In January 2017, Andreas Graff discovered that his four-year-old son Julius had leukemia. A few months later, his wife passed away from heart disease, leaving him suddenly both a bereft widower and a single father of a terribly ill child. Andreas desperately needed to find a way to care for his son, while somehow maintaining his job as an assembly worker for the German-based design company Seidel. He had already spent his holiday leave time, and feared unemployment after exhausting his unpaid leave.
Fortunately, his dire needs were met by the thoughtful and selfless voluntary acts of his coworkers.
A Donation Pool of Kindness
When Pia Meier, the HR manager at Seidel, heard about Graff’s situation, she quickly concocted a creative solution.
According to the BBC, Meier obtained the support of senior management and the workers’ union, and then called on all 700 of the company’s employees to contribute their own earned overtime hours to Graff via an “overtime fund.”
Within two weeks of sending the sign-up sheets out, a total of 3,264 hours (equaling about a year and a half of time off) were collected; many of those hours given by people who had never met Graff before. “The reaction of our employees was incredible,” Meier, the brain behind the fundraiser, told German paper Oberhessische Presse. “There is no one who has not donated.”
The one-of-a-kind fundraiser allowed Graff more than a year of paid time off to care for Julius without fear of losing his job, and also permitted him time to grieve the loss of his wife.
“Without this great support, I would be unemployed,” said Graff. He also reported that Julius, who turns five at the end of February, is continuing his treatment at home. The boy is full of energy like any other kid and hopes to enroll as a kindergartener in the coming months. Meanwhile, Graff plans “a gradual return to work.”
A Call for Better Family Leave Laws
In Germany, mothers can take up to three years of family leave after a baby is born. For each year that a mother takes off work, a father receives two months paid leave. It is also possible for the reverse to occur: the man can take one year off and the woman can receive two months paid leave. Typically during time off, parents on leave receive 13 euros (~$16) a day, plus 65% of their last pay.
Germany is considered one of the most generous nations in the world when it comes to paid leave following childbirth. However, as noted in Upworthy, the rules get a bit more complicated when a parent needs to take time off as the child ages. For example, because Julius was almost four at the time of the cancer diagnosis, Graff wouldn’t have been able to take paternal leave without jeopardizing his position at Seidel.
Several countries, including Ghana and Singapore, are considering extending leave periods to a range of 12-20 weeks of parental leave. But like all countries, there are rules and limitations in the fine print. In Singapore, working mothers are entitled to 16 weeks of government-paid maternity leave… only if their child is a Singapore citizen. In Ghana, there is no paternity leave by law whatsoever, although the Constitution Review Implementation Committee has proposed a required paid paternal leave of a mere five-day duration for male workers.
The Messy, Messy U.S. System
And then there’s the United States.
While the Trump administration included a plan for six-weeks paid parental leave in its 2018 budget proposal, it is yet to have been made into policy. But it’s time we start talking about this on a national level.
Image via seattle.gov.
Currently, the U.S. doesn’t have a law that specifically covers parental leave. There is another law, called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), that may be used toward parental leave, though it does not apply to everyone. It provides up to 12 weeks of time off plus benefits, but it’s unpaid, which makes it an unaffordable option for many families.
Furthermore, parental leave is largely dependent on the policies by the employers themselves. Many companies simply don’t offer the option for leave.
A few states are already attempting to reform the broken family leave system. California, for example, and its Paid Family Leave program allows for six weeks paid leave to care for family, while Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington State, proposed his own paid family and medical leave program, which is slated to begin in 2020. “25 years after the FMLA granted unpaid leave for personal illness, a new baby or a sick family member, I’m proud that our state is preparing to launch the best PAID family and medical leave program in the nation,” Inslee tweeted. New York, Rhode Island, and New Jersey have also taken efforts to provide better coverage for families.
Image via Mark Nowlin/The Seattle Times
What Needs to Change?
Imagine what could have happened if Graff’s compassionate employees hadn’t donated their hard work, their time, and their money. Would Graff still have a job? Would he be able to take Julius to treatments? Would he have the funds to pay his bills?
Graff’s story is an incredible example of human kindness, but unfortunately, he is not the only one struggling because companies are unwilling to pay their employees during family emergencies. If you know someone in need, consider forming your own company “overtime fund.” Or better yet, write to your local, state, and national lawmakers and tell them the changes you want to see in family leave laws.