Employee leave management may not seem like something that should make your top list of priorities, especially in a busy nursing facility. However, an effective leave management policy ensures your assisted living facility runs properly while giving staff members a chance to recover from illness or injury or attend to their loved ones.
As a manager or owner of a nursing facility, it's essential that you also free up time dedicated to payroll, scheduling, time clocks, HR issues, and applicant tracking to manage your staff leave and keep them happy. Here's what you need to know about building an effective employee leave management policy.
What Is Employee Leave Management?
Employee leave management, or time-off management, is the process of managing and organizing time-off requests for parental leave, vacation, sick leave, holidays, or emergencies for your nursing staff. There are many different nurse leave policies, guidelines, and rules that you and your staff members must follow to stay in compliance and keep your assisted living facility running smoothly.
Organizing all aspects of leave management will also ensure that your staff members receive the benefits they're entitled to and make them feel supported during their absence. Here are the most important elements of employee leave management:
- Ensuring legal compliance
- Evolving staffing requirements to keep your business running
- Confirming adherence to business regulations and policies for leave
- Maintaining staff support and satisfaction
While these aspects of leave management are essential, they can be difficult to handle on top of running your facility or overseeing other essential nursing functions, such as payroll or scheduling.
The primary goal of leave management is to effectively handle staff time-off requests fairly and accurately while maintaining other staffing requirements to help keep everyone on the same page. Having a strong, clear staff leave management process makes it easier for team managers, staff members, and HR departments to work together and meet everyone's needs.
Adhering to FMLA in Healthcare
It's critical to remain compliant with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when managing your staff time-off requests. The FMLA provides eligible staff members to take job-protected, unpaid leave for certain medical, family, or emergency reasons under specific conditions and terms. Staff members under the FMLA still maintain their group health insurance coverage and are entitled to up to 12 workweeks of leave within a 12-month period for reasons such as:
- The birth of a child.
- Caring for a newly adopted or fostered child.
- Caring for a parent, child, or spouse with a severe health condition.
- Caring for one's health when it prevents them from performing basic functions on the job.
- Caring for a parent, spouse, or child that is a covered military service member for illness or injury.
Staff members are typically eligible for leave under FMLA if they've worked at least 1,250 hours within the last 12 months. The FMLA ensures staff members get these 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year if they meet certain requirements while maintaining their job security and health insurance benefits. Here are some ways you can simplify FMLA leave compliance in your nursing facility to make your processes more efficient and protect against lawsuits and violations:
- Keep accurate, detailed records: Maintain proper documentation of all FMLA leave consistent with decision-making to help avoid liability for discriminatory treatment.
- Provide temporary transfers: Consider temporarily transferring staff members to other positions if scheduling changes due to staff leave. This will help staff maintain the workload, keep operations running properly, and cover the absent employee.
- Require written leave requests for all absences: Be sure that all staff members comply with leave policies when requesting FMLA leave by writing out their requests over an oral FMLA request. Having all information in writing can prevent any issues with compliance or leave abuse.
- Investigate and monitor possible leave abuse: If you receive information that a staff member is using FMLA leave for reasons inconsistent with their request, you should investigate possible employee leave abuse. If your staff knows you will closely monitor their FMLA leave, they will be less likely to misuse it.
Benefits and Challenges of an Employee Leave Management Process
You have to deal with many things as a CEO, manager, or admin of a long-term care facility. While it's necessary to ensure your staff gets the leave they are entitled to, it's vital that you do everything correctly to avoid violations, abuse, or compliance issues. Here are the primary benefits and challenges of employee leave management and how you can improve your process.
Benefits of Leave Management
While, at first, the sound of giving every staff member up to 12 weeks off work may feel counterproductive, there are many benefits to giving your workers this time off if they request it. A transparent leave management process can improve your facility's bottom line by:
- Creating policy consistency across your business.
- Increasing staff retention and satisfaction.
- Reducing management errors.
- Maintaining workforce compliance with labor laws.
- Increasing efficiency and productivity.
When you have an accurate and detailed schedule of when people will be absent for leave, you can benefit from better work planning and organizing your staff schedules and hours. Without a precise leave management process, it can be challenging to know which of your staff members' positions you have to cover or how to adjust schedules to ensure no one works too much overtime.
Getting your leave policy right can also help attract new staff members and ensure you apply the policy fairly and consistently across your company. This consistency can help reduce any issues or errors with communication or documentation, leading to more effective team workloads and less disruption with productivity. These overall improvements can also create more engagement among your nurses.
Challenges of Leave Management
Now that you know the many benefits of a strong leave management process, it's wise to be aware of some of the challenges you may face when implementing it for the first time or adjusting an evolving policy.
There are many different parts to maintain when managing your business workflow and staff leave, which can easily throw your staff off track and result in lower productivity. Not to mention, complying with regulations and labor laws is a top priority. Here are a few obstacles you could face when managing staff leave.
- Communication: If you don't make time to communicate questions or concerns with your staff, they might encounter some unwelcome surprises when they go to request time off for a paid vacation or unpaid FMLA leave. Failing to update and educate your staff on all your policies of benefits and accrual can create frustration and confusion in your facility among your nursing staff.
- Tracking leave: You need to know how much time off your staff members are entitled to and when they can request it. You'll also need to have clear records for monitoring time off to make informed decisions about staffing needs, timelines, and budgets. If you lose track of which staff members are out on leave—and when they're coming back—it can create staffing shortages and workload buildups.
- Payroll errors: If there's an error in your tracking or monitoring of absent staff on leave, those errors will likely trickle into your payroll. Keep in mind that your business may have paid leave, which will differ from any FMLA-eligible leave. Failure to track staff leave can result in inaccurate compensation.
Best Tips and Practices for Your Employee Leave Process
Building and maintaining well-balanced employee leave procedures can be challenging without the proper knowledge and tools. Here are some helpful tips and best practices to guide your policy development and leave management process.
Understand the Law and Stay Consistent
The first step in creating an efficient, fair leave program is to know the ins and outs of local, state, and federal laws regarding your nursing staff and assisted living facility. This will help you ensure your leave policies align with all ordinances and mandates that apply to your healthcare business. There are many ways you might run into legal trouble if your leave management policies are not consistently applied or if you unintentionally discriminate against different staff members.
For instance, you might want to consider a staff member's circumstances and make exceptions. However, bending the rules for some people means others won't receive that benefit, which can create legal trouble. To avoid these issues, you need to have clearly written policies and ensure all schedule makers, admins, or managers are adequately trained to stay consistent with your entire staff.
Outline Your Leave Policy Guidelines
There are many different types of leave or circumstances your staff members will need guidance on, so you should include all of the following information:
- What holidays your facility will observe
- The types of leave you offer, such as emergency leave, sick leave, parental leave, time off for voting, or jury duty
- How you calculate PTO accrual
- How you deduct time-off or leave time
- What happens if your staff has leave time left over
- The proper procedure for applying for or requesting leave
Be sure to clarify these rules and answer any common questions or concerns about FMLA leave you and your staff might have to avoid an influx of confusion or emails regarding PTO or unpaid leave. You can even promote your company culture in these policies by encouraging staff members to take advantage of these benefits if their circumstances fit the criteria.
Allow Your Policies to Evolve
It's possible to miss a detail or two even if you plan your policies well. A staff member may have a unique situation that doesn't fit the guidelines in your policies, so it's important to allow your policies to evolve and change them as needed to accommodate your staff's needs.
For example, if you discover a flaw in your outlined rules, you can always make the necessary changes and look for new ways to improve existing policies. This will help your staff feel supported and know that you're keeping track of important issues.
Communicate Your Policies Clearly
You must communicate with your staff, whether you send out a digital staff handbook, post your policies in the lounge, or hold a meeting to go through your PTO and leave policies verbally. Make sure your staff is aware of their benefits and rights throughout every level of your organization. Your nurse managers should thoroughly understand your policies so they can answer any questions and resolve any issues quickly and efficiently.
In addition to regularly discussing your policies and promoting transparency, it's important to immediately communicate any changes to your policies, rules, or guidelines with your staff. Though it might be challenging to get every staff member to attend a meeting at once, you can send emails with your employee handbook and highlight these changes.
Include any necessary information about these changes, such as when they go into effect and whether they change any staff leave requests already in place. Give all staff members as much notice as possible when making changes so they don't feel caught off guard.
Maintain a Sustainable Workflow
You can help your staff members in your facility by improving their workflow—even with an absent employee or two. One study found that nurses spend at least 25% of their day on administrative tasks. You can make these processes easier and more efficient with automated software to optimize scheduling, enhance control and flexibility for time and attendance, and improve reporting and compliance.
Maintaining a sustainable workflow will also help support staff members taking leave. If your staff members feel too stressed to take leave or guilty that their colleagues and other nursing staff will be under too much pressure in their absence, it can create even more frustration. Providing your staff with automated solutions will help them get through their tasks quickly and accurately, improving productivity and accuracy and reducing stress while others are on leave.
Your nursing staff already multitasks as they deal with residents and patients in your long-term care facility. They can become stressed as they spend more time on documentation or become interrupted by phone calls and other administrative tasks that keep them from spending time with patients. Keeping your workflow efficient will also help you focus more on investing in the well-being of your nurses, which will allow them to invest more in their patients.
Schedule Effective Leave Management With SmartLinx
The hustle and bustle of your facility can make it difficult for your staff to feel comfortable asking for leave and following the proper processes, which makes it challenging for you to manage these requests without being left shorthanded. Optimizing your workforce with automation from SmartLinx can help you efficiently distribute staff hours, schedules, and temporary transfers to allow other employees to take extended time off. It's no secret that technology can ease administrative burdens for healthcare workers, and it also allows them to deliver better quality care.
In addition, SmartLinx software allows you to manage nursing leave scheduling and communicate changes instantly with your staff. Your staff can benefit from less stress and more flexibility when they can get notifications directly to their phone about time-off requests. Whether you're looking to improve your staff leave management processes or optimize your current workforce and shift your business conditions, SmartLinx provides an all-in-one solution to your long-term nursing facility needs. Schedule a demo today to get started, or contact us online with any questions.