Employee Leave of Absence: What’s the Protocol When Family Is Sick?

While it’s not common to be approached by a staff member requesting a leave of absence to care for a sick family member, it can happen. If it occurs, be clear about the time-off protocol to avoid unnecessary miscommunication and conflict.

Under federal law, employers aren’t required to offer paid caregiver’s leave to employees, but it can be a good idea to establish a compassionate leave policy at your company. However, you should be aware that there are provisions in place for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants eligible employees job protection in specific circumstances.

FMLA Leave

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the FMLA permits employees to take reasonable unpaid leave for family and medical reasons. The guidelines stipulate that to be eligible, the employee must have been at their job for a year or more, worked at least 1,250 hours during that period and are employed by a business with 50 or more workers.

Under this law, eligible employees receive unpaid leave equal to 12 workweeks in a 12-month period for a number of specific reasons, including caring for an immediate family member who has fallen ill.

Accrued Paid Leave

If an employee eligible for FMLA has available paid time off, sick time or vacation leave, substitute unpaid FMLA leave time with paid leave. This works well when you have an existing policy stipulating that paid time off be entirely used up prior to shifting toward unpaid leave.

In a nutshell: The substitution of accrued leave is limited by your policy regulating the use of such leave. Review your leave policies to determine the most suitable plan for your employees.

Leave Donation Program

If your employee used up most of their paid leave and is in dire need to support their family financially while caring for a sick family member, consider introducing a leave donation program.

According to the HR Daily Advisor, a leave donation program allows employees to donate any number of unused accrued paid leave days to a pool that’s used by qualified coworkers who have already depleted their own paid leave for valid reasons, such as medical conditions.

If you want to introduce the program, determine employee interest and consider eligibility, the maximum limit on the number of donated days and confidentiality.

To keep eligible FMLA employees informed, distribute FMLA guidelines via email or display them on the company’s intranet. Share your workplace leave of absence policy with your staff to allow transparency and avoid miscommunication.

Emmie Sahlan has a graduate degree in English and has been writing professionally for the past five years. Her niche areas are insurance, credit cards, personal finance and education.

COVID-19 Resources: Managing Your Business During a Crisis