- If an employer wishes to introduce or update a leave policy, it should carefully consider the most appropriate form of communication to ensure that the latest terms are known and shared with the workforce.
- Some discretion should be retained, not only for circumstances that might not have been considered or defined, but also for the possibility that support may be needed beyond the period specified.
- Financial and rehabilitation support can be essential in supporting a return to the workplace, removing unnecessary pressures and allowing colleagues to focus completely on their recovery.
The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has accelerated the thinking in many organisations’ around the health and wellbeing of employees, and the acknowledgement that to have a thriving business, one needs healthy and engaged workers. Here are some practical tips for introducing or updating health-related leave policies for staff.
What health conditions can be included?
Health-related leave policies are defined as initiatives relating to absence due to specific circumstances.
Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for industry body Group Risk Development (Grid), explains that they are intended to provide clarity on what might otherwise have been ad hoc paid leave, or to improve unapproved or unpaid leave to deal with traumatic events. “This could include the loss of a child, pregnancy loss, IVF, menopause and other health-related events such as gender reassignment surgery or cancer treatment,” she says. “Health-related leave policies may or may not dovetail with occupational sick pay or statutory sick pay.”
Employers can choose to create a health-related leave policy for any type of absence that might benefit employees’ health, from compassionate leave to duvet days to help them unwind.
Robin Lewis, HR senior director at health services body Cigna Europe, says its range of policies are aimed at enhancing and supporting workers’ whole health. “In addition to employer-funded benefits such as medical, dental and income protection insurance, and emergency leave, our extended time-off policy was introduced in April 2020 to help alleviate the extra pressures faced by employees trying to balance home and work during the pandemic. We will also shortly be launching a disconnect policy to help employees prioritise their health and wellbeing, to achieve a healthier work-life balance and prevent burnout,” he says.
Introducing a policy
When introducing a policy, how it is communicated and implemented throughout the organisation can often be the key to its success.
Moxham is of the opinion that although introducing a policy will result in circumstances where specified leave is defined and available, the list might not necessarily be comprehensive. “Some discretion should therefore be retained, not only for circumstances that might not have been considered or defined, but also for the possibility that support may be needed beyond the period specified,” she says.
“It’s also a good idea to draw in any other benefits already in place that might be supportive, such as some of the embedded services that come with a group risk policy like employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness benefits. These can include access to an employee assistance programme, fast access to talking therapies, specialist cancer support and much more.”
What to include
Policies should provide guidance on a range of issues covering the full employee life cycle, and clearly set out the rights and responsibilities of employees and managers.
Lewis says they should be written in a non-ambiguous manner, use plain language and avoid jargon. “It is helpful to include a note of who to approach should there be any queries on a policy and include links to helpful resources,” he adds.
It is also important that policies are inclusive and in line with an organisation’s culture.
David Williams, head of group risk at intermediary Towergate Health and Protection, comments: “The eligibility criteria applied to paid leave for fertility treatment, for example, represent a great opportunity for an employer to show their commitment to diversity and inclusivity, and to demonstrate that supporting their staff is not just words, but something they want to live and breathe by.”
Policies can cover all types of employment from permanent and part-time employees to directors, as well as those under zero-hour and fixed-term contracts.
Dan Crook, protection sales director at Canada Life, explains that group income protection policies, a benefit that employers can promote as part of their leave initiative, provide much-needed support if an employee is unable to work due to long-term illness or injury. “They also safeguard businesses and people from the costs of long-term absence, protecting your employees’ income and helping colleagues return to work,” he says. “This financial and rehabilitation support can be essential in supporting a return to the workplace, removing unnecessary pressures and allowing staff to focus completely on their recovery.”
Updating a policy
Policies can be updated in order to support business strategy, deal with internal or external changes or follow latest developments and best market practice.
Lewis states: “As is the case when introducing a policy, if an employer wishes to update a policy, they should carefully consider the most appropriate form of communication to ensure that any update is known and embedded in the organisation. A continuous review process for policies should also be set out to ensure they are kept up to date.”