It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! (really?)

December 18, 2018

Every employee in the break room liked Christmas a lot! But the head of HR, up on the 3rdfloor, did NOT!! “Tomorrow is Friday! It’s practically here!” he said with a sneer, “Must find some way to stop these Leave Requests from coming!!” (sound familiar?)

Employees taking leave during the holidays is not a new topic, but it is one that bears repeating and remembering all year long. I mean, December isn’t the only month with holidays. Whether you are talking about FMLA, PFL, or the ADA, leave during this time of year can be easy to scrutinize and assumed that an employee just wants extra time to finish their shopping or to take time during the week their children are off for holiday break. I’ll say it, you’re not wrong that it’s going to happen. However, and I know I refer back to this one often, but I have explained why Managing To The 1% is a Bad Investment. It is generally not a good use of your limited time and resources to try to catch the bad actors as your top priority. Let’s go over it.

Generically, the holidays may be a wonderful time, but they can also be quite stressful and emotional, quickly impacting employees who have disabilities that can flair up as a result. Whether an employee has depression, migraines or Crohn’s induced by stress, or a whole host of other possibilities, the legitimacy of the absence request should be treated like any other absence request, any other time of the year.

FMLA: Let’s just get back to basics. What is your policy? What is the procedure? Stay consistent. Answer some basic questions to guide your decisions.

  1. Have I asked sufficient questions to rule out FMLA qualified absences?
  2. Have I provided the employee the opportunity to apply for FMLA?
  3. Has the employee adhered to required absence policy?
  4. Are there any other absence policies in place that I need to be mindful of when making a decision about the employee request?

ADA: This area can feel like there are many more shades of gray, but there really aren’t if you have updated policies in place and you have the basics of ADA coordination. If you are feeling uneasy, take a moment to peruse What Triggers the Interactive Process. One of the most important things to remember is that part of the ADA is that an employee must have equal access to leave under their employer’s policy. Therefore, if an employee requests time under an annual paid leave that may be used for any reason, but it happens the week before the holiday rush and just happens to say “I have really been struggling with my depression because my ex-wife has my kids out of state for the holiday.” If the supervisor then requires the employee to provide proof of clinical depression so the time should be counted under the sick leave policy instead, this would be a violation of the ADA because the employer essentially denied the employee use of the non-sick leave days simply because the employee’s disability became a factor. Again, follow established procedures to ensure consistent treatment of all employees in all situations. If the employer has a policy that indicates that annual leave requires 30-days notice, then the employer could legitimately deny for failure to follow established process and request that the employee apply under the sick leave policy. This would be the same for all employees requesting time for any reason under the written policy.

PFL: Around the time that the New York PFL program came out, I was doing a training for a large organization who manages absence requests. One of the slightly more matured ladies said “This law is going to be just managing abuse when all these new mom’s start taking long weekends and time during the holidays.” I gently responded to her “Yes, that’s exactly the point of the law.” This reminded me that often people see these laws as something that is intended just to make things harder for employers. However, if you have a well-trained employee, whom you have already invested in for a few years, whether they are taking time to bond or care for an aging parent, if they are able to take time, while still paying their bills, they return to their job less stressed and far more productive. Studies show that it takes on average 33% of an employee’s salary to replace them, not counting the lead time it then takes to get a new employee up to the same level of proficiency in the position. Therefore, know the laws in your state, follow the policy you have in place, and be mindful that an employee taking a qualified leave under a Paid Family Leave program is likely to be as much in your best interest as theirs.

As you consider absences this time of year, not all your employees have good times and cheer.

Maybe absence requests aren’t abuses galore. Maybe absence needs are just a little bit more.

So follow your process and employees will stay. I hope your heart grows three sizes this day!

Happy Holidays to all!