Sometimes being a group insurance Advisor can feel like being a jack-of-all-trades.
Advisors are often asked questions related to employee benefits plans that aren’t necessarily their area of expertise. Many small employers lack the resources of a Human Resources department, and so when questions arise, they naturally turn to their expert in group benefits.
We’ve listened to our Advisors who have said that the most common questions they get from clients are related to leave policies: why they’re important, what to include, how to start, etc.
We want to equip Advisors and their clients with some of the basic knowledge they’ll need to get started on the right foot, so we reached out to our own Human Resources department at Benefits by Design for insight. Here’s what they came back with:
Why Are Leave Policies Important?
Having a leave policy in place provides clarity and clear expectations for procedures and next steps when an employee needs to take a leave of absence. They allow employers to retain valuable employees in situations where, without an approved leave of absence or procedure in place, an employee’s only other option might be to resign or find alternative employment.
With the more common leaves – maternity or disability leave, for example – legislation and procedure take over. There’s a process to follow. However, with other leaves, say an employee needs to take care of an ailing parent, the specifics are less set in stone. In cases where tough or unexpected circumstances are forcing an employee to consider an extended leave of absence, employers with a leave policy in place are better equipped to deal with employees and engage in open communication.
Having a leave policy in place also shows employees that when a leave is needed, they have options. Without one, it’s left up in the air, which can cause fear, anxiety, and stress for employees contemplating the need for a leave of absence – all of which are detrimental to employee productivity, engagement, and retention.
What Happens When An Employee Requests a Leave?
Having a leave policy does not guarantee that every employee who requests leave will be approved. Instead, it allows for a conversation to be had between the employee and employer and opens up the door for communication and understanding.
Depending on the circumstances, a request for a leave of absence may be abrupt or given with short notice, and it’s important for employers to try and be flexible when an employee requests some time away from work. When a leave is requested, employers should consult and review their leave policy and determine next steps. If available, the company leave policy should be made accessible to employees at all times, so that they may confirm what the policy is. The policy should be flexible enough that it allows employees to take time away from work, but should include guidelines and expectations for the amount of time the employee will be away.
What Happens if There is No Leave Policy?
Without a set leave policy that is made available to employees, employers may open themselves up to certain risks. Here’s a few to keep in mind:
Employee assumptions. Without a leave policy (or if employees aren’t knowledgeable about an existing leave policy), there’s a possibility that employees will start filling in the blanks. If they don’t ask about a policy or assume it doesn’t exist, both the employee and the employer can be left in a tough spot.
Employee dissatisfaction. When there’s no policy in place, it becomes harder for employers to approve or deny leaves on anything but gut feeling. If an employee is denied a leave, with no policy in place to detail why or what steps can be taken, confusion and frustration are inevitable.
Grey areas. If it’s not documented and consistent, it’s easy for things to get confusing. An established leave policy protects employers and employees by setting out the expectations and guidelines for requesting, approving, and denying a request for a leave. Without one, you’re left only with a “grey area” of what’s appropriate for a leave of absence and what’s not.
Employees use their vacation or sick time instead. If employees have no other option and feel they need the time off, they’ll start using vacation or sick time to get it. But once their allotments are gone for the year, that’s it, and employers may be left to do damage control when employees get sick for real.
What Should Employers Include In A Leave Policy?
Every employer’s leave policy will be different depending on their circumstances, however, there are some standard parameters employers should consider including to craft a leave policy that is clear, concise and easily understandable. Here are a few things to think about including in a leave policy:
- Who is eligible for leave?
- What are the minimum and maximum lengths of time for a leave of absence?
- Is the leave paid or unpaid?
- Can employees use some of their vacation or personal time off in addition to the leave time?
- How often can a single employee take a leave of absence?
In addition to the above, it is advisable for a leave policy to include a return to work date that is agreed upon by all parties and captured in a formal, signed document. This helps in establishing clear expectations for the length of time being allowed, removing room for “grey area” that we mentioned above.
Having a leave policy can add value to an employer and protect them from many of the risks associated with the uncertainty that comes from not having one. Employees gain the reassurance that their employers value them, and that in cases where a leave may be necessary, the door is open for a conversation.