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Best Practices for Leave Management

Contributor: Judy Liang, aPHR

February 1st, 2024 | 6 min. read

By Tony Calavitta

Best Practices for Leave Management

Do you remember the last day of the school year?

The way minutes dragged out, exams dragged on, but the final toll of the dismissal bell – opening the door to summer freedom – was anything but a drag.  

Fast forward to the days of adulting, where the office walls are the new classroom, KPIs test you every day, and submitting vacation time off evokes that same nostalgic, summertime feeling. Except, the steps involved in opening this much-anticipated door, ranging from an initial request to a time-stamped approval, are far more involved than the simple sounding of a signal.  

Whether it’s the vacation your employee has been waiting weeks to take or the unplanned sick days that surprised half of your staff, managing leaves can be, and often is, a complicated HR chore. In reality, nearly half of corporate and HR leaders cite having ineffective leave management processes with 28% of them still using sticky notes – yes, sticky notes! – as calendar reminders. 

But with a tried-and-true plan in place, your leave management process won’t have to be a sticky HR situation (nor Post-It™ pandemonium).

In this article, our HR experts here at Combined, have assembled a list of 5 best practices to help you manage employee time off.  

By reading to the end of it, you’ll be equipped with the information you need to turn leave management into leave mastery.   

What is leave management? 

Ever wondered how a company stay on track when employees take a break? 

That's where leave management, or the art of handling time off, comes into play.  

It's a vital HR function, involving the intersection between maintaining productive business operations and coordinating the use of different types of employee leaves like:  

  • Holidays 
  • Vacations 
  • Sick days 
  • Emergencies 
  • Medical leave 
  • Parental leave 
  • Bereavement leave 

To ensure that a business continues to run smoothly even when team members are away, effective leave management requires all of the following. 

And, more 

To ensure that a business continues to run smoothly even when team members are away, effective leave management requires all of the following.  

Coordinating staffing requirements – This is more than filling labor gaps. Rather, it means strategically adjusting schedules, roles, and responsibilities to ensure a steady workflow and uninterrupted operations, no matter who's out of the office. 

Ensuring legal compliance – This requires continuously updated policies that align with local, state, and federal laws to guarantee that company practices are legally sound. 

Upholding company standardsThis demands regular monitoring and consistent application and enforcement of leave policies across the organization to maintain fairness and transparency. 

Maintaining employee satisfaction – This focuses on understanding and addressing employees’ time-off needs, creating a workplace environment where staff feel supported and valued. 

In essence, leave management is a delicate blend of planning, adapting, and balancing – making sure that every leave request fits seamlessly with both the company's needs and the well-being of its employees.

5 best practices to master leave management  

Are you ready to master leave management? 

Here are 5 foolproof practices that can elevate the effectiveness of your leave management process!

1. Develop customized and compliant leave policies

Developing leave policies that are both legally compliant and aligned with your broader business strategy is a key aspect of effective leave management.

This dual focus ensures that your process for leave management not only adheres to relevant legal regulations but also supports overall business objectives. 

So, how can you accomplish this? 

First, make sure you understand all legal requirements. 

This involves more than just a basic understanding of federal laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It also requires attention to state and local leave laws, which can vary significantly by location. 

Why? Well, some states have their own nuanced leave laws, with conditions operating outside of federal regulations, that you may be required to observe.

Because of this legal variance, it is critical to make certain that your leave policies are fully compliant with all legal requirements. 

Next, make sure you stay current with these legal requirements.   

Keeping informed about these laws is an ongoing process, as legislation routinely changes and new regulations are regularly introduced.

You should consider subscribing to legal updates, joining professional HR associations, or even partnering with us or another third-party to prevent your business from being exposed to potential litigation. 

Then, integrate your leave policies with your company goals. 

In addition to legal compliance, aligning your leave policies with your company's goals is crucial.  

Want to grow your business quickly? Are you more focused on stability? Or is your priority boosting employee retention? 

Whatever the goal, your leave policies should reflect and promote your business objectives.  

If your business values employee well-being and work-life balance, for instance, your leave policies should reflect this by offering flexible leave options or additional PTO for mental health days. However, if your business operates in a high-demand, fast-paced environment where constant availability is crucial, your leave policies might be more structured, with specific guidelines for advance notice and strict duration limits. 

Finally, match your leave policies to your specific company dynamics. 

Recognizing that different business models have unique operational demands is also essential to effective forecasting.  

If your business experiences seasonal peaks, you might need leave policies that include blackout periods to ensure adequate staffing during these critical times. On the other hand, if your business is project-based, you might benefit from more flexible leave arrangements, allowing for more time off during slower work periods. 

By tailoring the way you develop your leave policies to both the legal landscape and the unique rhythm of your business operations, you create policies that are not only compliant but also customized to your company's culture and operational needs. 

2. Turn your leave policies into company-wide practices

Turning your leave policies into effective, company-wide practices requires transparent and comprehensive guidelines.  

These guidelines should cover all types of leave, including sick leave, parental leave, bereavement leave, unpaid leave, but that’s just to name a few. 

And it's crucial that they clearly outline the specifics for each, such as:  

  • Allocation – How leave is distributed to employees. 
  • Accrual – The rate at which employees earn leave time. 
  • Usage – Guidelines on how leave can be used. 
  • Carryover – Policies regarding unused leave transferring over to the next employment period. 
  • Requesting Leave – How to apply for leave, including notice timelines and required documentation. 

However, the creation of these policies is just the beginning.  

To be effective, they need to be seamlessly integrated into your company's standard operating procedures. This means incorporating your policies as active components of your organizational framework.  

Here are a few ways you can achieve this: 

  • Embed your leave policies into employee handbooks. 
  • Train managers so they are experts on the ins and outs of these policies.  
  • Incorporate leave management into the onboarding process for new hires. 

Making your leave policies understandable and accessible to employees is paramount to implementation. 

It's essential that all of your leave policies are documented in clear, straightforward language and are readily accessible to all employees. Regular training sessions may also be beneficial to help enhance employees’ awareness of their rights and responsibilities regarding leave and enable a smooth and comprehensive application of these policies. 

And just as procedure should be outlined for employees, it should also be transparently reflected in how your management handles leave.  

When an employee requests leave, having a clear, predefined procedure for managers to follow is crucial to how your policies will be received and adopted by your whole team. This procedure should cover workload distribution during the employee's absence, maintaining healthy team dynamics, and ensuring minimal disruption to operations. 

By adopting this comprehensive approach, you ensure that your leave policies go beyond being just documented rules. Instead, they become practical, company-wide practices that not only comply with legal standards but also resonate with your company's operational needs, supporting both your organization and its employees. 

3. Stay proactive and up-to-date with leave policy and procedure changes

A static leave policy can quickly become outdated.  

Be open to adapting and improving your leave policies based on employee feedback, changing business needs, and the ever-evolving legal landscape. Regularly reviewing and updating your leave policies will ensure that they remain relevant and effective. 

Remember how dramatically the COVID-19 pandemic affected businesses? Among other changes, it transformed the way businesses had to approach leave, with many companies introducing special leave for quarantine periods or for parents dealing with school closures.  

Being adaptable and keeping your policies current shows responsiveness to the needs of your employees and the realities of the business environment. 

4. Communicate any changes to leave protocols as soon as possible

Effective communication is key in leave management.  

Any changes to leave policies should be communicated promptly to all employees. This communication can take various forms, including email announcements, staff meetings, or updates to the employee handbook.  

It's also important to ensure that these communications are two-way. Provide channels for employees to ask questions or express concerns about the changes. This open dialogue can help in fine-tuning the policies and ensuring they are well-received and understood by the workforce. 

With an ongoing process for communication, your leave policies will become a source of both employee well-being and business resilience. 

Prioritizing clear and open communication around leave policy changes contributes to a workplace culture of transparency and trust. This not only enhances employee satisfaction but also reduces confusion, maintains smooth workflows, minimizes operational disruptions, and leads to a more productive workplace. 

5. Be consistent in application and enforcement

Consistency is key!

When applying leave policies, consistency is critical to maintaining fairness and avoiding perceptions of favoritism or discrimination. All employees, regardless of their position or tenure, should be subject to the same rules and procedures. This consistency means employing a uniform standard for how leave requests are approved or denied and how leave is tracked and recorded. 

Inconsistencies in leave policy application can lead to employee dissatisfaction and can even result in legal challenges. With this in mind, training managers and supervisors on the importance of consistent policy application and providing them with the tools and support they need to enforce policies fairly is essential. 

Consistent application of leave policies isn't just the right thing to do, it's a smart business decision. With a fair leave management process, you can build a more engaged workforce, minimize legal risks, and cultivate a workplace where everyone feels valued and respected. 


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Leave management mastery starts here! Take the next steps 

If you are here, you understand the importance of effective leave management to the success of your business. By reading this article, you learned 5 proven practices to better your leave management policies and procedures. But, implementing them isn’t always easy.

We can help with that! 

Here at Combined, our team of HR specialists has the knowledge, experience, and technology to help you transform the typical chore of managing leaves into a time-saving and trouble-free HR task. 

Are you ready to put these practices into play and leave any leave management problems in the past? 

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This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.