Your Job or Your Kid?

Work & Family columnist Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal recently ran an excellent recap about increasing legal protection for working parents with special-needs children that bodes well for all working parents. New Rulings Clarify Job Protections for Parents of Children With Disabilities (subscription or payment required) described several parents who had been fired for attending to their children's crises, even when they had continued to get their jobs done without accommodations. The parents sued -- and two of three rulings, in Chicago and Springfield, Ill, supported their rights as caregivers who had been discrimated against at work.

According to Shellenbarger's article, under current law the Americans with Disabilities Act outlaws discrimination against caregivers to the disabled. (See www.caregiver.org or www.wrightslaw.com for helpful information.) However, the ADA does not require employers to provide different schedules or job responsibilities to accommodate parents, and employers and employees may disagree on whether the job is getting done effectively. Hence the lawsuits, which seem to represent a small fraction of employees fired or otherwise penalized due to their children's special needs. A 2004 survey of 349 parents of children with emotional or behavioral disorders, conducted by Portland State University and cited in the Journal article, found 27 percent had been fired at some point because of work disruptions arising from their children's special needs; 48 percent had quit jobs to care for their kids; in focus groups with 28 mothers of such children, the women said they lived in fear of negative performance reviews and regularly worked extended hours to make up for job interruptions because of their children's crises or appointments.

My experience is that in many cases, companies that offer employees free perks of flexibility in schedules, hours, and location leads to greater employee loyalty, whether or not kids are involved. I see the willingness of courts to explore protection of employees who are caring for disabled children -- admittedly an extreme form of the needs all parents have to attend to their children -- as a development with the potential to show companies that increased, widespread, but still reasonable accomodation of parents' needs doesn't have to hurt company productiviity. And can in fact increase it.

What's your take?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  July 12, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts
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Comments

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It could be very cool as long as it's fair and doesn't discriminate against someone for being a father instead of mother, caring for a disabled parent instead of child, etc.

Posted by: Maria | July 12, 2006 7:06 AM

Yes, good point, Maria -- this is not just a moms & kids issue, but one that affects all employees trying to balance working and caring for their families.

Posted by: Leslie | July 12, 2006 8:18 AM

As with most other things it is a question of how much personal issues affect work.
When someone is hired to do a job and can't perform because of needs at home that person becomes a liability instead of an asset and HAS to be fired.

Posted by: mike | July 12, 2006 9:10 AM

It goes the other way on the generational tree too - baby boomers like my mother face taking care of their parents too.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | July 12, 2006 9:10 AM

I quote: "regularly worked extended hours to make up for job interruptions because of their children's crises or appointments. "

The wording of this sounds worse than the reality. The ability to work odd hours and make up missed time is a plus for many parents whether they have special needs children or not.

The wording makes it sound like they worked overtime to get their work done. My take is that they worked split shifts or irregular hours to make up time.

Getting the work done on time is really all that counts!

Posted by: RoseG | July 12, 2006 9:20 AM

This seems like a topic that has already been addressed before on this blog. So today will be split out into three categories of people:

People who have kids who need a flexible schedule
People who have older parents who need a flexible schedule
People who don't have kids and are tired of picking up the slack and just want to go for a bike ride.

And, mainly everyone agrees either nicely or not so nicely that everyone should be given the same benefits.

Posted by: scarry | July 12, 2006 9:26 AM

If your career involves work that can't be done in "flex time" or via telecommuting, the ability to occasionally leave work due to a crisis in your child's life is vital. Unfortunately, far too many managers of men in this situation have no empathy, or expect the wife/mother to handle the situation. If the father is divorced and a single parent, what's he to do? This can seriously impact a career. My ex had a teenage son who had a mental health crisis situation that stretched over a couple of months. My former bf was at work on time, doing his job every day, but a few times he had to leave to go to his son's school or take him to mental health appointments. His boss was not at all understanding and made ugly comments about it, although my ex never missed an important meeting or a deadline. Nothing was ever said, but when promotion time came around, my bf was passed over for someone who had been there significantly less time and done far less work. It was clear he was being "punished" but there was nothing he could do. The courts need to protect parents who are only doing what must be done for children OR elderly parents.

Posted by: LC | July 12, 2006 9:31 AM

Who reads this crap and why is it still here?

Posted by: WTF | July 12, 2006 9:39 AM

I think that men need to step up more and be the ones to take time off work if their children (or elderly relatives) need help. Too often everyone expects the mother will do it, so when the dad needs to, it's frowned upon by management. My friend who has a special needs child has begged her husband to stop working 10-12 hour days. He says he has to "get the work done" and admits that he's worried he'll get fired if he doesn't keep up with the 60-hour-week crazy culture of his workplace. His bosses know that his child has special needs but they continue to expect him to work long hours.

Posted by: Glover Park | July 12, 2006 9:39 AM

I'm surprised that more employers haven't figured out the benefits of being flexible in terms of employee loyalty and productivity. There is still a mindset that if you're not in the office where the supervisors can see you, that you're goofing off and getting paid for it. As so many of us know, it is such a huge relief to know that if work can be accomplished before the kids get up or after the kids are in bed or over some downtime hours onnthe weekend, that the loyalty engendered is an asset that is priceless. I guess this is one that falls into the category of things I will change "when I'm King of the world!" (Not queen!)

http://punditmom1.blogspot.cm

Posted by: PunditMom | July 12, 2006 10:04 AM

It seems the courts (and legislative bodies) are stepping in to mandate some degree of workplace flexibility for parents. Does everyone think this is appropriate? Should there be some requirements for large corporations that are not in place for small businesses? The ADA applies to companies with 15 or more employees. Is it less burdensome for a company to provide unpaid leave under the FMLA (required by larger businesses with 50 or more employees within a defined geographic area) and should working parents be required to use the FMLA time? Just wondering if people think small and large companies should be treated differently and whether it's generally perceived to be okay for a court to mandate benefits or flexibility a company is not otherwise willing to provide.

Posted by: SS | July 12, 2006 10:17 AM

"Who reads this crap and why is it still here?"

Well, WTF, since you commented on it, clearly you read this "crap" and it's still here to allow people like you to make erudite contributions of your thoughts on the topic of the day.

Posted by: MHG | July 12, 2006 10:25 AM

"I think that men need to step up more and be the ones to take time off work if their children (or elderly relatives) need help. Too often everyone expects the mother will do it, so when the dad needs to, it's frowned upon by management."

This morning's GMA segment was titled
"The Daughter Track"
http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/AmericanFamily/story?id=2182363&page=1

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 10:25 AM

Leslie, what does the Washington Post offer its employees who need flex time to care for special needs children, or elderly parents, or spouses?

Posted by: RitaMae | July 12, 2006 10:36 AM

Getting back to yesterday's topic about Guilt, it amazes me how much woman stress themselves about trying to meet everybody's needs because of the perception that not being fully available to your employer puts your career path at risk.

In the past week I've seen 1 male employee take a day off of work because he stubbed his toe, another male employee take 1 day off of work because there was some water in his basement of the apartment building in which he rented, and another male employee take a day off because he didn't "really get to relax" the past weekend. And I wonder why I get so anxious about having to leave work an hour early to pick up my son from preschool because he has a fever.

There are double standards, the working parents of children with disabilities must feel an incredible burden.

If there is an attempt to regulate flexibility based on a dependent's "disability" there will be fear from employers that employees will take advantage of the definition of disability. Can't employers just be humane without needing to be regulated?

Posted by: Mom in SS | July 12, 2006 10:36 AM

Good points in that GMA segment.

A lot of people will say that if your employer won't be flexible "find another job" or something along those lines. If only it were that easy. It would be wonderful if everyone could "vote with their feet" by leaving jobs that aren't flexible and supportive of workers' needs, but we all know the reality, especially in areas where the job market is tight or in very competitive careers.

No one plans to have a disabled child. No one can guess how much or how little care their elderly parents will need (or perhaps a sibling or other relative). From simple observation, it seems as though the incidence of autism and mental health disorders in children and teens is rising. Clearly our population is aging. In addition, as gas prices rise and roads become more congested, commuting is becoming a nightmare of cost and time wasted.

At some point, companies will have to deal with all this if they expect to remain competitive and to hire and retain the best employees. Unfortunately, I think the shakeup will happen only with government giving them a push. Otherwise, many companies will always take the easy way out, such as hiring younger people and those they perceive as less likely to have "outside responsibilites".

Posted by: Glover Park | July 12, 2006 10:40 AM

Okay this is not a joke. What about people with animals? I had a co-worker who had no husband very little friends and lived alone with her two cats. She would have to leave early come in late when her cats got sick. So where does flexabilty end and begin, and who or what should be included?

Posted by: scarry | July 12, 2006 10:46 AM

Glover Park:
Sounds like your friend needs to find a new company. Maybe if more valued employees found new positions, the old-age companies will wise up to creating new environments for working parents.

SS:
FMLA is only for extended, full-time absences, not twice-weekly doctors or therapist appointments.

I'm lucky enough that as long as I put in my 80 hours sometime during the two weeks and get my work done, my company is happy. But there is usually less flexibility with non-exempt employment. Been there. Used a rental car.

That is also why many companies are moving towards including sick leave and vacation leave in one pot. They usually add 3-5 sick days to the vacation. This makes taking sick leave harder for the employee to take, because they are taking away from potential carry-over vacation time rather than use-or-lose sick time.

But if we wait a few years for the worker shortage to arrive, everyone should be able to write their own ticket. Maybe that's why the business owners are clamoring to let more foreigners to come into the country. Cheaper labor force.

Posted by: Working Dad | July 12, 2006 10:47 AM

Glover Park -- I see this too, pressure on men to work crazy hours even with a newborn, a special needs child, a death in the family or other time-intensive family demands. What's your take on why -- why the company exerts the pressure, why men give in to it?

Mom in SS -- Thank you for pointing out this double standard. It's okay to go home for water in the basement (that's an emergency) but not when a child is having seizures.

RitaMae -- My experience at the Wash Post is that overall, both men and women are treated with a great deal of respect by bosses and fellow employees when it comes to meeting family needs. However, like a lot of companies, there aren't clear policies for every situation, so the leeway often depends upon your boss or your department. Which is fine if your boss sees things your way, but as most of us know that can lead to sticky situations if your boss changes or your responsibilities change or your department gets reorganized. The paradox is that if a company treats individuals individually, as most of us want to be treated, there is room for discrimination (or perception of discrimination). Hence my feeling that it's important to have fair and clear policies on flextime, family leave, etc. articulated by Human Resources, that apply to all employees.

Posted by: Leslie | July 12, 2006 10:50 AM

My man steps up!!! He spent most of yesterday with our daughter at Shriners getting new leg braces. He got up at 5am and was home at 3pm. He tells his job he needs to off and he is.
But he was given a pink slip from a job less than 2 weeks after telling them that our daughter had CP and he would have to attend some afternoon therapy session. The truth is if your company is going to treat you like that then do you really want to work there?
I had another very sick kid. We are talking about one medical emergency after another. My job was very understanding even offering to advance me vacation to cover a 28 day hospital stay. They also understood when the doctors told me she would die if she caught the flu and I quit the next day. But my work was outstanding so when Cassie did pass away (not from the flu) they offered me a job right away. I went back because they were so wonderful to me and my family. LOYALTY....
I have since moved on because I found another job that lets me flex my schedule and is only 15 minutes from home.
What really drives me batty is people who are outstanding in their position and they allow their bosses to treat them like crap. I have a friend (who has 2 kids) who has been working over 52 hours a week in the district and not seeing her kids. She begged her boss to let her change her schedule so she could leave at 4:30 and the boss said she needs her there. My friend isn't looking for another job. WHY??? I just don't get it.

Posted by: Momma Daria | July 12, 2006 10:56 AM

You could argue that everyone should be given more annual leave time. Rather than the current two or three weeks per year that most get, and extra "sick days" if you're lucky, employers should increase this to 6 weeks per year, minimum. Let people use this time as they please, with a rule about scheduling more than 3 days off in a row in advance ("advance" might mean the day before if there is an emergency). More than two weeks at a time would need special scheduling.

The problem is that everyone has to give a reason for their time off, and you can't schedule a crisis. So, some people are going to need to be out for sick cats and some for dying parents. Treat everyone the same, if they have the time to use and if the work can be covered. It would go better if we all tried harder to understand what our co-workers are going through and voluntarily helped get the work done, but with cutbacks and downsizing, many workers are overstretched as it is.

Inevitably, some will argue that you need to do your work and if you can't get your work done, then you can't take the time off. That's a harsh reality that many will promote as our economy tightens up and the workplace becomes tougher.

Posted by: Glover Park | July 12, 2006 10:57 AM

"Sounds like your friend needs to find a new company."

Working Dad, have you tried switching careers at age 61, when you're working 60-hour weeks? I don't blame my friend's husband for trying to hold on to his job, especially since he will get some sort of retirement bonus around $100,000 if he stays two more years. He's also in a competitive field, and so finding another job just isn't that likely. The solution so far is for his wife (my friend) to find a high-paying job (in her competitive field) and allow him to retire and stay home with the child, working freelance when possible. But until she gets a job and he gets his bonus, he's sort of stuck.

Posted by: Glover Park | July 12, 2006 11:01 AM

Hm, I'm having trouble posting, one more try. I was trying to post a link to an article about a new 24/7 emergency childcare center being established in Toronto's financial district as a way to help stem the "mommy drain"...but oddly, the emphasis seemed to be on evening and weekend care so moms could shop or couples could have dinner out. It seemed like a funny way to address the problem of balancing work and childcare...

Posted by: MommaSteph | July 12, 2006 11:03 AM

Leslie wrote: Glover Park -- I see this too, pressure on men to work crazy hours even with a newborn, a special needs child, a death in the family or other time-intensive family demands. What's your take on why -- why the company exerts the pressure, why men give in to it?

As I mentioned in my post above, it's not that easy to find another job, or one making the same salary, or one with the same benefits. Then there's the most simply explanation as to why men give in: fear. In this situation, a 61-year-old man knows he will have tremendous difficulty moving to another company.

Why do the employers exert the pressure? Because they can. Because the company is poorly managed. Because the company was on the edge of going under, then was bought out, and is still at risk. Everything there is done in crisis mode, and most employees put up with it. There is a high rate of turnover on the lowest rungs.

This man gives in because he's the breadwinner and he's scared. Ok, there may be hidden truths, too. He's not very organized, he spins his wheels a lot and takes longer to get the work done. He perhaps would rather be at work than at home dealing with the reality of a disabled child. There are two sides to every story.

But when this man takes vacation and goes away with his family, the company STILL calls his cell phone and his boss or his employees ask him about every little thing on every project. He takes his laptop and checks messages. He is EXPECTED to take those calls and check messages and refuses his wife's demands to turn off the cell phone. Basically, he has let it build up to this point and he doesn't know how to dial it down. His wife has suggested he start by saying he will leave work at 5:00 (the stated "quitting time") ONE particular day per week and then doing so. Of course, when he tries this, there is inevitably some work crisis that keeps him at least 30 mins. or more late. It's an ugly treadmill.

Posted by: Glover Park | July 12, 2006 11:10 AM

Like Glover Park says, I think that companies put this pressure on men because they CAN. Also, men give into this pressure because it's the company culture and in some way it validates them. It's a 1950s mentality. My ex complained about working long hours, but I realized he actually was bragging about it and thought it made him seem important to be so "necessary" to his company.

Sometimes there are rewards for putting up with long hours, heavy pressure, and intrusions into private life, but often there aren't.

Posted by: Lady C | July 12, 2006 11:15 AM

Glover Park -- Like your one-size-fits-all solution about giving everyone more leave, to use (or not) as they see fit. Goes to show that solutions are out there. These problems are not actually that big a deal -- companies solve far bigger problems every day. They just have to want to solve them...

Posted by: Leslie | July 12, 2006 11:18 AM

A lot of companies have PTO days now (paid time off). You can use it for whatever you need. I currently have that and like it. The downside is that I feel most of my PTO goes towards taking time off to take care of sick kids and not vacation, but still I can't complain. But also different companies have different versions of the plan. For example, in my company I can use a whole day, a half day or even by the hour (though my manager tells us as long as we get our work done not to bother logging in any PTO that's less than a half day, like a doc appointment). My husband on the other hand, worked at a company that you could only take a half day or whole day. My husband worked 7am to 4pm. One day there was an emergency at my son's school and he asked to leave at 2p.m. His boss said he'd have to take a half day. My husband countered that he he was only leaving a couple of hours early, met all his deadlines for the day and had eaten lunch at his desk. Finally, his boss said as long as he stayed late the next day he could take off. So I guess even with flexible programs such as PTO you have to be careful.

Posted by: newtodc | July 12, 2006 11:22 AM

"They just have to want to solve them..."

That's it. When enough employees need time off that it becomes a real "problem" for most companies, the changes will come. Unfortunately, that time may still be a decade away.

Leslie, do you think things will have to get worse before they get better? I see a real crisis coming as more aging parents are out there with more and more special needs. Rather than quitting work to stay home with the kids, perhaps women who continued working will end up feeling they must quit in order to take care of parents and in-laws.

Posted by: Glover Park | July 12, 2006 11:23 AM

Are your male employees taking a vacation day? Then I don't think its the same at all - they are entitled to spend it as they wish. If they aren't, then that is the double standard.

Posted by: To Mom in SS | July 12, 2006 11:24 AM

One more thing I noticed is about how people think you have to be at work from X time to X time. I mean there are certain industries where this makes sense. For example, when I worked at a coffee shop I had to be there during my shift hours because they needed x amount of employees to man the store. I was also a wage earner so my pacheck was based on what I worked. On the other hand, now I have an office job and am paid a salary. I paid to complete certain tasks and for my expertise of the job. So for example, if I have a task that takes longer, I'm not being paid extra or overtime. In the same sense, if I'm very efficient and get my job done and can leave at say 4:30 every day instead of 5, what's wrong with that? My current manager is of the same opinion, and I bring my lunch to work everyday and work through my break so I can leave and pick up my kids. I don't understand micro-managers...

Posted by: newtodc | July 12, 2006 11:30 AM

"They just have to want to solve them..."

I still think this depends on the job.
- Writer, computer programmer - it should not be as hard for the employer to find a way to be flexible.
- Heart surgeon - pilot - much more difficult

How much flexibility to do parents offer nannies? How concerned would parents be by regular subsitutes in an AP class?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 11:31 AM

Scarry,

We pet owners are responsible for our pets. I don't think there's anything wrong with leaving early once in a while to take care of my dog. (Hey, the vet's only open till 6.) Just because they're not kids doesn't mean we don't need to take care of them.

Posted by: alexis | July 12, 2006 11:31 AM

My company gives everyone a big pot of PTO. How you use it is your business.

"This man gives in because he's the breadwinner and he's scared."

I make far more than my husband. If he lost his job, we'd be okay. If I lost mine, we'd be totally screwed. I'm excellent at what I do, enjoy making lots of money, and get a lot of personal validation from my work, but from time to time it can be something of a burden to know that your income is the only thing standing between your household and mortgage foreclosure.

My husband recognizes this and plans on making a career change in the next few years that will bring his income more in line with mine, although he's unlikely to ever match me. I really appreciate this and I wonder how many women would be willing to step up to take some of the earning pressure off of their husbands.

Posted by: Lizzie | July 12, 2006 11:31 AM

"There is still a mindset that if you're not in the office where the supervisors can see you, that you're goofing off and getting paid for it."

"Goes to show that solutions are out there. These problems are not actually that big a deal -- companies solve far bigger problems every day. They just have to want to solve them..."

Flexibility is a lot easier to accomplish in office situations where work can be taken with you and done at home or elsewhere due to technology. Also easier in office settings where flex hours can be instituted. Not so in many other careers. I think that auto mechanics need to be in the shop. Teachers need to be at school. Doctors need to be in the hospitals and offices. Plumbers cannot work from a remote location. Car salesmen generally need to be on the dealer lots. Trial judges need to be in the courtroom. Jobs dealing with secure data cannot always be taken home. Etc, etc, etc... In general, there should be enough staffing to allow employees the opportunity to tend to personal matters on an occasional basis. In reality, this isn't always the case.

It may not be "right", but life isn't always fair. If you have the challenge of disabled children or elderly parents or other reasons to need flexibility, you may have to give up your job for another with more flexibility.

We probably would all agree that teachers, firemen, and policemen should be paid more; but the reality is that they need to change professions to make six-figure salaries.


Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 11:42 AM

Lizzie, you used my quote, but I know that you were not directing your comments only to me. However, I want to reply that my friend (the mother of a disabled child) has every intention of taking the earning pressure off her husband. She is not choosing to stay home and is trying hard to bring in income (she does some freelance work although then there's a scheduling nightmare) and find a full-time job.

But there is the consideration of their child, who is 3 years and 4 months old and in a special school a few hours each morning and then has home therapy sessions for 3-4 hours in the afternoon. Everyone is telling my friend that what is "best" for her child is for her to stay home and try to manage because this is a critical age for her child's development. Hard to argue with that. My friend and her husband are trying to think of long-range solutions and get through the next couple of years, hoping their child can be mainstreamed into regular school at age 5. They're in a rough spot now, and just trying to cope from month to month.

Posted by: Glover Park | July 12, 2006 11:57 AM

There are companies that are definitely very family friendly, and this applies to the men as well. My husband gets 2 weeks of sick leave, and 2 additional weeks of family sick leave. So far this year, thanks to a daughter who had rotavirus twice and the fact that my manager at the time (I've since changed jobs) discouraged me from taking the time off (he has 7 kids and, of course, someone at home to care for them), he has taken all but 2 of thd family sick leave. Our daughter attends daycare at his workplace, so if she needs to be picked up immediately due to illness, he is almost always the one to do it. In his case, there have been no negative impacts.

I think part if it, though, is that he is willing to do it and does not make it negotiable with his managers. They know now, after 14 months, that he is a very involved father, and he knows how to set boundaries so they understand where his family priorities lie. He gets his job done, and does it extremely well, and given that, his managers treat him with respect and know that he will get the job done and step up and stay late when needed, or work extra when he has to.

Posted by: Jolie | July 12, 2006 12:09 PM

In my career I have made accomodations to working Moms so they can care for their kids. This includes giving up my time to finish something by the deadline because a child was sick or had to go tot he doctor, etc.

I was rewarded by having someone quit and tell me I was not accomodating to her because she wa sa Mom. Not once did I ever haver her make up time and allowed her to use additional vacation days. I think she was mad at her bonus, which was completely out of my control. (HR sets those things, not quite sure of the process but it involves the execs).

If your boss provides flexibility, please be nice to them. I understand if someone else at your org does something mean to you, but please take it out on them and not those of us who are trying to help.

Has left a bad taste in my mouth BTW. But, I still try to remain flexible.

Posted by: Thought | July 12, 2006 12:10 PM

Flexibility should be granted for those taking care of elderly/infirm parents as well! I worked for a quasi-governmental agency, and was there at 7, usually there after 6, but needed longer weekends to fly to my parents' home to take care of their needs. I had to take personal days.

My colleague, however, had children, and was of a minority group. Would saunter in 10:30 to 11, and was gone by 2 to 2:30 to pick up the kids. Yes, she was paid full-time, but only put in perhaps 20 hours/week. I put in perhaps 65-70 because I had a larger project load.

There needs to be equity in these situations. We were part of a team, and there was definitely not fairness in the way we were treated.

Unfairly treated in DC!

Posted by: Lydia | July 12, 2006 12:19 PM

Is anyone willing to take a cut in pay in exchange for more flexibility?

"Nothing was ever said, but when promotion time came around, my bf was passed over for someone who had been there significantly less time and done far less work" I'm playing devil's advocate here. Maybe one of the *qualifications* for promotion was a certain level of availability that couldn't be provided by someone with special personal concerns.

I don't want to work overtime and therefore wouldn't even apply for a position that requires it. Why would I be unhappy when the position goes to someone else? I would be happy that I could continue to work the hours that suit me best.

Posted by: just wondering | July 12, 2006 12:27 PM

Lydia said: "My colleague, however, had children, and was of a minority group. Would saunter in 10:30 to 11, and was gone by 2 to 2:30 to pick up the kids. Yes, she was paid full-time, but only put in perhaps 20 hours/week. I put in perhaps 65-70 because I had a larger project load."

So, is your issue with this co-worker because she #1 is a mother, #2 is of a minority group or #3 a slacker making a similar salary to yours when you take on the heavier load?

Many people work with slackers who are not part of categories #1 and 2. The addition of these titles are incidental.

Posted by: Stacey | July 12, 2006 12:31 PM

People on this blog suggest that men need to participate more in their parenting role. So I take off work to take care of my sick kids as often as possible, and now my co-workers think I'm a hero for being such a family-man.

So then I constantly slack off at work, you know, the blog. I'm hoping that being a representative of the inferior male sex, by goofing off so much, that it would make the hard working members of the superior female sex look better in comparison. Work piles up that everybody in the office is dependent on. Then I neglect the family for an evening working late so I barely make the deadline. but I make it, and once again I'm a hero for making the sacrifice.

And worse yet, I'm handicapped, but I will never, ever, insist on the "Reasonable Accomodations" as garunteed to me under the ADA act. If I do that, I'll be looked upon as a whiner and troublemaker. Also, if I ever use my handicap as an excuse for doing substandard work, I'm convinced tjat I'll get burned by it in the future as work will be allocated to someone else and I'll lose the opportunity to be, once again, be the office hero.

I'm very familiar with the ADA act, and generally believe it has made commendable improvements over the last few years for people with disabilities, however, the way it gets implemented in some cases is laughable, but that's another rant for another day.

I used to think that a good work ethic is desirable and pays off, but I tried that and it didn't work. I'm convinced now that success is measured in how well you game the system and not by how hard, or how much work you accomplish.

Posted by: Father of 4 | July 12, 2006 12:36 PM

Trust is a big issue here. Employees who are trusted get more flexibility, but sadly it can't always be earned in some cases.

I once had a boss who almost everyone on staff hated, except me, who respected her. She was shocked when she got fired by her boss because her staff complained. Guess who got blamed?

I had another boss who would use computer spying software to monitor what everyone was doing all the time. Never did any actual work, just spying on the staff all day.

I now work for myself. I do the things I need to do during the day (calls, e-mails), and do a lot of other things in the evenings (writing reports, doing research). It works just fine.

I wish more people had flexibility. I've been dealing with a sick baby this week, and have never been more glad for it. If my company ever grows, you can bet that all my employees can do their work whenever and wherever they feel like it, as long as it gets done.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 12:37 PM

http://projects.washingtonpost.com/post200/2006/executives-by-compensation/

Has anyone looked at these highly paid executives? Does this have anything to do with the company policies regarding worker benefits and flexibilities.

I'm not Linda Hirshman :-).

Posted by: Not LH | July 12, 2006 12:39 PM

Here's my take: once and a while, if your pet/cat/dog/spouse/parent needs you, it's fine to expect your workplace to bend their demands to fit your schedule. You need to be up front with your supervisor about the expected duration of a problem if you possibly can be. If it becomes a constant problem in that you to be outside of the office to handle it, you need to look for a job with more flexibility (which probably means fewer hours and a smaller salary). I know that this is not a popular concept with employees but it is the cold, hard truth. Businesses do not exist to adapt to their employee's personal lives.

And I hate to say this, but if you are my employee and you are constantly asking for flextime to care for a pet, it's really, really going to annoy me. Pets are not people. In my experience, most of the people who treat their pets as their children -- and expect their boss to do the same -- are made fun of behind their backs.

Posted by: Manager | July 12, 2006 12:42 PM

To Manager -

Bravo !!!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 12:46 PM

Scarry,

We pet owners are responsible for our pets. I don't think there's anything wrong with leaving early once in a while to take care of my dog. (Hey, the vet's only open till 6.) Just because they're not kids doesn't mean we don't need to take care of them

That's not what I said at all get a grip. I like animals too, I was just posing the question because people gave her a hard time when she did and rolled their eyes at her behind her back. My post was pretty non-judgemental.

Posted by: scarry | July 12, 2006 12:46 PM

I have a child with ADHD and behavioral issues. I've had to come to work late, leave early or take days off to pick him up from a daycare that couldn't handle him, keep him on days that he had to transition from one daycare to another, keep him on days that he was suspended after he started school (where the policy is to suspend rather than to deal with the behaviors more proactively), attend therapy sessions, take him to a behavioral day program, attend IEP meetings, tour potential schools, etc. This has been going on the past two years. My husband has helped out, but I've carried the lion's share. I make more money and have the accrued leave (which he doesn't get), but his jobs are more flexible time-wise. However, he has lost a couple of jobs because he needed to take time off to attend to our son's needs.

At my former job, I asked repeatedly to work from home from time to time. They begrudgingly consented, then reneged at a later date, saying they don't know if employees who work from home are actually working. Then I was told I had to ask to work from home each day I needed to (this is when I had to take several days in a row off). I refused to do that and to be accused of slacking, so I sucked it up and just took the time off. Then my dad got cancer, and I requested accommodations to attend his medical appointments in another state. There was a lecture about how I was expected to put in the hours, even above and beyond, etc. When I said, pointedly, "My dad could be dying," more blather. I politely terminated the conversation, took off the time I needed (during which I did no work) and sucked it up when I did work. Quite simply, my job did not have my back. My bosses had nearly zero sympathy for my issues. Never mind that my supervisor came in late and left early daily to do daycare pickup and dropoff. Never mind that she almost never stayed late herself. And never mind that the head boss was chronically ill himself and took much time off and occasionally could be seen dosing at his desk (likely from discomfort, exhaustion and medication side effects).

So I made plans. I got my son stabilized, with my husband's help and various resources. Then I put out feelers and got another job. Now, I take off as little time as possible, although it's a more flexible, professional and human environment. My son has improved, and he has managed to learn (he's highly intelligent), but it's still a struggle.

I thank God that I am no longer working with my former employer. An employer's flexibility for families depends upon the quality of the management and the willingness of employees to stand up for theirs. But I sympathize with those who are in an inflexible environment and cannot leave.

Posted by: momoftwo | July 12, 2006 12:46 PM

Just Wondering, I understand what you are saying, but the crisis that my bf had to attend to in his son lasted around two months. Maybe 6 times in that two months my ex needed to take a few hours off. Beyond that time, he was just as "available" as anyone else in the organization. He worked long hours when necessary. The time he took off was actually "vacation" leave that he had earned. I know that you are playing devil's advocate, but since the situation was completely resolved as much as possible so that the child would no longer be a disruption to my bf's worklife (the child went to live with his mom three states away), then why would his workplace assume that he suddenly would not be "available" and thus able to meet that hidden criteria for promotion?

Posted by: LC | July 12, 2006 12:49 PM

I do think that the government should be regulating this aspect of business. Ideally, of course, some businesses would do it on their own and people would flock to those businesses. Unfortunately, the current job market does not allow for that. Also, there are many jobs that don't require degrees (I'm thinking of a server or a construction worker) for which there is a constant stream of applicants. People in these careers who need time off are often replaced. So the government should regulate all businesses to allow people the flexibility to take time off. That way there will be guidelines.

Scarry, I think that pet owners should be treated like parents in the workplace. Luckily, I have been in my job. I have a special needs dog (she has a heart condition that requires medication and frequent vet check-ups). She goes to day care everyday, and I've always been able to take time off (not without the strange looks people give me when I tell them I have to pick up my dog from day care). However, I don't have a very high-stress job, so I might be among the minority here.

Posted by: Meesh | July 12, 2006 12:50 PM

I have a question. I'm serious about this. If you are fired from a job for some patently discriminatory reason, why would you want to stay in that job in the first place? Now, I'm not trying to be inflamatory here. I understand that discrimination is wrong and ugly and people need to stand up to it by fighting for their rights. Allowing yourself to be pushed around or out is just a mandate for yourself and others to continue to recieve the same treatment. I get that.

But I always have to wonder about these kind of cases. What happens in the aftermath? You sue and the company is forced to take you back. But the workplace was obviously hostile toward your situation to start with and I can't imagine the lawsuit made it any better! So, do people just suck it up and stay in these positions? I can't imagine that would be very pleasant, especially if there had been no resolution to the issue that sparked the whole thing to start with. I can't imagine that everyone who wins one of these cases is willing to play the martyr for the rest of their lives.

Has anyone ever been in this situation or known anyone who was? What did you/they do after it was all over?

Posted by: Curious | July 12, 2006 12:53 PM

I'm sure that plenty of people with children leave early saying that they need to "pick up their kids" when in fact they are taking an animal to the vet or picking it up.

So I guess the solution is to make up a sick parent -- if your boss knows you don't have kids -- and use that as your excuse.

Posted by: Everyone deserves time off | July 12, 2006 12:53 PM

LC,

It does sound that it was punishment in this case. I just wanted to get people thinking that maybe others with less personal demands should be the ones with different responsibilities and those with more personal responsibilities should be willing to accept lesser pay for more flexibility.

Posted by: just wondering | July 12, 2006 12:57 PM

You sue and you pay a lot of money for a lawyer. You spend hours working on your court case when you need to be working at your new job, if you were lucky enough to find one. It's very tough to prove that the discrimination happened, so your odds of winning are low. The company you left has the best law team money can buy and they try to make you look like the worst employee ever.

But you win, so you receive a minor amount of damages, or back pay, whatever. It's not really that much, but you have the "satisfaction" of winning and proving your company was wrong. The company continues, not really changing anything, or maybe forcing managers to take a "diversity seminar" or they add a new "policy statement" to the handbook even though it doesn't change the office culture noticeably.

The upside is that you won the case and paved the way for future lawsuits against the company.

Posted by: Lawsuits | July 12, 2006 12:59 PM

The upside is that you won the case and paved the way for future lawsuits against the company.

Posted by: Lawsuits | July 12, 2006 12:59 PM

Or helped to prevent or minimize discrimination for others in the future. Might not help you anymore, but you could be in a position to help others.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 1:06 PM

As the poster at 11:42 pointed out, we are mostly talking here about white-collar office jobs. Flexibility, telecommuting/working at home, and being able to take off at a moment's notice "for a few hours" isn't available to many many working people. In fact, it's usually not at all available to the people who most need the flexibility in their workplaces. A lot of people lose jobs because they miss too many days caring for family members or being sick themselves. Happens more often than we sitting front of computers all day are really aware of.

What's the best thing that a parent can do? Discuss this stuff with your kids. Don't let them think that they can follow their dreams of becoming whatever without understanding the potential downsides, pitfalls, and sacrifices. Help your teens to see workplace reality and encourage them to look for career opportunities that will meet their needs in the future -- and they should develop a real vision of these needs.

Do they want to be a SAHP for some amount of time? Do they want to have one child or five? How much income will it take to pay off student debt and buy a small home or condo in the place they most want to live? Are they likely to have to care for YOU as you grow older? Do they have disabled siblings they will be responsible for? Life offers many choices, and in the future the white-collar workplace may get more flexible, but help your kids plan for reality.

Posted by: White collar reality | July 12, 2006 1:10 PM

"Every deserves time off"

I was actually talking with my husband about this the other day. We were talking about maternity and paternity leave. We were planning on starting a mini-dog rescue and wondered (jokingly) how our bosses would feel about us taking some leave to care for sick puppies (who need food and medication every few hours) until they are old enough to be on their own.

I know, pet parents are jokes. Feel free to laugh here. But seriously, the reward of time off is only granted to employees who have kids. You could argue that there is no physical way that a mom could continue working right after giving birth, so it's necessary time off. But then, having kids is a choice; no one is making you have kids. SO if I choose not to have kid but choose to, say, volunteer in the Congo for 6 months, why don't I get 6 weeks of paid time and a gaurantee that my job will be waiting for me when I get back?

Posted by: Meesh | July 12, 2006 1:12 PM

Meesh, just invent an adopted child, preferably one that has special needs. Adopting a "crack baby" should buy you the sympathy and extra time off you'll need. It's far easier than explaining that you need time off for a hobby, even a good one like caring for sick and injured puppies. Very few bosses will understand.

I took time off (got laid off and had plenty of money) to travel and then came back to start working again. Middle-class reality is that you MUST NOT have a "gap" in your employment. At least I was able to say that I had been laid off, so they assumed that I was simply looking for work for six months. I wonder what would have happened if I ever told the truth? It's very difficult for hiring managers to accept that not everyone must live paycheck to paycheck, so they freak out if you say, "Oh, I took time off to explore Italy and Spain."

Bad companies and bad managers -- and there are too many of them -- want to keep you in permanent fear of losing your job. They hate it when workers have outside lives.

Take my advice, invent an adopted crack baby.

Posted by: It won't work | July 12, 2006 1:19 PM

You can break you leg and get short term disability, which is what women who have children get in most companies. It's not a benefit that is extended to parents that isn't extended to you. If you break your leg and need to be off, your job will be waiting on you. If you parent, spouse, etc is sick you can take FMLA too.

Sorry, it doesn't include sick puppies though!

Posted by: scarry | July 12, 2006 1:19 PM

I'm commenting on the above post from "It Won't Work". It is actually not my experience that employers have issues with a gap in employment. If there are LOTS of gaps in employment, yes. I took 2 years off to be home with my kids and got virtually no questions about it, certainly no one voiced concern. About 10 years ago, my husband inherited a nice chunk of change from his uncle, decided to quit a job he despised and spend some time volunteering to teach sailing for a local organization. The couple of months he planned on spending turned into a year, what with travel that he wanted to do and so on, and he had no problems re-entering the workforce. He was straight with people who asked what he'd been doing and they left it at that. He accepted a job at the third company he'd interview with (he'd turned the other two down). And I have more examples from people I know. I don't understand why someone would freak out if you told them you spent 6 months exploring Italy and Spain. They'd probably be wondering "how can I do that"?

Posted by: NotSoHere | July 12, 2006 1:25 PM

Meesh, if I owned a company and you had done good work for three years, I'd give you six weeks, not six months, time off and I'd hold your job for you. I think that if parents get that benefit then women and men who don't have children deserve it too.

Posted by: Six weeks leave | July 12, 2006 1:26 PM

Another issue is the holidays. My sister does not have children, and used to resent that she was always expected to work Christmas Eve so that one of her co-workers, who had children, could have the day off. It was understood that if both of them wanted time off at the holidays, the co-worker would get it. But why shouldn't my sister be able to take the time off so she could do what she needed to do for the holidays? Particularly since the co-worker was married, so her husband should have been able to deal with any issues related to school being closed. Yet, being a parent now, I would want the day off also.

With respect to pets, is the issue whether you can take time off at all, or whether you can use your sick leave? Regardless of why you take time off at the last minute - sick children, wanting to goof off the rest of the day, sick pet, etc., it should come down to your workload and whether it's really important for you to be in the office that day. That's assuming that you have a spouse who can pick up the slack with a sick child. If you are a single parent, then the analysis changes, or if you and your spouse are unfortunate enough to be in a situation where you would look equally bad taking the day off. But if you're talking about sick leave, I have trouble with the idea of using it for anything other than you or a human family member being sick. But that's purely a gut instinct. I can't articulate a reason why sick leave should not apply to a pet. So maybe I need to give that some more thought and/or be open-minded on that point.

One co-worker of mine also raised the point of caring for friends. She is single, as is a very good friend of hers, and neither has family in the area. They are not romantically involved (they're both heterosexual women) but are extremely good friends who check up on each other. If one of them needs surgery, why shoudn't the other be able to take sick leave to help her out? But if you go down this road, where will it end? So maybe the idea of just a big chunk of leave to take however you leave makes sense. Except that some people are as bad at budgeting leave as they are at budgeting their finances, so could very well end up with none when an emergency arises.

I realize this is off-point from the initial blog, but these thoughts popped into my mind when reviewing some of the other posts.

Posted by: SAHM wannabe | July 12, 2006 1:30 PM

I have two gaps on my resume, one is about one year that I took off more than 8 years ago and one was about 7 months in 2004 -- both times just took off to enjoy myself as I'm single and no kids and had left jobs that I'd been in nearly 5 years. No one has ever asked me about those gaps. I went back to work by going to a temp agency that specializes in my field. I was interviewed within a couple of days and back in a job in a week. Because my resume shows a continual "climb up the ladder" and several jobs that where I've stayed more than three years, I don't think it gets scrutinized. Mothers going back to work shouldn't worry too much about the "mommy gap". Don't bring up the gap or the fact that you have children unless you must.

Posted by: Gaps may not be important | July 12, 2006 1:32 PM

SAHM Wannabe, you say "some people are as bad at budgeting leave as they are at budgeting their finances, so could very well end up with none when an emergency arises".

This is so true. I have been at the management level at 3 different companies, and it always seems that it's only certain employees who have problems dealing with leave. Overwhelmingly, the majority of the people who've worked for me have been able to be responsible both to family and job and have managed to create a balance that usually doesn't impact their day-to-day duties for either. There are always times when one or the other has to "take over" your life for a short period, but when the crisis is over, things return to status quo. My major gripe is with the employees who have one crisis after another -- the kind who, when they walk in my office and close the door, I'm thinking "Here we go again". I call them my problem children. With the chronic offenders, I make it my mission for a while to hold their toes to the fire so that they're encouraged to seek employment elsewhere. I almost always get my way. And every time another one resigns or is terminated, I feel bad for the poor company that has to deal with him/her now.

This is the reality, people. Again, I'm going to state that I have no problems (or few) with the overwhelming majority of my employees.

Posted by: Manager | July 12, 2006 1:41 PM

" You could argue that there is no physical way that a mom could continue working right after giving birth, so it's necessary time off. But then, having kids is a choice; no one is making you have kids. SO if I choose not to have kid but choose to, say, volunteer in the Congo for 6 months, why don't I get 6 weeks of paid time and a gaurantee that my job will be waiting for me when I get back?"

It's not just the interests of the parents and babies here. Society has a stake - we need for babies to be in all ways healthy, to grow well, to be educated, and to take care of us (not just their parents) when it's our turn to be old and creaky and carry on when we're dead. And having kids is a choice, generally, yes, but if no one made that choice, we'd be in a sorry state (well, I'd argue so, you could make a case for the opposite).

Now, could society benefit from your volunteer work in the Congo? I'd say yes. Sadly, your boss might disagree.

Posted by: MommaSteph | July 12, 2006 1:47 PM

As the parent of a special needs child (now an adult and in a group home), I am disturbed by these comments about pets and so forth. Believe me, having a special needs child with severe handicaps is very very different and much more stressful and time-consuming than normal children (we have some of those too). There are plenty of mechanisms for "normal" children (e.g. routine after-school care, carpooling, that sort of thing). But almost nothing for a handicapped child who can't walk and has seizures, has to be diapered, fed by hand, can't dress himself etc. It can be really hard to find someone to look after them in an emergency. And the amount of work and time that a parent has to put in is far far beyond what is usually required by children who are not special-needs. You shouldn't trivialize this. (If you don't believe me, go volunteer to provide respite care to a family with a special-needs child!).

Posted by: Carolyn | July 12, 2006 1:51 PM

Fo4, I totally agree with you about playing the game paying off more than hard work. I've hed two jobs--one right after college where I telecommuted for 3 years. Now I work 8:00 to 4:30 in an office setting doing virtually the same job. I worked much harder telecommuting than I do now. Then I was trying to prove that I deserved the job. Now I'm really just putting in "face time," and working very little. But there is WAY more job security here than in my last position. Weird.

Also, Grover Park said "You could argue that everyone should be given more annual leave time. Rather than the current two or three weeks per year that most get, and extra "sick days" if you're lucky, employers should increase this to 6 weeks per year, minimum." That would be great, and that's the kind of thing that can easily be regulated by the government. People in the U.S. are already overworked--we deserve a break. And companies that can't function without every employee putting in 50 or 60 hours a week are VERY poorly managed. They need to bite the bullet and hire more people, or stop taking on more work than they can handle with the number of employees they have.

Posted by: Meesh | July 12, 2006 1:52 PM

Manager, I understand what you're saying and I agree with you. I've worked with lots of people who were very responsible with their time, but there always seem to be one or two people who live in "crisis mode" and take every hour of sick leave every year. One woman who had been "advised by her doctor to take time off" because her "depression was returning", of course was granted leave and then went on a two-week rafting trip with her kids. (She actually told a few of her co-workers that's what she was doing!) She did not have the vacation time, but she had the sick days, and she would not otherwise have been able to use 10 days off in a row, so she made up a depression. Hell, I'd take that same depression cure any day. Of course, after she pulled stunts like this for several years, she was laid off. Management found a way to dry up work that would normally have gone to her and show that she wasn't necessary anymore. By that time no few were sorry to see her go.

I would never want to manage people today and I've made sure I don't have to do it in a formal way, as in doing performance reviews and dealing with leave issues. At my former job, a co-worker was promoted to manager and she was immediately overwhelmed with people and their personal crises.

Posted by: M. T. | July 12, 2006 1:56 PM

I am sorry that the unions are failing us workers so badly these days. There are many problems with the unions, but they did bring us the 5-day work week. If they stepped in to agitate for a six-week minimun leave for all full-time employees, it's quite possible it would happen. But there's nothing much that's going to convince companies to give us this on their own.

Posted by: Pro Union | July 12, 2006 1:59 PM

MommaSteph, you make an excellent point (I could argue the last idea, but it's more of a philisophical than practical argument :). On that note, then, why don't more employers have on-site daycare and, more on topic, more flex time for parents? I'm guessing that the companies do the minimum that they can get away with.

And to Carolyn, I'm sorry I upset you with the pet talk. I in no way meant to trivialize the amount of care and time a special needs child requires. As luck would have it, I have worked with special needs kids at camps and school, and two of my friends are teachers of special needs kids. I do understand what their parents go through, and I should have been more careful not to trivialize it.

I did not mean to compare having pets with having a special needs child. I was just pointing out that people have their own types of families with their own priorities. My family (my husband, dog, and parents) are not more or less important than your family, and I would appreciate it if my employer's management style reflected that.

Posted by: Meesh | July 12, 2006 2:05 PM

Just stop pretending--PLEASE--that it "doesn't matter" or "isn't relevant" or "isn't a part of the job".

Please.

I mean, have you ever tried to run a business?

Have you had employees show up (or not) and schedule things (or not)?

Have you felt like their "emergencies" were sometimes due to their lack of planning and they were trying to make it YOUR problem?

To paraphrase a common sign:

There are three kinds of jobs:
1) Flexible
2) High Paying
3) Pleasant

All of these things are worth money and cost money to provide. You may choose any TWO.

If it is flexible and pleasant, the pay will not be high.

If it is flexible and high paying, the work will not be pleasant.

If it is high paying and pleasant, the work will not be flexible.

The choice is yours. Just stop complaining that you can't have all three.

Posted by: E | July 12, 2006 2:19 PM

My job is flexible (within reason), high-paying, and pleasant. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I really enjoy it. We can't do our work anywhere other than the office, but that's about the only caveat.

It took me a long time to get here, though. Many many crap jobs and a Ph.D. So worth it, though.

Posted by: Lizzie | July 12, 2006 2:27 PM

"On that note, then, why don't more employers have on-site daycare and, more on topic, more flex time for parents? I'm guessing that the companies do the minimum that they can get away with."

Well, Meesh, without having studied the question, I'd say that businesses are mostly running on a single-income family model at least in part because of how women joined the workforce, which was "We don't need special considerations, thank you very much, we'll look out for the homefront" (and probably it had to be that way). This hasn't been the mantra for quite some time, but I think the business culture is slow to change. Another trend that hasn't yet been able to really make an impact is the desire by more "gen x" fathers to have flexibility in their work lives.

And, let's face it - unless and until family-friendly policies can be shown to be not just good for society, but for the bottom line, it ain't much gonna happen.

Posted by: MommaSteph | July 12, 2006 2:49 PM

E -

I disagree that a job cannot be all three - pleasant, felxible, and high-paying. I've had 2 legal jobs since graduating law school - one for the federal government, and one at a small firm in Seattle. Both jobs were very pleasant and extremely flexible with time off, for whatever reason, and while they don't pay as high as the big DC or Seattle firms, I still consider myself high-paid.

The federal government can be a great place to work if you need flexibility - if you get the right boss. My last year working there, my fiance (now husband) was working 3000 miles away, and the only leave he had was reserved for our wedding and honeymoon. I went to visit him every 4-6 weeks, and twice stayed for 2 full weeks, all with my boss's blessing. Why? Because when I was at work, I worked my butt off and got all my work done on time or early, and done well.

My small firm is also great on flexibility - they allowed one of my colleagues to take 4 months off (unpaid) to go to Paris, something she had always dreamed of doing. The bosses were fully supportive of her decision, and we all welcomed her back with open arms. They've also let me take time off to attend the birth of my godson, take my cat to the vet, and take 2 1/2 weeks of paid sick leave when I had horrible morning sickness.

I guess what it really comes down to is looking for and (hopefully) finding a job where the bosses respect and value their employees, and are willing to show that respect by giving them some flexibility when they need it. If you're not in one of those jobs now, I encourage you to keep looking - great bosses do exist.

Posted by: Seattle | July 12, 2006 3:04 PM

Like Lizzie, my job is also flexible (within reason), high-paying, and pleasant. And I can work from home (normally do, although I need privacy and reasonable quiet--that can be harder) or from the road. Also like Lizzie, I don't think it's everyone's cup of tea but it suits me.

I'd agree with the general statement that you can normally only get 2 out of 3, but anyone wanting to be the exception needs to follow a path that makes them very hard to replace and geographically flexible. IME, the more diverse skillset groups you can aquire, the more likely you are to pull 3 out of 3.

Posted by: Historian | July 12, 2006 3:05 PM

My son has multiple food allergies and asthma. There have been plenty of days that I have had to stay home or leave early due to the daycare calling me. My husband doesn't have any leave time to use. If he doesn't work he doesn't get paid, period. My leave became LWOP about 2 months ago. My office offers a leave transfer program in which I was eligible thank goodness. I do know 2 people donated leave so I don't have to worry as much, for now, as I build up some sick and annual leave.

As for my director, he questioned the fact the I and some other mothers were using our leave so much. One woman was so angry that she was ready to go to the union rep about it! Apparently, one of my male coworker uses alot of leave to care for his son's but he was never questioned. Anyway, my director imposed a 'leave cushion' of 30 hours. My angry coworker shot off an email to OHR and the OHR had to set him straight. Annual leave earned could be used when requested (with approval of course). Sick leave is just that, sick leave and he backed off the imposed cushion as he was way out of line.

I now make sure I choose the option of using my FMLA rights. I bring in documentation for every visit to prove that I am not taking a slick day. I make up work when I am back in the office though I do answer emails from home. Hubby gets nervous for me using all of my leave but until he finds a job in his trade that allows him some leave then I carry the burden.

Sorry for rambling...

Posted by: walking the line | July 12, 2006 3:09 PM

I find that many companies (who employed me and my friends/family) offer "leave" that is undefined. It includes sick/vacation/personal. I like this because I don't have to lie if I have to, say, take my kid/dog to the vet/doctor. I just say: "I'll be out between X and Y." They don't need to know what I am doing, and frankly, they probably don't care; the point is that I am not THERE. I guess if an employee was out on a regular basis, they may ask, but I have never experienced that dynamic.

Posted by: Stacey | July 12, 2006 3:12 PM

Carolyn,

I also didn't mean to trivialize any special needs child. My question was just posed because whenever we talk about accommodating parents someone always brings up other issues concerning people without kids. I really just wanted to see where the line should or could be drawn.

One of the main issues on this board is that people don't understand short term disability. The company doesn't just hand women 6 weeks of leave and say go have a nice vacation.

You usually have to take a week of vacation, then you get five weeks off at reduced pay.

To all the pet owners, I love animals, I think my mom likes her dogs more than me and my siblings, but to be honest, I can't compare animals to children.

Posted by: scarry | July 12, 2006 3:17 PM

Where did we get the idea that everyone is entitled to be treated equally? Just because parents are permitted to take (often unpaid) leave to care for a child, do you really think others should be afforded the same right to care for a pet or do volunteer work? Do you really think these things should be treated the same way? Really?

And for all those who think American workers should get 6 weeks of leave, or more leave, or whatever . . . would you all be willing to take a salary cut to pay for either (a) additional employees to do the work, or (b)the lost productivity from all the additional time off? I didn't think so.

Posted by: Get a Grip | July 12, 2006 3:17 PM

thank God for unions!

Posted by: scarry | July 12, 2006 3:19 PM

A comment about Christmas -

"... being a parent now, I would want the day off also."

But in 20 years, when your kids are working, won't you STILL want them to be home with you? That's the issue - when I was single and childless my parents wanted me home. It wasn't that I didn't HAVE a family.... But the parents of young kids still got to leave and I had to stay. Plus, for those adults w/o children, working means not seeing family AT ALL becuase they (often) have to travel. A parent of a child at home still gets to spend at least part of the holiday with their family, but the single person gets to spend it completely along if they'd have to travel. Not terribly fair, is it?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 3:35 PM

to Manager -
of course some people abuse leave - but sometimes crises pile up.
Two years ago my mom and dad took the trip of her dreams; 6 weeks traveling australia and new zealand. This is after 35 years in the same place and she saved leave. But, because of carry-over rules she used up all her annual leave.
Then this past year my sister-in-law had preemie twins after 3 months of bed rest and I had a second child by c-section. My sil and I live close together, but far from my mom, so she took FMLA to come and care for us. Not a complete emergency, but definitely legit. Then, 3 months later, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. No FMLA left, no annual, no sick leave (used with the FMLA). Ooops.
Luckily my mom's work values her and let her take more LWOP. It's not just parents of young kids!

Posted by: in Boston | July 12, 2006 3:36 PM

Get a Grip -

I didn't post about the volunteer work, but I do happen to think that doing a 6-week stint doing volunteer work in poverty stricken areas, both in this country and abroad, are worth as much to society as raising good children (which seems to be the prevailing argument for the disparate treatment of parents vs. non parents), so I happen to think that a person should be able to take leave to do that kind of work in whatever form a new parent would be able to take maternity/paternity leave. (i.e. if parent is paid, long-term volunteer should be; if not, not.)

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 3:52 PM

It's hard to describe to any one who doesn't have a child, just how deep and visceral the connection can be. For example, check out:

http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/060712_baby_poop.html

Posted by: Gotta Share This | July 12, 2006 3:58 PM

There's always some angry uber pro-business / anti-family freaks like Get A Grip on these discussions.

If you're so worried about lost productivity, get back to work and stop posting your "I'm looking out for business (wanking motion)" crappola!! And change your soiled trousers every now and then.

Posted by: Beluga Bill | July 12, 2006 4:05 PM

Sad to day, rather than moving toward MORE flexibility, many companies are adopting "no fault" absenteeism policies. Whether you are taking time off because you are sick, your kids are sick, or whatever, it doesn't matter--each absence counts as a "point" and, you accumulate so many "points" you are automatically fired.

Normally they contain exceptions for jury duty, funerals, and FMLA-qualified leave. But these policies make it practically impossible to be able to (for example) care for a special needs child. They are anti-flexibility. They have the benefit, for the employer, of never having to make a judgment or decision as to whether someone's "excuse" for missing work is good enough--because NO excuses (except for the specific ones like jury duty) are good enough.

The employer touts this as a benefit to employees, because you "always know where you stand." You don't have to wonder if your supervisor THINKS you take too much time off--just check your "points," and you'll see that you're one bout with the flu away from being out the door permanently.

Posted by: Brian | July 12, 2006 4:47 PM

"It's hard to describe to any one who doesn't have a child, just how deep and visceral the connection can be."

And it's hard to describe to anyone who doesn't have a family but has a pet just how deep and visceral the connection can be.

As Meesh said, ". . . people have their own types of families with their own priorities. My family (my husband, dog, and parents) are not more or less important than your family, and I would appreciate it if my employer's management style reflected that."

We all have different types of families, we all work hard--some, like me, are on call 24/7/365. If my dog needs to go to the vet, we go.

Manager, are you implying that someone who takes off for a sick child isn't also ridiculed? :-)

Posted by: fract'l | July 12, 2006 4:48 PM

I think there is some stigma attached to sick leave. If I take vacation for a week no one asks any questions. (okay maybe where I went) If I take sick leave for even a day I am definitely going to have to answer to "concerned" co-workers when I get back. People just assume you are full of it unless you come into the office looking like death warmed over. Do I really want to tell every Tom, Dick and Sally about my lumpectomy? noooo. I guess the problem is that my company posts a sign in sheet with a column for in/out and the reason. ie "Jane is out sick today"

sorry, just venting I suppose...

I would recommend to anyone in the workplace that if you are not very close with a co-worker don't ask about why they called in sick. You'll just end up hearing about someone's horrific stomach virus anyways.

privacy is important, why do we owe everyone a detailed explanation nowadays? I understand its necessary in cases of extended or frequent absences. But an hour or day here and there?

Posted by: f-dawg | July 12, 2006 4:50 PM

What about all of the blue collar workers out there who have no real option at "flextime" or alternative schedules. Take for example someone living in a small town working at the big box store closest to their home. THere is no catch up on your work if you are a cashier and cannot be there during business hours. Chances are that their manager really has no true autonomy to allow them to leave work early or unexpectedly. These jobs seem like they are a dime a dozen to office dwelling white collar professionals (of which I am one) but in reality they are hard to come by and often times these families live from paycheck to paycheck.

I have no issue with the pet deal since pets cannot exactly get on the bus and take themselves to the vet. We all saw what happened to Toonces the driving cat.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 4:56 PM

To the poster who equated the merits of parenthood with the merits of volunteer work in a poverty-stricken country:

As admirable and important as your volunteer work is, it is not the same as parenting. I'm not saying one is better or more noble than the other (one could even make the case that the volunteer work is MORE noble.)

(And this not directed to the previous poster in particular):
Let's be clear about something: caring for a sick child, caring for an elderly parent, caring for a sick friend, a sick puppy or poor people in the Congo are NOT THE SAME.

You have both a legal and moral obligation to care for your child. You may also have legal obligations to a disabled relative. The rest are for the most part moral obligations only.

The law says, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you cannot discrimination against caregivers to the disabled.

It's not as though these caregivers are leaving work early to go paint their toe nails. Do you really envy them their time away from the office? They probably envy you your time at the office.

It is up to the employer to determine if the caregiver can still adequately perform their job under the circumstances. It is not your judgment as a fellow employee.

Posted by: mizbinkley | July 12, 2006 5:00 PM

The only time I've ever heard someone ridiculed for taking time off to care for a sick child was when it was happening ALL the time, and I tell you, that child had every disease in the book. And by the way, this was also a person whose life was one crisis after another. If it wasn't the child who was sick, it was that she needed bereavement leave to attend an ex-husband's second cousin's wife's viewing, because the ex-husband had lost his license for DUI and no one else in the family had a registered car or could be trusted to drive, blah blah blah blah. This employee lived for drama.

Posted by: Manager | July 12, 2006 5:14 PM

mizbinkley -

You are right, volunteering is not the same as parenting, but I still maintain both are socially valuable and if you choose not to have children, you should have the option to help those in need.
(I'm the second person who said volunteers should have the same option as m/paternity leave)

And I agree with the fact htat caring for an ill family member is not the same as volunteering or caring for animals. Those are emergency situations (even if ongoing), separate and apart from the inital m/paternity leave.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 5:22 PM

I'm surprised by all the comments along the lines of "Why don't you just leave that lousy job?" Any parent who has a special needs child probably needs the medical insurance that goes with it. Even if the next job has insurance, a "pre-existing condition" may not be covered.

And to all you pet owners out there, when is the last time your pet's daycare giver called to say that your pet was having a psychotic episode and trying to jump out a window? You have NO IDEA what it's like to have a special needs child.

Posted by: Lisa | July 12, 2006 5:32 PM

"As Meesh said, ". . . people have their own types of families with their own priorities. My family (my husband, dog, and parents) are not more or less important than your family, and I would appreciate it if my employer's management style reflected that.""

Uh, sorry. Yes, your parents are as important as a child. Your dog, no.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 5:33 PM

"if you choose not to have children, you should have the option to help those in need."

You do. Just don't try to tell your employer that it's the same kind of unavoidable obligation as caring for a sick child, because it's not. (I will note, however, that many employers have been remarkably understanding about workers who have wanted to help out with natural disasters and other true emergencies.)

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 5:37 PM

A recent study found that American workers work, on average, nine works week more per year that the average European worker. From the postings today, it seems that workers feel pressure not to miss work for illness, a sick child, a sick pet, volunteerism, or caring for parents etc... I seems that it's not so much the nature of the absence but the pressure to be at work at all times. As a member of my state bar's committee that addresses work-life balance, the pressure to put in hours (and face time) at work is not limited to working parents. Maybe the broader issue is the expectation of the amount of work versus time off rather than the specific purpose of the time off. Not to mention the pressure to remain accessible by email and electronic means even while on vacation. Of course, this is from someone who found a conference room for a half day depostion while at DisneyLand. It's not that someone else at work couldn't have covered it as much as it was simply expected that a half day interruption of the family vacation wasn't really asking all that much. Then again, I'm not with that firm anymore either ....

Posted by: SS | July 12, 2006 6:37 PM

People, you don't deserve 6 weeks of maternity leave to volunteer or play with dogs. Are you really so naive that you don't understand that women who give birth have a 7 pound baby coming out of them or they have to have a ceserian with stiches?

It's not a vacation, it is a choice, but as other people have pointed out, it's covered under short term disabilty. Comparing kids to animals is silly, unless of course you gave birth to that great dane.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2006 6:51 PM

RE: You have both a legal and moral obligation to care for your child. You may also have legal obligations to a disabled relative. The rest are for the most part moral obligations only.


Sorry but in virtually every state one has a LEGAL obligation to provide medical care for their animals. Depriving an animal of medical care is typically held to be animal cruelty.

You do not have a legal obligation to care for a disabled or ill adult relative.

(I'm a retired labor lawyer.)

In our household it is not an issue - my dog is a service dog within the meaning of the ADA. (And his medical bills are tax deductible as part of my medical expenses.)


So many of these posters seem to live in a rarified world where they are employed by someone else and work in an organziation with a considerable number of fellow employees who can pick up the slack during their absence. (And who will eventually resent them for it.)

(1) Small businesses with only 2, 3, 5 or so employees can simply not tolerate an employee who has to be gone frequently because of family responsibilities. I couldn't have run my office if one of my two assistants had kept having to take time off because of children or other things. The work had to be done then. Period. Clients don't want to hear that one half or one third of the staff were out because their kid was sick (again) or had constant medical appointments (again.) They wanted the work done. No clients, no business. No business, no money for anyone. And judges most certainly didn't want to hear that a case couldn't be go forward because I didn't have it prepared because half my staff was out because the kid was sick wih the flu or had repetitive health problems.

(2) In what world do most employees get 2 weeks vacation and 2 weeks sick time? In the white collar professional world who comprise about 20% of the workforce, about 75-80% get that. As to the rest of the working world - the other 84% - a large number don't get any paid time off for anything, and those that do have some paid time off, might have a total of 12 days year, say, 5 vacation, 5 sick days but only for them personally, and 2 personal days.

Wanting everyone to have 6 weeks of paid leave a year is a nice fantasy. It certainly has nothing to do with the actual reality.

Someone commented above that the cost of such a program would result in lower wages because additional employees would have to be hired. That is certainly true. If a business has 5 employees and each had 6 weeks of paid leave, that would be 30 weeks of absences during the year. Since someone would have to do the work, that would mean having a 6th person to do those 30 weeks of work. (Phones don't answer themselves you know.) Unless a temp was hired (unsatisfactory for all involved), that would mean hiring a 6th employee. Now the labor budget which had been allocated among 5 employees would have to be divided up among 6 employees. 1/6th is less than 1/5th. (Or is the owner of the small business supposed to fund the 6th employee out of his/her earnings from the business so that all the employees can have the extra time off while they work less but get paid the same?)

The bulk of people who work as employees are employed by SMALL BUSINESSES - the kind with less than 10 or 15 employees.

Posted by: been there, heard all this 30 years ago | July 12, 2006 7:16 PM

"Any parent who has a special needs child probably needs the medical insurance that goes with it. Even if the next job has insurance, a "pre-existing condition" may not be covered."

Fortunately, this is not usually the case. As long as you do not let there be more than a 63-day gap in insurance, the new insurance must accept all pre-existing conditions. Firms are legally required to let you reimburse them for your insurance for up to 18 months after you leave your job. It's called COBRA, in case you need to ask for it when you're switching jobs (though they're also legally required to tell you about it, I don't know how often it happens).

Posted by: Ms L | July 12, 2006 7:42 PM

"Uh, sorry. Yes, your parents are as important as a child. Your dog, no."

I believe that is my decision. One which I feel NO guilt about! Doesn't this put me ahead of the game already? :-)

Actually, I've never been ridiculed (and I would have heard about it) for leaving to take care of a sick dog. I'm not a drama queen, it doesn't happen every day. I guess the people I work with understand we all have different types of families to care for in different ways.

Posted by: fract'l | July 12, 2006 9:50 PM

"And to all you pet owners out there, when is the last time your pet's daycare giver called to say that your pet was having a psychotic episode and trying to jump out a window? You have NO IDEA what it's like to have a special needs child."

Actually, I do.

I just also believe that everyone has his/her own problems and challenges in life and someone who insists THEIRS is the worst, taking precedence over everyone else's, is someone to avoid.

Posted by: fract'l | July 12, 2006 9:56 PM

who cares if the pet jumped out a window, it's a dog not a person! go form a I like animals more than people blog and cry all day about how you can't get maternity leave for having a pet and how your dog is a special needs dog.

Really, do you realize how silly you sound?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 6:12 AM

"Wanting everyone to have 6 weeks of paid leave a year is a nice fantasy. It certainly has nothing to do with the actual reality."

Other countries are able to do this.

Temp agencies help a lot.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 7:12 AM

other countries have lower standards of living too.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 7:22 AM

Not countries like Germany. Have a look, you might be surprised.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 9:22 AM

"Wanting everyone to have 6 weeks of paid leave a year is a nice fantasy. It certainly has nothing to do with the actual reality."

Wanting everyone to work less than 6 full days per week was also once a "fantasy". Now it is reality for many of us. Same thing with an 8-hour workday.

Business in Europe still gets done, despite the fact that workers get far more time off than U.S. workers.

Posted by: Fantasy can beome reality | July 13, 2006 9:47 AM

"Not countries like Germany. Have a look, you might be surprised."

By some stats, Germany has about 12% unemployment today--down from a previous level of about 13%. (Others reduce the rate to 9.5% because the 12% rate includes people working >15 hours a week but wishing to work more.)

I work for a German company and spend a fair amount of time in the country. I've also talked to my co-workers to see how maternity leave (they get up to 3 years) works. A company does not have to give you back _your_ job, they have to give you an equivalent one, even if it's in a different part of the country. And that it's very difficult to fire people means that the hiring process is tortuous.

From an American perspective, it is very difficult to get things done because someone is always on vacation and a project must be delayed until they get back. Specialized jobs cannot be replaced with temporary labor.

The standard of living varies widely from region to region, and even in the wealthier regions doesn't compare to the US in outward trappings. I like it, but the standard of living _is_ lower than in comparable regions of the US.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 10:13 AM

I would be happy to give up some of the "outward trappings" in order to have some more vacation time and a more sane life.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 10:37 AM

Quite possibly, but the point is that it's naive to say that Germany is just like the US in standard of living. It's not and has the unemployment to prove it.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 11:24 AM

"I believe that is my decision. One which I feel NO guilt about! Doesn't this put me ahead of the game already? :-)"

Living a life that causes you no guilt is wonderful. The value we place on human life should not be a personal decision, however. I know you do not intend to, but by placing the life of a dog, or a cat, or a fish, or a bird, or any other animal on a par with that of a child, we in effect cheapen the life of the child. That is not a road we should go down, nor is it a personal life choice that can be justified on libertarian grounds.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 11:49 AM

Actually, I've never been ridiculed (and I would have heard about it) for leaving to take care of a sick dog. I'm not a drama queen, it doesn't happen every day. I guess the people I work with understand we all have different types of families to care for in different ways.

Sure, people should take care of their pets if they have them. No arguments on that. But to expect companies to give you pet care leave is ridiculous, even if people with children get childcare leave or maternity leave. Pets are not children, and will never be on par with children. Raising children is a service to society (as well as a choice), because we need productive human beings to be the next generation of workers and citizens. Pet, while nice, are only a choice. It is silly and stupid to compare pets to children.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 12:01 PM

How does valuing the lives of animals cheapen the life of a child?

Posted by: Friend | July 13, 2006 12:03 PM

I love animals and I hate to see any animal suffer so, yes, I would take time off from work if my pet rabbit were seriously ill. The difference is that if my house were burning down and I could only save one "creature" there's no thought involved - I'd save my son. Pets are animals. Humans are more important.

Posted by: RT | July 13, 2006 12:27 PM

Okay, no one suggested that pets are the equivalent of children. Slow down and read, people.

The poster specifically said that her family (whatever it is!) is not less important than your family (whatever it is!). When you start to put a value on people's families, you tread dangerous ground with single parent families, families with no children, and families with same-sex parents (the horror!). The bottom line is that employers should not care WHAT your family comprises. The employer should see that each employee has a moral obligation to tend to his or her family.

Having a baby does not make you a hero. Your child is not a hero. Procreating is actually VERY bad for an already overpopulated planet. You don't have to have children, and society doesn't need them! Why don't you adopt? Then you would be a hero.

And for the record, talking about the "value" of animals versus children, if I was walking my dog next to you and your kid and I could save either my dog or your kid from being hit by a car, you better believe that I'd give little junior a kick in the pants to save my dog.

I hope you people aren't teaching your offspring to devalue animals the way you do.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 3:27 PM

How on earth can you say in one breath that you don't think pets are the equivalent of children and in the next breath that you would choose to save a dog's life over a child's life?

I hope you aren't teaching your dog to devalue humans the way you do.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 3:37 PM

I was pointing out that no one on this blog has said that pet are the equivalent of children. No one even hinted at it.

I stated my opinion after that, for the record.

The first is an observation. The second is my opinion.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 4:08 PM

And for the record, talking about the "value" of animals versus children, if I was walking my dog next to you and your kid and I could save either my dog or your kid from being hit by a car, you better believe that I'd give little junior a kick in the pants to save my dog.

I hope when you are on your deathbed, that your dog can help you sip water through a straw for change your diapers.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 5:10 PM

I am an animal lover myself, but a person who would save the life of a dog over that of a child is just a freak.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 5:12 PM

yes, actually people on this blog did say that they should get some kind of "peternity leave" Oh look, a new term.

I hope to god the poster was kidding about saving a dog instead of a kid. That is just stupid, but then again, so is peternity leave

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2006 6:55 PM

"How does valuing the lives of animals cheapen the life of a child?"

Interesting question. There's another pet lover comment that provides some insight on this.

"And for the record, talking about the "value" of animals versus children, if I was walking my dog next to you and your kid and I could save either my dog or your kid from being hit by a car, you better believe that I'd give little junior a kick in the pants to save my dog."

Real life isn't Lake Woebegone - all children can't be "above average." Neither can all living beings. When we say that we place a high value on human life, we mean that we value it more than (or believe it to be more important than) other things.

The commenter I just quoted said (whether he intended to or not) that he would devote more effort to saving the life of a dog than he would to saving the life of a child. I assume he meant to be humorous. Nonetheless, he perfectly illustrated the issue.

Consider a thought experiment. If we were to pass a law saying that, from now on, acorns could be used as legal tender, and would have the value of a dollar, what would happen? Would a sack of acorns suddenly become very, very valuable? Or would we find that we'd devalued our currency?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 14, 2006 9:29 AM

For the poster who described another poster's deathbed scene, it's not too far off! Animals help humans in lots of ways! Ever heard of service animals? Dogs warn seizure sufferers of upcoming seizures and alert the medics, stop blind people from crossing a busy street, and call for help if their owner suffers a heart attack. Try to get a baby or toddler to do that!

And as for children helping their parents as they age... are you new? If that's why you had kids, you're in for a shock. The days of caring for our elders in our homes is long gone. Now elderly people live in group homes. How often do you think your kids will visit you, especially the ones who live out of state? About as often as the volunteer service animals, who usually visit weekly? Doubtful.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 14, 2006 9:50 AM

For the last poster, the acorns and money analogy doesn't really fly. For it to work in this discussion, both acorns and money would have to be intrinsically valuable. They are not. They are, respectively, paper and a seed.

In this arguement, both people and animals are intrinsically valuable because they are living things. Most people would say that both are valuable because God created them. Other reasons are that they both contribute to the cycle of life, and both have important roles in our society. Those roles can not be abandoned, and other things can not take over those roles. Moreover, they two cannot switch roles.

This is a very important point because animals cannot replace people and people cannot replace animals in society. So for the posters who actually thought people and animals were being compared, that's just idiotic. However, to the poster who said that both animals and people are valuable, you are absolutely right.

Whether you think a person's role in society is more important than an animal's role in society, that's your opinion.

Posted by: Meesh | July 14, 2006 9:57 AM

Service dogs are not considered pets, and should not be confused with pets.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 14, 2006 10:04 AM

And as for children helping their parents as they age... are you new? If that's why you had kids, you're in for a shock. The days of caring for our elders in our homes is long gone. Now elderly people live in group homes. How often do you think your kids will visit you, especially the ones who live out of state? About as often as the volunteer service animals, who usually visit weekly? Doubtful.

I'm sorry that your experience with kids and the elderly has been so sad. In my family, the children do visit, even from far away. When our grandfather was dying a year ago, his great grandkids flew in from out of state to say good bye. Families who love one another do that.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 14, 2006 10:06 AM

"Whether you think a person's role in society is more important than an animal's role in society, that's your opinion."

This is a fundamental moral disagreement, and it deeply saddens me. Animals are important, and should not be mistreated or neglected. Having said that, I believe that human life is sacred, and deserves a special level of respect and dignity. We no longer have a clear societal agreement on this (which I believe is a primary cause of some of our thorniest moral disagreements).

I also believe that, by placing human life on the same level as animal life, we have made it easier for many of the evils of the 20th century to be perpetuated. It has now become possible for some people to say, with a straight face, that the life of an elderly person with dementia, or the life of a severely disable child, may not have the same value (and, by implication, be worthy of the same level of protection) as that of a person who is mentally and physically healthy. While not the intent of most who argue this way, evaluating the life of a person the same way we would that of an animal leads to a lessening of the protections we provide to the weakest and most vulnerable among us.


"For the last poster, the acorns and money analogy doesn't really fly. For it to work in this discussion, both acorns and money would have to be intrinsically valuable. They are not. They are, respectively, paper and a seed."

Sorry, they are both valuable. Acorns have more uses that you might imagine. The point is that one is given significant value by social agreement (we are working on a fiat currency system these days), while the other has markedly less value. (Of course, I believe that the high value of human life is intrinsic.) Agreeing to give greater value to the acorns (making them legal tender with a face value of $1) would have the effect of diluting our currency.

The analogy will work with any two items of very different value. To get away from the confusion of paper money and seeds, let's take Krugerands. If we were to peg the value of silver to that of gold (i.e., a silver coin has the same value as that of a gold coin of the same weight and purity), we would reduce the real purchasing power of gold.

Both silver and gold have real intrinsic value. The historical free market prices of the two suggest that the intrinsic value of gold is much greater than that of silver. If we did not, as a society, recognize that but instead insisted on placing the same value on both, it would increase the value of silver somewhat - it would also significantly decrease the value of gold.

Posted by: Huh? | July 14, 2006 10:37 AM

Ugh. Okay, Huh?. You're right that the value of a good will be diminished if another good is valued more.

That is SO not the point. I used the term "intrinsic" for a reason. It means that, regardless of what value society places on them, some thngs are in and of themselves valuable. You can not diminish their value.

Like living things. Would you equate a dog with gold? No. Obviously. Maybe the term "moral" better conveys the difference in value.

People and animals are morally valuable. They are recognized as so across all cultures. Some cultures think cows are sacred, some rely on animals to labor in fields and farms. In some cultures, there are people who are basically slaves.In others, certain people are worshipped.

The point is that a piece of gold can not do the job of an animal, whatever the society. And an animal, in most cases, can not do the job of the person.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

If we decide that animals deserve more rights, that does nothing to affect people's rights. Even if we decide tomorrow to start demanding free health care for homeless pets, that will do nothing to the healthcare of people. We still have to protect people so that people can go on doing their part in society.

"evaluating the life of a person the same way we would that of an animal leads to a lessening of the protections we provide to the weakest and most vulnerable among us"

Ignoring the ridiculous statement, I have to again point out that one on here said that animals should be evaluated the same way people are. It was said that people with pets should be afforded the same rights by employers to care for their family. That their family has merit.

Why anyone would begrudge a person flex time because their idea of a family does not measure up to the ideal is asnine. THAT is what will start us down the slippery slope of what constitutes a family, and what constitutes a person.

Posted by: Meesh | July 14, 2006 12:09 PM

A visit right before a family member dies does not constitute waiting at the deathbed and caring for that family member.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 14, 2006 12:12 PM

If we decide that animals deserve more rights, that does nothing to affect people's rights. Even if we decide tomorrow to start demanding free health care for homeless pets, that will do nothing to the healthcare of people. We still have to protect people so that people can go on doing their part in society.

That is just a silly argument. For example, if you decided that animals should not be subject to experimental testing (such as for new drugs), then you would be affecting the healthcare of people who would not be able to benefit from the information that experimental testng on animals could provide. It is a moral choice. No one is saying that animals are not valuable. They are resources. Some people value them as pets, others as food, etc. But the fact that they have a value does not mean that they are valued in the same way as humans. They are not and hopefully never will be.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 14, 2006 12:22 PM

"People and animals are morally valuable. They are recognized as so across all cultures. Some cultures think cows are sacred, some rely on animals to labor in fields and farms. In some cultures, there are people who are basically slaves.In others, certain people are worshipped."

This is precisely the issue. You say that people and animals both have intrinsic, moral value. Do you really believe that? You quickly move into a discussion of how different societies have placed radically different values on both certain people and certain animals. Do you think that's o.k.? Is it appropriate for us, as a society, establish by consensus the value to place on people and animals? Can we decide that certain animals are sacred, but certain people have less value?

There's an important distinction here. Gold and silver both have an intrinsic value. But societies can choose not to recognize those values, and establish other values as their commonly recognized monetary standard (i.e., peg the value of silver coinage at 50% that of gold coinage).

Is this possible? Yes. Does it distort the intrinsic value of both gold and silver? Yes.

I would argue that both humans and animals have intrinsic value - just as do gold and silver. I would also argue that our society can, for whatever reasons, attach a different value to people or to animals. In fact, that's my point - by giving animals a comparable value to humans, we are artificially devaluing humans, and inflating the value of animals.

I would analyze sacred cows and slaves similarly. The first places an exagerated value on bovine life (please argue with me if you believe cows truly should be considered sacred) and the second improperly devalues human life (again, argue with me if you believe a society can decide what value to place on humans). It's interesting to note that the culture that gave us sacred cows also gave us untouchables. And the ante-bellum culture that gave us slaves also was fascinated with highly bred horses. Both are jarring examples of getting the relative values of people and animals wrong.

"Why anyone would begrudge a person flex time because their idea of a family does not measure up to the ideal is asnine. THAT is what will start us down the slippery slope of what constitutes a family, and what constitutes a person."

It makes a great deal of sense for employers to provide flex time to meet a variety of employee needs. It's becoming more and more common. Recognizing this doesn't mean we should conclude that the Family Medical Leave Act should be expanded to include household pets. The FMLA recognizes the special value of a) human life and health, and b) families.

Why should we be afraid of defining what constitutes a person? Are you uncomfortable with a definition that places an elderly man with Alzheimers and a child with Down's sydrome on the "person" side, but a bird or a fish on the "non-person" side? I'm not. In fact, I believe it's essential that we do so to properly value and protect the elderly man and the disabled child. Does that result - greater protection for the man and the child than for the bird and the fish - bother you?

Posted by: Huh? | July 14, 2006 3:28 PM

To the poster above, we obviously disagree on many points. The most important, namely, is the idea of "intrinsic" or "moral" value. This is not my definition. These mean that these things hold value that is not contingent on value socitey places on them. All animals are morally the same (cows are not better than chickens or dogs) and all people are the same (blacks are not better than whites and an intact person is not better than an amputee). Just because humans have been devalued before does not mean that they did not have value all along.

If you think about it, I'm sure you'd say that it is morally wrong to devalue a person or animal in a society, (and stating a fact does not mean that I endorse the laws or statutes that result in that fact) but you would not think it was morally wrong to devalue gold. That's why there are laws to prevent it from happening to people and animals. Which is my point. You could devalue gold and something else will take its place as a backing for currency (a leaf from a rare tree, another rare metal, etc.). HOWEVER, animals and people, with repect to their roles in socitey (whatever they are) can not be replaced with any old object.

I think it goes without saying that repealing laws protecting animals from depraved human nature would do nothing to stop what is essentially slave labor in Africa and raise the value of people.

Have people been devalued before? Yes. Are animals devalued now? Yes. Is the relationship causal? No.

If you don't think that animals have moral intrinsic value that should be honored the same way humans are, consider this logic. Humans consider themselves "above" animals because we possess higher thought and can think critically. True? So that makes it okay to eat them and torture them because they don't "feel" it or know that it's coming. When babies are born, they do not think critically or have thoughts higher than responding to immeadiate biological needs. In fact, babies don't recognize themselves in a mirror until the age of 2 (the point when they know that they are "I"). So until a certain age, babies are like animals. Therefore, there should be nothing wrong with killing them.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 17, 2006 1:37 PM

To the poster at 12:22, your argument seems to be that animals are here for our use and that is why they are valuable. The reason this is the case is probably because you think their needs are not as important as people's needs (hence the medicine example).

How do you react to the fact that embryonic stem cell research could have already lead to cures for dibiltating diseases if the government had not banned it? People are dying or suffering from diseases that could already be cured if science were allowed to use all avenues to research. And why aren't they? Because these clusters of cells are somehow more valuable than living, breathing creature that feel pain? It's okay to kill living creatures but not fetuses for the sake of science?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 17, 2006 1:47 PM

How unbelievably self-centered, neurotic and nutzoid this blog seems to be. We are supposed to be talking about special needs children and the parents who care about and for them. Not some animals (although I love them). Who cares how you feel about animals? You have such a sense of entitlement that you take a topic and hijack it and therefore minimize it -- apparently because you have nothing valuable to add to the subject at hand. If you're so bound and determined to make this discussion all about you and your feelings for and special relationship with animals, then take ye to an animal blog and stop veering horribly off topic. I would say that this is typical DC metropolitan area, me-first, entitled "jerkism," but no telling where some of you are from.

Posted by: momoftwo | July 17, 2006 4:22 PM

"All animals are morally the same (cows are not better than chickens or dogs) and all people are the same (blacks are not better than whites and an intact person is not better than an amputee)."

Fine. Neither observation supports the idea that animals are morally the same as people. I argue that they are not. If that is correct, then it is entirely rational for a society to provide greater protections to people than it does to animals. If we artificially try to give animals the same moral value as people, then we devalue human life.

If you are willing to accept that animals do not have the same moral value as people, then we don't have a philisophical disagreement here.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 18, 2006 9:59 AM

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