Leave of absence requests aren’t like other forms of time off from work. Sick and vacation leave are typically short-term absences that don’t cause significant business disruptions. However, employees seeking a leave of absence will be away from the office for weeks or more. Some leaves of absence are for positive circumstances, such as the birth of a child. However, even joyous life events can be stressful and require employees to take time off work. Regardless of the reason, employers need to understand employees’ legal protections and implement leave policies that support their staff during what is likely a stressful period.
Mandatory and Voluntary Leave of Absence
Federal regulations protect some leave of absence requests and require employers to approve them for eligible employees. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to grant leave requests for qualified medical reasons, such as the birth of a child. In addition, FMLA requires employers to preserve the employee’s position or provide them with a similar one when they return.
Voluntary leaves of absence are for other reasons, such as taking a sabbatical or carrying out a recently deceased loved-one’s will. These requests usually occur once employees have exhausted their paid or federally protected leave. It’s at the employer’s discretion whether to grant voluntary leave requests.
Paid vs. Unpaid Leave
Some states have mandatory paid leave requirements, but employers can usually decide if they will offer compensation for voluntary leave. However, it’s in the company’s best interest to provide paid leave in certain situations. For example, most businesses offer paid bereavement leave to give employees time to grieve and bring their loved one’s affairs into order. Offering a paid leave of absence has several benefits. It shows employees that the company cares about their emotional and mental health. It provides financial support during stressful times and allows employees to focus on their well-being. Paid or unpaid, offering a voluntary leave of absence can prevent burnout by allowing employees to focus on essential personal matters instead of worrying about whether they’ll still have a job when they’re ready to return.
What Constitutes a Leave of Absence?
Leaves of absence can range widely in length. For example, employees can take a maximum of 12 weeks off from work during a 12-month period under FMLA, whereas the ADA does not stipulate a timeframe. In contrast, companies can build their voluntary leave policies, as federal laws don’t apply. Companies should consider the following when designing a voluntary leave of absence policy:
- Types of qualifying leave
- Employee eligibility requirements
- Offering paid or unpaid leave
- What employee benefits still apply
- How to submit and approve leave of absence requests
A leave of absence policy can be a compelling benefit to recruit and retain employees. Contact Windermere Insurance Group to learn more about building a benefits package that appeals to and supports employees.