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Don't leave it to chance Featured

9:36am EDT July 22, 2002

When George Harmanis, vice president of accounting and controller at Glimcher Realty Trust in Columbus, recently took a three-week vacation, it didn't create the kind of chaos in his department you might expect.

In fact, it was business as usual, according to Janelle Mikusa, vice president of human resources at Glimcher.

The managers in the department, who typically reported to Harmanis, were prepared to run the department in his absence -- and they did, Mikusa says.

While this leave was planned, that's not always the case. When unanticipated leaves are necessary, workloads are often shifted.

"We just step in and make sure the work gets done," says Mikusa.

Cross training is important when situations such as these arise. But it's not only important to be prepared, it's critical that employees maintain a good attitude throughout the co-worker's absence.

Companies such as Glimcher are frequently faced with managing employee leaves of absence. From maternity leave and other long-term medical conditions to custody issues or the care of elderly parents, employees sometimes find themselves needing extended time off.

"The nature of the leave determines if it is paid or unpaid," says Mikusa.

Some associates, such as nonexempt employees, are eligible for short-term disability insurance. If they don't purchase it, they can use vacation or sick time. Exempt employees, such as managers, are eligible for salary continuance during a leave of absence, but they are not necessarily paid for the entire leave. For guidelines on how much to pay, the company turns to its short-term disability insurance company.

The real challenge lies in keeping things running smoothly during the employee's absence.

"Occasionally we hire a temporary worker," says Mikusa, especially in clerical situations.

When the leave is sudden, work can be spread throughout the department. This is usually left up to the department head, since he or she knows the workload and what others can feasibly take on.

What if the employee doesn't return? Sometimes it happens, Mikusa says.

Recently a worker on maternity leave decided not to return, but asked to be rehired seven months later. The company granted her request.

"When people don't return after having a baby, it doesn't cause turmoil," says Mikusa. "We have the opportunity to shift the workload around."

At the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), supervisors have the right to grant employees a leave of absence lasting not more than six months, says Diane McLinn, manager of employee and labor relations. At COTA, there are two groups of employees -- bargaining and administrative.

When someone in an administrative position goes on leave, other workers assume the duties. This can stress out or overload employees, so if the job is clerical, a temporary worker is often hired, McLinn says.

Staffing needs created by bus drivers and maintenance personnel on leave, however, are posted so other drivers and workers can bid for the extra work. This is done by seniority and frequently results in overtime pay. While this may be costly, it's a fact of life, says McLinn.

"If an employee is out on salary continuance and we have to also pay for a temporary, it can be costly," agrees Mikusa. "But if the person on leave has a history with us, it's a good price to pay for that employee to come back to work." Lori Murray (Lori3204@aol.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.