Employee Leaves of Absence
Health Related Leaves
Many employers struggle with the myriad of legal issues that arise when employees
are absent for health reasons. The area is particularly difficult because of multiple legal
obligations that may apply, including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act
(Chapter 151B), and the workers’ compensation statute.
The following outlines some general tips to help employers establish consistent
policies and avoid abuse of leaves of absence and workers’ compensation insurance. Given
the complicated issues and complex regulatory requirements, employers and employees
should contact employment counsel for specific guidance.
Develop a Comprehensive Leave of Absence Policy
The leave of absence policy should cover all forms of possible leave--
FMLA, personal, short-term disability, long-term disability, leave under the
Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA), and workers’ compensation.
Include in the policy a specific, reasonable deadline for a return to work,
such as a provision that employment will generally be terminated if the employee
cannot return to work within that time frame (for example, six months or one year).
This provision, however, must include language informing the employee that the
employer may extend or eliminate this deadline if necessary to provide the employee
with a reasonable accommodation. In this way, employees cannot obtain successive
leave entitlements that would extend leave substantially.