Medical Leave

Before you’ve even had your first cup of coffee on a Monday morning, one of your key employees excitedly rushes into your office and tells you, “I’m pregnant!” One part of your brain functions just enough to tell her “Congratulations” while another part of your brain is flooded with panic. How are we going to handle this?

Most employers – even small employers – have sick leave and/or vacation policies to address incidental absences. However, many smaller employers don’t have a formal policy in place when an employee needs to be out of work for several weeks because of a serious medical condition. Larger employers – those with 50 or more employees – are required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees for the serious health condition of themselves or a child, spouse or parent. This article, however, is geared to smaller employers who don’t have that legal obligation and aren’t prepared to respond to leave requests.

Even very small employers can experience requests for medical leaves, and it is highly recommended that companies develop policies and determine how they will administer requests for such leaves of absence. Because companies with 15 or more employees are prohibited from discriminating based on pregnancy, the medical leave policy you decide upon must apply in the same way to pregnant employees as it applies to those who need surgery, have had heart attacks, etc.

The good news is that employers with fewer than 50 employees are able to design their policies in such a way to have the least amount of impact on the business. For example, your company may decide it can only grant leaves of absence for up to 4 weeks. Also, the company may choose whether or not it will permit employees to take a medical leave of absence to care for a family member such as a child, spouse or parent. A sample, basic policy may state (NOTE: Language surrounded by brackets [ ] indicates you have a choice to insert whatever you want your policy to be)

Eligible employees may take up to [4 weeks, 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 10 weeks, or 12 weeks] unpaid medical leave of absence in any 12 month period for a serious health condition that renders the employee incapable of performing the functions of his or her job. The 12 month period is measured as [a fixed 12 month period for all employees; 12 months measured forward from the first date leave is used; or a rolling 12 month period measured backward from the date leave is used].

Eligible employees are those who are designated as full time employees and have worked for the company at least 12 months.

[Optional: Employees must use all accrued leave time including [vacation, sick leave, personal leave, short term disability or workers’ compensation] during the medical leave of absence.]

An employee requesting a medical leave must complete an “Application for Medical Leave Request Form,” and return it to [specify position such as the Human Resources Manager]. The completed application must state the reason for the leave, the expected/requested duration of the leave and the starting and ending dates of the leave. Following receipt of a leave request, the company will notify the employee about whether the requested leave has been approved.

Unless it is an emergency situation, an employee intending to take a medical leave of absence must submit an application for the leave at least 30 days before the leave is to begin. If an employee’s leave begins within 30 days, the employee must give notice to [his or her immediate supervisor, the human resources department], as soon as the necessity for the leave arises.

The application for leave based on the serious health condition of the employee must be accompanied by a “Certification of Health Care Provider” [available from ______] and completed by your health care provider. The certification must state the date on which the serious health condition commenced, probable duration of the condition and the appropriate medical facts regarding the condition. The medical certification must state that the employee cannot perform the functions of his or her job.

The Company will require the medical certification to be submitted prior to or when an employee’s leave begins or within 15 days after the leave starting date.

Every effort will be made to restore an employee to the same position held when the leave began. The Company cannot guarantee that an employee will be returned to his or her same former job.

The Company will require an employee taking a medical leave of absence to report every 30 days on his or her status and intent to return to work upon completion of the leave. Employees returning from a medical leave are required to provide certification from a health care provider indicating that the employee is able to resume work. Employees who do not return to work upon the expiration of a medical leave will be treated as having voluntarily terminated their employment.

Any questions concerning the provisions of this leave policy or the forms associated with a leave under this policy should be directed to [specify department such as Human Resources].

Once you’ve developed your policy, you can then begin thinking about how your employee’s tasks will be completed while he or she is on leave. You may choose to hire a temporary employee to perform some or all of the tasks and/or divide the tasks among other employees.

Having a policy in place now will prevent you from being caught off guard when an employee requests medical leave and will enable you to process these requests in a consistent manner.

EAF responds to hundreds of hotline calls and emails monthly. We would be happy to answer any interesting questions you may have too! Contacts us at [email protected] or 407.260.6556.

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