Five Things that Go Wrong with Employee Leave (and How to Fix Them!)

December 9, 2022

Even for the largest employers, leaves of absence can be complex and time-consuming to manage. Whether your leave team is handling everything manually, using tools that weren’t purpose-built for leave, or has outsourced everything, there are many ways the leave process can become, well, less than optimal for HR—and everyone else.

In this article, we take a look at five things that can go wrong with leave management, even for the best of us. We’ll also let you know how to get ahead of these issues, so everyone can enjoy a better leave experience. For an in depth look at how to improve every step of the FMLA process, download our Best Practices for Modern FMLA Management.

#1. Employees know little to nothing about taking leaves of absence

Leaves of absence are taken only during major, life-altering events, so many employees requesting leave have never done it before. They usually aren’t familiar with the laws, policies, and entitlements, and don’t know anything about job protection and pay.

This places a big burden on leave managers to share a lot of new information—and at a time when the employees they are working with are already dealing with a lot.

HR teams can end up spending a lot of time answering questions, looking up information, and helping employees understand their entitlements and options. Multiply this over an average 85 cases per leave manager, and that adds up to a lot of time answering inquiries.

While one part of the solution to this issue can be employee education programs, the second part can be solved by giving your leave team the right technology. With leave management software, the time and effort it takes to answer questions can be reduced dramatically—and even eliminated in some cases with self-service portals.

If an employee calls or sends an email to request a leave, all a leave manager would have to do is open a case in leave management software like AbsenceSoft. There, they can quickly view and calculate eligibility for all the employee’s different options for leave. This helps your team answer questions far more quickly and easily—and with just a few more clicks, the request is fully submitted. When you use leave software, you can let each employee know that clear instructions, critical information, forms, and reminders will be automatically sent, so they know they will be fully guided through the process.

#2. Employees don’t know how to make a leave request

Let’s say an employee has just lost a loved one, and needs to take bereavement leave. They’re not only dealing with grief and stress, they might not even know where to go to request leave. Their workplace might have one portal for healthcare, a second system for PTO, another for accommodations, a number to call for FMLA… in today’s modern workplace, the list can easily go on and on.

So now, you’ve got an employee who is filled with grief, experiencing significant stress, and casting around trying to figure out who on earth can help them request leave. Even if this employee turned to their manager for information, it’s very possible the manager would not know either. It’s negative experiences like these that easily add up and impact retention.

If it becomes too difficult for your employees to locate the right contact information for your leave system, it can lead to a lawsuit.

In a recent court decision, an outsourced leave provider gave an employee extremely vague and unclear instructions for reporting intermittent leave. They told the employee to call in and report each time they would be out, but then provided no number to call.

Ultimately, the employee needed to take some of their leave, and didn’t call the number that wasn’t provided. The company then decided the employee didn’t follow instructions and denied the employee’s leave. The court found in the employee’s favor after the company’s representative couldn’t even give the correct number to call in court.

Leave technology like AbsenceSoft that offer self-service portals make this much easier for employees. They can also help you avoid lawsuits like the one mentioned above. With a self-service portal, employees can use their phone, tablet, laptop, or workstation to quickly fill out pertinent details, understand their leave options, instantly check their eligibility, and more. They can log back in at any time to check the status of their leave, submit paperwork by snapping a photo, and much more.

#3. Communicating with employees out on leave is hard to get right

Despite our best efforts, it’s easy for employees who go out on leave, especially ones that last weeks or months, to become “out of sight, out of mind.” It can also be difficult to know exactly what you can communicate—and how often you can reach out—to employees on leave. It can be so nuanced that we even wrote an entire article about how to communicate with employees on FMLA.

At any given time, HR teams can be dealing with a lot. Performance reviews, handbook creation, open enrollment, and benefit provider changes are just a few of the very demanding projects HR oversees. If your team doesn’t really have time to effectively communicate with employees out on leave, employees can end up out longer than planned because they didn’t get a notification that they needed to return.

Or worse, employees can end up feeling “ghosted” while out on leave, and in turn, might not end up coming back at all. With the cost to replace someone up to 200% more than retaining them, you’ll want to make sure this isn’t happening!

With leave technology, you can create a standardized, compliant process for communicating with employees on leave, and then use automated reminders to make sure employees aren’t inadvertently forgotten.

At a glance, you can see how much time an employee has taken, and how much they have left. You can also set reminders to be sent to managers and employees before a return date to come back to make sure everyone is on the same page and aware of expectations.

#4. Employees don’t understand the approval process, and don’t know their status

As we’ve seen with the pitfalls listed above, a lot of it stems from employees not knowing much about leaves of absence, and then having to learn it all very quickly just as a major life event is taking place. Another common issue is employees thinking that requesting leave is the same as being approved for leave. If the request process is already cumbersome, it’s easy for employees to think that once they’ve called the numbers, filled out the forms, and asked all their questions, their part is done and they can go out on leave.

If leave is managed by a third party, or your company doesn’t have a single source of truth, employees won’t have any visibility into their eligibility or approval status without calling a phone number or sending an email. At AbsenceSoft, we once worked with a large employer that was still relying on notebooks and post-it notes to manage FMLA prior to the pandemic. This made it very time-consuming and tedious for both HR and employees to learn the state of their request. (Not to mention the compliance issue of taking notebooks filled with HIPAA data off-premises when everyone had to work remotely!)

Leave management software centralizes data into a single view, and automates eligibility calculations based on work history. This makes the approval process happen far faster and with greater accuracy. When an employee contacts their leave manager to request a leave, the leave manager can calculate their eligibility in minutes, letting them know right away if an approval is likely.

Informational packets can be generated in seconds inside of leave management software like AbsenceSoft. They can be customized to include information that better educates employees about the steps of the leave process. Once the packet is ready, it can be sent via email, fax, or mail to make sure this information is received in a timely, compliant manner.

Employee self-service portals are also a great way to make sure employees understand the process, and can check on their status any time.

By logging in to the portal, employees can enter in their leave request details, and see their eligibility instantly. That way, they’ll understand immediately if they are likely to have their leave request approved or denied. Then, they won’t mistakenly think that the act of making a request automatically means approval.

#5. Managers don’t have critical details about their employees’ leave

Given the effort it can take from HR and the employees going out on leave just to get through the FMLA process, it’s no surprise that managers often get left in the dark. Especially in workplaces where returning to work means more than just logging back into a laptop and Zoom, managers need a way to stay apprised of when their employees are expected back from leave, to make sure access, badges, schedules, and more are all in place. Otherwise, managers can end up frustrated, and inadvertently make their employees feel undervalued and not cared for.

Managers are a huge part of any employee’s overall experience, so they need an easy way to know which of their staff is on leave, and when to expect them back. If they don’t, they won’t have the information they need to prepare for an employee’s return, and won’t be able to plan for coverage properly during an extended leave.

The automated reminder systems in leave management software like AbsenceSoft give HR a powerful tool for proactively communicating with managers.

The system can send emails or text messages to managers letting them know how long an employee will be out, and when they are expected to return. If a manager needs further details, they can call the leave manager, who can pull up the employee’s entire case history and answer any questions right away.

With all the regulations at the local, state, and federal level, combined with company policies, managing leaves of absence is a complicated process—especially at scale for organizations with thousands of employees. It’s very easy for any company that doesn’t have the right tools to find themselves facing the issues we discussed above, even if everyone is working very hard and doing their absolute best. To effectively manage leave while providing a positive employee experience, it’s critical to equip your HR team with the right leave solution.

To learn even more ways to build a better leave experience, we invite you to watch the recording of the webinar: How to Level Up Your Leave Program with AbsenceSoft leave expert Jennifer Limon.

To find out how AbsenceSoft can help you improve the way you manage leave, schedule a demo today.