Navigating Leave Benefits at Work

business man and woman talking in the office Being diagnosed with chronic pain is like having a tornado come through. It affects all areas of life for the person with chronic pain and those around him/her. One of the most destructive paths my tornado took was right through my professional career. I have had to learn how to change my perspective on what it means to be fully self-supporting and a productive member of society. I have had to confront fear, low self-esteem, financial insecurity, unemployment and navigating the complex system involved with managing it all. I wish that someone would have been able to guide me through with explanations of roles, my rights, my options and possible solutions. Instead, I spent what little energy I had on figuring out how to navigate the system. It was similar to learning a different language. Pain Camp is here to help you move forward. Today, let’s examine a few parts of the benefit system of “paid time off” and ideas for navigating this.  Most full-time positions offer leave benefits like sick time, personal time off, vacation time, jury duty, funeral, military leave and paid holidays. There are even some part-time positions that offer these benefits as well.

Sick Time – Paid sick time is a benefit that is offered by some employers. There is no law to require an employer to offer paid sick time. However, there is a law called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which provides covered and eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain medical situations (like chronic pain) of the employee or an immediate family member requiring care. Most often, paid sick time is a benefit along with personal time off.

Personal Time Off – Paid personal time off is usually offered as a benefit in conjunction with sick time and vacation time. These personal days are usually designated to be used for things like going to parent-teacher conferences, staying home to prepare for family coming into town, and preventative healthcare appointments.

Paid Vacation and Paid Holidays – Paid vacation is a benefit offered for the purpose of being used to go on a vacation or to just simply take time off for things that you would enjoy doing. Unfortunately people with chronic pain rarely get to use vacation time for going on an actual vacation. By law, holidays do not have to be paid by the employer. Paid holidays are a benefit that allows employees to have the day off and get paid for it on a holiday. Examples of this in the United States would be holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July.

Paid Time Off – The majority of the employers are moving towards offering Paid Time Off (PTO) as their main leave benefit. This takes the place of the benefit package offering paid sick, personal and vacation leave time. The leave management industry supports PTO because it has the possibility of reducing unplanned paid time off and record-keeping hassles.

Pain Camper Plan of Action

[li]Contact human resources[/li]I have experience with all of the benefits above. If you are at the beginning of your journey with pain, please be aware of resources that you have available to you within your Human Resources department. Contacting them is a good place to start when trying to navigate your benefits and time off needed for medical appointments. Good questions to ask are: -What are the guidelines for requesting time off and where can I find a copy of these? -What are my rights and where can I find a copy of them? -What details does my manager need to know? -How should I communicate the time off request with my manager and how far in advance?

[li]Communicate[/li]Make sure that you are communicating with your boss. At any point in the cycle of chronic pain, it is easy to begin isolating. We may start avoiding situations that we’re not sure to handle or because it may create extra stress. We can start to get sucked into symptoms of depression and anxiety. Having to talk to our boss about taking more time off work for appointments can create more distress which can exacerbate our symptoms. We may be confused about the boundaries and not be able to discern between what is “nice to know” and what is “need to know” information.

[li]Stop with the negative self talk[/li]The truth is that most of us with chronic pain are Type A personalities. We tend to be over-achievers, always say ‘yes’, and struggle with perfectionism. Chances are that when you start missing work for appointments or illness, you will feel emotions like guilt, shame, worry, grief and loss. You may have other negative thoughts and self-talk which can add to the problem.

Here are some examples of the lies we may tell ourselves and what we can say to ourselves instead to combat it:

Lie Truth
I’m letting my team and colleagues down. They may not understand my situation. I know that I’m doing the best that I can right now in this moment. I cannot control what they think and feel about me.
My boss and colleagues think I’m faking being in pain. People do not understand chronic pain and chronic illness until they’ve been in my shoes. I cannot control what they think and feel about me. I am doing the best that I can right now in this moment.
I am a failure. I am NOT a failure and I may feel insecure about my ability to perform my job duties when I am in pain. I am doing the best that I can right now in this moment.
I’m going to lose my job. I have rights that can help protect me from losing my job and I am finding resources and the support that I need to understand these rights. I may need to change my perspective and look at my financial situation and other options for employment as this may not be the best fit for me anymore. I am making a choice to trust my Higher Power and have faith that everything will work out the way it is supposed to.

Navigating your time off can be challenging at times. Do not let it get you down! By finding out what your rights are and the guidelines you need to follow, you are empowering yourself. This may help decrease some of the anxiety as well. Check out some other employment resources

Pain Camp is a safe place to share your thoughts, experience, strength and hope.   Have you experienced challenges in navigating your leave benefit at work?  How did you find the information you needed?  How have you solved these challenges?   

Photo Credit: lady_lestrange

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