Retaining an engaged, happy workforce is important for businesses, especially in these times of low unemployment. Among the perks that employees want are leave policies that allow them to take time off to recharge or for personal, medical, or family reasons. It’s your job as an employer to balance your business needs with providing the time your employees need off. While many employers have voluntary paid leave policies, there is a growing trend of local and state jurisdictions mandating paid leave.
To help you stay compliant with local, state, and federal laws and regulations surrounding leaves of absence, team up with a Professional Employer Organization such as Resourcing Edge. Risk management and compliance is an essential part of our responsibility to our clients. With experienced leave specialists monitoring employee leave and navigating multiple state and federal laws, you can remain confident that your company is enforcing leave policies while avoiding potential legal problems along the way.
It’s important to note, however, that this information is not a substitute for legal counsel and should not be construed as legal advice. For professional counsel on compliance and HR best practices, speak with a specialist at Resourcing Edge.
What is a leave of absence?
A leave of absence is an officially excused period of time off from one’s primary job. In most cases, it’s understood that the employee will return to the same position or a position that is comparable in seniority, status, and pay.
Leave takes three main forms: paid, unpaid, and partially paid leaves of absence. While no federal law requires paid time off, many states and localities do. And although most employers are not required to offer paid leave, paid-time-off (PTO) policies are extremely common to help attract and retain top talent.
Paid, Unpaid, and Partially Paid Leave Laws
Leave laws can get complicated. This introduction will help clear up some of the confusion, but it’s important to speak with an HR expert to help you create sensible leave policies while remaining compliant with the law.
Family and Medical Leave
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius must allow employees to take leave for qualifying family and medical reasons or to handle qualifying exigencies. To be eligible, employees must have worked for the employer for at least a year among other requirements.
Eligible employees are entitled to take FMLA leave only for specified reasons:
- Birth, adoption, or foster care
- An employee’s serious health condition
- A family member’s serious health condition
- Qualifying exigencies
- Seriously injured or ill military family member
The FMLA requires certain employers to allow their employees:
- Up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for qualifying family and medical reasons, or to handle a qualifying exigency arising out of a family member’s call or deployment to active military duty.
- Up to 26 weeks of leave in a single leave year to care for a family member who suffered serious injury or illness while serving on active duty.
In most cases, the employer must reinstate the returning employee to the same position or a comparable position — including pay, benefits, and status. If you have less than 50 employees, FMLA does not apply; however, some states have their own leave laws that may apply to smaller employers.
Don’t forget about the Americans with Disabilities Act, which applies to private employers with 15 or more employees. Even if an employee isn’t eligible for FMLA, qualified employees with disabilities may be entitled to unpaid time off as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
State and Local Paid Leave Laws
Pregnancy Disability Leave
Under FMLA, employers are required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. FMLA leave can be used for pregnant employees if complications from pregnancy constitute a serious health condition. Additionally, new parents are entitled to use FMLA leave following the birth or adoption of a child, or the placement of a foster child.
FMLA leave can be used at any time during the first year of the new child’s arrival. The FMLA leave is limited to 12 weeks, total, in a single year (unless caring for a military family member). This means that if a worker had to take four weeks off under FMLA for medical reasons, they will only have eight weeks of FMLA leave for parental leave (unless state law provides additional leave).
In addition to FMLA leave, several states require employers to provide more than 12 weeks of leave, particularly in cases of “pregnancy disability.” In some states, the pregnancy disability leave is in addition to FMLA leave or any similar state statutes.
Even if you are not subject to FMLA or similar state law, you may have to provide time off to pregnant employees if you provide time off to nonpregnant employees with temporary disabilities. It may also be required to provide pregnant employees with paid time off if you provide the same benefits to other workers.
If you have any questions about pregnancy and family leave laws, speak with the HR professionals at Resourcing Edge.
Jury Duty and Voting
Under the Jury System Improvement Act of 1978, it is illegal to fire, threaten to fire, intimidate, or coerce an employee for serving on a jury in federal court. Most states have similar laws protecting state jurors.
Generally, employers don’t have to pay an hourly, non-exempt employee for time taken to serve on a jury; however, a few states require at least some payment for the time off. Remember that salaried, exempt employees must be paid their regular salary if they work any part of day, with only a few exceptions.
While there is currently no federal law requiring employers to provide time off to vote, nearly every state has time-off-to-vote laws (aka voter-leave laws) that entitle workers to take time off to cast their ballots. Each state is different, but most of these states require the employer to pay the worker for this time off.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 prohibits discrimination based on past, present, or future military service and entitles service members to return to their civilian jobs after taking time to serve in the armed forces. Returning members of the military must be reinstated to the same seniority, status, and pay rate that they would have held had they been continuously employed. Additionally, they cannot be fired without cause for up to one year after their reinstatement.
Many states have a similar law that prohibits discrimination against members in the state militia or National Guard. In the majority of cases, employers must grant leave to employees for military service.
Paid Sick Leave
Currently, there is no federal law that requires vacation or sick leave, but a growing number of states and cities have passed paid sick leave legislation. These initiatives allow for at least a few days of paid sick leave each year, usually around three to five days. Some laws have different rules for employers based on size. Speak with an HR specialist to make sure your policies satisfy all legal requirements.
Other Types of Leave
There is a legion of leave laws that may apply to your organization. Employees may be entitled to other types of leave, depending on where your business is located, including:
- Victims of crime leave
- Family military leave
- First responder leave
- Organ or bone marrow donor leave
- Parental leave
- Time off for jury duty and court proceedings
- Other types of legally required leave
This is just a short overview of the current paid, unpaid, and partially paid leaves of absence available. Leave laws and regulations are constantly changing. To ensure compliance of the constantly changing leave laws, it’s best to work with an HR professional.
Whether your organization offers generous leave policies or sticks to the minimum required by law, it’s important to work with an HR professional who has experience with federal, state, and local leave requirements.
When you work with a PEO like Resourcing Edge, you’ll have access to a specialized team of HR professionals who will monitor your employees’ leaves, help coordinate leaves, and navigate the various leave laws and regulations to keep you in compliance. We’ll help you stay one step ahead of government regulations and laws, so that you’ll always remain in compliance.