Leave of Absence 101


Managing leaves of absence and accommodations of your employees is an important aspect of running a successful business. Leave of absence and accommodations are complex, time-consuming, and require diligent attention to ensure your company remains compliant. The average fine for an ADA violation is $75,000. This can easily be avoided with clear policies, procedures, consistency, and documentation.

It is highly recommended that people managers and administrative staff are familiar with federal, state, and local laws that govern employee leave and accommodation rights, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA), and the new 2023 Paid Leave Oregon requirement.

Making it simple: if you have 25 or more employees in Oregon, you are likely obligated to offer OFLA. OFLA supersedes the benefits offered under FMLA, but know that FMLA has leave benefits for things that OFLA does not, which would require both to be offered. ADA is required to be offered if you employ fifteen or more employees and it protects employees from discrimination regarding disabilities, but it may also require a leave of absence in certain circumstances.

First things first, know the requirements for each leave of absence policy, shore up your internal practices and procedures on how to administer to your employees (paperwork, posters, timelines), and maintain proper documentation. It is the employer’s responsibility to make sure employees are aware of their rights and responsibilities as it pertains to a leave of absence.

Helpful tips to remember during the process:

  • Differentiate between the types of leave, such as medical, parental, and personal leave.
  • Define how leave accrues and is granted.
  • Implement a formal process for requesting and approving a leave, and ensure compliance with the required timeframes.
  • Create a tracking system to manage employee absences effectively.

Avoid discrimination or retaliation against employees who request leave or an accommodation.

Train your staff, particularly managers, on anti-discrimination laws and the importance of accommodating disabilities. Consider alternative work arrangements, job modifications, or equipment as accommodation options. Don’t just assume it’s not approved, ensure the process is fair, equitable, and thorough before denying a request.

Maintain records of all interactions and decisions related to leave and accommodation requests and develop a structured return-to-work plan for employees on leave to ensure a smooth transition back to their roles.

Here are some key aspects of the Oregon Family and Medical Leave Act (OFLA):

  • To be eligible for OFLA, employees must have worked for their employer for at least 180 days and have worked an average of 25 hours per week in the 180 days preceding the leave request.
  • OFLA allows eligible employees to take leave for various reasons, including the birth or adoption of a child, the care of a seriously ill family member, and the employee’s own serious health condition.
  • OFLA provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave in a 12-month period.
  • During OFLA leave, employers are generally required to maintain an employee’s health insurance benefits and other benefits as if the employee were actively working.
  • Employees are typically required to provide notice to their employer and, in some cases, provide medical certification when requesting OFLA leave.
  • OFLA allows for intermittent leave in certain circumstances when it is medically necessary or for reasons related to the birth or adoption of a child.
  • OFLA includes provisions for taking up to 24 hours of leave each year for certain “small necessities,” such as school activities or health care appointments for a child.
  • OFLA provides parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child. This leave is separate from the medical leave and allows eligible employees to take an additional 12 weeks of leave.

Here are some key aspects of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA):

  • When an employee requests time off for a covered reason, the employer is required to notify the employee of their eligibility for FMLA within five business days.
  • If the employee is eligible for FMLA, the employer would then provide the employee with their, “Rights and Responsibilities,” as well as any medical certification requests.
  • FMLA applies to employees once they have been employed for 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months before you take leave.
  • While FMLA has a rule regarding location and distance to the office; keep in mind that telecommuting policies have provided new guidance on how to manage this. It is recommended to consult legal counsel prior to denying an FMLA claim of a remote employee.

Remember that each situation is unique, so it’s important to approach leave of absence and accommodation requests on a case-by-case basis while adhering to legal requirements and ensuring fairness and consistency across the organization. Consulting with HR professionals or legal experts can be valuable in navigating these complex cases.

Helpful References:
FMLA Guide: dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/legacy/files/employeeguide.pdf
Notice of Eligibility and Rights and Responsibilities Form: ​​dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/legacy/files/WH-381.pdf
Additional FMLA Forms: dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla/forms
OFLA Form: oregon.gov/boli/employers/Documents/OFLA-SHC-cert-template.pdf
OFLA Toolkit: oregon.gov/das/hr/pages/fmla.aspx
Paid Family Leave Site: paidleave.oregon.gov


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