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 his or her leave, along with sensitivity to the personal challenges or changes he or she may be facing, will pay dividends in your whole work group's productivity, morale, and retention.

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 him or her 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 him or her.  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.

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

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).

Click here for an overview of rights and responsibilities under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and how the FMLA Leave process works at the FAS.

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. 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 and Parental Leaves, 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 him or herself.  S/he may also use their sick accruals to care for a sick member of his/her 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 his/her job 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.

Parental leave for birth or adoptive parents includes up to four weeks of paid time off at 70 to 100 percent of an employee’s normal pay, to be taken within the 13 weeks following birth or placement for adoption.

Additional Resources

Family and Medical Leave Overview

Planning for Your Employee’s FMLA Leave.  Thoughtful planning and discussion before a FMLA Leave will pave the way for smooth transitions for all involved.    

Workers’ Compensation.  What to do when an employee experiences a work-related illness or injury.

Our Manager's Guide for Family Leave Transitions will help you plan for your employee's leave and successful return.  HARVie’s Family Status changes page provides for guidelines regarding Harvard's parental leave policy and information on the benefits you may want or need to update as your family grows and your needs change.