So you’re looking to forgo the “open mouth, insert foot…then open wallet” scenarios that many organizations face when navigating leave of absence conversations? Well it starts by having a better understanding of what can and can’t be said to an employee on leave, and then, educating your workplace on how to follow suit.
Communication breakdowns extend beyond HR departments, as one of the biggest employment law violators are not People Teams, but employee managers. At Tilt, we have major love for all the managers out there, we know they are wonderful at what they do, but leave of absence experts? Well, most are asleep at the wheel and will be in for a rude awakening if they make a communication misstep.
Employers have a responsibility to communicate effectively with their employees, especially those who are on leave. Unfortunately, there are common mistakes that employers make when communicating with employees on leave that can have serious consequences. We’re here to break down some of the do’s and don’ts so you can provide the best leave experiences possible.
Don’t stay silent: It’s understandable to be so weary of saying something you shouldn’t that you don’t say anything at all. One of the most significant mistakes employers make, however, is failing to communicate with employees on leave. The employee may feel isolated, uncertain, and anxious about their return to work.
Do stay in touch: Employers should stay in touch with their employees on leave by communicating regularly to show support and provide updates on the workplace. Managers can share about company celebrations or team successes and offer any assistance that the employee may need. Communication should stray away from the unwavering support of the employee or keeping them engaged with the happenings of the organization.
Don’t sacrifice empathy: Whether you want to use an external leave management solution like Tilt or you keep it in-house, you can’t overlook the value of providing empathetic communication with all of your leave conversations. When an organization doesn’t show empathy towards their employees on leave, it can create a negative work environment and decrease employee morale. Sending employees to a series of automated sequences via a 1-800 number does not provide the support they need when navigating a bereavement and just want a human to help them.
Do leave compassionately: Employers should acknowledge the very serious nature of an employee’s life situation outside of work and demonstrate compassion through their message and tone. Your people needing a leave of absence may be dealing with a variety of personal issues, such as illness, injury, or family matters. Your conversations should be laced with language that conveys your compassion for their situation, whatever it may be.
Don’t assume managers know: HR pros are aware that as an employer you must comply with federal and state leave laws, which can vary depending on the situation of a given leave. Failure to comply with these laws can result in legal consequences, such as fines or lawsuits. That said leave laws are constantly changing, and if your knowledge isn’t current or being effectively passed on to managers your company is still at risk.
Do consult the experts: Employers should consult with leave law experts to ensure they are following all applicable leave laws and regulations. Employers should provide support and resources to employees on leave and their managers so they know exactly what their rights are. If an employee has a question that you know you aren’t qualified to answer, it’s best to consult those who do this for a living and not leave your legal fate to the Google gods.
Don’t be inappropriate: This seems obvious, but given that managers are uninformed as to what is and isn’t appropriate, this can often apply to mistakes that are made without ill intent. A manager may use language or a tone that is offensive to an employee on leave, further, they may pressure employees on leave to return to work before their leave is up, which can result in further health issues for the employee. Managers also might be unaware that an innocuous text requesting the employee on leave to “just hop on this call to answer a client’s question, it’ll only take 5 minutes,” is a no-no. A manager might think that is an appropriate request, and that manager is wrong.
Do allow them to leave: Organizations must respect the employee’s leave and allow them to take the time they need to recover without communicating anything that could be construed as pressure to return early or do work while they’re away. It’s okay to communicate messages of support to keep them engaged, or to respond with answers to questions the employee may have, but aside from that it’s imperative to allow your people the time they need to leave and not communicate anything aside from that.
Don’t be lazy with private info: Sharing confidential information about the employee’s health or leave status with others in the workplace might violate that employee’s privacy rights. If you hear a noise, that’s just an angel getting its wings every time there’s another employee data lawsuit. As employees, our health status and leave status are private, and it is essential to maintain confidentiality when managing employee leave information. Unsecured spreadsheets and rogue email threads with sensitive attachments can, and have, come back to haunt many HR departments. Similarly, be mindful of using 3rd party leave vendors who want to file forms on behalf of employees…you might be communicating sensitive information to external parties in the process.
Do keep employee data secure: The best way to protect employee information is to not have it living scattered across multiple systems at once. Keep your employee information and communication that has their private information confidential by ensuring it’s kept under one digital roof that is safe and secure. Here’s how we do it at Tilt.
By communicating with employees on leave of absence in a warm and supportive manner you can help create a positive experience where employees return to work highly engaged and confident. Effective communication during a leave of absence can significantly improve an employee’s likelihood of returning to work while mitigating legal risks by misinformed managers.
By showing empathy, communicating regularly, maintaining confidentiality, providing support and resources, being clear and concise, and avoiding pressuring the employee, employers can create a positive work environment that supports their employees during their time of need.
Tilt is leading the charge in all things leave of absence management through easy-to-use tech and human touch. Since 2017, our proprietary platform and Empathy Warriors have been helping customers make leave not suck by eliminating administrative burdens, keeping companies compliant, and providing a truly positive and supportive leave of absence experience for their people.
© 2022 Tilt