Written by Kimberly Mashburn, Vice President, Market Development
Filing for and successfully securing a leave of absence can be a complex experience during an already stressful time in an individual’s life. When an employee files for a leave of absence, they must navigate the intricate provisions of their employer’s policy, in addition to any local, state, and federal level leave requirements, adding to the complication of the process. The employee may rely heavily on their employer or the employer’s outsourced leave partner – such as a contracted insurance carrier or third-party administrator – or both to guide them through the process and provide advice on what is needed to fulfill the policy obligations and successfully secure their leave. Support for the employee at each level of the application is essential to maintaining a positive relationship between the employee, employer, and outsourced partner.
Defining leave of absence
While no definition for “leave of absence” expressly exists according to the United States Department of Labor, a leave of absence is generally viewed as an allowed time away from work requested by an employee for a qualifying life event. A variety of reasons exist for which an employee may file for a leave of absence, including:
- Their own serious health condition,
- Caring for a family member,
- Bonding time with a child,
- Military leave, or
- Caring for an injured military service person.
While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides unpaid job-protected leave for specific family or medical reasons, additional instances of leaves of absence may provide employees with different coverage. When filing for a leave of absence, an employee will want to confirm:
- If the leave of absence will be paid, unpaid, or both;
- If the leave of absence will provide job protection;
- If the state where they are employed will provide supplemental pay or job protection; and
- If their employer provides short-term disability or paid time off.
Education as the cornerstone of employee support
When contacting the employer or the outsourced leave partner, employees may only understand the single fact that they need to file for leave to care for a family member or take care of their own serious health condition. Employees may need – and appreciate receiving – additional education about the various components of their leave.
- Having time away from work is one thing, but will the employee have a job to return to, and will it be the same one they left?
- Income reduction is often an unintended consequence of a leave of absence; will the employee receive a paycheck during their leave and will it be their full salary?
- Additional circumstances may arise during leave; can the employee extend their leave, or does it require exigent circumstances?
Listening for verbal and non-verbal cues is vital when communicating with an employee about their leave of absence. As each employee’s circumstances will differ, the leave of absence provisions may not support them as needed. For some, a reduction in income may create a significant hardship. The employee may need support beyond the reason they applied for leave, such as assistance in paying for groceries, utilities, or even childcare. Utilizing available resources such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other organizations that may provide assistance, will enable the employee to focus on their personal recovery or caring for a family member. Additionally, providing the employee with the appropriate support during their leave of absence may help mitigate any unintended extensions beyond the original expected duration.
Loyalty: The optimum result
In most instances, the decision to take a leave of absence is not one that is taken lightly. The employee may even be encouraged by an outside party, such as a physician, to take the leave despite their own hesitancy. But, for an employee, knowing that their employer is supportive of them taking the time to attend to personal matters without the interruption of their professional lives is vital. Even after the decision is made by the employee to file for leave, sitting down to fill out and submit the necessary claim documentation may be difficult for several reasons, including being physically unable to or having difficulty finding time to complete the necessary paperwork. Providing employees with alternative submission methods and additional support while filing their claim may go a long way in securing the employee-employer relationship as the leave of absence continues.
Research demonstrates that employees who feel supported during a leave of absence are more likely to return to work and, in turn, have increased loyalty to their employer. For example, new mothers who take paid leave are more likely than mothers who do not take any leave to be working nine to 12 months after childbirth. Additionally, first-time mothers who take paid leave are more likely than those who take unpaid leave – or no leave at all – to remain working at the same employer. Flexibility and support from an employer from the start can lead to greater employee loyalty, morale, and even retention.
The paid leave of absence – what is next?
Earlier this month, Governor John Carney signed a bill into law mandating paid family and medical leave for all Delaware workers starting January 1, 2026. With the signing of the bill, Delaware will become the 11th state, in addition to the District of Columbia, that guarantees paid leave to qualified employees. As additional states implement paid absence plans and current plans are refined to provide employees with the most comprehensive coverage possible, the process of an employee filing for a leave of absence will only continue to expand in complexity. At Brown & Brown Absence Services Group, we take our responsibility as a leader in the absence industry seriously. We continue to monitor leave of absence updates from across the country and work to develop innovative solutions that support our employer and carrier partners as they navigate the leave of absence process.