Common issues with medical leaves of absence

Piyush Sharma
Jun 22

You could say that the role of HR is to strike a delicate balance between the needs of a business and those of its employees.

Similarly, HR should seek to foster fairness between the human beings in an organisation, human beings that (similar to the many tools at business disposal) are fragile and inclined to wear and tear.

We can all relate to being ill or having a health issue. Empathy is a powerful human trait (although this may be debatable when it comes to certain types of sociopaths- sociopaths may exist in your organisation as well so watch out!). Having sympathy is one thing but as an HR professional, it is just as important to be attentive.

You should be as diligent when dealing with medical leaves of absence as you would be with any other types of leave. In some cases, an employee may be subject to physical or even mental illness, requiring time away from his/her duties in order to recover/seek treatment.

The tricky part is managing the process. A medical leave of absence requested by an employee should be granted. However, it may not be all smooth sailing...

While an employee has the right to do so, you as an employer have the obligation to not force him/her to work when unwell by granting them a medical leave.

Unfortunately, whenever that medical leave of absence is filled in, it is the employer/company that has to bear the brunt of the burden. Production times or service needs may fall short and in some cases, may even grind to a halt. Also, if the process is not well taken care of, legal issues or conflicts may arise and this can be bad not just for the employer but can even harm the employee as well.

Therefore, in order to keep things chugging along smoothly, ensure a harmonious and pain-free process by ascertaining that there are no misunderstandings while at the same time, making sure you are not neglecting any employment laws or regulations.

Here are some of the common pitfalls associated with managing employee leaves of absences and how to get around them:

  1. Not recognising a request
  2. Employer directly inquiring about an employee’s diagnosis
  3. Not allowing an employee to return to work at partial capacity
  4. Using leave of absence as a strategy for exit

Not recognising a request

Many times, a manager is the recipient of an employee’s requests and as soon as the employee requests for leave of absence or asks for medical leave, the process should be triggered.

A delay in responding to an employee’s request for leave may result in legal issues so if you are a manager and you receive an employee’s request, be sure to respond in a timely manner and inform the HR department (or relevant person in charge).

Employer directly inquiring about an employee’s diagnosis

Sometimes (whether out of curiosity, concern, or simply for the sake of taking necessary precautions), employers may directly inquire into an employee’s diagnosis. Bear in mind that your role as an employer is to not ask/pry into these things.

As an employer, you do not need to know about the condition or inquire about details of the illness behind the employee’s absence but rather, only whether the employee has a legitimate reason to be absent from work and for how long.

Whatever the case, the employee’s health care provider may sometimes provide the company with information about the employee’s diagnosis.

Not allowing an employee to return to work at partial capacity

Once the employee is back at work medical leaves of absence, an employer may expect him/her to continue working at a capacity that the employee may not be able to handle.

Do not take this lightly. You as an employer have to make reasonable changes and arrangements that accommodate the employee in his/her partial capacity.

Make thing easy for your employee to perform the functions required of his/her position even though the employee’s abilities may not be what they once were.

Using leave of absence as a strategy for exit

It is an employee’s right to be restored to his/her job once he/she is capable of returning to work after a medical leave.

Sometimes, however, if the employee is a poor performer, the employer may not want to restore him/her to the same position. Despite this, you should know that job restoration rights have to be honored.

Many issues/ conflicts can arise out of medical leaves of absence if you’re not careful. To prevent such cases from happening, both the employee and the employer should be well-informed and should make an effort to stay on top of employment laws and regulations as well as employee rights. Proper documentation should also be followed throughout the process.

A smarter HR system for a smarter business: Carbonate helps you keep track of attendance and leaves in your company, and keeps you connected to your staff with its built-in broadcasting and promotion messaging tool. Its employee profiles and HR leave management system meet MOM 2016 Employment Act Amendment requirements.
Click here to find out more.

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