Everything You Need to Know When an Employee Takes a Leave of Absence

Any business owner will tell you that it’s difficult to make a profit when your employees aren’t at work.

Research proves this. A recent study found that a single employee’s absenteeism can cost a company as much as $3,600 per year, according to HR.com.

As an employer, how can you minimize the effects an employee’s leave of absence can have on your business, while still providing the time away from work your employees need? With a fortress of laws protecting employees, you have to practice caution to guard against even more costly litigation should a dispute arise.

Learn what to do when employees request a leave of absence from work and how to minimize the impact of their leave on your business.

What is a leave of absence?

There are two types of leaves: mandatory and voluntary.

Federal and/or state laws govern a mandatory leave of absence.

  • These leaves include medical absences governed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), military leave, jury duty and other state-mandated leaves.
  • Whether the laws surrounding these leaves of absence apply to you is often based on the number of employees working for your company and where an employee is working.
  • You must grant job-protected leave to eligible employees in these situations.

Voluntary leaves aren’t required by law.

  • These leaves of absence are offered as a courtesy to employees per company policy or per a collective bargaining agreement with a labor union.
  • Companies often offer medical or personal leaves to employees who have exhausted all of their time off and who don’t otherwise qualify for mandated leaves. A personal leave may be granted to allow extended time off for a special circumstance, such as an educational opportunity.
  • Because these leaves are non-mandatory, you grant them based on your discretion and according to the guidelines you have set in your leave policy. Also, you do not have to offer job protection during a voluntary leave, although you may choose to do so.

What are common ways employees might try to abuse a leave policy?

There are a number of reasons that might motivate employees to take advantage of your leave policy. Watch out for employees who are disengaged from their work and those who frequently take Mondays and Fridays off.

What do you tell employees who use too much sick time?

Make it clear to your employee that you can’t operate a steady business without their presence.

Let your employees know that you care about their well-being and want to provide support, if doing so will be helpful. It is important that employees know what can and cannot be modified in their jobs. This means your job descriptions need to have essential duties (those functions that cannot be removed or changed without materially changing the job) identified. If an employee is experiencing excessive absenteeism, ask if there is something that they need to tend to, and if there is any way you, as an organization, can assist.

Designate the leave as FMLA if you are a covered employer and the employee is eligible.

How does an employee qualify for FMLA?

An employee qualifies for FMLA leave by working 1250 hours.

Here are some reasons an employee might take FMLA leave:

  • Childbirth, adoption and foster care
  • Serious health condition
  • Caring for a family member with a serious health condition
  • Certain military reasons (including care of a service member)

As noted above, the FMLA requires you to hold your employees’ jobs until their leave ends or offer one that is equivalent. An FMLA leave allows employees to take up to 12 weeks off in a 12-month period.

If their absence is not protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), then it’s considered a non-FMLA medical leave. However, their leave may still be protected under the ADA and ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). In this case, your employees’ jobs and wages are still protected by law.

Am I required to continue paying salary when employees are on FMLA leave?

You are only required to continue paying employees on FMLA leave if they have available paid time off or sick time and they choose to use it or you have a policy that requires the use of paid time off prior to leaves progressing as unpaid.

However, you may choose to write additional paid leave time into your leave of absence policy as an added benefit to your employees in certain circumstances. For example, some companies give six weeks of paid parental leave after 12 months of employment.

In any case, you should notify payroll to make them aware of any changes to your employee’s salary during the leave.

Do my employees get to keep their health benefits?

Employees can receive benefits for up to 12 weeks as long as they continue to pay their contribution amounts. Your benefit policy may also have continuation of benefits language in it for employees who do not qualify for FMLA or similar leaves.

When can employees take leave for personal reasons?

These are some instances that are protected by law and require you to administer a set amount of time for each one.

  • Jury duty
  • Voting (paid time off)
  • Military

If employees take a leave of absence that’s not protected by law, then you have no obligation to return them to their position.

Ask them to try to provide as much notice as possible so you can prepare for their absence.

Can employees take off for psychological reasons such as stress or depression?

Anxiety or depression is likely to be considered a disability under the ADAAA. The ADAAA applies to companies that have 15 or more employees and requires an interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodations may be available to assist employees with permanent or temporary disabilities.

In these cases, it’s best to work with an attorney or HR professional who has experience with disability leave. It could get tricky, and it might be deemed reasonable to provide a leave of absence.

What’s the difference between short-term disability and long-term disability?

Short-term disability insurance and long-term disability insurance are both designed to provide replacement income to your employees in the event they’re unable to work due to injury or sickness.

The definition of disability and the conditions under which employees can collect benefits will differ depending on the policy.

Short-term disability:

  • Covers employees for a limited period
  • Useful for major, but relatively brief, disabilities such as those suffered from an accident or a non-terminal sickness
  • Usually provides only partial income protection, often 60 percent

Long-term disability:

  • Generally, must satisfy a time-in-service requirement before eligible
  • Used for long-term absences from work
  • Usually begins when short-term disability ends

How do I create a leave of absence request form for my business?

While there are free templates floating around the Web provided by the Department of Labor and other sources, it’s better to create a custom form that fits your company’s needs and is legally compliant.

Any forms should generally ask for the start and end dates in which employees will be away from work.

Once submitted, the employee’s supervisor can approve or deny the request. It’s important to keep everything documented in case of any future disputes and ensure consistent application of the process.

However, it’s actually better to have a single point person in the company review and approve or deny requests than distribute it to the supervisor level. This way there is a better chance of a consistent application of the policy and compliance with state and federal leave laws.

Update your employee handbook

To ensure compliance of changing laws, it’s a good practice to audit your leave of absence policy every two years.

This is the best method to inform employees of their rights, and for employers to know they’re compliant.

Include notification procedures and guidelines, such as calling in, and when it’s necessary to take a leave of absence versus using paid time off.

HR difficulties like employee absenteeism slow down your business. Learn how to avoid common HR oversights by downloading our free e-book, 7 Most Frequent HR Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

7 Most Frequent HR Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
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59 responses to “Everything You Need to Know When an Employee Takes a Leave of Absence

K
Kellye

If an employer grants a 90 leave of absence (that doesn’t fall under FMLA ) to an employee, what are the rules for keeping the insurance active. The employer wants the employee to pay for 100% of his insurance while he is off even though they normally cover 75% of the premium. Is that allowed or does the employer have to continue to pay their portion.

Insperity Blog

Hi Kellye,

In this situation, the employer would need to go back to their contract with their healthcare provider. If the employee is not covered by FMLA (or another law that provides for continuation of benefits), they should be able to pass the benefit cost onto the employer, provided the contract with the healthcare provider doesn’t have contrary provisions.

The employer should also seek outside counsel to ensure there aren’t other extenuating facts that would require additional consideration.

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Susan Winton

I have an employee who has been out on medical leave for 1 year, how long do I need to keep her on our benefits? The employee is suppose to pay her contribution of the premiums but has not paid for 5 months.

Insperity Blog

Hi Susan, If your company is FMLA eligible, the FMLA law requires continuation of benefits for 12 weeks. At the close of that time frame, the employee can go onto COBRA to continue her benefits.

If your company is not FMLA eligible, there is no requirement that the benefits be continued, however there may be other laws that require it. For example, California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave law requires continuation of benefits for 4 months.

There may be contractual obligations to keep someone on benefits, say through a collective bargaining agreement (if it’s a union environment) or if the benefit contract is structured to provide benefits for a period of time to employees on leave.

You/your company may also want to check with outside counsel to ensure there are no other laws in your area that make continuation a requirement; however, there are no laws that require organizations to continue benefits for employees on leave for a full year.

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karen steib

we have an employee that was full time then went on maternity leave in 2016. She came back in 2016 as part time. her total hrs worked in 2016 = 949.8 hrs. Our company policy states, part time employees vac. time is based on hrs worked from the previous yr. In this situation is this employee being discriminated?

Insperity Blog

Hello Karen, Are there additional details you are able to share? It’s difficult to provide an answer with the information provided. Thank you.

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Daphne Spencer

I have a Major Depression Disorder and with the recent changes at my company, which I am hoping are only short term, the new current atmosphere is causing me to become severely depressed to the point that my medications are no longer effective. My psychiatrist is recommending I take a FMLA or Short Term Disability. I live in Texas and in my research, it looks like Texas is not a state that offers Short Term Disability. My position with this major company is only part time, as they do not hire full time positions unless at a management level. I average 25 hours a week. I cannot afford to lose any pay and yet I will not survive under the current work conditions. What are my options and do any include some form of income?

Insperity Blog

Hello Daphne, Whether you qualify for FMLA or not is dependent on 1) whether your company qualifies based on employee count, and 2) if it does, whether you’ve worked for them long enough and have worked enough hours in the past 12 months to qualify for FMLA. If you are in need of a leave, talk to your HR representative to determine if you qualify for FMLA. There may be other options than a full leave as well, such as a reduced schedule leave – fewer hours each day or fewer days each week. You should discuss this with your medical provider and with your company’s HR representative.

Regarding short term disability, if Texas does not have a state-level STD program but an employee opted for a voluntary STD plan through his or her employer, that may be one solution. Alternatively, if an employee has accrued (and unused) sick time or PTO he or she can use that time to cover any absence.

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Liz

I would like to take a Personal Leave of 5 weeks but we are short staffed. However my job is very difficult to learn therefore when someone leaves it’s very hard to replace them so there is an 80/20 chance of them approving my leave if I tell them I would quit if not. I do not know how to aproach my boss to ask for this time off. I would like to be able to come back to my job but what if they say no because they have no one to cover?

Insperity Blog

Hello Liz, Your company may have a leave of absence policy that outlines the details and requirements that must be met for an employee to be eligible to take leave. Reaching out to your company’s HR department would be a good place to start with regard to asking questions and learning about the policy your company has in place.

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Raul

Hi, I was wondering if I have taken a leave of absence for 3 months and have returned to my job and worked about six months since could I be able to take another leave of absence if needed?

Insperity Blog

Hi Raul, Eligibility to take a leave of absence depends upon the state that you reside in, and the reason you are requesting a leave of absence. There are state and federal mandated leaves that may apply, or may not. Eligibility for a mandated federal or state leave of absence generally requires that employees have at least one year of service with the company, have worked 1,250 hours in the preceding year and work for an employer with 50 or more employees that work in locations within a 75-mile radius. Very specific reasons are also required for eligibility to take a leave, such as necessary care for one’s self or a covered family member for a serious health condition. If all conditions are not met, then the employee is most likely ineligible for a leave of absence under the employer’s policy. Depending upon the size and industry of the employer, some have policies that allow for a personal leave of absence. However, personal leave of absences are at the discretion of the employer and are not required to be offered.

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Coney

Is your employer’ by law, suppose to leave 40 hours per year of your paid time off to use as vacation time? Or can they use all of your paid time off hours when you take FMLA time?

Insperity Blog

Hi Coney, No. There is no leave that requires employers to maintain a certain balance of vacation or PTO time on the books. Employers may require employees to use accrued but unused vacation/PTO and/or sick time before continuing leave on an unpaid basis. The sick time application may be limited to reasons covered by the employer’s sick time policy – for example, it may be limited to an employee’s own health condition rather than to care for a sick relative, but this is dependent upon what state they are in.

After additional research, there are states that may limit the employer’s ability to require the use of PTO or vacation time for unpaid leaves; however, it is still dependent upon the state you are in and the type of leave you are on.

J
Janessa

Hi there, I am currently on Disability for postpartum depression. I have provided my company with the disability documents from the doctors office stating the length of time off. My work has called me several times saying they forgot to get an LOA form filled out and want me to complete one. I haven’t taken any calls due to the ppd? I want to know if it’s ok for my work to kind of be hounding me at this point and how much I really have to communicate with them while I am out on disability. They are not very supportive and I would rather take this time to get better rather that stress about work calls and documents they forgot to get. Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Insperity Blog

Hi Janessa, Hope you continue to feel better and well-rested. I would recommend that you reach out to you HR Representative (via email if preferred over speaking over the phone) to find out what information your company needs to get your leave of absence form completed. You may be able to ask your company to forward the leave form over and you can them complete it and send it back. Although while on a leave of absence no work should be done, if a company requires additional information to submit or certify an employee’s leave of absence, it is best for the employee to work with the company and provide the information they are requesting in a timely manner.

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Kofi King

hello,. am working in a company and i want a leave of Absence i want to know in the letter will i write the name of my company as an address ,

Insperity Blog

Hello Kofi, Thanks for your question. What address are you referring to?

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Robert

I was in a auto accident 3 weeks ago. My doctor took me out of work for the past 3 weeks. I get evaluated every Friday to see how im coming along n if I can return back to work. My Boss informed me yesterday that he was going to give me a loa but that I would have my job when I was ready to go back to work. My question is, are they required to still pay me every week and do I still get the same amount of wages I was getting payed before I could work any more due to my injuries? Really confused! Thank you

Insperity Blog

Hi Robert, Hope your recovery is going well. There are no laws that require employers to provide paid leaves of absence. You will need to ask your HR contact if your company provides paid leave time, and if it doesn’t, you may consider asking about using accrued sick, vacation or PTO time, if you have time available.

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Natalie Cortez

I just got ask to go on leave of absence today! I was given a bunch of paperwork from my boss to fill out and fax back to hr lady! Do I get paid for leave of absence or do I need to go on disability?

Insperity Blog

Hi Natalie, Whether or not you will be paid on leave is a question you need to ask your HR person. Some companies provide paid leaves, others don’t. There are no laws that require companies to provide paid leave, so if your company DOES pay employees for a duration of leave time, it’s wholly up to the company. If it does not provide paid leave time, employees generally may take accrued but unused sick time, and they may choose to take accrued but unused PTO or vacation time as well. If they have no time, or if they exhaust the accrued, unused time before the end of their leave, they can apply for disability. Some states, such as California, have state-provided disability programs that all employees pay into through tax dollars. But if the employee is in a state that does not provide a state-level disability program, the employee would need to use an employer-provided voluntary disability program, such as the Cigna program offered through Insperity’s voluntary benefits program.

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Amy Brown

Im wondering if anyone that veiws this if they could tell me what they think?? I had throat cancer & in july was my surgery. Well not knowing how long to tell manager at my work (small family style restaurant, employed fir 35 years there 30 of which is the owners still now).Father has retired and son is temp.away from business.Ok well the manager started 4/2016 and since ive been gone her friends/ family there now.Shes informed me im not getting job back,and beings i never got paper signed to secure my job ( which i shouldnt need) the owner is like a father to me and he cares for me dearly,now im pretty sure it would be his final say/decision on me returning correct?I was gone way longer than planned but strengh / voice were delaying me. Just purchased brand new home in july and i hope to god my boss sticks up for me cuz im pretty sure shes threating to quit.Really has no reason for actions,just wants her people instead!! Thats my life working there (55yrs) i am and shes NOT taking it from me!!AGREE?????

Insperity Blog

Hi Amy, I hope your health has improved and I’m sorry to hear about your troubles. When you say “i never got paper signed to secure my job,” what kind of form are you referring to? A leave of absence request form?

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Kathleen Stoner

Finally back to work! Although, While 8 days into workers comp leave, manager changed 9 yr. Full Time status to Part Time. Refused Dr. work accommodation, 5 hr work day, no restrictions, said I was a liability, didn’t need any more releases. That was 6 months ago. Employee advocate stepped in-5 hr is reasonable. (Now at 8 hr days, still part time status.)
Both issues have affected benefits. Had to start cobra at $740 mo., normal pay $88 mo., April no coverage, kick in in May.
Both issues have, are affecting my family. Not sure why these choices were made?
Is it okay to change status and deny back to work duty. Also, loss of vacation, pto bene’s,

Insperity Blog

Hi Kathleen, Sorry to hear you’ve been going though a rough time. Have you reached out to your company’s HR contact to address your concerns? It’s difficult to provide you with a complete answer without having all the details regarding your situation.

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Esperanza

What are the company obligations when allowing LOA, other than saving the employees job for when they return?

Insperity Blog

Hi Esperanza, This really depends on the circumstances of the leave. If the company and the employee qualify for FMLA or another entitlement leave program, there may be things related to those programs that need to be tended to. If it’s another type of protected leave, such as USERRA, there may be a process the employee needs to follow in order to return to work depending upon how long they have been out.

If it’s a personal leave, with no ties to any governmental rule or guidance, ensuring the employee has a release to return (If they were out for their own medical issue) and that they are able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without an accommodation. If they do need some type of modification to do their job, the company works with the employee to determine what feasible modification can be made, but know that they never have to change an essential function of the job – only marginal functions. Remember, however, that not all functions are essential.

It’s best to talk to an HR professional who is seasoned in leaves and disability, or to your employment law counsel, if you have questions or concerns around a situation of this nature.

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William w. Loud

I lost the letter from Insperity regarding my leave of absence .Could you please check into what exactly you require for your records and let me know! Thank you

Insperity Blog

Hi William, For assistance, please reach out to our customer service team at 888.808.8842, or, if you prefer we contact you, please email us at social@insperity.com with your contact information. Thank you.

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Margaret Tucker

I have an employee out on LOA due to health issues and exhausting all of her PTO. We just received profit sharing/Performance Bonuses should she receive her payout or do you not receive the Bonus while on LOA.

Insperity Blog

Hello Margaret, Do you have a leave of absence policy in place? Check to see whether it includes information on additional paid leave time in certain circumstances (once all of that employee’s PTO has been exhausted).

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Margaret Tucker

I have an employee that is on LOA. We just received profit sharing/Performance bonus, should she receive hers or do they not get paid out while on LOA?

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Jay Jorgenson

I know that human resource services are critical for the success of a company. I really like the clarifications in this article about the complications with asking for time off. I know that this can get complicated for a lot of companies because they need workers.

Insperity Blog

Hi Jay, thanks for your thoughtful feedback. Great to hear our article helped offer deeper insight on human resource topics.

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Sherry

My mom was on short term disability. This was before surgery. She had surgery a month ago. Now having more serious issues, longer term. I think fmla is in effect right now, since surgery, or her short term disability is needing to be recert. I’m not sure on either. The surgery was suppose to be in and out but wasnt. I don’t know how to keep her benefits active while she recovers. Will H.r. talk to me. My mom is in hospital and soon going back to rehab center. Mind isn’t clear either. Will they work with P.O.A. I’f I get that for her,HR?

Insperity Blog

Hi Sherry, When you obtain a Power of Attorney for handling your Mother’s affairs, speak with your lawyer about what applications it may be used for with regard to her employer – he or she should be able to offer you more detailed information on the subject. I hope your Mother’s health begins to improve and that her time in the rehab center will be beneficial to her.

K
KAiiRU

Okay so….I accidentally selected “leave of absence” as my reason for calling out today instead of “other” not knowing what it meant. So I’m just going to stop stressing over it and hope I have a job tomorrow. awesome.

Insperity Blog

Eek! Discuss the mistake with your manager when you get back to the office and explain what happened; there should be a way to retract your selection.

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Catherine Anderson

I’m on FMLA bc my mother has serious health issues and I’m her caregiver. I have had to miss work the last six days bc of my mothers deterring health she has dementia and I have no siblings or anyone to help with her care. I have intermittent FMLA I have in no way took twelve weeks this year. But I was told by Human Resources dept that they want me to sign a paper saying I need a personal leave. I m really confused. Please help.

Insperity Blog

Hi Catherine, Your company’s HR department should have specialists who can help you sort through paperwork and better understand what options are available to you. Try requesting a meeting with one of them for personal guidance on your situation. Stay strong and we hope your mother’s health improves.

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Celeste Highsmith

I work for a non-profit who does not qualify for FMLA. I am diabetic, along with other medical issues, and have missed some days. I have used my PTO to make sure I get 40 hours every week. I have just used the remaining hours – I had surgery in June and still have difficulties with my illnesses. They just told me that, if I fall below 40 hrs and have no PTO, it can result in disciplinary action. How, if it is for medical reasons??? I have 6 specialists. I give notice when I cannot make it in. I follow the policy. How can any agency use this as absenteeism? It’s MEDICAL!

Insperity Blog

Hi Celeste, Your best course of action would be to reach out to your company’s HR department to discuss your current situation.

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Lei

How about the employees that have been out for more than 2 years on FMLA. Every time their FMLA runs out they fill out a new FMLA, but what about the business operations and need of the customers and patrons.

Insperity Blog

Hello Lei, Are these employees officially on FMLA leave? As described here on the US Department of Labor site, “The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) provides certain employees with up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave a year…”: http://bit.ly/2en7FnI Decisions regarding how business operations and customer needs are handled in an employee’s absence are up to the discretion of the employer.

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Jennifer

I need to take a personal leave to tend to my 2 yr old and another family member whom is being released from rehab. My job allows personal leaves but won’t approve mine bc its not severe enough! What can I do?

Insperity Blog

Hi Jennifer – Have you reached out to your company’s HR department? They should have representatives available who can help you navigate your company’s policies and benefits to determine what options are available to you.

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Mark David

In every company, there should be proper leave management should be made. Its very useful for employees and HR team to know, when their employees taking leave.

Insperity Blog

Thank you for your comment, Mark – great points. Proper policies and communication are indeed best practices in business.

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Manny

I was in the hospital and the doctor gave me a notification and it had 2 day of work does the employer has to pay me those days or he doesnt i only been there for 3 month.

Insperity Blog

Hi Manny, For specific information on your sick days and PTO, please reach out to your company’s HR representative for assistance and clarification.

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Erianna Pait

So I Am Pregnant And I Am Trying To Figure Out How I Exactly Will Be Able To Be Off Work For The 6weeks After Birth . I Am Still Going To Need To Get Paid I Have Bills And A New Baby To TAke Care Of , I Am Really Scared

Insperity Blog

Hi Erianna, Try not to get too stressed. The best source of information regarding your maternity leave will be your company’s HR department. Reach out to them (if you don’t know who to contact, your manager should be able to help you find that information) and arrange a meeting to discuss your situation and how it will be handled. Congratulations on becoming a new Mom, too 🙂

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Richard Kok

I am on LTD and my company just put me on a LOA. No other word from them since this happened. Having a second back surgery Friday. Don’t know what this means for me. No job protection was stated.

Insperity Blog

Hello Richard – So sorry to hear that, we hope your next surgery goes well and your overall health improves because of it. The best source for answers to your questions would be your company’s HR department. Someone there should be able to help you understand your benefits program and what a LOA means for employees in your situation. Reach out to your manager or department EA if you’re not sure who to contact in HR.

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Don Lacey

Recently I’ve had an employee get physically injured outside of work. I really value the employee and would like for him to get some type of paid leave. He’s already exhausted his vacation time. How can I lead him to the right direction to get some type of income while out of work for two weeks!!!

Insperity Blog

Hello Don, Thank you for your comment. That sounds like a tough situation. The best course of action would be to reach out to your company’s HR department and ask what kind of policies may be in place at your company with regard to your employee’s circumstances.

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RANDY L. WEIS

•These leaves include medical absences governed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), military leave, jury duty and other state-mandated leaves.
•Whether the laws surrounding these leaves of absence apply to you is often based on the number of employees working for your company and where an employee is working.
•You must grant job-protected leave to eligible employees in these situations.
how many employees are you required to employe for (FMLA ) apply

Insperity Blog

Thanks for your comments, Randy – we appreciate you sharing your insights. Have a great Monday!

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