We all see catastrophic events on the news — hurricanes, fires, shootings. While they present their own problems — grieving, loss, destruction and rebuilding — there is a matter-of-fact side that people are almost afraid to discuss: the side that considers how a worker goes to work after his or her home was destroyed in a fire or what happens when your employee’s husband was just shot and killed and she can’t come to work now.
As an employer, how do you give time off, remain empathetic, and keep the doors open?
It’s not as complicated as it may seem: Follow your procedures and remember how to be a kind human being. Many years ago, I worked for a woman who trained us to handle anything. She used to ask, “Why do soldiers shave on the day of battle?” It’s for preparation, to be ready for anything.
Many employers feel such a kinship with their staff that it’s hard for them to prepare for worst-case scenarios, until they happen. Then they don’t know what to do. This is where established procedures are vital.
When emotions tangle us up, follow the procedure — even if it’s just horrible. Your office manager just lost her 10-year-old to cancer and you wish you could pay her to take a year off, but you can’t? Refer to your company policy. What does it say? Does it allow for discretion by management? Does your bereavement policy call for three paid days off for immediate family, which isn’t going to be enough?
Did your part-time, hourly clerk lose her husband violently? She’s a great employee, but doesn’t qualify for paid time off, and you want to do the right thing. What is your policy? Can you work within it?
At the Nevada Association of Employers, we help employers with these issues. They are more painful when there is no policy and no guideline to help make these tough decisions. You want to be fair to your valued people, but you also have a business to run.
Our best advice is to refer to your policy, be kind and leave yourself some wiggle room. Consider a bereavement policy that gives five paid days, without specifying for whom (and it’s OK to ask for verification) that also states extended leave (paid or unpaid) may be available at the discretion of management. This will protect your business and your staff. It provides a starting point.
Policies that allow for paid or unpaid leave for extenuating circumstances also are helpful. The policy can state that “employees who need to take an extended leave are invited to discuss this with their supervisor or the HR department.”
We’re all human. Everyone has a life outside of work, and everyone has work inside of their life. It’s up to employers to provide that bridge for their staff, and for themselves, to get through the tough times.
Amy Matthews leads human resources and business development in Southern Nevada for the Nevada Association of Employers.