Tips for workforce planning amid the changing landscape for leaves of absence

Life doesn’t always happen outside of business hours. Everyone experiences the challenges of managing elements of their personal lives while being physically and mentally present at work. Employers understand the importance of helping their workers manage work and life obligations, and many have policies and practices in place to help them attain that balance.

In many ways, technology today makes it easier to work around sick kids, appointments for parents or a crisis at home. However, sometimes it just isn’t possible to be at work while dealing with a personal situation, especially when it’s going to go on for a while. Despite employees’ best efforts, trying to be in two places at the same time for too long can be exhausting and feel impossible. As a result, employees may need to consider their options for a leave of absence.

Read: What do Canadian provinces offer around sick, emergency leave?

In recent years, the federal and provincial governments have added an array of new legislated leaves of absence for Canadian workers. As such, employers have to understand what’s available, how to manage the eligibility and administrative requirements between each type and each jurisdiction, ensure compliance, update human resources policies and practices and integrate existing leaves with the new ones.

For example, the federal government expanded the benefits programs available through employment insurance through legislation that took effect last year. The government has also provide for additional protections in the Canada Labour Code for people taking leaves. At the same time, employers with employees in Alberta or Ontario are adapting to the substantive reforms introduced to each province’s employment standards acts through the introduction of bills 17 and 148, respectively.

Leaves of absence governed by employment standards legislation are generally unpaid while also protecting employees’ jobs while they’re away, but the rules regarding the continuance of benefits during those periods vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Read: Earlier maternity leave benefits, other EI changes coming this fall

With the increase in both the type and length of available leaves of absence, the complexity of administering an organization’s policies increases as well. As a result, it’s critical to complete a thorough review of existing policies that address leaves of absence. Such a review should include employee handbooks, intranet sites, portals, orientation materials, leadership training and resource guides. If an organization participates in collective bargaining, it should include a review of the language in the agreements to be certain that it correctly reflects any new or amended leaves and related employer responsibilities.

In addition, it’s important to review employee benefits programs and contracts to confirm they meet the required minimum standards and the rules around benefits continuance during these leaves. Where the employer-provided benefits are more generous than the minimum legal standards, employers may also need to ensure that the manner in which they apply their benefits continuance policy during leaves of absence is consistent with the different jurisdictional requirements for each employee group across all classes and locations.

Read: Sounding Board: Ontario’s Bill 148 adds administrative burdens, costs for employers

The new and amended leaves address a number of personal issues Canadian employees may be struggling with and provide relief through job protection, as well as benefits continuance and partial income replacement from employment insurance, in some instances. However, the increased number, type and duration of potential leaves of absence can add to the complexity of workforce planning and resourcing. This is certainly a challenging time for employers, but it will also be a period of opportunity for non-traditional types of workers that will help improve work-life balance.