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)
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.
- 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
- 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.