There are many different types of leave that employees can request, from federal leave entitlements like family and medical leave, to personal leave and sick leave. Each type of leave has its own guidelines, approval process, and documentation requirements.

Although small businesses have historically tracked leave balances with calendars and spreadsheets, having a comprehensive leave management system allows you to better plan ahead for upcoming leave requests and track remaining leave balances.

Let’s take a look at how leave tracking works, how to implement it, and what features to look for in a leave of absence tracking system.

What Is Leave of Absence Tracking?

Leave of absence tracking is the process of determining how much leave an employee is eligible for, how much they’ve used, and how much they have left across each leave type. It involves keeping track of things such as:

  • Leave accrual: Some types of leave are accrued over time, based on how many hours an employee works. For example, employees in California are eligible for 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work.
  • Leave balances: State and federal leave programs, like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), allow for a certain amount of leave in each 12-month period. Employers need to track how much leave an employee has remaining.
  • Carryovers: Some types of leave expire at the end of the year, while others can be carried over to future years. Some government agencies even allow for leave transfers, in which one employee donates their leave to another employee.

Effective leave tracking allows you to keep tabs on leave balances, so you aren’t caught by surprise when an employee submits a leave of absence request. It also ensures that you calculate accrued leave accurately, and comply with relevant employment laws.

What Is FMLA Leave Tracking?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to covered employers who “employ 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in either the current calendar year or previous calendar year.” It applies to employees who have performed at least 1,250 hours of work for their employer within the previous year.

Your leave tracking system needs to properly account for all of these variables in order to determine whether or not FMLA applies. You may also need to track FMLA leave in increments as small as 15 minutes if an employee takes intermittent leave.

FMLA regulations don’t specify how to track this information, but you’ll need to maintain a record of your compliance for up to three years.

What to Look for in a Leave Tracking System

A good leave management system does more than track work hours and timesheets. Since some leave types have strict eligibility and recordkeeping requirements, your leave tracking software should serve as a paper trail of the entire process.

The best leave tracking systems allow you to automate key steps and streamline the approval process. Here’s what to look for in a leave tracking system.

Customizable Rules

Your organization may have its own employee leave or paid time off (PTO) policies that exceed what’s required by state and federal law. A customizable leave tracking system lets you specify your own rules and create your own approval workflows.

Customize the rules to determine who gets a notification when a new leave request is submitted and who needs to sign off on it.

Employee Self-Service

Leave of absence tracking: employee blowing his nose

Employees shouldn’t be discouraged from exercising their leave entitlements because they’re too sick or it’s too much of a hassle. A self-service portal allows employees to submit leave requests online and upload any supporting documents.

Plus, with cloud-based leave management software, your HR administrators can review employee leave requests from anywhere, even their mobile phones.

Calendar and Payroll Integrations

Leave management is closely tied to time-tracking and accounting. Your leave tracking software should integrate with other tools, such as your calendar and payroll system.

A shared calendar simplifies the employee scheduling process, providing a unified view of employee leave requests so you can minimize overlapping leave periods.

Payroll integrations ensure that all leave time is accounted for, and that employee pay and accrued leave balances are calculated accordingly.

Advanced Reporting

Advanced reporting tools allow you to monitor trends related to employee performance and attendance. Look for leave tracking software with specific modules for attendance management, absence management, or FMLA tracking features.

A comprehensive leave of absence tracking system can help you minimize unexplained employee absences or identify instances of FMLA fraud.

Best Practices for Leave of Absence Tracking

Leave management software can reduce the pressure on your human resources team by automating key parts of the leave tracking workflow. But it shouldn’t replace human oversight of the leave management process.

Here are four best practices for your HR team to consider.

1. Have a Clear Leave Policy

A self-service portal can help your employees determine whether or not they’re eligible for leave, but it’s still a good idea to have your company’s leave policies in writing. This is especially important if your leave policies differ from state and federal law, such as paid parental leave that exceeds legal requirements.

Requests that meet your criteria can be approved automatically, while more complex cases can be routed to the right member of your HR team.

2. Designate Leave Proactively

Employees may not volunteer the reason they want to take leave, and employers aren’t allowed to ask intrusive questions about health issues. However, it’s still the employer’s responsibility to determine whether or not mandatory leave rules apply.

For example, an employee’s request for sick time may need to be categorized as FMLA leave if it’s for an ongoing condition or involves an inpatient stay at a hospital.

3. Communicate During Leave

The return-to-work process is just as important as the leave approval process. If your employee is on leave for medical reasons, their expected return date may change, or they may need to provide a fitness-for-duty certification from a health care provider.

Your employee may also be entitled to retain their health insurance benefits while on leave, so they may have questions about this or other employee benefits.

4. Get the Right Documentation

Finally, it’s important to maintain the right documentation for each leave type. For some types of leave, such as FMLA leave, there are standardized forms to fill out. For others, you’ll need to go through a more open-ended process.

For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows for employee leave as a reasonable accommodation after going through the ADA interactive process.

Both ADA and FMLA leave may require a medical certification, but it must be requested and stored in such a way that protects employee confidentiality.

Track Employee Leave Without the Hassle

Employee carrying a box of her stuff

Employee leave of absence tracking involves several overlapping parts, from employee scheduling to payroll. Your HR team needs to know how many hours an employee has worked in order to determine their accrued leave balance. And you need to track how many hours of leave they’ve used to comply with FMLA and state leave laws.

Pulpstream makes it easy to track multiple kinds of leave with our cloud-based leave management system. With its customizable rules engine and self-service portal, your employees will be empowered to submit their own leave requests online.

Plus, our no-code interface means your HR administrators can jump right in without having to write a single line of code.

Contact us today for a free 30-minute demo!