PEF member Tiffany Sutherland gave birth in April 2020, just as New York was going “on pause” and the state workforce converted to working at home. Her son Slade had health issues from birth, initially nothing she thought would be too concerning. After four months of her planned seven-month maternity leave, Sutherland was able to return to work by telecommuting.

“I knew this could not last forever and that eventually we would have to go to daycare, so I was extremely thankful to have the additional time with him,” she said.

Life changed when Slade was 12 months old.

“He was diagnosed with neutropenia, a blood disorder characterized by unusually low white blood cell count,” Sutherland said. “Neutropenia causes him to be highly susceptible to catching infections, and makes it really hard to fight them off once caught.”

Not knowing what is causing the disorder has made Slade’s treatment difficult.

“For now we are doing frequent blood draws and keeping him quarantined to decrease his chances of catching something that could quickly lead to hospitalization, blood transfusions, or a bone marrow transplant,” Sutherland said. “For those reasons his pediatrician recommended he not attend daycare and that my husband and I limit use of public transportation.”

She requested a reasonable accommodation to stay home with Slade, including a letter from the pediatrician and his most recent lab results.

NYSIF denied her request saying it would cause “undue hardship on the agency.”

“I was advised to charge my time for any childcare related absences until Sept. 6 and to consider using FMLA after that,” she said. “I requested an appeal, but was told by the committee that I am unable to be granted one because RAs are only meant for if the employee is sick, not their child.”

She is following the agency’s requirements, but after months and months of telecommuting, the determination makes no sense to her.

“I can’t understand how me staying at home and not doing any work is better for NYSIF than allowing me to continue to telecommute,” she said. “Since that appears to be the only option I have, I will do what I have to do to ensure my son’s health and safety. I guess my duties will have to be reassigned to someone able to come into the office.”