Life throws unexpected curveballs, and unfortunately, federal laws in the US don’t yet guarantee paid maternity leave or paid sick leave. While the FMLA keeps employers from terminating you during a qualified medical absence, it doesn’t require employers to compensate you during that time. In this article, you’ll learn how to prepare for medical leave, what to tell your clients, and how to make a smooth transition back to work when you’re done recovering.
Prepare for an extended medical absence right now, even if you don’t think you have to.
If you live in the US, in particular, you need to get very good at saving and managing your money. Our safety nets are full of holes, so you have to build your own.
Save. Save. Save.
For the love of god, please save.
I know it can be difficult to build a savings balance when you work in our business—an industry plagued by wage and labor abuses that often put workers at a significant disadvantage—but if you don’t have exceptional insurance and money saved to cover your living expenses for at least a few weeks, you’re one unexpected medical crisis away from financial ruin.
Don’t rely on the generosity of friends and strangers. Crowdfunding campaigns aren’t a substitute for health insurance and/or savings. Try to accumulate enough money to cover 3-6 weeks of basic living expenses. Once you have, don’t touch it. Forget it exists until you truly need it.
Provide notice as soon as possible.
In the event of a foreseeable absence (maternity leave and/or scheduled surgery, for instance), give your employer and your clients plenty of notice. Employees should be working with the salon owner and/or management to determine together exactly how to communicate the news to the clients and how to coordinate the professional’s departure and return.
Template: Absence Email Notice to Client
Dear [CLIENT NAME],
[YOUR NAME/I] will be out of the salon from [DATE] until [DATE]. Should you require service in my absence, schedule your next visit with [COWORKER/COLLEAGUE NAME]. You can expect [HIM/HER] to provide the same exceptional experience and outcome you’ve come to expect from [YOUR NAME/ME].
If you would prefer to schedule your appointment with [YOUR NAME/ME] before [HIS/HER/MY] leave begins, please call [SALON PHONE] as soon as possible. Existing clients are receiving priority booking until [LEAVE DATE].
[SALON NAME/YOUR NAME]
You don’t have to disclose the reason for your medical leave if you don’t want to, but most professionals who are having “maintenance” surgeries—those common joint repairs us veterans often require—do. (In those instances, our regulars have seen those inevitable operations coming a long way off, so the announcements come as no surprise to them.)
Whether or not to disclose the reason for your medical absence is your decision to make.
Employers can’t require you to give specific reasons. Should they disclose the reason without your consent, that disclosure could constitute an FMLA violation.
Ask for accommodations in advance.
When you return, will you require reasonable accommodations? For instance, if you’re having a spinal or hip surgery, you may require a floor mat or a cutting stool. If you’re giving birth and plan to breastfeed, you’re legally entitled to pumping breaks and a private space for expressing milk.
Give your employer plenty of time to make whatever changes and/or acquire things you may need to do your job comfortably. They’re required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to make reasonable accommodations, but you should be guiding them so they know exactly how to do so.
Renters will need to design their outgoing and incoming transition strategies themselves, which brings us to our next tip.
Overestimate your return date by a week or two.
Give clients a general estimate when they ask when you’ll be returning, but don’t be overly optimistic. You never know how things will shake out. Should your recovery not go according to your timeline, you’ll find yourself rescheduling a bunch of appointments when you least need that added stress in your life.
Ease back in.
In addition to ensuring you don’t face any unforeseen recovery complications, overestimating your return date allows you time to transition back to work. Professionals tend to not only underestimate their recovery time, they also overestimate their capabilities upon return. (As a workaholic and mother of five, I am so extremely guilty of this myself. Did I mention I gave birth this week?)
In our eagerness to return to work, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves.
At first, schedule half days. Give yourself a little more time with each client. Be sure to take breaks, keep hydrated, eat an actual meal at lunch time (instead of inhaling it), and—seriously—take time to pee.
Listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t try to power through, otherwise you risk complicating your recovery.
Don’t be a hero.
Shoulder, knee, and hip surgeries are common in our business. In my career, I’ve known several professionals who have returned to work perhaps a little too early and pushed themselves way too hard. They refused to use accommodations (like cutting stools), wouldn’t take breaks, and removed splints and other stabilization aids long before their doctors advised.
As salon owners and managers, we have no real authority when it comes to enforcing your doctor’s orders, and we hate seeing our professionals do things that complicate their recovery. Don’t come back to work until you’re sure you’re ready, ask for help if you need it, and don’t be too proud to request tools or furnishings that could help you work more comfortably.