Family and Medical Leave Act does not apply to employees of small businesses.

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Q: I have apparently been fired because I took time off to help my dying mother. For seven years, I was employed by a physician who frequently praised my work. Six months ago, when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, “Dr. Parker” approved my taking an unpaid leave of absence to care for her.

Before I left, Dr. Parker gave me a goodbye hug and promised to keep my position open. When a co-worker asked him if I would be coming back, he said, “Absolutely.” I asked about completing paperwork for the Family and Medical Leave Act, but he said our office was too small to be covered by that law.

While I was out, Dr. Parker never responded to any of my updates. I sent him an email after my mother died but never received a reply. He wouldn’t return my phone calls to the office and, when I finally called his personal cell number, he sent a text saying, “Sorry, can’t talk now.”

I recently learned that my claim for unemployment compensation was denied because Dr. Parker claimed I quit voluntarily. Now I have not only lost my mother but also lost my job. Can I do anything about this?

A: Your cowardly employer is a self-centered jerk. His indifference to your plight clearly illustrates why the Family and Medical Leave Act was created. But if his practice employs fewer than 50 people, then he is unfortunately correct about being exempt. However, other avenues of legal assistance might be available.

If there are at least 15 employees, and if you are in a protected group (age, race, national origin, etc.), call the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to see if federal discrimination laws may apply. To challenge your denial of unemployment, contact the appropriate state agency. For additional possibilities, consult an attorney who specializes in employment law.

But even if legal alternatives exist, you should weigh your desire for justice against the practical reality of quickly finding another job. If Dr. Parker’s recommendation is essential to your re-employment, you may need to put aside your anger and request a favorable reference. Odds are that he’ll be willing to provide one — especially if he feels somewhat guilty about throwing you overboard.

Itching to move up

Q: To increase my odds of being promoted, I would like to let management know that I have just completed my master’s degree. Since my immediate supervisor is already aware of this, I’m primarily interested in impressing the managers above him. Do you have any suggestions?

A: The key is to find an appropriate reason for sharing this information. For example, if your organization provided educational assistance in the form of money, time, or schedule flexibility, you might send a brief thank-you email to your supervisor and appropriate higher managers.

Alternatively, you could request a personnel record update by emailing human resources and copying your supervisor and his boss. Or perhaps you can think of other logical motives. Just remember that your goal is to provide information for a specific purpose, not to say, “Hey, look at me, I’ve got a master’s.”

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at