Many employers have policies or programs to accommodate the needs of employees who need to be away from work for one reason or another. The Family and Medical Leave Act may apply to your situation. FMLA leave is available to employees who have worked for a company for a year or more, and who have logged a certain number of hours worked. The employer must have 50 or more employees in your location, or in locations near your site.
FMLA leave is available to you for several circumstances. It is available for your serious medical condition, for the serious medical condition of an immediate family member, or for the birth or adoption of a child. FMLA leave is unpaid leave. Up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave may be available to you for a qualifying condition. Companies have several options as to how they count the 12 weeks. Contact your company to inquire as to how they count FMLA leave.
In addition to FMLA leave, your employer may offer an additional disability leave program, paid or unpaid. Often, this benefit is related to how long you have worked for the employer. For example, if you have worked for the employer for several years, you may be eligible for a paid medical leave for a certain number of weeks based on your length of service. Most companies will count this paid leave as concurrent with unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act Leave.
Once you have determined that you will take leave, and how your employer will handle that leave, you have some additional considerations to entertain. How will you prepare for being away from work? What do you have to get ready for? What plans do you have to make? How do you structure your absence to make sure you don’t leave others hanging? Finally, how do you make sure you have something to come back to? Pretty difficult questions. Some are pretty self-evident. You will need to identify what needs to be done while you are gone. What due dates are ahead of you? What do you need to make sure is covered in your absence? These are the questions about what will happen while you are gone. Perhaps even more significant are the questions about what will happen when you return.
Understandably, employers must cover the required work while you are gone. How do you make sure you are not replaced permanently? A couple of options are available to you. First, look at your responsibilities. There are certain things you do which are quite critical or important to your employer. Identify those, and make sure your employer knows what they are. If there are specific steps you take to assure that these tasks are accomplished seamlessly, document these. Meet with your manager, and lay out the instructions you have prepared for your temporary replacement. I’m betting you have some pretty serious questions about this approach! Why would you facilitate your own replacement? Well, there are some really good reasons to do this.
Your manager is probably anxious about your absence, and about covering the work while you are gone. You demonstrate your value, your work ethic, your sense of responsibility and reliability by approaching your absence this way. You and your manager are collaborating to solve a problem which could be a very, very, difficult time for your manager if it were not handled well. In short, you actually demonstrate your value with this approach!
Now let’s think about your return to work. If your physician can support it, think about coming back to work gradually. It’s often difficult to go from not working at all to a full work schedule. Talk this over with your manager, even before you leave. Let’s say you are having a major surgical procedure. For the first four weeks or so, you are not going to be up to much of anything but recovery at home. But on weeks 5 and 6, perhaps you could schedule a short conference call a couple of times a week to begin catching up. Then, on week 7, (or even week 6!) you may be able to work 15-20 hours a week. Finally, your physician will release you to a full work schedule.
This approach is so much easier on both you and your manager. Think about it. In the weeks you are working part time, you get your feet wet again, you contribute your expertise, AND you go home and get the appropriate rest needed for your recovery. When you do come back to work full-time, you will be more rested, will be up to speed on what has been going on in your absence, and will be far more likely to avoid a dangerous relapse. This approach will likely be much less of a concern to your manager, too! If he or she knows you will be out of pocket completely for 8 weeks, that’s a different situation to manage than your 4-week absence and gradual re-entry to the work place.
In short, you will communicate your conscientious attitude about your job if you approach a needed leave proactively. You can’t NOT take such a leave. But, with some thoughtful advance planning, you can probably make it easier on you, your co-workers and your management.