When employees aren’t working, it costs their employers money. Vacation and sick time are the most common forms of leave, but more and more business owners are faced with requests for extended leaves of absence for other reasons.
According to this SHRM survey, businesses are spending more than $10,000 annually to administer FMLA leave; in some cases, these costs can balloon to more than $100,000. In many instances, costs can be significantly reduced by understanding and handling the claim properly. Here are five tips that can help you manage an employee’s request for a leave of absence.
1. Get it in writing.
This might seem obvious, but we see many business owners who do not get leave of absence requests in writing. It is critical to know exactly what your employee is asking for and why they are asking for it. Documentation could save you quite a bit of time and money down the road, especially if things don’t turn out as you planned. Understanding the request will allow you to respond appropriately and will inform whether or not you need to grant leave at all.
2. Review your employee handbook.
All too often we see business owners who have employee handbooks they don’t fully understand. Maybe the handbook hasn’t been updated in long time, or worse yet, the handbook was purchased online and never actually reviewed. In these cases, you might have a policy in place for leaves of absence—like it or not—and it might cost you more than necessary.
For example, we’ve seen small businesses that are not required to offer FMLA leave because they have fewer than 50 employees. However, their handbook had language stating FMLA leave would be granted. Guess what? They had to offer these benefits to an employee who made a request. That’s why it’s critical to know what policies (if any) have been communicated to your employees.
3. Examine the benefits available to the employee.
Was the request made due to an injury or a planned surgery or procedure? If you offer disability insurance, your employee might receive a percentage of their pay while they are out. Was an injury sustained while working that caused the need for leave? If so, you’ll need to file a claim so costs are covered through your workers compensation insurance.
4. Consult a professional.
Don’t go it alone! This is not the time to look for cost savings by doing it yourself. Depending on your business size and the reason for the request, a leave of absence can take many forms.
- You might be required to allow the leave.
- You might be required to hold the employee’s position for a period of time.
- You might need to make special accommodations for the employee if and when they return.
FMLA and ADA are the most common regulations that govern leaves of absence, but there are even more you must know about. A trusted advisor who can review the request and help you manage it could save you a considerable amount of time and money.
5. Prepare for the employee’s return.
Make sure you have clearly communicated with the employee about when they intend to return to work and if they will need any special accommodations. You might need to make sure your workplace is handicap accessible or make other physical changes depending on the situation. You might also have a returning employee who needs to ease back into work with a part-time schedule.
A leave of absence request can be a scary thing for a business owner—and if it’s handled poorly, it can be a nightmare. With a little planning and help from a human resource partner, it can be a much smoother experience for everyone involved.