He found out his son had cancer. His coworkers answered with unbelievable kindness.

Andreas Graff, one daddy based in Hesse, Germany, confronted one of the most difficult decisions of his own life when his now-4-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia this past year.

Graff’s paid time off wasn’t nearly enough to accommodate his son’s needs, and he feared losing his job — which would place his small family in an even tougher position.

Fortunately, his company’s head of human resources worked with senior management and the employees’ union to create a voluntary donation pool of different employees’ overtime pay.

Unexpectedly, each and every employee — more than 700 of them — donated to the fund, donating nearly 3,300 hours so Graff could care for his son.

“With this fantastic support, I would be unemployed,” Graff told neighborhood German paper Oberhessische Presse.

Photo from Anna Spiess.

Family leave legislation often can place people in vulnerable places.

Germany has mostly gender neutral laws when it comes to paternity leave. However, those benefits become less clear if a parent should take some time off to take care of household needs which are not directly linked to childbirth.

In the USA, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that some companies allow certain employees to take up to 12 weeks off in a 12-month period for family and medical emergencies. However, that time off is unpaid.

Qualifying companies can not fire an employee during this period, but they are not needed to provide them the same place when they go back to the occupation. Some jobs let you combine paid time off (vacation, sick days, etc.) for household emergencies, but companies are not required by law to do so.

Some states, such as California, provide more generous paid time off legislation, but even those are rather restricted.

Management and the employees union came together to locate a solution now — which is all too rare.

The voluntary donation system at Graff’s job might have been the first of its kind. It is not unusual for coworkers or communities to increase funds for a friend in need. Nevertheless, the direct pooling and transferring of employee benefits from a group to an individual is newsworthy both for the kindness involved and also for the exceptional approach that the company took.

Graff’s personal challenges grew only more complicated after he lost his wife to cardiovascular disease in 2017. Compounding his family depart with bereavement time would have left his vulnerable situation even more perilous. The excess time off given by his coworkers has allowed him to spend more than a year off knowing he’ll have his full occupation and rewards when he returns to work.

“The reaction of our employees was unbelievable,” Seidel human sources head Pia Meier told the paper. “There is no one who has not donated.”

Photo from Anna Spiess.

Graff’s circumstance shows the generosity of people but also the demand for better family leave legislation across the world.

The example set by Graff’s coworkers, and his company’s management, shows the best of folks coming together to help another individual struggling through a catastrophe.

However, his narrative remains an exception to the principle that most workplaces aren’t prepared to react when someone confronts a critical illness or a family crisis in the home. Until more sustainable family leave policies become the norm, the responsibility will continue to collapse on the generosity and creativity of those such as Graff’s company and coworkers.


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