While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers basic guidelines for medical leaves, many forward-thinking and sought after companies want to do more to take care of their employees and appeal to candidates. However, crafting your own FMLA-compliant and competitive medical leave policy can be daunting. That’s why we worked with our founding legal Counsel, Frank Alvarez, to create an interactive medical leave policy generator to give you a starting point.
Before joining Cocoon, Frank counseled employers for more than 30 years on ways to operationalize leave, accommodation, and other employment laws. We asked Frank to include questions in the policy generator that employers might typically consider when developing a relatively basic but effective medical leave policy. Hopefully, this gets you started in drafting a medical leave policy that works for your company and its employees.
As a reminder, Cocoon is not a law firm and, although Frank is an attorney, he is not your company’s attorney, and nothing in this blog or the policy generator is intended to provide you legal advice. Therefore, make sure to review number six in the process below!
Get started with the template by filling in your details here:
🪄 Get the policy generator
✏️ Get the sample policy language
Now that you have a starting point, read through each section below to continue revising your policy.
How to draft and launch a compliant and competitive medical leave policy:
1. Understand what medical leave is
Your policy reflects your company’s concrete stance on what employees can expect for a medical leave and sets the tone. It should demonstrate how and by whom their medical leave will be handled. So before launching, plan on offering trainings to People team members and managers about your policy, the processes it entails, responsibilities and obligations for each party, and a range of use cases they’re likely to encounter so they can respond to employee questions with credibility and empathy. Now is the time to start having these conversations and trainings so everyone can get grounded in the why and the how of your medical leave policy.
2. Define eligibility and how benefits interact
Thinking through the different eligibility criteria and medical leave scenarios helps you avoid miscommunications and unintentional exclusions or negative consequences. Here are some common eligibility parameters and benefits covered in a medical leave policy (which are included in our policy generator):
Common eligibility parameters
- Employee tenure/hours of service
- Full-time vs. part-time vs. short-term
- Exempt vs. non-exempt
- Geographic considerations (including worksite size)
Cocoon benchmark: 57% of Cocoon customers don’t have a tenure requirement, so employees are eligible from day one.
- Time — How long is their medical leave? Must they take leave in one continuous block of time or do they have rights to intermittent leave/reduced leave schedules?
- Pay & pay sources — How much will they get paid while on leave and is any of it conditional? How is pay calculated? Where does this money come from (e.g., state, insurer, employer, or a combination)? Does pay “top up” and coordinate with these other benefits?
- Access to health/non-health benefits — Will their rights to health insurance continue? Will they continue to vest stock options? Will they continue to have access to other perks?
- Protected time off — To what extent will you commit to restoring an employee’s job after they return from leave? Will you commit to restoring them to their same job, an equivalent position, or something else?
Cocoon benchmark: Across all companies surveyed in our Paid Leave Benchmark report, the median medical leave policy is six weeks, with the biotech industry offering up to twelve.
3. Consider how your policy interacts with the FMLA
Most employers run company medical leave concurrently with FMLA or other statutory leaves — however, remember that FMLA provides unpaid leave while your company may provide paid leave or PTO. This can lead to some tricky policy decisions. You might choose to include the examples below under your medical leave policy, while allowing your PTO policy to address less serious and temporary medical conditions. You also can go more in-depth on FMLA compliance with our checklist.
Medical conditions covered by the FMLA policy
The FMLA defines a serious health condition as “an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves either inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider, involving a period of incapacity that prevents them from being able to work.” Some examples might include:
- Ongoing chronic condition that might require periodic medical visits on a regular basis or cause prolonged periods of illness (e.g., Crohn’s disease)
- A sudden or temporary health condition (e.g., recovering from an infection or surgery)
- A mental health-related leave
- A period of incapacity related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions
- A work-related injury (for which employees might receive workers’ compensation benefits)
- A serious long-term illness
Also keep in mind that the FMLA addresses parental leave, caregiver leave, and medical leave under the same roof — meaning the eligibility criteria are the same for those FMLA leave types. But as you consider policy goals (including talent acquisition and retention), you might decide to vary eligibility criteria or other policy rules for parental, caregiver, and/or compassionate leave policies (and we have policy generators for all three).
4. Ensure legal HR compliance and alignment with company policies and benefits
Now you need to reconcile your policy with federal and state laws to ensure legal compliance. This can start to get tricky — especially if you operate in multiple states — as laws vary by location. Recognize overlapping legal obligations and aim for consistency between laws and company policies. For example, clarifying that PTO cannot be used before or after a leave.
Common statutory benefits and company policies to consider
- Federal FMLA
- State paid/unpaid leave
- State disability benefits
- Private insurance benefits
- Voluntary additional employer pay (e.g., top-up pay)
- Health insurance
- Other non-health insurance benefits (e.g., accrual of PTO, continuation of pension, access to mental health benefits, etc.)
Questions to ask
- Will you provide the same or more than what you are obligated by law?
- Will you provide a baseline regardless of employee location?
- Will your policy run concurrently with overlapping statutory benefits or be “stacked” on top of them?
- How does an employee request company medical leave?
- Do employees need to provide additional certifications upon requesting medical leave or returning to work?
5. Clarify responsibilities for each stakeholder
Make your policy more transparent and stay legally compliant by making responsibilities for each stakeholder clear by defining:
- Who are your stakeholders? (internally and externally)
- What are leave-takers’ responsibilities? (e.g., many employees may be required to submit a certification with specific details from a healthcare provider in support of requesting FMLA coverage)
- What are others’ responsibilities? (People team, healthcare and insurance providers)
If you manage your leave with Cocoon, we’ll map a lot of this out for you to streamline next steps, owners, and deadlines. For example:
- Employees get information about required medical certifications, dates, and deadlines
- Managers get notifications about employee leave dates (when they're leaving and returning)
- Admins admins have visibility into claims progress for all employees on leave
6. Get your legal team to review
While our policy generator template gives you a starting point, you still need a legal expert to go over it with a fine-tooth comb before launching anything. They can ensure your policies are in line with state and federal guidelines and that they’re using the correct language.
There’s a lot to consider, but with our policy generator and this walkthrough, you’re off to a good start. Once your policy is launched, Cocoon is here to dutifully help you implement it, and to help your employees plan and manage their medical leave should the time come.