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'This has really been a hard year': Unforeseen impacts COVID-19 has on job benefits

A West Des Moines woman says switching jobs because of the pandemic caused her to lose FMLA eligibility.

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — A lot of people have lost or changed jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic started. 

That caused some to lose health benefits during the transition, adding more stress to an already stressful year. 

"This has really been a hard year on me," Charlotte Henry said. 

Henry, who lives in West Des Moines, needed a double knee replacement. 

The pre-K teacher, who also works as a part-time nurse at a nursing home, had one knee replaced in July. 

The other is scheduled for December, but because of pandemic-related career shifts, she was worried she wouldn't get the time off for her surgery. 

"My boss said, 'I'm not sure you qualify for FMLA,'" Henry said. 

Earlier this year, Henry's work schedule was the opposite. 

Her teaching position was part-time and she was a full-time nurse. 

Since she worked at a long-term care facility, and there were concerns about outbreaks, her employer asked her to only work one job. 

Henry didn't see any problem taking leave from her teaching job because, at that time, the governor had already ordered schools to close for the year. 

Now, she's back in the classroom and has been hired full time at the school. But Henry didn't realize that temporary leave left her short on the hours needed to qualify for FMLA.

Employees must meet minimum requirements to be eligible for FMLA

The federal Family Medical Leave Act allows employees working at companies with 50 or more employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for a variety of reasons. 

People can take unpaid time off to care for a new baby, an immediate family member with a serious health condition or if they're unable to work themselves because of a serious health condition. 

To be eligible, employees must work somewhere for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months.

"I have surgery on Dec. 2," Henry said. "I will have only worked or 968 hours because of the pandemic."

That leaves Henry short by 282 hours. 

"I felt like what I did something out of the kindness of my heart to help those people at the nursing home because I really care about them, and now I could possibly even be sacrificing my own job," Henry said. 

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While FMLA doesn't require companies to pay employees during their time off, the U.S. Department of Labor said it prevents them from firing them during that time and requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave. 

And with the compassionate heart commonly found in nurses and teachers, Henry said she'd deal with all this uncertainty again if it meant caring for people in need.

"If I had to do over again, I'd probably do it the same way because I really felt that the nursing home needed me," Henry said. 

Late Tuesday, after speaking to Local 5, Henry texted Local 5's Rachel Droze and shared some good news. Her employer approved the time off for her surgery and is putting her on short term disability. 

RELATED: Iowa unemployment update: Initial claims increase, benefits paid drops by $1.8M