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Providing Balance in Leave Policies
April 5, 2012
Much has been written about finding the right work-life balance as more women enter the work force and take on increasing levels of responsibility. As an employer (and probably someone searching for work-life balance as well!) it is critical to balance the needs of your employees with the needs of your company, while making sure that you are complying with the law.
More and more employers are realizing that providing flexibility and reasonable leave policies can actually improve productivity and employee loyalty. Offering leave policies may be an attractive benefit for your employees and can be tailored to fit individual situations, particularly for young workers needing maternity leave or those in the sandwich generation who may be faced with caring for an aging or ailing parent.
In fact, the best leave policies are those that are flexible and can account for the needs of both the employee and the employer. Some arrangements such as working from home, flexible office hours, or time off to attend to personal issues can be relatively easy to implement. Others, including granting leave time to an employee for medical or personal issues, have more implications for both the employee and the company and should be handled carefully and within the framework of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The FMLA provides employees with up to 12 weeks of leave for a serious medical condition or maternity leave and ensures that the position (or a comparable one) will be available when the employee returns. Generally, employers with over 50 employees are required to provide this leave to employees with a medical condition or who may need to care for a seriously ill family member. Employees who have a family member on medical leave from active military duty also are covered.
When FMLA leave runs out (and also sometimes if the employer is not subject to FMLA), the employee may be entitled to a leave of absence under the ADA. The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees. It also requires that each request be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. This means that your medical leave policy should not limit the duration of the permissible leave. Depending on the specific situation and the business, a leave of even up to six months may be considered reasonable. There is no bright-line test to determine what is reasonable, and as a consequence, it’s best to consult an attorney to ensure that you are acting within the law for the specific situation you may be facing.
Extending leave to employees can be difficult for employers who need to manage the work that the employee was handling while she is gone. Making an investment in a good employee by providing a flexible leave policy, however, encourages long-term loyalty to your company.