PULASKI, TN–Atco Tool & Design machinist Richie Loftus, diagnosed four months ago with Hodgkin's Disease, has already exceeded his allotted number of sick days for the year, his employers warned Monday.
"It's unfortunate, what's happening with Richie, but company policy clearly states that employees are permitted 15 sick days per year," Atco Tool & Design office manager Mike Phelan said. "Richie's already missed a month and a half of work since June. You just can't run a business that way."
Loftus, 32, admitted that his constant fever, crippling fatigue, and malignant splenomegaly has affected his job performance.
"I've definitely missed my share of days," said Loftus, diagnosed with Stage III Hodgkin's lymphoma on June 20 after a steady decline in health prompted a biopsy. "I've tried to keep my chemotherapy sessions down to just one a week so I don't have to drop down to part-time at Atco and lose my health coverage, but it's been tough."
Though Loftus used a majority of his sick days after the diagnosis, Phelan noted that he had not been a paragon of regular attendance beforehand.
"By the time Richie went in for his tests in late June, he had already missed a heck of a lot of work," said Phelan, leafing through Loftus' personal file. "In fact, the week before the disease even started, he was out for three days because of headaches, nausea, and vomiting."
"And even when he was here," Phelan continued, "he wasn't anywhere near as productive as we'd have liked, always needing to lay down in the break room. So we're not exactly talking about the most reliable employee to begin with."
Loftus said he has tried to make adjustments in his approach to the job, but it has been difficult.
"I've tried to find a way to get around this whole illness thing," said Loftus, resting on his living-room couch after a morning of radiation therapy. "Unfortunately, I don't have the kind of job where I can work from home, even if I had the energy and lucidity to do so. And even when I can make it into the shop, it's tough to work the machines, because these club fingers I've developed are just as ridden with subdural hemophilia as the rest of me. I feel terrible about being such a drain on AT&D."
Nearly broke, Loftus recently asked Atco Tool & Design management if he could take some of the 22 paid personal days and 31 vacation days he has accumulated during his six years with the company, and use them as sick days. The request was denied.
"They said I couldn't do that, because that would open up a whole can of worms, with employees messing around and mixing up the different types of paid leave," Loftus said. "They did say, though, that I should feel free to use my vacation days and take a nice trip to Hawaii or somewhere–so long as I don't get any treatment while I'm there."
Added Loftus: "Hawaii probably wouldn't be much fun, anyway, what with this explosive diarrhea."
Loftus' expensive treatment is 80 percent covered by his employee health plan, a benefit that is costing Atco Tool & Design a significant amount of money.
"Richie's type of extended-illness coverage costs this company an extra $22 per employee per month. That adds up. Not only that, but he goes through Cisplatin, Cytarabine, and Dexamethasone like they were going out of style," said Atco Tool & Design general manager Mel Huffinger. "And those drugs are not cheap, that's for sure. Richie would have to work here another 45 years without a single major illness for us to break even on him. And we all know that ain't gonna happen."
"I feel for Richie, obviously, but I don't think anyone would hold him up as a model employee," Phelan said. "He's a decent guy, and I hope he gets through this and becomes a healthy, productive worker again as soon as he can. But right now, he's hardly giving us incentive to hire Hodgkin's Disease sufferers in the future."