that would be used by employees but its a nice "goodwill" one to have on the books. 

Kind of a win win (win!) for everyone.

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