Extended personal leave is becoming increasingly popular at organizations of all sizes. While individual businesses may be offering extended personal time off or supporting employees that want to take a sabbatical, it's important to have clear policies and procedures in place. Supporting extended personal leaves can help employees recharge their batteries, expand their skills and abilities, and much more. It can be a powerful tool to increase retention with key employees – yet extended personal leaves must be managed carefully in order to mitigate claims of discrimination. Here are three factors to consider when managing extended personal leaves at your company.
Establish a Clear Written Policy Regarding Extended Personal Leaves
Employers have no requirement to support sabbaticals or extended personal breaks for reasons like travel and personal development. Each business owner, leader, and HR manager has to assess the value and viability of these options to their company and team. However, if you decide to embrace extended personal leaves, having a clear, written policy can help your team understand what's available as well as help prevent discrimination claims. Consider the following elements for a written policy:
- Document the policy in a central area available to all employees, such as in the employee handbook.
- Clarify who is entitled to extended personal leave. For example, do factors such as length of service determine eligibility?
- What is the maximum length of time for a personal leave?
- Are personal leaves job protected? How are benefits treated during a personal leave, including accrual of paid time off?
Create and Document Your Agreement With Employees
Even if your organization has a clear policy in place, it may be appropriate to develop a written agreement with each employee regarding their leave within those policy guidelines. Employers will likely want to consult with legal counsel to develop the final agreement to best ensure its enforceability. Consider the following factors:
- Length of the personal leave
- Date(s) of the personal leave
- Are there any projects that will be completed or responsibilities documented prior to the leave? Will they be involved in training someone to cover their time off?
- Are there any expectations regarding how the time will be used, such as for professional or creative development? Will any follow up be required upon their return? For example, many companies ask an employee to do a presentation.
Develop a Strategy for Workflow While an Employee is Out
As an employer, it's important to have a strategy in place to cover the responsibilities of any employee taking extended personal leave. Will you hire a temporary employee? Will another employee assume the responsibilities? Can an employee's responsibilities be divided up among multiple employees? Your plan should also include transitioning the employee back upon their return to work.
Offering sabbaticals to employees after a certain length of service may help increase retention and be an attractive benefit during recruitment. Establish a clear policy, consider a written agreement with any employee taking an extended personal leave, and have a clear plan in place for covering duties during an employee’s extended personal leave. And finally, review any questions or concerns about implementing an extended personal leave policy with a knowledgeable HR advisor or legal resource.