Navigating the different types of leave available for employees can quickly get confusing. FMLA, ADA, Company Leave, FFCRA, PTO, STD, LTD – it’s a sea of acronyms, each with their own set of rules and guidelines that often overlap or weave together. Keeping track of the various types of leave available can be challenging, but employers would be best suited to strategize which leaves may be applicable to them and develop policies around them. Because employees will inevitably need to take time off, employers need to have a basic knowledge of laws and policies that protect both the employee and protect the company.
Types of Leave
Generally, when looking at the wide variety of time the employee can take off, employers should understand that there are two main functions of defining leave: How does the employee receive pay and How long must the employer hold the employee’s job and/or benefits? Both of these items are very clearly defined in the federal FMLA regulations applicable to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. Outside of the standard FMLA, employers are encouraged to have a company leave policy that defines these same benefits.
Where FMLA protects the employee for not only their own health condition but that of their immediate family member, the ADA may protect just the employee by providing a reasonable accommodation, which could include a short-term leave of absence. The ADA doesn’t require employers to hold the employee’s job or their benefits nor does it require continuation of pay. However, the employee may be eligible to use Short-Term or Long-Term Disability along with company Paid Time Off, Sick Time and or Vacation time during this absence.
Because these leaves can stack together, employers need to closely evaluate every situation to determine what different leave options may apply.
What to Do Now
Take a moment to review your current employee handbook to ensure that you have a clearly defined FMLA policy if applicable. Even if you are subject to FMLA, all companies should also have a leave policy defined for those employees who are either not yet eligible for FMLA or where FMLA doesn’t apply. In that company leave policy, the employer can define whether the leave is paid or unpaid and how long the employee is allowed to remain on the company benefit plan during leave. Additionally, the employer can define how long they will hold the employee’s job during leave. It is important to be consistent with these guidelines to prevent discriminatory practices.
As more and more states begin to loosen their stay at home restrictions, the question many business owners have right now is, “When can we get our employees back to work, and how do we do so, safely?” Many companies were able to transition to a remote working environment and subsequently have seen their employees really step up to the plate and become very productive working from home. As a result, numerous businesses are making the decision to allow their employees to continue to work from home even as regulations begin to allow a return to work. St. Louis County specifically stated that if a business has been able to efficiently operate remotely, they should consider allowing employees to continue to work from home for a little longer.
Getting Back on the Job
However, not all businesses can operate remotely and may be eager to get their employees back to work as soon as possible. First and foremost, those businesses must follow the protocol outlined in the applicable reopening guidelines as directed by their states or counties. This could include limited staff or patrons in the building, or enhanced cleaning and employee health screenings. In order to effectively follow these guidelines, employers may choose to allow employees back in waves, or stagger office hours, thus, limiting the exposure each employee has to other coworkers. This may be a great solution for the manufacturing industry where employees work closely to one another.
Safety and Sanitization
Not only may enhanced sanitization be required, it can also help ease employee’s minds when returning. Sanitizing shared or frequently used work surfaces multiple times per day will help reduce potential exposure to the virus. We recommend providing access to hand sanitizer or hand washing stations for employees. Many companies are requiring all employees who return to work, wear masks and/or gloves to help protect themselves. Though it is not a requirement, it’s recommended that if the organization is requiring employees to wear masks and gloves, those should be supplied by the company. Furthermore, management should also consider putting new policies in place for all employees returning to work, so staff is aware of these expectations and mandates prior to returning to work.
Health Screenings and Considerations
As businesses reopen, they may be required to perform daily health screenings under applicable legislation, or they may choose to do so in an effort to protect staff. These screenings can include daily health questions to confirm the employee is not exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 and has not been around anyone with those symptoms. It could also include taking the temperatures of staff or visitors. This may cause an issue with privacy concerns, so employers should take great caution with those administering these tests and protecting the data. Employers do have the right to refuse work to anyone who is sick with COVID-19-like symptoms.
The environment employees are returning to may look very different from the environment they left a few months ago. The dynamic in the office will be a little foreign and helping employees get back into the swing of things and adjusting to the changes, is important. Reminding and enforcing guidelines on sanitization, masks, social distancing, and health screenings can help ease concerns of employees apprehensive of returning. However, there may be employees who are simply too scared to return, and these situations should be handled carefully. Overall, employers should strive to provide peace of mind to know staff and remind them the primary concern is employee safety.
As we continue to navigate this uncharted territory as a society, we will start to learn more about what works best and create new best practices for our businesses. Below are some helpful links from the CDC and OSHA that will help you make informed decisions on how to proceed with safely opening your businesses and getting back to work. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
To say these are uncertain times is an understatement. COVID-19 has our nation on edge and your employee’s well-being and safety is your top priority. Many employees are teleworking for the first time, isolated from co-workers, friends and family. Disruption of their daily routine can cause anxiety and stress – physically, mentally, and financially. It is imperative that business owners and managers step back, remain calm, and show support for their employees.
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