In the last issue of Contract Talks, we covered the different types of time off a pilot might accrue and get paid for, but it should be understood that there are types of time off for pilots that may not be paid, but might still be available. These are typically known as leaves of absence, and may be available for various reasons.
In most cases, there are certain types of personal and family issues which are required to be covered by the United States Federal Government. The US Government leaves are issued under the Family Medical Leave Act (also known as FMLA) and were designed to ensure that people had access to leave time in such cases that they were required to take care of family or needed specific or repetitive time off for their personal health issues. Typically, the process for this leave is guided by the company and requires a process of verification and paperwork with the doctors of the person/family requiring continuing care. Usually, HR or medical departments will be able to guide the employee through the process of completing any required documents. Also, while FMLA is unpaid by the company, it prevents retribution or job loss against the employee for taking excessive time off and protects them from events that might have been deemed worthy of termination in the past, so this can be a major quality of life benefit for those who need time off. The FMLA laws also cover maternity care for a child within one year of birth, providing for up to 12 weeks (in a 12-month period) of care for the child. This twelve-week rule also applies to many other types of FMLA covered leaves.
Pilot’s also need to be aware of any company available medical leaves of absence that might occur outside of the protected FMLA status. Depending on the company’s policies/Collective Bargaining Agreement, there may be additional options available for the pilot that are not as intensive as FMLA, but may be available for shorter terms, or can be specifically tailored to the employee. In some cases, the company may have policies that cover turning this into a paid leave of absence.
Another form of government protected leave is military leave. The details may vary from airline to airline, but generally, military leave is available for those in the Reserves, National Guard, or for those who transition to active military duty from civilian life. This is similar to FMLA in that it provides a way for the service member to perform their military required functions while simultaneously protecting their airline job. Again, the process may vary slightly from carrier to carrier, but the HR or leave departments of the airline would be able to guide the employee through the appropriate process. Again,
military leaves are not paid by most companies, but do provide the enhanced benefit of protecting the service person’s job until they are able to return to full time employment.
Company Leaves of Absence (COLA) are also a popular way for airlines to give employees access to extended periods of time off without the company paying the employee or the employee losing their job. This type of benefit will vary greatly from company to company, and the criteria to qualify for one may also vary. Such absences may be given to employees wishing to start a family, pursue an education, start a business or to avoid furlough in those economic times when the airline might not be able to support their entire workforce. One benefit to the COLA is that the terms and conditions of the leave can typically be worked out with the company on a case by case basis for each pilot. Pilot’s should be aware of their specific collective bargaining agreements and company guidance on qualifying for and obtaining a Company Leave of Absence.
Many companies also have other forms of emergency leave available for unforeseen issues such as a short term medical emergency, car accident, non-work related injury, etc. In some cases, these may work in a similar manner to PTO or sick leave, so the pilot’s individual contract should be consulted.
While none of these provide direct continued compensation to the pilot, they are all extremely important in guaranteeing the quality of life of an employee who might not otherwise be able to work without having to worry about losing their job.