Time off is one of the best benefits employers can offer their staff. And whether the leave is paid or unpaid it can go a long way toward making your employees’ lives easier. Leave is divided into two main categories–mandatory and voluntary leave–and each of these covers a wide range of opportunities and circumstances where employees may need to take time off.
At Beckham Insurance Group, we understand that navigating employee leave can be a bit overwhelming, and that’s why we’re here to help. Read on for your complete guide to leave of absence and best employer practices.
What Is a Leave of Absence?
A leave of absence is any period of time an employee takes off of work that is not covered by another benefit type. It’s requested by an employee to cover special circumstances that may arise in their lives. These circumstances can include any number of scenarios including extended maternity or paternity leave, caring for ill family members, finalizing estates for the departed, and personal health conditions.
Typically there is no salary compensation or benefits provided to offset any lost income as there is with paid time off (PTO), but it is a way that employees can retain their positions while taking extended breaks from the duties of their position.
And leaves of absence don’t only benefit the employee. Rather, they also give employers a way to retain valuable talent while also being sensitive to the demands of unexpected life circumstances.
There are two main categories of leave types: mandatory leave and voluntary leave. Each of these works in specific ways, and it’s important to note the differences between them as they may affect employees and employers differently.
Mandatory leave is a leave type that is regulated within government policies and Acts including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). There are several different types of mandatory leave, the most common of which include FMLA Leave, military leave, jury duty, worker’s compensation, and religious observance leave.
Before we dive into these various types of mandatory leave, it’s important to note that while sick days and vacation time are not federally mandated benefits, they may be required by state and local governments.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to any business that has a minimum of fifty employees. It ensures that if employees or their immediate family members become seriously ill, they are granted up to twelve weeks of leave to recover. It also provides leave protections to uniformed service members so that they can return to their existing jobs after fulfilling a contract of military service. There are an additional 26 weeks of leave available for employees who are caring for an injured service member.
Who Qualifies for FMLA Leave?
To qualify for FMLA leave, individuals need to be employed by a covered employer for a minimum of twelve months. These months don’t have to be consecutive, but during them, employees must work at least 1,250 hours during the twelve months directly preceding when they choose to take leave. Additionally, any employee who wishes to take FMLA leave must also be experiencing one of the following circumstances:
- Military Caregiver Leave
- Military Qualifying Exigency
- Birth of a Baby
- Placement of a Child for Adoption of Foster Care
- Care for a Sick Immediate Family Member
- Serious Health Conditions
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) piggybacks off the FMLA to reinforce that uniformed service members must be allowed to return to any job they previously held when they return from completing their service or training.
Jury Duty Leave
It is illegal to take action against an employee for missing work if they’re serving on a federal jury. Some have interpreted this to mean that employers have to allow their employees to serve on any jury that requires their assistance without any negative consequences. This means that businesses, essentially, have to assign specific leave for jury duty.
Currently, there are no federal requirements in place that require businesses to pay nonexempt employees while they’re serving on a jury, but state and local laws may have different requirements.
While the federal government doesn’t require employers to provide their employees with time off so that they may vote, the majority of states have motions in place that grant employees a minimum of one hour of leave so that they may fulfill their civic duties.
If an employee is injured on the job, employees are legally required to provide them with wage replacement, medical benefits, and leave to ensure the individual and their family unit are financially protected and that the individual is given adequate time to recover.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ensures that employers must allow their employees to take leave for religious purposes if it is specifically requested as a religious accommodation. This is to ensure that individuals are protected against religious discrimination.
Parental leave, also known as maternity and paternity leave, is a benefit typically not required on the federal level, but often legally mandated on state and local levels.
Maternity leave is required when a woman has to stop working because she is about to give birth, has just given birth, or has just adopted a baby. Men are granted paternity leave when they adopt or have partners who have recently given birth. Typically, parents are only granted twelve weeks of unpaid time off for this kind of leave.
Other Mandatory Leave Types
There is still a wide range of leave types guaranteed at federal, state, or local levels that are available for employees. These include, but are not limited to:
- Pregnancy Disability
- Public Holidays
- Adoption Leave
- Temporary Disability Leave
- Community Service and Volunteer Work
- Parent/Teacher Conference Attendances
- Adverse Weather
Voluntary leave, unlike mandatory leave, isn’t required or regulated by any government agency. Instead, it’s an employee courtesy perk left to the employer’s discretion. Businesses that choose to offer this benefit type generally write their specific guidelines for how their version of voluntary leave works along with requirements for who can qualify for voluntary leave.
Individuals most commonly request voluntary leave when they are experiencing one of five specific circumstances. And typically, leave taken to fulfill one of these reasons is not paid, and some employers may even request that their employers use up all of their PTO before any extra time off is granted.
Pursuing Higher Education
One of the most common reasons employees seek voluntary leave is when they are pursuing higher education. This can include taking short courses to further an employee’s work-related education or even pursuing master’s degrees or PhDs in their chosen fields.
When a family member or close friend dies, employees are typically eligible to receive three to seven days of bereavement leave. Some employers may allow you to extend this period, but that decision is left to the discretion of the employer.
Taking a Sabbatical
Taking a sabbatical covers a wide range of leave options for employees. Whether they want to learn a new skill, work on a personal project, rest, or explore any number of interests, employees have the option to request a sabbatical from work. This allows them to remain employed and have a job to return to after they finish their break. Some businesses even let their employees continue collecting paychecks while they’re gone.
Going Through a Divorce or Other Family Upheaval
If an employee is going through a divorce or other family upheaval, they may be able to apply for voluntary leave through their workplace. In some places, leave for this reason can extend up to twelve weeks, but it depends on employee circumstances and employer allowances.
Moving can be a hassle for employees, so taking leave for a few days can help them return to peak productivity much faster as long as their employer approves the days off.
Best Employer Practices
To make leaves of absence requests flow as smoothly as possible for your business, consider implementing these best practice options at your company:
- Encourage your employees to put in requests for time off as far in advance as possible. That way, you can ensure your staff gets the time off they need, and you’re able to space out leave requests when possible to remain as fully staffed as possible.
- Help your employees schedule their leaves not only when it suits their schedules best, but also when it meets business requirements
- Work to develop a fair holiday staffing policy that details minimum staffing requirements, yearly rotations, and any other pertinent information to keep your employees happy and your business running smoothly.
- Unless you are required to do so by law, avoid making payouts on any unused PTO or leave balances. Instead, encourage your staff to take leaves where they can, and save yourself the extra money on unused days.
- Coach your managers on what constitutes a reasonable leave request, and empower them to make executive decisions about time off.
Simplify Your HR Workload with Beckham
We hope you found the answers you were looking for in this guide to leave of absence and employer best practices! At Beckham Insurance Group, we understand that navigating the world of benefits can be overwhelming, and that’s why we’re here to help! With progressive technology, game-changing financial solutions for employees, and high-level customer service, our team navigates the complicated world of employee benefits for you.
When you’re ready to make the switch, contact us for a free quote!