One thing you may consider as an employer is how you can minimize the effect to your company when an employee takes a leave of absence. While this is a valid business concern, you still want to grant the leave – especially if it is mandatory.
The fortress of laws that protect employees require being extremely cautious to avoid costly litigation if a dispute arises. For this, learning what to do and how a leave of absence works will ensure there is minimal impact to your company.
Mandatory Leave of Absence
There are federal and state laws that govern LOAs that are mandatory.
- Medical leaves of absence are governed by the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Included are jury duty, military leave and other leaves mandated by the state.
- The number of employees working at your company often determines whether these laws apply
- Eligible employees must receive job-protected leave in these situations.
How a Leave of Absence Works
Allowing employees to take requested time off typically occurs when they face unusual personal circumstances. Generally, these circumstances are separate from the job.
Employers may grant the leave of absence request for time off from work when the time is not covered under existing benefits. These benefits include paid time off, paid vacation, paid holidays and sick leave.
Two Common Types of LOA
In general, your employees may request one of two common leaves of absence: medical LOA or personal LOA. Managing either one can present challenges to you as an employer. Questions for a medical reason must be answered in legal and employer-employee relationship terms.
Some valid questions include:
- Why does the employee need the leave?
- Are you obligated to grant the request? If so, for how long?
- What documentation can you require from the employee prior to granting the request?
Answering these questions and more is often connected to complying with employment laws. Besides the FMLA and ADA, there are also workers’ compensation laws that may apply to the employee’s situation and need for time off from work.
Relying on familiar principles to help you navigate the situation is not uncommon. Basics to ensuring your company remains compliant may depend on the information gathered, company policy and equal treatment for all employees. These principles can help you move forward and make a reasonable and fair decision.
Your company may decide to grant a personal leave for different reasons. Typically, the employee’s supervisor can evaluate the department’s needs during the requested period.
If the reason for the LOA falls in line with the law and will not create a problem with department needs, the leave is granted. Personal leaves are generally left to the employer’s sole discretion without legal obligations attached.
Medical leaves, however, are slightly different. Your exclusive judgement is usually not enough if the employee suffers from an illness or injury that makes it impossible to perform certain work duties.
Employees must provide at least a 30 days’ notice when requesting a personal leave. If it is less than 30 days when the employee becomes aware that time off is needed, notice must be provided as soon as reasonably practicable. In addition, personal LOA requests that are not submitted according to company policy could be denied.
In either situation, the most important aspect of a LOA is the continuance of employment during the employee’s LOA.
Asking for an Unpaid LOA
Employees should adhere to company policy when asking to take time off for any period of time. Despite laws that protect their rights for an LOA, employees should give you as much notice as possible. This gives you time to make staffing changes such as hiring a temporary worker or training others to perform certain duties in the employee’s absence.
Vital job components must be covered, especially if the original request has to be extended. Being blindsided is not in anyone’s best interest. Unpaid leaves are different from employee benefits such as negotiating a flexible work schedule.
The actual procedure for applying for the unpaid LOA may vary among companies, but typically follow set guidelines. You may require employees to make the request in writing with a standard company form or a simple notice.
The request should initially go to the employee’s direct supervisor, along with a copy to the human resources department. The reason and length of time for the leave should be included. Time limits may vary based on the reason for the request.
The direct supervisor should review the request and make a decision when all factors are reviewed.
Life happens and employers may have to grant a personal LOA despite the potential impact on the company. Just make sure to check all the boxes so an employee’s request for leave does not cost more for your company in penalties.