Editor’s note: This story was originally published by The Star in 2009.
Smarting off to your boss can get you fired. So will stealing from the company. But contracting cancer?
“Fired for having leukemia!” Brad Woodworth of Olathe typed over last Friday’s posting on the blog that he and his wife, Andreina, write to keep friends and family apprised of his illness.
Last month, in a display of understanding and compassion, Brad’s employer, Garmin Ltd., held a bone marrow registry drive in his honor, which he thought was nice of the company.
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What was not so nice is that, a few weeks later, Garmin fired him because he couldn’t pinpoint a date when he would be healthy enough to return to work.
“It’s just a real shock,” Brad told me. “I was constantly ranked at the top of my department. There were no disciplinary issues, never written up. They promoted me twice.”
In good times and bad, some employers have more heart than others when it comes to workers with extended illnesses.
“I’ve been with our company over 20 years, and I’ve never heard our company say, ‘Good luck and goodbye,’ “ said Janna LaCock.
But then, LaCock is local director of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which understands leukemia’s unpredictability.
“Some people can go through their treatment and keep working at their jobs, and others can’t,” she said.
Brad Woodworth is one of the latter. Since April, when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, the 36-year-old father of twin boys has been through four rounds of chemo.
So weakened is his immune system that he has been unable to go to the office and only sporadically worked at home in his job as a senior software support specialist. Regular paychecks stopped coming months ago.
Still, Garmin was kind enough to keep his insurance in force long after he could have been terminated.
In response to an e-mail from a family friend, Garmin’s vice president of human resources wrote in the company’s defense:
“We treated Brad with patience, respect and went above and beyond all legal requirements in order to assist him and his family during this challenging time.”
True, Garmin did give him more unpaid leave than the three months required by law. Also, a company spokesman told me, Woodworth will get long-term disability insurance that amounts to 60 percent of his pre-illness salary.
Which is not bad, until you consider that the payments won’t go far after the $1,300 a month it will cost to keep the family’s health insurance. But the one thing Garmin isn’t providing is a firm assurance that Brad has a job when he finally does get well.
As he sees it, that’s failing to stand by a sick employee. And that gripes him most of all.
“Have a little bit of a heart is all I’m saying,” he said. “I just don’t know how they sleep with themselves at night.”