Expanding Coverage For FMLA

In February of 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). As stated on the Department of Labor (DOL) website:

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

FMLA’s protections for employees include the right to receive benefits while on leave for self or a family member. Also, the right to return to your job once your leave has concluded. In 2015, the DOL amended the definitions of “spouse” to include legal same-sex marriages. Most recently, in 2020 temporarily providing provisions to employees being impacted by the global pandemic.

On the surface, FMLA has proven to be a useful asset to many families. Its gender-neutral approach in the language recognizes that caregiving can be the responsibility of any gender in a household. Nevertheless, FMLA has identified some prerequisites that may limit access to those benefits. For an individual to access their state-action support they must fulfill the following:

  • A person must be employed at a covered employer with 50 or more employees within 75 miles in the private sector.
  • Work at least 1250 hours in a 12 month period (does not include any paid time off).

According to NationalPartnerships.org,  a study was conducted in 2018  discovered that FMLA covered only 56% of American workers. This same study showed that the lack of coverage also impacted racial/ethnic groups. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analyzed data from the US Bureau of Labor statics and found that only 13% of Americans in the private sector had any access to paid family leave.

While FMLA has provided gains to families, gaps in coverage may have a disparate impact on women in general and at various intersections (race, marital status, economic status). A little less than half of American workers are covered. There should be enough coverage for all American workers. At the same time, more employers are providing leave for the family. FMLA is still legally unpaid; EPI noted that 45% of eligible employees did not leave because they could not afford the unpaid time off. The 1250 hours in a 12 month period is also exclusive; it would take approximately 31.5 weeks in a calendar year for a person to fulfill that obligation. Anyone seeking a job after the first trimester may not have access to benefits. It seems unethical to hire a qualified candidate and then have them wait to access benefits; I assume such clauses are in place to protect the business. Finally, the 50 or more employees in a 75-mile radius appear dated in this era of technology. The rationale for this geographic limitation seems to be aligned with the FMLA’s passage in 1993.

I think FMLA should be revised to expand its coverage. If given more time to investigate, I would probably find that black single women are significantly impacted more than others. FMLA should consider fewer protections for businesses by removing the 50 employees in a 75-mile radius and 1250 hours worked clause.  FMLA should also consider paid time off. I realize that can be expensive; however, other countries can do so. While this was not covered in this blog, some research indicates that the longer a woman takes leave, the less likely they will advance in their careers. I do not know if this is purely related to FMLA however, I think this matter should also be addressed.

As a leader in education, I need to continue to educate myself on FMLA. I believe there are things I can do in my current work environment. I can proactively create plans for advancement for any employee regardless if they are taking leave or not. I can express my concerns to the Staff Senate committee to advocate for better protection. I also think about my ethical responsibility when a potential candidate discloses their childbirth or family concerns.  I need to understand FMLA fully, so I can discuss benefits and alternative measures to support employees.

This was not a deep dive into FMLA. In general, these are just observations I made. I found difficulty finding the rationale that supported such decisions around the 50 employees within 75 miles limit and the 1250 hours worked in 12 months. I do have my assumptions. I am somewhat intrigued by this topic and will consider this in future class writings.

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Where Patriarchy Begins; Our Humanity Loses

Module Three highlighted the inequities that many underrepresented Americans face. These inequities in education, political power, and economic freedom are barriers to people fully experiencing their civil liberties defined in our bill of rights. It left me to wonder… where is this coming from. After reflecting, I was able to recall a podcast episode about the history of masculinity. The podcast was from Duke University: Scene on Radio/Season3/Episode1: Dick Move. In this episode, this insightful exchange between Lisa Harris  and John Biewen provided some historical root cause for me:

Lisa Wade: So, for example, controlling women’s sexual behavior wasn’t; there wasn’t a lot of reason to do that when men weren’t really interested in being able to pass down their stuff to their own biological child. If they didn’t own a bunch of stuff, there was no real passing down to do, and from what we know, hunter-gatherers – even if they understood the biology of reproduction, they didn’t really prioritize biological fatherhood so much as understand that we are a big kin group and everyone is sort of helping each other raise all of these children which are ours, right?

John Biewen: But when people started accumulating stuff – land and other property –and men were building these patriarchal conspiracies, as Mel Konner put it, men decided it was important to know they’d be passing their property down to their biological children. Well, OK, their sons.

For additional context, this episode was describing how the patriarchy was developed. The podcast argues that patriarchy was not some “caveman” concept as we have been told or imagined. In early communities, there was not a difference between public and private spaces. There was no expectation that women were confined to homes to care for the young and gather food.  To survive, communities were dependent on full membership participation. Women and men often hunted together.

In the exchange above, Biewen frames a critical point and what I believe is one of the main factors in arguments against affirmative action. Biewen states: when people started accumulating stuff – land and other property. During the Reconstruction period, I could imagine how southern whites felt about losing their land (40 acres and a mule) and their property (former slaves). Some arguments made against affirmative action are based on racial favoritism which I believe is rooted in the loss of ___________ (property, education, land, opportunity). I believe the dominant society would feel differently about affirmative action if they did not have to lose _________(fill in the blank).

I cannot blame anyone who feels like they have to give something up to benefit another. What I realized, this began a long time ago. We downgraded from the community survival mentality and became independent entities that strive to maintain our inheritance. In my opinion, this downgrade has magnified the various levels of dehumanization we experience in society. We (first-world humans) generally believe and are taught that accumulation correlates with happiness. The more we have obtained, the happier we will be. So we fight for what we have; we create policies that are restricting and controlling. We create elite and private education systems to ensure that our legacies will maintain their privilege because they are not responsible for another’s burden. For some I sure it feels humiliating to rely on others, especially those who are different from ourselves. I believe differently. Our humanity loses when we do not see one another. Our humanity loses when we prioritize self over our neighbors. Our humanity loses when our survival is no longer dependent upon one another.

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What Happens when the First Amendment is Weaponized?

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation, we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.

Speech is powerful. Chief Justice Roberts is cognizant of the impact of speech, acknowledging joy, sorrow, and inflict great pain. I support the First Amendment. I support freedom of thought, the pursuit of the truth. CJ Roberts concludes “that we must protect hurtful speech on public issues, to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.” This part of the statement is where I think differently.

I believe the Trump administration weaponized freedom of speech, using speech with ill-intent, to cause harm, be divisive, and not in scholastic thought. The truth was manipulated for personal gain, individual achievements. People across the country rallied around this call to “fake news” in support of the Trump administration. As a result of this weaponization, many citizens in this country experience fear, hurt, and pain. If the First Amendment were a sentient being, I would ask them the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between power/privilege and the First Amendment? In their book, Chemerinsky and Gillman write about the emotional distress, PTSD, suicide ideations caused by offensive speech. They would protect that speech in the same breath because of how “far worse” restrictions would be. I read a bit about emotional damages and suffering in court cases in response to some physical trauma. Is it possible since the framers and other justices throughout this country’s history find it difficult to assess this because they have not been subject to oppression based on race? Chemerinsky and Gillman questioned how whites might find antiracist rhetoric offensive, but white people generally speaking are not oppressed in society?
  • The United States has a gun control problem. I support the Second Amendment. The government has restrictions on gun control due to the physical harm it could cause, which can lead to emotional pain and suffering. The government would not permit the purchase of a weapon for a child under the age of 18. The ATF recognizes a difference between 18 and 21 when it comes to purchasing a firearm. In higher education at public institutions, if the First Amendment has been weaponized, being used maliciously and not in pursuit of scholarship or truth, is there precedent to consider restrictions based on the Second Amendment? It has been argued that current traditional-aged college students are experiencing extended adolescence due to an attachment to their parents and other factors. We are aware biologically that the brain’s rational development isn’t complete until the age of 25. Finally, in my experience, many traditional-aged college students are tax-dependent; their parents claim them. Are college students prepared to express their first amendment right responsibly fully? Should restrictions on the First Amendment be developmentally appropriate based on public institutions with most traditional-aged students?

These are questions. I do not know if they can be answered. Based on what I have read, Chemerinsky and Gillman would not support any restrictions in HE. My thoughts are about rethinking those restrictions based on power/privilege/oppressors and what is developmentally appropriate. “Speech is Powerful…” the skills to harness this power (dialogue, discussion, debate) must develop early and often in life.

Reflection: Policy/Law Making Experiences

My initial reaction to the blog post is that I do not have any writing policy or law experience. I had to laugh out loud when I realized I was letting my fatigue from the long week influence my thinking. After 17 years of employment in higher education, I certainly had encountered such experiences.

Drafting the law, I can say, I don’t think I have had any direct experience.  I have been involved with legal matters that influenced my work: title IX compliance, student organization statutes, and free speech rights, to name a few. I have been called out by FIRE multiple times in my career due to the first amendment. I have spent some time in court as a defendant for a university. Besides learning about law-making in my civics class so many moons ago, I do not recall any moments in my career dedicated to creating laws.

I have spent time developing policy. I would describe my background in policymaking in two categories 1. As the primary author of a policy, and  2. As a consultant on a policy draft. As an author,  I have written policy on multiple occasions. My career started in Recreation Sports as a facility manager; I did that for nearly 5 years before transitioning to Student Activities. As a facility manager, I spent a lot of time drafting policy around space, space use, and emergency response. As I transitioned to Student Activities, my policy involvement shifted to a consultant role.  I remember providing insights when we rewrote the Late Night Dance Policy at Towson University.  As I got to UVA, my work blended as an author and consultant in student activity spaces and the allocation of student activity fees.

As I reflect upon my experiences, some key takeaways emerge:

  • There are multiple influencers when creating policy. As a facility manager, before enacting a policy, I had to consider the input and sometimes the approval from internal agencies and stakeholders such as public safety officers, event planning officials, university counsel, student voice, disability services, environmental officers, etc. I had also had to consider some external agencies and local laws: various Higher Ed associations, city/county ordinances, and input from members of the community.
  • As a consultant, I spent a lot of time advocating for equity and fairness in the policies. Earlier I mentioned the Late Night Dance Policy at Towson University. That particular policy was negatively impacting Black Students. I became more successful as an advocate when I invited representatives from marginalized communities to give feedback on policy proposals. At UVA, when I rewrote the student activity space use policy, it helped bring in multiple students as consultants.
  • I also discovered the more stakeholders I sought input from, the less consensus I would gain. It was important to know when it was time to close a discussion.
  • Finally, effective policymaking should include key points to provide context to those who wish to change the future policy. Those points should include: rationale, appropriate procedures, identify exceptions, primary authority, and date to review the policy for relevancy.

 

Be the Branch

My leadership philosophy is rooted in spirituality. There is a story about how Jesus tells the disciples that He is the vine, and the disciples are the branches. The branch’s role is to focus on connection to Jesus; branches connected to the vine will do good things.  My philosophy is to be the branch; prioritize people over productivity. Three primary principles support my philosophy.

The first principle is to listen to people and dialogue appropriately. Active listening requires us to be quiet, physically, and mentally. I have found it very difficult to quiet my mind over the years. However, I know it makes a difference when people feel heard. The dialogue portion is about asking the questions to help me learn. The dialogue allows conversations to go deeper. I truly appreciate how adaptable interactions can be; they can be empathetic, challenging, and affirming.

The second principle is to ensure that I never center myself in other people’s stories. I cannot think of anything more aggravating than when a person inserts their perspective on to another. I have encountered supervisors who compared their situations to me or to others to prove a point. I will use my experiences to find common ground; however, I will try to refrain from telling someone that they should do something based on my experiences.

The final principle is to be non-judgmental to the best of my ability. My wife thinks I am the least judgmental person she knows. I joke with her and tell her she is biased. I recognize my judgmental thoughts when they enter my brain; I am without judgment. I minimize taking actions or making decisions based on my judgments. This principle has helped me create authentic relationships with others. I received feedback on a 360 evaluation stating that a person can be their true self around me.

My leadership philosophy is to be the branch.  It has helped me accept others, empathetic, flexible, show genuine care, and have meaningful conversations. I have learned to listen actively and appropriately respond. I must constantly remind myself that I am not the center of another personal story. I think deeply about any judgment I may have towards a person. My philosophy is about me seeing everyone I encounter as fully human.

Embrace

I yelled at my children this morning. It happened so quickly. My spouse handed me a cup of coffee. I came downstairs to make the kids oatmeal. The children were being children, aggravating each other. A quick sequence of events and I shouted.  The result, all three of my children were crying unable to be consoled by me. My spouse has always told me I was/am the most patient person she knows. The same has been said about me from my colleagues at work. Sooooo… yeeeeaaah, this morning… I was not calm, not patient, and not resilient. Today reminded me of what I wanted to share about conflict: self-awareness, safety, and the movies.

As a child, I was ill-tempered. I remember how quickly I could become  irritated at the slightest of inconveniences. Understanding of self is so critical as it relates to conflict. I define self as going beyond just the TKI, MBTI, and other personality assessments (which have been helpful). In my opinion the key to understand how we deal with conflict is to think deeply about our past behaviors and messages we received. Reflecting on my childhood through parts of early adulthood, I tended to lose my temper when I was fatigued. Our current state of society layered upon my identities has me exhausted and learning to be a student again has left me with little resilience. I am not surprised that I lost my temper, I am tired. It is consistent with my past behavior. It does not happen as often in middle adulthood because I have found systems to help me manage.

I learned a mantra to repeat to my children from a parenting book, “you are safe, you are loved, you are responsible, and you are capable.” Edmondson, Lencioni, and Kahn stress the importance of building trust and psychological safe spaces. There thoughts on the matter resonated with me. “You are safe…” It is what I remind the children whenever we experience a disagreement or discipline in the home. My spouse and I tell them safety are protections from physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual harm in our care.  It does not mean bad things will not happen. It means the space we have created in our home is designed for them to be themselves and to help them thrive as family members. This morning, after my fiasco, I recognized that I violated our safety principles and lost some trust. I went back around to each child and apologized. I told them they are loved, their dad is responsible for his behavior, and their dad is fully capable of being better.

I love it when the protagonist in a movie has identified the dilemma. Lencioni talked about meeting being like the movies, except, the movies are not interactive. This was insightful, as I thought about my perceptions regarding conflict. Like politics, I associate conflict with negativity. War, fights, protest are used interchangeably with conflict. Those concepts are actually forms of conflicts. Sporting events, debate competitions, and household arguments are other forms, arguably with less negative perceptions. I exist in a society where we tend to stray away from difficult conversations (this is a generalization). I do not remember actively seeing my parents disagree, so their divorce came as a surprise to me (what could they have been fighting about?).  I am learning to embrace conflict differently, as a tool. Or better yet, like a movie in which I am the protagonist seeking the source of my discontent.

What does all this mean for Cameron and me. In Snapshot, blog 4, I made an unfair judgement about Cameron.  More specifically, “My poor performance was not because of Cameron’s inability to create psychological safety on the team. I lacked the skills and the tools to help me manage my shortcomings.” I blame Cameron for not creating a safe space for me, there is a possibility that could be true. However, I cannot help to wonder if… I became weary through the change I was experiencing; Cameron became the antagonist to my story. While Cameron is assertive, direct, at times uncooperative, and who I perceive to be comfortable with conflict; they have been kind and have never personally insulted me.  With that said, having a better understanding of self, the ability to apply my preferences (MBTI, TKI,& LOI) and embracing conflict as a tool should improve my interactions with them. What I found to be most useful was a segment in Radical Candor that talked Demonstrating Openness, “Radically Candid relationships is opening yourself up to the possibility of connecting with people who have different worldviews or whose lives involve behavior that you don’t understand or that may even conflict with a core belief of yours.”  My relationship with Cameron will depend on my ability to be humble, be honest, and embrace conflict.

Snapshot

Knowing what I know now… the clarity I am experiencing… the ability to practically apply my learning is priceless. The results of the MBTI® (ENFP), Bolman and Deal’s LOI (Symbolic was my primary frame), were not surprising to me. I have been familiar with self for quite some time. I do not assume to know everything,  I’m certain there are things that I do not know about myself.  However, as I began writing this story about the complications between Cameron and I, a piece of me… alright, most of me really wanted to blame their style, their leadership for the Squad’s lack of productivity. The truth is, I lacked the tools such as the L4 Strategy Model, The Frames; the insights provided by Amy Edmondson and William Kahn; to best enable by strengths by understanding how to leverage my shortcomings “Those who don’t learn from the past tend to repeat it.” I have no intentions of repeating the past and I am welcoming the future with open arms.

Edmondson and Kahn talk about psychological safety as a critical element in organizations. This is applicable across all communities that value interdependence (home, church, school, work, etc.). Based on this unit’s materials, creating a psychologically safe space will be the foundation for any team I lead. Patrick Lencioni talks about vulnerable trust and this aligns with this concept. Edmondson talks about the leader’s responsibility in creating such a space through humility, curiosity, and risk-taking. A great way to do that is through storytelling (Amy told great stories in her TedTalks) which is one of the tools mentioned in the symbolic frame. In my career I have intentionally used storytelling to build community. Now, I can be more deliberate in using it to create psychologically safe spaces. We as individuals are libraries. We have stories of love, comedies, sci-fi, tragedies, and drama. The stories we tell build connection through curiosity, grow empathy, and can be examples of our success and failure.

Kahn stressed the importance of communication. Communication always pronounced as a key value and rarely done well. We marvel when someone is highly effective in this skill. We take communication for granted. Kahn lists specific things we can do to help  with communication (have purpose, share agendas in advance, preparation by team members, etc.); maybe we get lazy or forget how these simple tasks can make a difference. My interactions with Cameron often felt as if I was missing information, I was not sure what to expect in upcoming meetings. Communication is a two-way process. I did not ask questions. I suspect I did not feel psychologically safe to ask. I let that impact my role on staff. That reflected in my own behaviors. I am in the dark, I guess everyone is in the dark. There was still a job to do. I could have alleviated some of the turmoil by communicating what I did not know and providing some structure (I scored in the lowest percentile on the LOI) to our meetings. Let it be noted, as ENFP, structure is not always my preference.

So, how does all this relate to my past with Cameron. In my experience leaders are not always equipped with the tools to lead. However, Cameron asked their direct report (me) to develop outcomes. I under-performed at the task. I did not know how to use the tools to manage my overemphasis of an “NF” inspirational leader according to the L4 Strategy Model.  My poor performance was not because of Cameron’s inability to create psychological safety on the team. I lacked the skills and the tools to help me manage my shortcomings. I was empowered to lead and I had the trust of the team. What I’ve learned,  it is never too late to start. I am implementing my learning with the Squad and it has been well-received. I wish I would have done this sooner. This 674-word blog is a snapshot to what I am learning; we will have to do an office hour one day to dig deeper.

Contributions

When I first saw the team assignment during orientation, I was most surprised by the questions that invaded my mind. I have been employed in higher education for nearly 17 years. I felt as if I should be familiar with these kinds of engagements, yet it felt so… unexpectedly new. Perhaps, it is the 17 years since being a student in a university classroom, prompted some of these questions swirling in my mind. What became clear, my questions were centered on extremes of my own abilities:  What if I am not as intellectually stout as my colleagues? Will I be the older guy, struggling with technology? Can I contribute anything meaningful to the conversation?  What made me laugh about it was, I understood my truth. Yes, in truth, I might be that person with nothing meaningful to contribute during a specific time, or struggle with technology, and I probably won’t be the smartest person in the room (can’t recall when I have ever been) and all of that is okay, I will be okay. It did not take me long to regain a healthy perspective on the matter. However, I must admit, I was caught off-guard for a moment.

As we entered the actual group, it seemed to me everyone was as enthusiastic as I was, considering we had already been on the zoom call for nearly two hours. My initial questions drifted away quickly as we started conversation. We eased into some expected behavior norms such as doing introductions, building some connections, and reviewing the assignment. Everyone was kind.  As we began the assignment, there was a pause, everyone glared at the screen. My hesitancy was based on the unrealistic thought of not wanting to appear incompetent, and I wondered if others thought the same. After someone did break the ice, conversation led to a very natural courteous round robin (I thought appropriate for a bunch of strangers). We never really completed the task; however, I got the sense we were on the same page.  I do recall some take-aways in the brief process. First, I thought everyone was given the opportunity to speak and be heard. Second, there were differences of opinion and people were open mind to alternative ideas. Finally, our group invited the expertise of others (K-12; HE) in providing additional context and insights, I thought, people wanted to learn from those with the most relevant experience.

The assignment was a meaningful self-reflection exercise for me. I will need to manage some of my behaviors regarding teams or teamwork. I will discard negative self-talk and reframe with a more realistic inner dialogue. I am naturally a harmonious person, that tends to show up as being very agreeable with others. I will focus on being comfortable in times that may lack consensus.  I have a responsibility to challenge myself and my colleagues, because we may be working on some of these issues together post-graduation.  I am committed to helping those around me grow and welcome any opportunity for someone to push me to be my best. The continued self-reflection will enable me to effectively participate on any team throughout the experience.