Train Your Managers to Handle Requests for Time Off

Your managers are key to many aspects of your organization – everything from employee engagement to reducing liability to knowing the employees enough to recognize when they are impaired. They are also your front line when employees are asking for time off for medical issues, which may trigger liability to offer disability or family medical leave. While HR or your company’s attorney would determine what the organization is legally obligated to do, the information from the manager will be key to that determination. If properly trained, they can gather information that is needed.

That conversation in turn will start off the interactive conversation that is required under the ADA and that also helps make an employee feel heard. An employee who feels ignored or undervalued is one whose commitment to the organization will wane and who is more likely to call a lawyer. In companies struggling to retain or attract “talent” (employees), the greater interaction may achieve many purposes.

So what can managers ask when an employee is asking for time out of work? When an employee calls off work, they should be required to explain the reason for their absence and when they expect to return to work. If they offer even a hint of a medical condition as the reason for their absence, the manager should be trained to ask and document the following:

  • What is the reason for the absence?
  • What essential parts of the job are they unable to perform?
  • Will the employee be seeing a health care provider for the condition that requires time out of work?
  • Has the employee been out of work for this condition in the past?
  • When does the employee think they can return to work?

If the employee goes out of work, there should be a meeting where the employee is told about call-in requirements, information they are expected to provide when they call in, and the consequences for failing to follow the call-in policy or not providing medical information when requested by the employer.

If the request for time out of work seems suspect or fishy, don’t ignore it. Be honest with the employee about it and ask questions about the circumstances so you can, in turn, determine whether you have a right to be concerned. Again, the communications (and documentation of them) will be key if there is ever a claim later. And – beyond legal liability – communications with employees can help develop processes that reduce time out so that the organization can deliver more value at less expense while developing the employee’s confidence, competence and ability to work with others.

This article is not legal advice but should be considered as general guidance in the area of employment and corporate law. Rebecca S. Webber, Bryan M. Dench, Amy Dieterich, James F. Pross, and Jordan Payne Hay, are employment and labor law attorneys; others at the firm handle business and other matters. You can contact us at 207.784.3200. Skelton Taintor & Abbott is a full service law firm providing legal services to individuals, companies, and municipalities throughout Maine. It has been in operation since its founding in 1853.