Ask the HR Lady: Employee Medical Leave Debunked

Posted by on Jun 14, 2011 in Advice, Medical Leave, Published Articles | 0 comments

Unravel the mystery behind employee medical leave. When you have to hold a job, when you don’t, and what to say to the employee.

By Laine Broxton  |  Published 3/15/2010
Dear HR Lady: One of my employees is having some medical problems and their attendance is getting worse. I want to do the right thing but my business demands require consistent attendance. I’ve heard that I am required by law to keep the person’s job while they are out sick. What are my options? ~ Bill, MIssouriDear Bill: Hats off to you for being a compassionate employer. By law, if you have 50 employees or more you may be subject to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This act requires employers to grant up to 12 weeks of medical leave per year to employees who have worked at least 1250 hours in the last 12 months, and the employee’s situation must meet specific criteria to qualify.

If you do not have 50 employees, or the employee does not meet the criteria, you have some options. First, you might talk with the employee and agree to a modified schedule that will allow time for them to attend doctor appointments, etc. This will allow you to schedule part time help on their off days. Second, you could talk with the employee and explain that the business is not able to support the absences. You might agree to grant the employee several weeks or months off without pay to give them time to heal. During this time, you are not obligated to hold their job, however; if you think you will want to hire the employee back, I suggest hiring a replacement person and let them know that the job may be temporary.

The key in these situations is to make absolutely sure that you do not discriminate against the employee based on their medical condition. One excellent way to accomplish this is to not find out any information regarding the employee’s specific medical problem. That may seem like an impossible feat, but all you really need to know is information related to whether or not the employee is able to work. Sometimes employees want to give details about their illness or injury, what prescriptions they are on, and details about their doctor appointments. When an employee starts to tell you this information, gently and firmly let them know that you hope they feel better soon and that you want to make sure that they keep their private health information just that… private.Here’s the philosophy: If you never know their physical or mental ailments, you are less likely to be accused of making an employment decision based on their illness or injury. ~HR Lady

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