Leaves of Absence

Written by
Kaitlyn Freepartner

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Many employers are starting to see a growing request for leaves of absences, requiring them to navigate the often complex details of a number of different types of leaves.  The introduction of Paid Family and Medical Leave plans and other state leaves has mandated new regulations and added procedures that can complicate traditional leaves.

Many employees are entitled to a leave of absence under State and/or Federal law.  However, some employees experiencing a situation requiring leave may not be eligible for a certain leave of absence and employers must decide if they will provide time away from work.    In those instances, an employer can offer voluntary leave.  The most common reasons are childbirth, adoption, caring for an ill family member, a serious personal health condition or military leave.

When speaking with an employee about a leave of absence, it is important to know your State and Federal guidelines and be sure the policies outlined in your Employee Handbook integrate the unique eligibility and requirements of the various available leaves.

Types of Leave – What is Mandatory vs. Voluntary?

Federal/State Laws govern mandatory Leave of Absence benefits. The most common Federal leave options are the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Military Leave, Jury Duty, and Worker’s Compensation time. In addition, there are currently eleven states, CA, CO, DE, MA, MD, NJ, NY, OR, RI, WA, and the District of Columbia, with Paid Family Leave programs and many more in the planning phase. These leaves are mandated and often paid through a “tax” on employers and/or employees.  These leaves may run concurrently with more than one type of mandatory or voluntary leave.

Voluntary leaves are not required by law.  These leaves are a courtesy to employees based on company culture and policies.  These leaves may run concurrently with mandatory leaves.  Voluntary leaves may include vacation, floating holidays, or personal time.  Sick time can be considered voluntary in some states.  Since these leaves are non-mandatory, it is at the company’s discretion to set the approval process and the acceptable length of time off.  Employers should be aware of consistency, precedent, and best business practices when granting voluntary leaves while maintaining dialogue and engagement with employees.

Designing or Revamping Leave of Absence Policies

Following certain guidelines will make the process and end results most effective:

  • Don’t design absence management strategies in a vacuum. They are integral to a holistic benefits strategy that aligns with recruiting and retention strategies but also encompasses health and wealth benefits.
  • Paid leave programs should ensure statutory compliance with policies, and they should be stated in a way that truly reflects the organization’s intentions. They also should measure up to competitive benchmarks.
  • Understand that employees can find absence management programs difficult and confusing. Respond accordingly with policy descriptions and explanations that are clearly stated and reflect the value that’s placed on employees.

Workforce absence management programs have become more critical in today’s environment. Managed strategically under an integrated benefits program, they don’t just help shape business cultures, but also make for more efficient organizations that appeal to potential employees.

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