Half Mast

Driving into Newtown yesterday, I was struck by one overpowering thing: Reminders of the tragedy were everywhere.  It was unrelenting.

  • Makeshift signs, near the I-84 exit, and on the roadside, say things like “Pray for Newtown”.
  • The Newtown flagpole, which dates back to 1876, is one of the icons in town.  An imposing figure that arises in the middle of an intersection in the town center, it stands at half-mast, it’s huge flag waving gently with the breeze.
  • Driving past a church stands an empty hearse, waiting for yet another burial.
  • News media are camped out with their signature satellite trucks popping up.
  • And traffic in a bucolic town.  Now and then, the traffic breaks, but only to have a processional of police cars, or first responders going from one event to another, getting through.

    Newtown BOE
  • And then there are flowers and makeshift memorials are on many corners and roadsides that dot the winter landscape with unusual color.

It feels so much like my hometown in Connecticut, even though it is nearly 50 miles away.  Yes, there are the shopping malls, but there are also just plenty of quiet corners with open fields next to classic New England houses.

As I noted earlier this week, my wife and I collected some gift cards for Sandy Hook elementary teachers to use for supplies for their new classrooms or whatever else they needed for their students.  My sincere thanks to all who contributed.  I was moved by the outpouring of support in our efforts over 48 hours.

I had the opportunity to drop the gift cards off at the Newtown Board of Education offices yesterday.  Outside, it was quiet, too quiet for a place of business.  Inside, there was a buzz of  professionals hard at work mixed with the occasional private, touching scene.   A hug to a Sandy Hook child who came for a visit.  A bigger hug to the parents.   The warmth was palpable yet there was also a steely resolve you could feel developing — a sense that school life must, somehow and someway, return.

Employment law will return to this blog, probably after the holidays and with some new ideas, just as those in Newtown will push forward.

But the hole in Connecticut will always remain.

Newtown BOE
Barren fields
Newtown Flagpole
Outside a Newtown church
Makeshift Memorial
Our gift card donation

 

 

 

 

25 years ago nearly to the day, my father donated one of his kidneys to his brother.  

What have you done today? Have you done everything you could? Could you have done better? 

They may seem like unfair questions after the first sentence.  

But tonight is the start of Yom Kippur – a Day of Atonement in the Jewish religion and one of the holiest days of the year.  And as part of the services tonight and tomorrow, Jews around the world will be asking tough questions of themselves all with the goal of being a better person next year.  

And so, to honor my father and his heroism and provide education and insights in the employment law context in the way I know best, today’s post is all about organ donation and what employers need to know.  My goal is to begin a discussion this important issue in Connecticut.

FMLA is typically thought of in the medical context or childbirth/adoption process.  But Connecticut’s FMLA statute actually provides protection for those employees who become organ or bone marrow donors.  Donors are to be provided with the same amount of leave (16 weeks over a 2 year period) that, say, new mothers and fathers are accorded.  You can read more about this at the Connecticut Department of Labor website.

This is still a relatively new law — having been passed just six years ago fairly quietly.  Here’s some additional background on the provisions from the OLR Research Report.  

If you’re an employer, what does this mean? Well, for one, your FMLA policies should be updated to let your employees know that they can be a living organ donor — and still have their job protected. 

Employers can also update their FMLA forms to provide for organ donation is a category to check off. Many employers tend to use the Connecticut DOL’s forms (at the end of the regulations) — assuming that they are the most complete forms out there. But even those forms do not include language about being an organ donor.  (Don’t look to the US Department of Labor either; their forms just follow federal law, not state law.)

Enterprising employers might think to seek out the Connecticut DOL regulations for some guidance. But those employers would also be out of luck. Those regulations haven’t been recently updated and say nothing about how employers should handle such requests.  Indeed, if you just read the regulations, you might even think that organ donors are not protected because language about "organ donors" isn’t even there.  (Conn. Regs. Sec. 31-51qq-7 is a perfect example.)

Perhaps a representative from the Department of Labor can take the opportunity to update their website on this category and provide additional information, in the absence of formal regulations.   Without that, organ donors may be left wondering if their jobs are protected if they choose to donate.

In the meantime, employers are on their own to take steps to educate their workforce about the protections offered under Connecticut’s FMLA for organ donation.  Employers should be sure their forms and policies are up-to-date and remove any barriers to organ donation that their employees might think exist.  

Credit should be extended to the many employers that have done a lot in this area, including some local companies (Aetna and Bank of America).  The Workplace Partnership for Life initiative is truly a win-win campaign in which everyone can play a significant role in recruiting potential organ, tissue, marrow, and blood donors. Thousands of U.S. corporations, organizations, and associations are working to create a "donation friendly America" by joining the Workplace Partnership for Life.

(And, of course, if you haven’t become an organ donor, do it today.  You can download the form from the DMV off their website and mail it in. Or when you renew your license, you can become a donor then.  The DMV has a FAQ about the process on their website as well.)

And what of my father and his brother? They’re both living healthy and productive lives.  And we continue to celebrate many holidays together.

If through this post and actions by employers, we can ensure that another family has that same benefit, I think we can say that today was at least a pretty good day and we did what we could. Think about the simple changes that your workplace can make today.