What are the laws and best practices for contacting employees on leave? Here’s how to keep employees connected, what it’s OK to discuss and what to avoid.

What are the rules for contacting employees on leave? When and how should you communicate with them?

On one hand, you don’t want to lose touch with your talent while they’re out of the office. On the other hand, too much contact or the wrong topic of discussion can feel intrusive and might be noncompliant.

Here are some guidelines for
effective communication with employees on leave to sustain your relationship
and maintain a good employee experience.

Contacting employees on leave isn’t required, but it’s a good idea

are no legal requirements to keep in touch with workers while they’re out on
leave. However, there are good business reasons to not let your employees think
that you have forgotten about them.

Employees who are on leave, particularly for long periods,
may begin to feel disconnected from the work environment. That can lead to them
feeling unneeded or unwanted, which damages the employee-employer relationship.

In extreme
cases, an employee who hears nothing from work while they’re on leave may assume
that they’ve been replaced or are no longer needed. That can damage the
relationship and may lead the employee to find another job or become hostile if
their employer does contact them.

maintain a good relationship with workers on leave, a manager or HR person can
keep in touch on a regular basis, but not so often that it seems intrusive.

How should you
communicate with employees while they’re on leave?

At a
minimum, employers can request updated documentation from their employees on
leave, if those requests stick to a reasonable schedule, like monthly emails.
They can also reach out about changes that may impact the employee, such as
reminders about open enrollment periods for health insurance.

Otherwise, it’s best to keep contact focused on topics other than work. Some ways to do this include:

1. Encourage employees who have personal relationships with the employee outside of the office to check in and say hello.

This kind of casual contact lets the employee on leave know they haven’t been forgotten at work.

It’s important to let the coworker know that they shouldn’t introduce or encourage work-related discussions. They can pass along a message of “hello” from others in the workplace but shouldn’t discuss work events or other work-related topics with the employee on leave.

2. Encourage managers of employees on leave to reach out occasionally.

They can send an occasional card or reach out to say “Hi, how are you?” to keep the employee feeling connected.

3. Include on-leave employees in emails unrelated to work.

This can be a great way to continue to keep them involved. For example, if the employer has a summer picnic or other team-bonding activity that is fully voluntary, make sure the employee on leave gets an invitation, with a note that they’re welcome but not required to attend.

Other helpful guidelines

Limit your phone calls to on-leave employees to once a month for five minutes or less and focus on light topics like the employee’s new car, their pet or how their children are doing.

also a good idea to reach out as the on-leave employee’s return date draws
near. You might send a letter
between two weeks and a month before an employee is due to return, confirming their
anticipated return date and letting them know you’re excited to have them back.

This kind of pre-reentry letter is also a good place to update employees about any big changes that have happened during their leave.

For example, if there are new teams or a new supervisor on one shift, you can mention that in the letter so it’s not a surprise on their first day back.

What not to talk
about with employees who are on leave

Any conversation with an employee on leave – including written conversations – should contain no reference to work.

If you end up talking work, at best you may owe the employee wages for time considered work. At worst, your work-related communication may be viewed as interfering with a leave.

Remind managers not to get into work talk when they reach out to on-leave workers. If the employee brings up work, there’s no harm in saying something like, “We miss you here, but we’re hanging in there.” Then you can move on to another topic.

If the employee is on a health-related leave, steer clear of personal health discussions. The general rule for employers is to ask only what’s absolutely necessary about an employee’s health in order to accommodate their requests.

What about
employees who don’t want to be contacted while they’re on leave?

an employee may specifically ask not to be contacted while they’re out on
leave. In those situations, your organization should respect their wishes and
not reach out with casual check-ins or non-work-related information like an
invitation to the company picnic.

Of course, the company should still send information required by law, such as:

if these communications aren’t urgent, it’s best to hold off until about a
month before the employee returns to work. Then you can send a reminder email
or letter to let them know if any of their documents or credentials have expired
or are about to expire and request that they bring updated information when
they return.

How should
employers handle requests for employees on leave?

While an employee is away on leave, their work still needs
to be done. And there may be requests coming in from vendors, customers or
co-workers who don’t realize (or forgot) that the employee is on leave.

The best way to handle the employee’s workload and requests
from others depends on whether the leave is planned or sudden.

If the leave is planned

When you receive advance notice of a planned leave, such as when an employee goes out on maternity leave or takes a long-awaited corporate sabbatical, you can implement a plan for how the employee’s work will be completed. The plan may include:

  • Hiring
    a temporary employee
  • Temporarily
    reassigning another co-worker to that work
  • Distributing
    the employee’s tasks among co-workers

In each
of these cases, the person or people filling in should be able to handle the
on-leave employee’s work-related communication and other tasks.

If the leave is

the most conscientious employee can experience a sudden need for leave that
they didn’t anticipate. For this reason, it’s a good idea to develop a process
to cope with unplanned leaves before they happen.

you’re dealing with an employee’s unplanned leave, you may have to “reinvent
the wheel” to some extent. Keep these things in mind as you’re developing your

  • It’s possible
    to contact an employee on leave about work, but it should be avoided if
  • Any
    such conversations should be restricted to asking about dedicated processes.
  • That
    means only contacting employees about processes that require a specific
    resource or means to achieve a goal that can’t be recreated easily, quickly or
    within reason regarding time and cost.

For example, perhaps your head software engineer is on a sudden, unplanned leave and she has all the information about your company’s soon-to-be-launched app on her password-protected work computer.

If there’s no one else who has that information, and if there’s no other way to access her computer, you may be able to contact her for the password and guidance about handing the project off to another engineer.

you’ll need to assign someone to take over the on-leave employee’s workload and
work communication, just as for a planned leave.

What if you must
talk with an on-leave employee about work?

In those rare situations where contacting employees on leave about work is a must, it’s important to follow these steps.

  1. Request a meeting with the employee
    and let them select the date and time for the meeting.
  2. Tell them how long it will be
    and notify them that they will be paid for the time. If they are hourly, they
    must be paid for the duration of the meeting, plus any prep work they’re required
    to do for it. If they’re exempt, they must be paid for the day in which they
    did any work.
  3. Be on time, be prepared for the
    meeting and don’t make it longer than it needs to be.

What to include about employee leaves in your employee handbook and HR manual

organization’s employee handbook should describe your leave of absence policy, including
 information about what an employee can
expect before, during and after a leave. Ideally, this will spell out:

  • What the
    leave request process looks like
  • How much leave employees may take, and whether it’s paid or unpaid
  • The expectation
    that the employee will do no work while on leave

your company has a policy of shutting down all company-provided access, such as
cell phones, computer access and card keys, that should be in the employee
handbook as well. That way it won’t come as a surprise to employees who take

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