Trying to work while coping with the death of a close friend may be too much to handle.
Q. I'm experiencing a crisis connected to the death of a close friend. I'm distracted and depressed and finding myself unable to work or concentrate. I want to take some time off because I know I can't give work anywhere close to 100 percent of my effort. But I am not sure if I should use sick time or vacation time, or what my company might allow. What's typical, and how do I deal with this?
A. Rebecca Hastings, who regularly helps solve corporations' workplace questions for the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., said this worker ought to first check what bereavement policies are in her company's employee handbook.
Hastings said the worker could almost certainly take vacation time if she has some available or perhaps call in sick, but only if she felt she just needed a day or two to get over the malaise brought on by her friend's death.
But Hastings said that if the employee takes any more sick leave than a day or two, she likely would need documentation that she is seeking professional help, such as for clinical depression, and needed the time off. If the employee already has a documented history of depression, she might be able to take sick leave immediately.
Hastings said that if the woman works for a company with 50 or more employees and needs substantial time off, she would be eligible under the Family Medical and Leave Act to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. More information about the law's provisions is available at www.dol.gov/esa.
Even if the FMLA does not apply, Hastings said that it could be professionally determined that the bereaved worker has a short-term disability under the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act and that her employer would have to make reasonable workplace accommodation, such as allowing her time off for treatment.
Many companies allow workers to take paid time off when a close relative dies, but such policies rarely cover deaths of friends.
Nonetheless, Hastings said, "We urge companies to be flexible on bereavement and offer a range of leave options." She said companies should ask themselves, "Do you really want workers on the job when they're producing poor-quality work?"
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