USF’s new sick leave policy clearly demonstrates what this university cares about, and unfortunately it is not its employees. For years, USF staff members have been able to donate their sick leave to coworkers in need. However, that is no longer the case, and some members of the staff are beginning to feel the repercussions of the university’s callous decision.
In 2013, USF’s Office of Graduate Studies Fiscal and Business Specialist Theresa Freeman was diagnosed with gastrointestinal cancer. She underwent the necessary surgery to remove it in 2014 along with the subsequent treatments and found herself at the end of her allotted sick leave.
Sickness is not something anyone can plan around. It does not reflect on your work ethic and should not be held against you if you fall ill. While taking a week off for a cold is entirely unnecessary, remaining home for something like cancer or a serious injury is expected.
At the time, co-workers pitched in their accumulated hours through the Donated Sick Leave Program (DSLP) to assist her in recovery. This generous donation from her peers demonstrates the supporting atmosphere among many of USF staff.
In January the university terminated the DSLP. Seven months later, Freeman learned her cancer was back.
Unfortunately, she was unable to build up a sufficient amount of sick leave in such a short period of time, leaving her in a tight spot. Susan Shannon, president of the USF branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), told the Oracle that Freeman’s sick leave ran out Oct. 31.
According to Shannon, Freeman has been relying on donations from a GoFundMe campaign to pay USF to extend her sick leave. The AFSCME said 134 employees are offering 3,854 hours to Freeman, who has worked at the university for over 16 years.
The new subpar policy does not allow this though and will prove to be detrimental to Freeman and others with similar stories.
“It all just goes to waste,” Shannon said. “It’s our earned benefits that now we have no access to, basically.”
USF has agreed to discuss the issue in a meeting today at 10 a.m. So far they have argued they are not at fault because there is a program available for sharing sick leave, even if it has a strict eligibility requirement and only covers “serious, short-term medical conditions.”
Freeman is not in the pool for this group and wouldn’t be eligible anyway since her health condition is long-term. She could potentially lose her status as an employee on paid leave, as well as her salary and benefits.
This is absurd. Those benefits are earned by the hardworking staff that are the backbone of this university. If they wish to forgo their own sick leave in order for their co-worker to heal and maintain their position, they should be able too.
This issue goes far beyond Freeman. Anyone could find themselves in a similar situation and it is unsettling to see how the university is treating its staff.
USF is entirely reliant on its staff. It would be nonsensical to lose a valuable and experienced employee due to sickness. Especially when other staff members are willing to make cuts to ensure that person can afford to recover without fearing losing their job.
Employees are not asking for extra time off. They aren’t looking for handouts or charity. They simply want to be able to ensure their co-workers can be taken care of should a tragedy occur. It’s not too much to ask for USF to guarantee the wellbeing of their staff.
Breanne Williams is a junior majoring in mass communications.