Human Resources / How to handle leave-of-absence requests

How to handle leave-of-absence requests

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a more flexible workplace was established that included new boundaries for paid and unpaid leave. Temporary federal legislation delivered financial protections for workers who needed to quarantine or care for others during the health crisis. Those stopgap provisions have now been rolled back as organizations return to more normal routines.

In truth, employees have always enthusiastically embraced generous leave policies. Surveys have found that many respondents even prefer additional leave to a direct pay raise. Companies have long been aware that more liberal leave standards generate positive feelings. They boost productivity, morale and engagement among the ranks within the firm while at the same time enhancing the employer’s reputation. Paid leave policies in particular aid in recruiting sought-after talent.

Why would companies hesitate to take advantage of a seeming cost benefit? Although larger business increasingly do offer more leave, smaller operations are likely to find it more burdensome to juggle workloads among limited staff. When it’s “all hands on deck,” they may not have the luxury of additional slack to compete against larger organizations with more “available warm bodies.”

Legal requirements for unpaid leave

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, enacted in 1993, dominates the landscape. That legislation is complemented by a wide patchwork of state and local laws. The crux is that the FMLA addresses only unpaid leave; the U.S. is a laggard on the global stage in its lack of paid support for health or family events. Other countries, by contrast, require many weeks of paid leave: The Czech Republic (28 weeks), Estonia (82 weeks), Hungary (24 weeks), Japan (52 weeks) or Canada (17 weeks). Although those policies have certain rules and limits, the point is that the U.S. lags behind many other industrial countries in providing paid leave.

That said, many U.S. employers do often offer sick leave even when it is not strictly required. (Sick leave refers to an accommodation for short illnesses and minor ailments versus medical leave, which covers longer downtimes.) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, 79% of U.S. workers had some access to paid sick leave. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that larger firms tend to be more generous with it, as do companies with more union workers as well as not-for-profit organizations.

FMLA coverage consists of 12 weeks’ leave relating to:

  • Health of the employee or certain family members — parents, a spouse or children — but not siblings.
  • Certain military deployments.
  • Birth or adoption of a child.

The FMLA provisions only kick in after an employee has worked one year, putting in at least 1,250 hours.

It is important to note that starting in 2025, Maryland workers may have an easier time making ends meet when they take otherwise unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Thanks to Maryland’s newly enacted Time to Care Act of 2022 (TTCA), Maryland workers will be able to apply for paid leave benefits from a state fund beginning on Jan. 1, 2025. You can learn more about this new requirement and how it may impact your business by clicking here.

Company policies

After complying with the strict legal guidelines, you can address firm-specific rules and principles in your own office.

A vacation policy should outline

  • How many days are permitted.
  • Whether they must all be taken together, to facilitate workload planning.
  • Whom to notify of plans, and how far in advance.

Holidays matter greatly to your workforce, many of whom plan the rhythm of their year around those festive gatherings. Some might be surprised to learn that no law protects their rights to take off federal holidays such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, when some businesses such as restaurants might even expect some extra customers. Leave for religious holidays can prove especially sensitive, as rejecting it might lead to claims of discrimination. Some options are for employees to use vacation or floating days or possibly make up the time later.

Be sure to plan proactively for handoffs, lining up coverage for necessary functions. Although paid parental policies may appear to target women, fathers also need support. Be consistent across the board. For example, both new and current employees should probably be entitled to equivalent leave. Personal time off is usually a standard small number of days for everyone and does not accrue or carry over. Employees use it to deal with events such as doctor visits, car breakdowns, moving from one house to another, painting a house, attending a wedding or funeral, or any similar occasions.

How can BlueStone Services help?

The bottom line? Generosity with leave policies can give you an edge in recruiting new employees and retaining current ones. If you need help maintaining your talent pool, take a look at our talent management services to see if they are the right fit for you.

Keep informed
Receive tips on how you can use outsourcing to save time and improve your business processes.

Related Articles

11/15/2022

MarylandSaves Program: What Employers Need to Know

Most businesses operating in the state of Maryland are now required to offer a retirement savings plan to their employees. You may or may not have

Read More  
11/01/2022

3 Signs You Have Outgrown Your HR Software Solution

HR software is pivotal to the success and overall flow of workforce management. At the very least, the HR solution that you implement should make it

Read More  
09/27/2022

3 Tips for Discussing Pay With Your Employees

During the normal course of business, managers are typically required to have conversations with their employees regarding compensation. These

Read More  
BlueStone-logo