A worker at Tennessee Apparel wants to donate one of her kidneys to a relative, but the factory refuses to give her time off, even without pay.

Pam Melson, 31, has had to postpone the scheduled transplant this month for 36-year-old Donnie Hammack, who is married to Melson's distant cousin.

"They said letting me off to get this surgery would be like someone getting let off for getting breast implants," said Melson, who has worked at the factory for four years. "I think what I'm trying to do is a little more important than getting breast implants."

Dave Roberts, Tennessee Apparel's vice president of manufacturing, said the company isn't trying to discourage Melson from helping a relative.

But the Tullahoma-based company won't hold her job for her, he said.

"If she decides to do that we'll give her every consideration to come back to work," he said. "She would come back as a new employee."

As her family's sole financial provider, Melson said she can't afford to risk her job.

Roberts said the company denied Melson's request for four- to six-weeks off because of her "excessive absenteeism," but he declined to say how many days she's missed.

She said she's missed more than a month of work this year, mostly to care for her three children when they were sick.

Melson and Hammack said the company's refusal doesn't make sense because she isn't asking to be paid and Hammack's Medicaid would pay for medical expenses.

"My reaction is the guy has no heart," Hammack said.

In Tennessee, an employer has no obligation to provide time off for this type of situation and the company is following the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, Roberts said.

"It's not a family member," Roberts said. "This is an elective surgery based on her own decision. She doesn't have to do this."

Vanderbilt University Medical Center transplant surgeon Dr. Mark A. Wigger said Hammack could probably survive for another five years without a transplant.

But the average wait time for patients on the national transplant list is anywhere from two to five years, said Janet Jarrard, Tennessee Donor Services' public education coordinator.