Managing Leaves of Absence

Harvard and the FAS is committed to supporting employees' personal and professional lives, which may include an employee taking a leave of absence to address and heal from health challenges or changes. As a manager, your role is crucial in helping employees navigate their transitions away from and return to work. Your HR Consultant is always available to meet with you to sensitively and effectively prepare for and approach these challenges and transitions.

An employee's plans for taking a leave call on a manager's planning skills.  Advance consideration of how you will cover the employee's job responsibilities during their leave, along with sensitivity to the personal challenges or changes they may be facing, will pay dividends in your whole work group's productivity, morale, and retention.

Whenever one of your staff members will be taking a leave, please notify the FAS Leaves Consultant, Nikki Brown, at 617-496-2553 or as early as possible for assistance.

The Importance of Sensitivity and Compassion

While the process of considering, approving, and managing an employee's leave involves documentation and adherence to rules, it is important to always bear in mind your employee's personal challenges and feelings, and communicate with them with sensitivity and compassion. Be aware that work demands and the need for documentation may be the furthest things from your employee's mind, and be prepared to be flexible in dealing with them. Your willingness to help staff balance work and personal issues—and your kindness throughout these encounters—can lead to greater employee loyalty, morale, and retention that may extend to the affected employee's co-workers as well.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA covers many of life's challenges, as detailed in our Family and Medical Leave overview, and virtually every situation covered by the FMLA involves strong emotions, whether joy at a baby's arrival or fear and stress at news of a medical issue.  As a manager, you will face situations that begin with announcements such as these:

  • "I’m expecting a baby."
  • "My wife has cancer."
  • "My son's unit has been deployed."
  • "My mother needs surgery."
  • "I need to go overseas to adopt my baby."
  • "I will need to go to physical therapy for six weeks."

In accordance with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Harvard provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave (”FMLA Leave”) to eligible employees during a twelve-month period for one or more of the following reasons:

  • For incapacity due to pregnancy, prenatal medical care, or child birth;
  • To care for the employee’s child after birth or placement for adoption or foster care;
  • To care for the employee’s spouse (which includes qualified domestic partner as per Harvard policy), son or daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition; or
  • For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform his or her job; or
  • To attend to certain obligations relating to a family members' military service.

Additional unpaid time off is allowed for Multiple Births/Adoptions (8 weeks per child born or adopted concurrently, under the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act); and Military Family Leave (up to 26 weeks, depending on the reason for the leave).

Substitution of Paid Leave for Unpaid Leave

Employees may choose to use accrued paid leave while taking FMLA leave. Accrued vacation, personal days, and compensatory time may be used during any FMLA leave, as well as MA Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits. If the leave is for the employee’s own serious illness or childbirth, sick time and/or Short Term Disability benefits will generally be available. If the leave is for a family illness, the employee must use accrued “family sick” days at the onset of the leave; after exhausting those days, the employee may choose to use accrued vacation or personal time during the remainder of the leave. In order to use paid leave during FMLA leave, employees must comply with normal paid leave policies.

If the leave is for an employee’s work-related injury, Workers’ Compensation benefits will generally be available. However, due to differences in the two statutes, there may be cases where Workers’ Compensation benefits might end but FMLA leave would continue, or vice versa.

Other University policies and benefit programs may provide salary continuation and additional benefits. Harvard will simultaneously administer any policies and benefit programs that apply (for example, Maternity, Ma Paid Family and Medical Leave, Short Term Disability Plan, or Workers’ Compensation) when an employee is on a Family and Medical Leave.

Family and Medical Leave will automatically run concurrently with certain qualifying absences.

Sick Time/Dependent Care Sick Time. An employee may use this time to care for themself. They may also use up to 12 sick accruals to care for a sick member of their family or household

Vacation and Personal Days.  Vacation and personal days allow employees time for those things they want or need to pursue outside of work.

Short Term Disability provides pay for up to 168 days (following a wait period) if an employee is  unable to perform the material duties of theirjob due to illness or injury. This coverage may also be used for up to eight weeks of maternity leave. Harvard provides this at no cost to employees, and employees do not need to enroll.

Workers' Compensation provides temporary income for employees injured at work. Harvard automatically provides this at no cost to employees.

Long Term Disability provides 60 percent of pay for employees unable tp work for more than 180 days. Employees must enroll to participate and there is a small payroll deduction.

MA Paid Family and Medical Leave provides paid medical leave for employee’s own serious health condition that incapacitates them from performing essential functions of their job for up to 20 weeks. Also provides Paid Family Leave for the following:

  • Up to 12 weeks to bond with a child during the first 12 months after the child’s birth, adoption, or foster placement.
  • Up to 26 weeks to provide care to a family member who is a covered service member.
  • Up to 12 weeks because of any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a family member is on active duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to active duty in the Armed Forces.
  • Beginning July 1, 2021, employees may take up to 12 weeks of paid Family Leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition.

Additional Resources