The Importance of Compliance

Deciding to take a leave of absence from work can be a heavy decision, even if it’s for a planned occasion like spending time with a newborn baby. Regardless of the reason, employees may feel apprehensive about requesting leave if there isn’t proper knowledge and a supportive work culture. There is therefore much more to leave management than checking the right boxes. It must be done so that all employees feel supported and confident in their decision to take a leave of absence. Achieving this is easier said than done. Your employees are your most valuable asset, so ensuring they’re familiar with your company’s Leave of Absence (LOA) policies and procedures is about more than just compliance. It builds trust and instills value, helping them feel like they belong while providing a streamlined process. This includes having a formal leave management process in place and an intuitive LOA communication tool. Once this is achieved, you create a workplace that explicitly supports the health and wellbeing of its employees. This builds a strong company culture and improves employee retention. It’s the ultimate win/win for everyone.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Federal and state laws may require employers to provide certain types of leave. This includes military leave, jury duty, or those relating to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Compliance is key. Per the FMLA, businesses with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to eligible workers so they can attend to any of the following:

  • For the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee
  • For placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
  • To care for an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition
  • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition

Leave of Absence Best Practices

Like any critical information intended for your employees, accuracy and timing are everything. Messaging should be succinct while also grabbing your audience’s attention. Relevant details related to compliance must be clearly documented and followed. Understanding and communicating the ins and outs of LOA laws are therefore crucial for your workplace, and they must be done proactively.
Employees needing to take a leave from work often do so due to the unexpected. The last thing you want them to experience during such a sensitive and private 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. (These may change or vary based on your location.) Having individuals assigned to tracking and interpreting any legal updates will mitigate the chances of relaying inaccurate information to your employees. Such discrepancies can prove costly and provide a poor employee experience.

  2. Introduce LOA guidelines during your New Hire Training.
    This goes back to making your employees feel welcomed and inclusive from Day One. Being transparent and open about LOA and related processes 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 responsible for leading a team 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 about leave management and be able to point members of their teams in the right direction. Consider regular check-ins with HR partners to align on messaging.

  4. Implement an internal communications campaign around LOA.
    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. Seeing a prominent member of your organization setting an example will pay significant dividends.

  5. Document and administer your leave policies in a consistent manner across the organization — without discrimination.
    While this may seem the most obvious, it’s also the most important. Consistency removes confusion and the lack of clarity while ensuring a common experience by all employees. This includes clearly defining the 12-month period after which an employee is eligible for FMLA. Options include:

  • The calendar year
  • Any fixed 12-month period (such as a fiscal year or the period starting on an employee’s anniversary date)
  • The 12-month period measured forward from the date an employee’s FMLA leave begins
  • A rolling 12-month period measured backward from the date an employee uses any FMLA leave
  1. 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.

  2. Follow up with the employee on their leave.
    A delicate balance needs to be struck here. Partner with your HR professionals to identify an acceptable time to check in on the employee while on leave. This may include confirming their return date and asking if any other accommodations can be made on their behalf. Be mindful to approach this sensitively and not just from a “work” perspective. The wellbeing of the employee should remain your priority.

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 contributes to high levels of compliance. Think of it as the foundation to your leave management program. 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 an outline of all tasks they need to complete before, during and after leave. It removes ambiguity and decreases the number of questions you may receive.
  • Manager conversation guides. As previously stated, 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. With the simple click of a button, 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 such a 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. In this case, 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. Given the high popularity of podcasts, many employees may prefer this option above all others.

Key Takeaways

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 our country, duty may call.
Whether planned or unplanned, it’s important that your employees understand their options, while feeling supported to potentially make a request. Doing so improves employee morale because they feel seen and understood when a significant life event requires them to step away from work. By following these best practices, your employees, regardless of the reason for taking leave, will enjoy and appreciate having peace of mind while your company remains compliant with current laws.