It’s the worst possible news: their child is terminally ill. You watch the colour drain from their face and you wish you could do something, anything, to make their life a little better. A little easier. You feel pretty useless saying the usual “Is there anything I can do?” but you find the words leaving your mouth anyway.
If Australian mother Sonja Malcolm can convince the Australian government, there might be something extremely helpful you can do for a colleague in exactly that situation. Sonja wants us to copy a French law that was passed by the parliament over there about a month ago that allows people to donate their paid sick leave to colleagues who need the time to spend with their seriously ill children.
“I had a number of colleagues who were long-term full-time employees… they would say to me ‘I’ve got months and months of accumulated leave. If I could give it to you, I would,'” Sonja told the ABC.
“It’s such a simple solution. It’s so logical and it’s a way that people in the workplace can gather together to do something to help.”
Sonja was working casual full-time at TAFE when her son Liam was diagnosed with Leukaemia. She was eligible for $114 a week in carers’ allowance, which wasn’t nearly enough to cover the medical costs of a son so unwell.
That crushing financial pressure could have been alleviated, if Sonja’s generous colleagues were able to donate their paid leave to her. After all, the law in France allowing people to do exactly that was inspired by one similar story. When a French man named Christophe Germain found out that his son Mathys had liver cancer, his colleagues donated 170 days of their own sick leave to him. Mathys passed away but his father is forever grateful for those final days they could spend together.
It’s incredibly generous, obviously. And reveals a rather beautiful side of human nature. But could it work here in Australia?
As the law stands now, people can’t donate their leave because employers are required to give each individual employee a standard amount of paid sick leave per year. A spokesperson for the Department of Employment told the ABC that enterprise agreements could allow for the donation of leave in cases where an employee is entitled to days off, additional to their statutory entitlements: “Donating leave entitlements to colleagues is not generally permitted because employers are required to provide their employees with a minimum amount of leave under the Fair Work Act 2009.”
Sonja’s son Liam is in remission now, but it speaks of her generosity of spirit that she continues to lobby for this legislation.
How do you feel about this idea? If you were allowed to donate paid leave to colleagues who desperately needed it, would you?