No matter what size your business is, you eventually will have to deal with the problem of health-related absences.
Even if you’re a sole proprietor, you probably have given some thought to how the business might survive if you were forced to take an extended medical leave.

While sole proprietors are obviously in a class by themselves, small businesses with 50 or fewer employees should establish some sort of in-house policy about medical leave and communicate that policy to all employees.

Family Medical Leave Act

Businesses of this size are exempt from the federal Family Medical Leave Act that requires companies with more than 50 employees to give qualified employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave time for a wide array of family and medical reasons.

However, even though your company may be exempt from FMLA, your employees deserve to know how they will be treated if struck down by a serious illness or faced with a family crisis.

ADA May Still Apply

Small business owners should also be aware that although they are exempt from FMLA if they have 50 or fewer employees, the Americans with Disabilities Act still applies to companies with as few as 15 employees.

And the ADA requires employers to grant medical leave to qualified employees under specific circumstances, according to an article written by Megan R. Stell at NFIB.com, website of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Needless to say, owners of businesses that are subject to either ADA or FMLA or both must familiarize themselves with the medical leave requirements of each and establish medical leave policies that comply with all applicable laws.

In addition to these two federal laws, individual states and other political jurisdictions have laws governing medical and family leave, and it’s your responsibility as a business owner to ensure you’re also in compliance with state and local regulations.

Show Compassion

It’s also important to recognize that being too hard-nosed or inflexible about matters of medical and family leave — even in the absence of applicable law — could cause otherwise loyal employees to look for jobs with more compassionate policies.

Keep in mind it’s also helpful to be as knowledgeable as possible about health insurance, particularly if your company offers health coverage to its employees.

To familiarize yourself with the language unique to health insurance, check out this article on key health insurance terms.

Have a Backup Plan

And in formulating your business’s medical leave policy, give some serious thought to how the business can continue to operate smoothly — or as smoothly as possible — if a key employee is sidelined by sickness or accident.

Because small businesses generally have less built-in redundancy in terms of personnel, cross-training is one way to ensure that your business will continue to adequately cover all responsibilities if a key employee must take an extended medical leave.

How Cross-Training Works

Similar in concept to the cross-training exercise programs that athletes follow to avoid overuse injuries, cross-training in the business setting “involves teaching an employee who was hired to perform one job function the skills required to perform other job functions,” according to Inc.com.

To the extent possible, it is ideal if each of your employees is trained to perform at least two job functions — his and that of another employee. And the more employees understand about the various jobs it takes to keep the business running smoothly, the more valuable they are to the overall operation.

Obviously, losing a valuable employee for an extended period of time creates a hardship for the rest of the team.
But with cross-training the rest of the staff can at least juggle all key responsibilities at a level sufficient to keep the business rolling along.

About the Author: Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of business and personal finance topics.