Terri did everything right. She and her husband raised three great children – now mostly grown. She was a loyal employee for 14 years and prepared for the future, buying the short-term disability plan her company offered and investing in a 401(k). She even decided she wanted to lose weight and lost 30 lbs.
In September 2013, after speaking with some co-workers, Terri became suspicious of symptoms she’d been having. She visited the doctor and after two biopsies learned she had cancer in both breasts. In October, Terri had a lumpectomy and eventually a double mastectomy. In total, Terri has needed to take 3 separate medical leaves from work to deal with her cancer.
When her cancer diagnosis came, she had family support, a financial cushion, and the legal protection of the unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – under which half of all workers aren’t covered. But none of that proved quite enough to last through two years of treatment and three surgeries. Despite her years of hard work and responsible actions, one bout of seriously bad luck left Terri worried about her family’s future.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” she said.
Terri has worked for a major retailer in Tacoma for 14 years. She felt lucky to have her job protected through FMLA, which covers employees in companies with 50 or more employees, who have worked with the same employer at least a year and for enough hours. She had also purchased short-term disability insurance. This meant she would have some income to keep her family afloat while she recovered from surgery and have a job to go back to after the ordeal.
It was such a hassle that I didn’t need. I kept getting certified letters from the HR department saying they had not received the doctor’s letters … I’m the face of their company, I don’t call in sick unless I have a legitimate reason. I should be rewarded for being a decent employee.
But disability insurance did not fully cover her wages — and it left her particularly short when she had to go back for a second surgery. Coordinating all the paperwork with her medical team, HR department, and the separate disability plan provider also proved complicated. It never seemed like they were on her side.
To add more stress, her health insurance did not fully cover medical expenses and bills began to pile up. With limited options, Terri decided to tap into her 401K. Despite spending most of her retirement savings, she still has unpaid medical bills that keep her and her family underwater. Even her strong family started feeling shaky.
“Money problems are hard on a marriage,” Terri said.
If Washington had paid family and medical leave,Terri would have had stable income throughout her cancer treatments – without nearly exhausting her retirement account. Her husband could have taken leave to help care for her. She would have had less stress, meaning faster healing, better morale when she returned to work, and less strain on her family.
Terri’s story could be anyone’s experience. That’s why we all need family and medical leave insurance.
Your personal story can be a powerful way to convince state legislators of the importance of paid family leave. If you have an experience of how paid family and medical leave would help you or your family, please share it with us here.