If you have 50 or more employees, your staff qualifies for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the U.S.’s Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). When someone takes a protected leave, you know the steps to take — have the employee fill out the paperwork, grant the time off and make sure they understand that no work is required during the leave. When the doctor clears a return to work, you must welcome the tech back to the same (or a similar) position. Easy, right?

First, Be Kind

Even if you follow every step to a T, remember that the return to work can be difficult for anyone.

  • If someone has been off for a prolonged period of time due to an illness, they still may not feel 100 percent even if the doctor has cleared them for work.
  • A person who has been on FMLA to care for a new baby may be emotional about leaving the newborn with a sitter, and a new mom may have lingering health issues.
  • If your employee took leave to care for a sick family member, they may be itching to get back to work, but still feeling emotionally drained from the stress of caring for someone full time. If that family member died, most likely they also will be coping with grief.

No matter what the circumstances, most people coming back from FMLA are going to need a bit more compassion, and a bit more leeway, than usual. Be kind.

Bring Them Up to Speed

Depending on the job and the person’s experience, your employee may walk back into work, clock in and return to the job like they never left it. But, for a lot of people, it takes a bit of time to get back in the full swing of things.

If the company has changed any policies or you’ve added new tasks to the position, you’ll want to provide dedicated training to the returning employee. Don’t assume they’ll figure things out just by watching their co-workers, especially since a lot of field service employees work alone. Take time to sit down and review any changes.

Make it clear that you understand it may take a little bit of time to get back to full working capacity and that’s okay. Offer your support, or assign a team lead to be the go-to person for the returning employee if they need guidance or assistance.

Fair Evaluations

Finally, when you’re evaluating an employee who has taken time off for FMLA, remember it’s protected leave. That means you can’t count it against the employee in terms of meeting benchmarks or fulfilling their duties.

For example, let’s say every employee has a goal of doing 100 repairs each month and an employee was out for two weeks of FMLA. If they do 50 repairs after their return, then they have met the monthly goal. You can pro-rate a bonus based on time actually worked, but you can’t say they didn’t meet their goals.

Sometimes dealing with FMLA can seem like a paperwork and staffing headache, but if an employee has a baby, gets sick or must care for an ailing family member, it can be a godsend for them — and for yourself as well, if the need for leave should arise. So be compassionate, bring them up to speed, and evaluate achievements fairly, and you will ease the tech’s re-entry to the work world.

Looking for more information about employee benefits? Check out this Employee Benefits Guide for Small Owners.

ABOUT Suzanne Lucas

Avatar photoSuzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about Human Resources and Business for a number of different publications.