Peak vacation season is here… how is your organization balancing pre-approved vacation time and unexpected leaves of absence? Read on for tips to keep productivity and employee morale high.
Establish, document and publicize time off policies above and beyond federal and state mandated FMLA or Sick Leave policies. Whether you offer Paid Time Off or Vacation/Sick, ensure understanding of the policy and that your employees know how you will determine whose request will be honored when two employees request the same week. Common approaches are “first come/first served” or “tenure”. Be consistent to avoid the appearance of “favoritism” (No good deed goes unpunished) or “ discrimination”.
Show empathy when an unexpected time away will leave you short staffed.
Your managers will feel a heavy burden is being placed on them when their team has approved time off and someone becomes ill or an employee has an out of state emergency and needs unpaid time off. First and foremost, make sure you have a confidential discussion with the employee to understand the parameters of the leave (if at all possible), and to show that the organization is concerned about them and wishes to work with them to find the best outcome for them and the organization. This ensures that all prescribed rights, responsibilities, laws and policies are adhered to, and it helps to make the employee feel “listened to, and needed”.
Protect your organization and require that employees complete all necessary documentation.
In your efforts to be empathetic and keep your employees’ best interest in the forefront, you may say, “Go do what you need to and let us know what’s going on when you can.” This approach may put you in jeopardy as you may not have a good grasp of the situation, and may not be able to competently adhere to government regulations, or your own policies; your employees or organization may be harmed in some way. If your organization has a “Personal Unpaid Leave” policy, make sure you follow it consistently. If you do not have a policy, make sure you document the leave ensuring that both the organization and the employee understand the parameters of the leave, and mutual expectations (a letter from the organization, regular communication from the employee to the organization, etc.).
Rally your team to support the employee and the organization.
While doing this, always keep confidences shared with you by any employee. If there are medical reasons for the leave, keep the specific medical condition confidential and do not share it with others in the organization. You may require doctor’s notes, and FMLA paperwork from the doctor, that is standard for FMLA leave and it needs to be kept confidential, under lock and key! You may discuss the fact that someone is on FMLA leave with that person’s manager and NEVER share the medical reason. That will betray a trust, and it is also illegal for you to share. If it is a personal leave and does not have any medical information involved, you may share this information with the manager, if the employee is agreeable to the disclosure. Share what you can with the team and ask for their feedback on how to remain productive. You might consider some short term overtime, help from another part of the business or possibly a longer term temporary worker.
So remember, all leaves have their challenges, and many are mandated by law, or just good business to have people take time away in “body” when you know their minds will be absent anyway!
FIRST: Have the confidential discussion with the employee to ensure you have the facts and all rights, responsibilities, and policies are exposed.
SECOND: Ensure all paperwork is completed based on laws, policies, and general practices.
THIRD: While looking to reorganize to cover the duties of the employee while they are absent, keep everything confidential as required!
You can get through this, and keep the organization moving forward with forethought and planning! Just make sure you follow the three steps!