So Your Employee Asks for Leave

Shawnee Love   •   August 15, 2019

A topic that often stresses out leaders of small organizations is Employee Leaves.  That’s because even if the leave is anticipated and necessary for the employee, it requires extra work to manage.  Furthermore, unlike large companies, smaller organizations typically don’t have the bench strength or extra people to pick up the overload.  If you think about it, one person missing in 1000 is a drop in the bucket, but 1 person missing in 10 is 1/10th the company and the work!

These facts are why leaders of smaller organizations are struggling with the push by various provincial and federal governments to add additional leaves and extend certain statutory leaves for employees.  Furthermore, since rules differ between provinces, and the rules don’t really address the myriad of details which employees care about (such as can my vacation be paid out, and how will I make ends meet if I don’t have disability insurance yet) or that employers care about (e.g., how do I get the work done if the leave keeps extending or the employee can’t return to the same duties), it is hard for employers to know what to do when an employee asks for a leave.

We at LoveHR firmly believe that its better to be prepared for these requests than try to scramble an answer once the request is in, which is why we assist clients with these issues. To that end, here is how to get prepared:

  1. Find out which statutory leaves exist for your employees.
  2. Create a policy to handle those leaves. Hint, the policy should at least contain information on the approvable length of the leaves, how to apply, what if any requirements must be met to be eligible and of course must at least meet the minimum standards outlined by the regulations.  On that note, its helpful to identify what happens with benefits and what documentation or steps need to occur to see the leave through from beginning to end.
  3. Teach your supervisors and managers what the policy and procedures are because next to in house HR, they are the people most likely to receive leave requests or identify the need for a leave.  Few smaller organizations want to encourage employees to go on leave, but they shouldn’t be discouraging them either.  Part of getting prepared is helping supervisors know how to handle a request.  I.e., don’t mock or guilt employees who request one.
  4. Ensure you also create the policy and procedures surrounding non-statutory leaves, e.g., personal leave, education leave and in some jurisdictions medical leave.  Hint: It’s easy if you treat required and optional leaves the same, but we find employers increasingly willing to offer perks such as sabbaticals or unpaid personal leave just to retain good employees but they may not want to pay the employee’s benefits who is on a sabbatical whereas they may have to continue to pay benefits on a statutory leave such as maternity or compassionate care.

We find so much of the problem with leaves is the lack of clarity and the fear around what you can and can’t ask.  Once you get this all clear, it enables you to focus on what’s really important, the relationship with your employee (so they will come back to work) and figuring out the best way to backfill the person while s/he is gone.

Leaves are difficult in small organizations. We can help.