Hopefully, you will never experience health problems serious enough to compel you to use leave available under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
But because health and family crises may arise suddenly, you should always carry with you your boss’s contact information so you can inform him of your need for FMLA leave as soon as possible.
Also, always carry with you any passwords, security tokens and Web addresses you need to remotely access your work email and the desktop of your work computer.
If you must take FMLA leave for a crisis or for the birth of a child, consider asking your boss if you may combine it with telecommuting. Doing so would enable you to extend the total amount of time you may stay out of the office for your crisis; conserve FMLA leave, which your employer may limit to 12 weeks annually; and generate income and accrue sick and vacation leave even while you’re out of the office.
Although supervisors are required to approve valid requests for FMLA leave, they are not required to approve requests to combine FMLA leave with telecommuting. However, your supervisor would probably be most likely to approve such an arrangement if you already have a telecommuting agreement in place and have a reputation as a reliable telecommuter when you request it. So consider laying the groundwork now for any future need you may have to combine FLMA leave with telecommuting.
Advice for combining FMLA leave with telecommuting:
* When you craft a FMLA-telecommuting arrangement with your boss, identify with him your telecommuting projects. If you can’t predict how much time you will need to telecommute during your crisis, select high-impact projects that have no hard deadlines for your telecommuting period, if possible.
* When your leave begins, inform all appropriate professional contacts about your leave status.
* Craft your out-of-office email and phone messages to reflect your likely response time, and include a referral to a colleague who can handle time-sensitive issues.
* Regularly update your boss on your progress on your telecommuting projects. If you fall behind schedule on a project, tell your boss about your situation in a timely manner. No surprises.
* Unfair though it may be, your boss will probably scrutinize your productivity more closely when you’re combining FMLA leave with telecommuting than when you’re telecommuting under normal circumstances. So report your telecommuting hours with due consideration; don’t do anything that would raise questions about your trustworthiness and thereby potentially jeopardize your FMLA-telecommuting arrangement — even if this means erring on the side of underreporting your hours.
* If, during your absence, your telecommuting hours are being submitted to your agency’s time-keeping system by a timekeeper, keep precise records of your telecommuting hours and then check the accuracy of such records when you return to the office.
* Phone into staff meetings, if possible, to create “a presence” in the office during your absence.
* Keep your boss informed, if only in general terms, of the status of your personal situation while you’re on leave. When you can estimate your return date to the office, inform your boss accordingly.
* Maintain a running list of everything you worked on while telecommuting, your projects’ positive impacts and the resulting positive feedback you received from managers, colleagues, clients or other associates. When you return to work, meet with your boss to thank him for extending himself for you; remind him of the hardships you’ve faced, if appropriate; and submit to him a list of your FMLA-telecommuting accomplishments along with any available tangible evidence of their success.
Also, give your boss with a quick “show-and-tell” presentation of your best telecommuting accomplishments. You will thereby impress your boss with your productivity while telecommuting, even if he has already forgotten the contents of your weekly updates or if he never reads your complete list of telecommuting accomplishments — which, unfortunately, is an all-too-likely possibility.
* When you return to work, inform all appropriate professional contacts of your return.