Deciding to take a leave of absence (LOA) — extended time away from work — can be a big decision, whether it’s to spend time with a newborn baby, care for a sick loved-one, or for an employee’s own health condition. Regardless of the reason, employees may feel a bit apprehensive about requesting a leave of absence if they don’t know much about how the process works and if the work culture isn’t supportive of taking time off.
Building a company culture that supports employees’ needs for time away is easier said than done. Your employees are the most valuable part of your company, so making sure they’re familiar with your company’s leave of absence policies and procedures is about more than just compliance; it’s about building trust, showing them how much they are valued, and helping them feel like they belong.
At the same time, you still must provide them with a clear, streamlined process to follow. Focusing on both pieces, you are creating a workplace that supports the health and wellbeing of the employees, building a strong company culture, and improving the overall employee experience.
Before we jump into the strategies, let’s review potential types of LOA that you might offer to your employees:
- FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act): This allows employees to take unpaid time off for certain medical and family reasons.
- STD (short-term disability) and LTD (long-term disability): This allows employees to receive partial pay while they are unable to work because of a disability.
- Personal leave: This allows employees to take time off for other reasons that aren’t covered by other leave policies.
- Military leave: This allows employees to take time off of work when they are performing military duties.
- Parental leave: This allows employees to take time off to care for a new child.
- Bereavement leave: This allows employees to take some time to grieve the loss of a loved one.
- Jury duty and voting: This allows employees to take time off to serve jury duty and to vote.
- Sabbaticals: This allows employees to take time away from work periodically without losing their job.
While this isn’t a comprehensive list, it includes many of the most common leave types.
Leave of Absence Best Practices
So, what can you do as the employer to build a positive company culture surrounding LOAs and ensure compliance?
Like with most employee communication materials, accuracy and timing are everything. Messaging should be succinct while also grabbing your employees’ attention. Relevant details related to compliance must be clearly documented and followed. So, understanding and communicating the ins and outs of LOA laws are therefore critical for effective leave management.
It’s important to remember that employees needing to take a leave from work often do so because of the unexpected. The last thing you want them to experience during such a sensitive and personal time is inaccurate or delayed information. They should be able to easily locate relevant details when needed, without having to experience a fruitless search. To help your organization stand out and deliver a seamless transition, here are seven best practices to ensure your company remains LOA compliant:
1. Stay up to date with federal, state, and local LOA laws.
Ensure your Human Resources Team is educated and well-equipped to discuss LOA requirements, which may change or vary based on your location. Having certain people assigned to tracking and interpreting any legal updates will reduce the chances of relaying inaccurate information to your employees, which could prove costly.
2. Introduce LOA guidelines during your New Hire Training.
This goes back to making your employees feel welcomed and included from day one. Being transparent and open about LOA from the onset, including your company’s process for requesting it, serves the dual purpose of keeping your employees informed while creating a culture of understanding. Life happens. You get it.
3. Ensure managers or supervisors receive formal training regarding your LOA policies.
Try to avoid saying, “I’ll get back to you on that,” if a teammate expresses a need to take a leave of absence. Leaders should be prepared with accurate information and talking points and be able to point members of their teams in the right direction. Consider regular check-ins with HR management to align on messaging.
4. Implement an internal communications campaign around LOA.
There are a variety of ways you can make LOA communication part of your internal communication strategy. Internal comms about leaves can be included in newsletters, flyers, posters, web pages, and more.
Additionally, consider an executive sponsor to champion and normalize taking a leave of absence. Through the use of storytelling and personal anecdotes, your employees will be more likely to remember key pieces of information relating to a leave of absence, thereby driving compliance.
5. Document and administer your leave policies inconsistently across the organization.
While this may seem the most obvious, it’s also the most important. Consistency removes confusion and ambiguity while ensuring a common experience for all employees. This includes clearly defining the time period after which an employee is eligible for a leave of absence.
6. Process leave requests promptly and document all approvals.
Prioritizing leave of absence requests expedites the process while helping the employee feel important and that they’re being taken seriously. This is the desired outcome assuming previous steps have been observed, where HR and team leaders are in lock step together. As part of this process, also ensure that formal approvals are well documented and clearly state the reason for the leave, the length of the leave, and the employee’s return date.
7. Follow up with the employee on their leave.
A delicate balance needs to be struck here. Partner with your HR management to identify an acceptable time to check in on the employee while on leave to confirm their return date and if any other accommodations can be made on their behalf. Be mindful to approach this sensitively and not just from a “work” perspective.
8. Implement leave management software.
You may also want to consider implementing leave management software, which is a great tool to receive leave requests, approve or deny requests, track leave balances, and ensure nothing falls through the cracks when it comes to managing employee leaves. Plus, leave management software will help ensure your employees are compliant with legal regulations.
LOA Communication Tool
These best practices culminate with the rollout of a leave of absence communication tool. This is a software application that helps employers manage the leave of absence process. Within it, you can track leave requests, communicate with employees while on leave, and manage the return to work process, all of which ensure compliance. A comprehensive LOA communication tool should feature the following:
- Easy-to-use checklists. Planning a leave of absence is easier when an employee can clearly see the run-down of all tasks they need to complete before, during and after the leave. It keeps things clear and ensures nothing falls through the cracks.
- Manager conversation guides. Clear communication is vital for leave management. Empower your managers to make the employee experience positive throughout the leave. A thoughtful conversation guide with direct yet helpful talking points will help ensure a smooth transition. The guide should outline exactly what managers and employees need to discuss in their pre-leave and post-leave conversations.
- On-demand trainings. Provide your employees with easily accessible tutorials they can use to walk them through the tool. Make it intuitive and include screenshots that follow a logical flow. Keep in mind your audience: Managers and their direct reports will find great value in this kind of resource.
- Consider creative multimedia. You may have an employee base that is regularly in the field or on the go and not necessarily sitting at a desk. So, it may help to introduce creative options, such as podcasts or videos, to provide tips about your leave management. If you go this route, use an authentic, conversational human voice and keep it light but informative.
Anyone at any time may need to take a leave of absence. Tragedies strike, unexpected health scares arise, families grow, and, in the case of those who serve in the military, duty may call. Whether planned or unplanned, it’s important that your employees understand their options, while feeling supported to potentially make a request.
If you follow these best practices, your employees will enjoy peace of mind while your company remains compliant with current laws. Leave of absence compliance starts at the top, ensuring a consistent experience and creating a work environment built on trust and understanding. Your employees will thank you for it.