Employee Benefits

Navigating the U.S. Leave of Absence Maze in Today’s Work Environment

Administering different types of employee leave requests remain one of the top challenges for employers. With companies expanding into new states, and allowing employees to work anywhere, the level of complexity has increased as state (and local) leave laws come into consideration.

How do employers navigate the leave of absence maze? First, it is important to understand the myriad of state leave laws that are applicable to an organization and its employees. Which leave laws apply to the employer? The employee? How do these interact with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and any leave policies the company may have?

Next, it is important for an organization to assess their time off culture and practices. What is the company’s stance on allowing employees to take time off? Is this encouraged by management and leadership? As a leave consultant, I have seen a rise in organizations providing generous time off and leave of absence policies to encourage and support employees’ need for time away from work. As you may have experienced with your own organization’s growth, potential new hires are asking about time off benefits – paid time off (perhaps inquiring if there is an unlimited or flexible time off program), parental leave benefits (is it paid or unpaid? how much time off is provided?), caregiver leave benefits, number of holidays offered, etc. If you are monitoring these types of inquiries as part of your recruiting efforts, it may be worth reviewing/updating your company’s time off policies to attract and retain talent.

Another detour in the leave of absence maze may include understanding if your remote employees are eligible for certain leave benefits. For example, an FMLA covered employer must provide protected, unpaid time off to eligible employees. Per the FMLA, an employee must meet certain eligibility requirements including working at a location with at least 50 or more employees (or with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius). For your one and only employee working from their home in Texas, what do you do if they need to take time off to care for themselves, a family member, or to bond with a new child? Are they eligible for time off under the FMLA? They just may be.

An employee’s personal residence is not considered a worksite. Therefore, an employee working from home reporting to a worksite with at least 50 or more employees may be eligible for FMLA leave if they meet all other eligibility requirements. Because more employers have employees scattered throughout the U.S., it is not uncommon for a FMLA policy to exclude the 50/75-mile rule requirement.

Another common challenge for employers is how and when to pay employees who go out on a leave of absence. As more states implement paid disability insurance programs and/or paid family and medical leave programs, employers are faced with how to integrate external wage replacement with a company’s own paid policy - ensuring employees are not paid more than their normal weekly wage. For employees working in states with no programs to help offset lost income, is it equitable for the employer to offer a 100% supplemental paid program?

If this article leaves you with more questions than you started with, that is quite alright. You are not alone. Lean on the vast resources available to you – HR memberships (i.e., SHRM), HR technologies, consulting firms, leave specialists, outsourcing firms, law firms, and your trusted HR peers. No matter the size of your organization, it is never too late to look at your time off policies, leave documents, leave communications, and leave management processes to ensure it is compliant and reflective of your company’s time off culture.

Marina Galatro
The Author
Marina Galatro

Executive HR Consultant

Marina brings more than 25 years of HR experience to her role as Executive HR Consultant at Newfront, and has provided consultation, effective recommendations and support to companies on a variety of topics such as compensation, compliance, leaves of absence, paid time off, performance management, policy and procedure development, total rewards, and training and development.

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