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What to do if an employee asks for a leave of absence?

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Workforce management is a field where decisions are often very difficult to make, especially in large companies where HR departments have to coordinate hundreds of workers and balance their availability with the demands of the work process. One of the tougher challenges is deciding when to grant permission to an employee to take a leave of absence and when to deny it. Legal regulations about this issue vary considerably from one Canadian province to another, while many employers feel that it’s sometimes prudent to support workers regardless of legal justification. There are many factors that should be accounted for when considering a worker’s request, including:

Type of leave

In general, a leave of absence is granted so the employee could resolve an unusual private situation, and the law recognizes several different types. Maternity leave and parental leave are probably the most obvious examples, and they are observed nationally albeit with slightly different duration. Some provinces proscribe a minimum of sick days the employees are entitled to, with Quebec going as high as 26. However, this type of leave is not recognized in Alberta, Manitoba, BC and Saskatchewan. Bereavement and compassionate care are also legitimate reasons for a leave, as is voting in national or local elections. In certain cases, companies can allow off days for other reasons, but they are not compelled by the government to do so.

Duration of the leave

This is another critical question, since it determines how soon the employee will have to return. The length of legally guaranteed leave can be quite different – for example, Ontario allows for 10 paid days to grief a death in the family, but in Quebec only 1 paid and 4 unpaid days are given. Employees who move to another province may have unrealistic expectations in this regard, so it is very important to brief them on their rights as soon as they arrive. With a proactive attitude, it’s possible to avoid embarrassing misunderstandings at a time when an employee is feeling sensitive. Naturally, the employers have the discretion to extend any leave beyond the legal minimum, but they can’t be liable if they decline such a demand.

Paid or unpaid leave?

Companies are expectedly more inclined to let their workers stay at home if they don’t have to pay for the time spent out of the office. They have to stay in compliance with the regulations, which once again are specific to each province, while any additional days are basically the goodwill of the employer, even if they are unpaid. In some industries, it is common to allow low-level employees to take unpaid leaves and return when they can, but white collar workers are much harder to replace and consequently rarely have a chance to take a period off. The argument against allowing unpaid absence for reasons other than those proscribed by the government is that businesses need continuity and commitment, and that constant shuffling of the staff has a detrimental impact on the bottom line.

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