How to Handle Employee COVID-19 Leaves (and Accommodate Everyone)

We’re now living with the consequences of a pandemic (COVID-19) impacting millions of people’s physical and mental health. People are struggling and large percentages of the workforce are out on leave…creating stress and hardship for those still at work. Schools, hospitals, airlines, restaurants ….this is impacting all businesses. 

How to Handle Employee COVID-19 Leaves and Accommodate Everyone

So, what should businesses and people leaders do to manage and accommodate the impact that the pandemic and COVID-19 has created? We’ve detailed 3 steps that can help and guide you on navigating workforces in how to handle employee COVID-19 leaves. 

Understand FMLA Leaves

Businesses and people leaders should be brushing up on their understanding of FMLA leave (and state equivalents), requests for reasonable accommodation, and the interactive process. Increasing numbers of employees will need time off to take care of their family members and/or their own health condition (either physical or mental). In addition to time off, employees will also need reasonable accommodations, such as a more flexible work schedule. We have two generations of employees who are not that familiar with the ADA and FMLA – both of which were enacted about 30 years ago. It’s time to get all leaders familiar with these two legal protections; particularly, how to engage in the interactive process to identify whether any reasonable accommodations are feasible. Just failing to engage in the interactive process is a legal violation, in and of itself. 

Backfill Employees on Leave

Additionally, businesses should be sourcing contingent staff to backfill as we experience more employees concurrently out on COVID-19 leave2 than we’ve ever experienced before. Now is the time to have contingent workers in place to step in as employees need to step out for leave. And, as businesses backfill with contingent workers, remember to teach managers how to respectfully maintain the distinction between employee and contingent worker. If you need help guiding employees, we have a new microlesson coming out soon on managing contingent workers. Subscribe to our newsletter to get notified when we launch it. 

Establish Your Organizational Norms

Lastly, clear organizational norms are the guardrails that reduce turbulence and friction. As we move into 2022, it’s important to proactively create your organizational norms for flexible leaves, reasonable accommodations, and contingent staff. Invest time now to draft your plan and policies on these issues and share them with the workforce. Get feedback from your workforce and facilitate a few “all-hands” discussions on the best plan to navigate the current situation. Thereafter, share your final plan with the entire workforce in the January and February time frame so that everyone knows what to expect and the protocols for navigating employee COVID-19 leaves, reasonable accommodations, and requiring contingent staff this year.  

Emtrain has many tools and resources to support you and your employees during these challenging times. We offer microlessons on returning to work, creating a hybrid workplace, and setting policies and procedures in place. Contact us if you have additional questions and want to learn about Emtrain!

covid-19fmla leavesorganizational norms
Janine Yancey
Business Compliance & Workplace Culture Expert
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