Navigating the Leave of Absence Landscape

May 2014

Our employee’s been out on short-term disability for five months and still has no definite date to return to work. Are we allowed to terminate this person?

That question has started many a client relationship for us. What happens is that two decision-making processes get tangled when an employee is not able to work:

  • The employer decides whether to offer a leave of absence, which is a commitment to hold the employee’s job for a certain period of time.
  • The insurance carrier decides whether to pay disability or worker’s compensation benefits.

These are separate decisions based on different criteria. The employer is not automatically required to continue leave for the duration of insurance payments. Don’t let your insurance carrier make your decision for you.

So how do we decide when to grant a leave and for how long?

There are three key factors in that decision:

  • Applicable laws
  • Your leave of absence policy
  • The employee’s circumstances

Laws: In addition to federal laws regarding family and medical leave and military leave, Connecticut has its own Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as laws requiring leave for pregnancy, jury duty, domestic violence victims, volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians, service in political office, and court appearance for witnesses and crime victims. Other states have other laws mandating leave in various circumstances. Depending on how many employees you have, some or all of these laws will apply to your business. In addition, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a leave of absence may be seen as a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability.

Policy: Decide in advance what your general policy on leaves of absence will be. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself making commitments on the fly, or worse, making no decision, drifting along with whatever the employee requests. Take control of the process with a solid leave of absence policy which sets the boundaries but allows flexibility for the changing needs of your operation and the individual needs of your employees.

Employee: It’s important to be consistent in leave of absence decisions, both to avoid a charge of discrimination and so your employees trust you to treat them fairly. That doesn’t mean you have to grant the same amount of leave to the employee with six months of mediocre service who has fainting spells when the workload increases and to the employee with fifteen years of outstanding service who just got diagnosed with cancer. Base your decisions on business reasons, document them, and make sure each leave decision is consistent with other leaves in similar circumstances.

How can Results HR, LLC help?

Results HR will create a toolkit—policy, procedure, leave of absence request form, template letters to the employee, healthcare provider forms, tracking tools—customized to your organization. When an employee asks for time off, you’ll know what to do. You can respond efficiently, professionally, and compassionately…and get back to running your business.

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