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July 17, 2002
The Answer to Long Absences: Cross-training
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the 364 or 365 days in a calendar year, Americans work about 255 of them. This figure accounts for days off, sick days, vacations, holidays and personal days. Employers generally see this as part of normal business and make staffing adjustments to maintain business as usual.

But what about employees who are injured, claim they are stressed, or need time off of work to care for a relative?

The Modesto Bee reports that the government has over 15 laws concerning time off work that deal with a variety of circumstances. They test a company's preparedness, resources, and creativity, and can take the form of:

  • Illnesses requiring short- or long-term disability leaves.
  • Work-related injuries or stress.
  • Non-work-related injuries and stress.
  • Maternity leaves.
  • Unpaid leaves for sabbaticals or other reasons.
  • Absences covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Leaves under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
  • Military leaves.
  • Leaves for jury duty.

Although companies take steps to insure themselves against the costs incurred by work-related injuries or stress claims, the insurers don't pick up the costs of paying overtime or hiring a temp, the Bee reports.

So how do companies deal with the lengthy loss of workers?

"We combat it through cross-training," said Kim Bautista, who works in the Human Resources Department of Owens-Illinois, a plastic injection company in Modesto, Calif. "Having teams helps. (Workers) move around, learn other jobs and improve their skills."

By training numerous employees to perform a wide range of tasks and operate a variety of machines, the company is prepared should someone need to go out on leave, she told the Bee. "We've only had one employee at any given time" out on leave, Bautista added. "The impact out on the (production) floor is not great."

Kruse/Lucas Body & Paint of Modesto, Calif., is a small company that employees just 18 workers. The consequences of an employee taking leave are much different for Kruse/Lucas than they would be for a larger firm, office manager Patty Gregg told the Bee.

"It does definitely hurt you," she said. "You figure one person works an eight-hour shift. That has to be spread out over everybody else."

But Kruse/Lucas handles the problem just as a larger company such as Owens-Illinois would.

"We have people who can go back and forth between body and paint," Gregg told the Bee. "And all of us know how to wash a car."

Capital Pacific Mortgage, also based in Modesto, tries to avoid causes of some leaves. HR manager Toni Reynolds told the Bee that the company tries to help employees avoid the physical strains and mental stresses that could potentially cause an employee to take a leave. Many of the firm's 55 employees work on computers all day, so the company does "preventive things with wrist rests and try to make the work stations ergonomically correct," Reynolds said in the Bee article.

Sometimes employees require maternity or medical leaves. If the leave occurs while the real estate market is hot and the company is processing a high volume of loans, the burden falls on everyone else.

"When that happens, vacations are suspended until things taper off a little bit," Reynolds said.

While a few co-workers might complain, they will see more on their paychecks. The company pays performance bonuses.

"The perks kick up when business increases," she said. The extra money helps ease the stress of taking on additional work, she said. And if the extra-money mindset keeps an employee from stressing out because of the increased workload, she considers it money well spent.

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