How to Handle Employee Leave

Date: June 18, 2019

Employee leave includes more than just paid time off. Learn more about the different employee leave policies and how to manage them.

Many small business owners take great care to work with employees’ needs for extended time off, whether it’s for illness, injury, personal matters, or to care for a loved one.

However, navigating employee leave beyond the usual vacation requests and sick days can be complicated—and confusing. “There are so many different types of employee leave, and each bucket may require its own policies in the company handbook,” says Beth Milito, Senior Executive Counsel at NFIB’s Legal Center. It’s easier to give those policies careful consideration in advance of the first leave request, she notes. Here’s how you can carve out the time to set policies in place before they’re needed.

RELATED: The Cost of Mandatory Paid Sick Leave

Start at the Ground Level

When crafting employee leave policies, small businesses need to first determine whether there’s a state or municipal policy in the area in which they’re located, Milito says.

For instance, five states (California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York) and the District of Columbia mandate paid family and medical leave. But the fine print varies considerably on everything from what company size falls under the requirements to how many weeks of leave the employee is entitled to. In the city of Chicago, even part-time workers (who clock 80 hours over a 120-day period) are eligible for paid sick time.

Take the time to do research on what the requirements are in your city and state—and whether your company falls under those regulations. “When you know where the floor is, then you can build from there,” Milito says.

Know the Trends

To stay competitive in recruiting and retaining employees, many small businesses offer paid time off. According to a 2016 NFIB poll, the majority of small businesses offer PTO that employees can use for any type of leave: 73 percent of small business owners offer PTO.

There’s also been a shift toward greater flexibility in how employees use their days, says Milito, with more companies lumping vacation, sick, and personal days into one PTO allotment that employees can pull from. Pooling those days together can streamline the tracking on the employer side and also allows employees to take leave when they need to and for whatever reason they need to.

However, if you live in an area that mandates paid sick leave, be mindful to ensure your PTO allotment at least exceeds the required minimum.

Spell It Out

Nearly nine out of 10 companies offer bereavement leave. But how many days does an employee get if their spouse dies, versus their aunt or close family friend? Rather than figure out the fine print on the fly, spell everything out in advance in the company handbook, Milito suggests. This will avoid awkwardness and confusion during a crisis and can broadcast to all employees that the company offers the benefit and is there to support them during those moments.

When drafting your handbook, clarity always trumps murkiness. If you have any questions or lingering uncertainty, consider meeting with an attorney to work through the nitty-gritty details.

For more information on paid leave, contact your state director to learn more about employee leave laws by state.


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