Handling a Medical Leave

Shawnee Love   •  
April 7, 2017

One of the more stressful events that can happen in a small business is when an employee becomes sick or injured and needs to take a sick leave (also known as medical leave).  The employee has to worry about his or her health as well as finances (few small businesses have paid disability leave beyond what is offered by Employment Insurance). Employees going on leave also often feel bad about letting the team and manager down.  Colleagues will be worried about the employee and also wonder how much more work they will have to take on.  And the company has to worry about issuing the correct documents (ROE and perhaps benefits forms if applicable), and advising the employee on:

  • The benefits and accruals the employee has access to, and
  • The documentation and follow up needed.

At the same time, the employer will also be trying to figure out how to get the work done in the absence of that employee.

As always with these situations, there is a vast difference between what you have to do by law (to do things right), and what is good practice to reduce confusion, support the employee and protect the business (to do the right thing).

What follows are the steps to do the right thing by employees going on sick leave:Sick Leave

  1. Evaluate leave request to ensure you have the necessary information and documentation.
  2. Approve leave (presuming leave type is legally mandated or offered by the company).
  3. Confirm leave in writing including dates, entitlements, and terms and conditions as well as the follow up plan.
  4. Collect back company property prior to leave.
  5. (if applicable) Maintain benefits during leave (arrange for employee contribution to be received).
  6. Communicate regularly to stay in touch AND ensure employee is not tapped to work or provide work related information
  7. Arrange for replacement to do work in the employee’s absence.
  8. Protect privacy of employee.
  9. Hold employee’s job (or substantially similar job) for the employee to return to (except in situation where job becomes redundant or unfeasible).
  10. Update employee of any changes to leave status as they occur by phone or in person and via letter.
  11. Consider all reasonable requests to extend or change.
  12. Ensure the employee is fit for work prior to allowing him or her to return and/or any necessary modifications or job accommodations are contemplated and actioned where reasonable.
  13. Prepare the team for the employee’s return (employees returning from medical leave often experience significant angst about their return and a welcoming, friendly team can help banish the fears).

Throughout these steps, the most important job you have as a manager is to communicate, communicate, and communicate some more.  Staying in touch, communicating clearly and being supportive are three key ways to foster a successful return to work from medical leave.  We’ll talk more about that next week.