This year’s flu season hit everyone hard, and it’s affecting employers across the country. One question I’m asked weekly is, “What is required of me as an employer?” This begins a conversation with a slew of other questions surrounding staffing, loss of productivity and morale, employee rights, employer rights and responsibilities, and risk.

How to handle sick employees 

With a medical office, one sick staff member can throw a wrench in the flow of the whole day, resulting in decreased productivity and ultimately, decreased revenue. Having a backup plan, such as assigning the specific duties of each staff member, is a simple, yet effective way to lessen the blow of missing staff.

While some job functions are able to be put on the shelf during a short absence, others are more critical. Assessing each staff member’s daily duties for importance in the functionality of a clinic or surgery center is crucial to having a plan in place.

FMLA requirements

In addition, one has to consider other employer responsibilities. If you employ 50 or more employees, you are responsible to uphold the requirements of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) giving qualified employees protected leave for specific family and medical reasons.

Who qualifies? An employee who has worked for the employer for a total of 12 months for at least 1250 hours over the previous 12 months. The employer must grant an eligible employee up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The birth and care of a newborn child of the employee
  • Placement of an adopted or foster care child
  • When an employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition
  • Caregiver to a member of the Armed Forces with a serious injury or illness (this qualifies for up to 26 workweeks of unpaid leave during a single 12-month period)

To ease the burden – you are not required to pay the employee during leave. While the employee’s job is protected, their pay during leave is at your discretion. Many offices opt not to pay the employee, while others will pay for a certain percentage of the employee’s wages.

Additionally, you may require the employee to exhaust all Paid Time Off options (such as vacation and sick pay). While you are required to keep medical benefits in place, you can still require the employee to pay their portion of benefits while they are on leave. The employer can also request medical documentation to determine if an employee’s medical condition is considered “serious.” Sometimes a condition can be accommodated within the workplace with “light-duty.”

Avoiding risk 

It’s fairly simple to dodge a legal bullet with consistency and clear communication of the employee rights as well as having clearly written policies. Keep up-to-date on your legal knowledge and what’s going on in the community.

There are many legitimate HR resources such as seminars in your area, articles and forums, all of which can be helpful in educating a medical practice about such laws. When in doubt, go straight to the source: Dol.gov/whd/fmla/