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Employee on Leave of Absence: How to Handle Workload Concerns

04/12/2016 Ross Walker

It can be a challenge for a manager to cover the duties of an employee who is out on disability or other leave of absence.

If an employee quits, you can usually hire a replacement. It may take a while to train the new employee, but your headaches have an end in sight. On the other hand, when an absent employee is expected to return, you have to hold the position open while finding a way to get the work done in the meantime.

There are a number of ways to approach this task. If funds are available, the easiest solution is often to hire a temporary replacement. This assumes the employee’s duties are such that a qualified temp can be found.

If you cannot secure a qualified temp or do not have the funding to hire one, a second strategy is to seek permission from upper management to reduce the expectations of your department or team for a while. However, this option amounts to shifting the problem elsewhere, and in some cases, it may not be a wise career move.

If reducing output is nixed, whether by your own judgment or by a higher up, your next strategy is likely to be redistributing the workload of the absent employee to other employees. This decision may require overtime pay for nonexempt employees.

You also have the other employees’ reactions to take into consideration. Can they handle the added workload? Will their morale plummet or their other duties suffer?

A strategy that has been used when a company cannot afford to pay overtime is to have exempt employees cover some of the duties and give them comp time. The exempt employees may not like it, but it is fully within an employer’s rights.

In fact, a group of Maryland corrections supervisors filed a lawsuit when they were required to fill in for nonexempt employees after their regular hours and were given only straight comp time. They demanded to be paid time-and-a-half for extra hours and not to be required to perform any nonexempt duties. They lost their case and lost again on appeal to a state circuit court.

No special labor laws address the issue of employees covering other employees’ duties. But you should brush up on the Fair Labor Standards Act, especially as it relates to overtime for nonexempt employees.

Two final possibilities are to have employees who are out on disability do some work from home, or if they are capable of coming in to the work site, revise their duties to give them a lighter schedule.

The first option, telecommuting, makes disability almost a moot point for some jobs. If a significant portion of employees’ duties can be accomplished over the Internet or by telephone, consider asking them to do some work from home. At a minimum, disabled employees could be on point to answer questions and give advice to those who are covering their duties.

For jobs that cannot be done off-site, consider having disabled employees come in for shorter hours and assigning them duties they are able to perform that are difficult to delegate.

For additional information or guidance related to this article, contact Ross Walker at rwalker@vlcpa.com or 800.887.0437.

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