Today, my little FMLA blog turns 10 years old.
Ten years ago, at a time when very few people knew what the heck a “blog” was, including me, I took a chance that HR and leave of absence professionals and attorneys might need some help answering the difficult, yet common issues they faced when administering the FMLA.
So, on May 26, 2010, I published my very first blog post – a short tale about an employee, Ellen, who got canned when her employer discovered a mountain of deficiencies in her work while she was out on continuous FMLA leave. Upon her return, with evidence in hand, her employer, GSK, terminated her employment. The court quickly dismissed Ellen’s FMLA claims, reaffirming the principle that the FMLA doesn’t act as a shield that wards off termination where it’s warranted, as was the case here.
Hundreds of posts would follow over the next 10 years, thankfully less dry than this first post.
When I started, I had two goals in mind: to connect a legal topic I was passionate about — the FMLA! — with my love for writing and to help employers solve real life FMLA problems.
Last year, my friend and Lexblog CEO Kevin O’Keefe and I discussed these goals and how they have sustained me and other legal bloggers over the years. In this session, as Kevin and I have done over the years, we discussed what it takes to sustain a legal blog over time. Several ideals come to mind, but these have kept me going:
- Passion: You’ve got to love the topic to be on your game. Find a subject area you are particularly passionate about as your foundation. At plenty of points along the way, you’ll hit writer’s block or worse, but your passion for the topic will bring you back. Conversely, if you are not passionate about what you’re blogging, you’re far more likely to simply walk away.
- Perseverance: We’ve devolved over the decades into a culture that craves instant gratification. We see it in a very real way today: we’ve sheltered in place for two months because of a pandemic, but it’s eating away at us that we don’t know precisely when this thing will end. We need the answer now and must be able to control the outcome. Amirite? Similar to waiting out a pandemic, blogging is a long slog; you don’t become a trusted voice overnight. Yet, blogging teaches us patience in that hard work will be paid back not at once, but over time. With perseverance, blogging will be one of the most professionally rewarding things you’ll ever do.
- Be in it to help people: Nearly all the people you’ll help with your (practical) blog posts will never hire you. But knowing that you helped someone when they needed it will sustain you far longer than any fleeting summary judgment victory.
- Use social media to bolster blog posts: After publishing a blog post, your job has only begun! Social media platforms like LinkedIn are invaluable to engage in authentic conversation with other professionals about the topic and gives you an opportunity to help even more HR and legal colleagues.
A Look Back on Ten Years
Over the span of 10 years, I’ve blogged on quite a number of FMLA topics. A few blog posts are particularly memorable, others quickly forgettable. Here are some that stand out for me:
Employees behaving badly:
There are plenty to choose from in this category, but I am particularly fond of:
1) If you’re going to get caught, you might as well go all in. Several City of Chicago employees were busted for using FMLA leave for “booze cruises” in the Caribbean. I detailed how they got busted and offered tips for fighting FMLA leave abuse here.
2) Can’t get enough Beyonce! A BNSF Railroad employee received a bad review and apparently was so stressed out by the review she began an extended FMLA leave the very next day. She couldn’t have been in too bad a shape, though, since she decided while she was on leave to attend a Beyonce concert — in her employer’s corporate suite.
Employers behaving badly:
Two employers stand out:
1) Boadi v. Center for Human Development, where the VP of Human Resources allegedly terminated an employee knowing that the employee still remained in her hospital bed unable to come to work, and the employee’s son pled with with the VP that his mother could barely speak, let alone leave her hospital bed to come to work.
2) Valdivia v. H.S. School District 214, where an administrative assistant cried uncontrollably at work, and allegedly told her boss (the principal) that she was “confused and overwhelmed, had not slept or eaten in weeks, and was losing weight.” The principal’s *heartfelt* response when faced with all these signs? She apparently told the employee she had to decide whether to resign [apparently because the principal had enough of the crying]. Unbelievable.
What’s even more incredible is that both of these employers inexplicably took these atrocious cases to trial [goodness, who was counseling them?], where they were unceremoniously hammered by the juries who heard their respective cases. Is anyone surprised?
Most practical post: Folks tend to cite to my post on the Top 10 Tools Employers Can Use to Keep Employees Honest to crack down on FMLA abuse. Not a silver bullet, of course, but it gives you some ideas to get creative in busting the bad guys.
Favorite blog photo: When you can write about butt implants and include a photo of a bell pepper in the shape of a rear end, you do it. Every time.
Most verbose post: Apparently, I had a lot to say about the New York Paid Family Leave, which was one of the first of its kind in terms of government-mandated paid leave. But my comments about the new FFCRA regulations this past year were a close second.
Cutest blog photo: There’s no competition on this one: A 2014 photo of my baby girl, Maggie, just a few days old.
Post I really enjoyed writing: When I celebrated the FMLA’s 25th Anniversary with my family (including a cake!) and wrote an open letter to the DOL about everything they needed to fix about the FMLA, it felt good writing that post, even if it didn’t do one darn bit of good!
Dumbest post: Back in May 2019, I reported that the DOL likely would be issuing a request for employers and employees to provide input on possible changes to the FMLA regulations. In hindsight, did I actually think this was going to happen? Really, why did I waste my time reporting on this development?
My favorite FMLA jingle: People still poke fun at me for “Albuquerque Turkey,” a lovable turkey who regularly abuses FMLA leave, and who I sang about in my November 2014 webinar. Sing along here if you’d like.
You tell me! Let me know what you want me to write about in the world of FMLA in my next decade. I’m not going anywhere!
In the meantime, I am so incredibly grateful for you. Thanks for your constant support this past decade. It’s been a treat to interact with so many of you on this journey.