After Andreas Graff’s 3-year-old son Julius was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017, he took all of his unpaid leave so that he could be with his son. When he didn’t have any more, he was in a panic about what to do. It was at that point that Graff’s human resource manager Pia Meier called on employees at Seidel, the design company where he works, to throw an overtime fundraiser. More than 700 of Graff’s coworkers, even those who didn’t know him, came to his aid and collectively pooled over 3,000 hours, roughly a year and a half of paid leave.
“I first took my entire vacation, because we did not know what to expect,” he told the German newspaper Hessenschau. “Then I thought: Holiday is gone at some point, and then you will eventually terminate or be terminated.”
In Germany, parents can take up to a year of unpaid time off to care for sick children or family members. Parental leave, however, can only be taken during the first three years of life with the guarantee of comparable position of equal or greater pay upon return. In Graff’s case, his son was already three and thus he didn’t qualify for government subsidized parental allowance much longer. Without the generosity of his coworker, Graff would likely have ended up out of a job or away from his boy.
He told German reporters that he was tremendously grateful and relieved that his coworkers had chipped in to help him.
While Germany has one of the most family-friendly paid time off policies in the world, problems still arise. This is especially true for single parents. After Julius’ first nine-months of treatment, it would have been Graff’s wife would step in as caretaker, but she died of heart disease. The help from Graff’s coworkers was, as such, doubly critical and also allowed Graff some time to mourn.
All that said, it is not a totally heartwarming story as the employees were forced to donate their time because the business was apparently unwilling to pay for an employee in a singularly difficult situation. This is hardly unusual and is, in fact, even less unusual in America. Workers in the states are guaranteed just 12 weeks of time off over a 12-month period under the Family Medical Leave Act. And, though this is changing, few companies have policies expanding on that total.