In the last decade, organizations report increasing difficulties in certain facets of FMLA administration (DOL). 2015's ERC FMLA Practices Survey reports only 15% of local organizations are “very satisfied” with their FMLA administration efforts. Read on to learn which 5 challenges Northeast Ohio employers are citing most frequently, and what solutions you can implement in your own organization to resolve these challenges.
Intermittent leave is cited as the most difficult to accurately track, especially since surveyed organizations most commonly track this manually. Proper reporting of time off becomes more challenging with unanticipated absences. Employers also find it difficult to ensure employees initially request FMLA and complete the related paperwork correctly.
2. Determining overall absence-associated costs
Managing FMLA leave can certainly be costly. The business impact may stem from administrative costs, the cost of obtaining coverage, continued provision of benefits to the employee on leave, and payment of overtime to team members who receive the extra workload (ADP).
3. Overall compliance
Understanding and communicating the various facets and processes of administering FMLA leave is cited as a major challenge by 15% of surveyed organizations. This challenge is further complicated by the recent changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Other compliance-related difficulties include a lack of managerial training regarding FMLA and best practices for responding to more unique FMLA-request cases.
4. Determining what constitutes a serious health condition
The law is still fairly vague about the definition of a serious health condition under the FMLA (SHRM). This ambiguity makes it difficult for HR professionals and supervisors to determine whether an employee requesting FMLA for such a reason is actually eligible. Employers also worry about possible employee abuse of FMLA leave, such as exaggerating the severity of medical conditions or fabricating medical notes.
5. Meeting paperwork timeframes as designated by the Department of Labor
Under the law, employers have the obligation of documenting and filing a variety of FMLA forms and notices throughout the leave process. Especially in the case of unforeseen absences, HR professionals may have a hard time responding quickly and appropriately to requests for FMLA leave in order to avoid falling behind on DOL filing timeframes.
If these challenges seem all too familiar to you and your organization, do not be overwhelmed. There are tools and recommendations available to help you better address these issues.
Suggestions for Solutions
1. Have a clear action plan for the administration process, possible unexpected circumstances, and goals for continuous improvement after new tools/processes are implemented (SHRM).
Make self-audits of your FMLA administration part of your continuous improvement process. Self-audits may include the following:
- Ensuring your FMLA policy addresses the necessary elements such as eligibility information, calculation method, leave request certification requirements, and benefits during leave.
- Reviewing how requests for leave and leave certification are handled
- Do leave requests go through HR to ensure FMLA is considered?
- How is tracking on leave completed?
- Is your document retention compliant with the FMLA regulations for audit purposes? For other self-audits ideas, please contact ERC.
2. Review and update your FMLA policies and forms.
The regulations had gone through some significant changes with the Obergefell v. Hodge Supreme Court decision throughout 2015, which makes same-sex marriage lawful in all states. Revision of existing FMLA policies is important to ensure the definition of “spouse” reflects the new regulatory and legal definition. Lastly, in May 2015, the DOL updated the required FMLA forms. Check the dates on your forms to makes sure they are updated.
3. Consider incorporating a user-friendly FMLA usage tool that automates and streamlines the process of tracking hours.
Reduce your compliance risks by relying less on manual FMLA-administration procedures. Note: ERC members receive exclusive savings on FMLA administration through our preferred partner, CareWorks Absence Management.
4. Knowledge is power.
Don’t be afraid to request additional information that can help inform you of whether or not an employee qualifies for FMLA leave, or whether recertification is necessary. Proper documentation is key in avoiding litigation as well.
5. If validity of claim exists after your attempt for additional information, it may be appropriate to request a second and third medical opinion.
6. Provide training tailored to managers, HR professionals, AND employees that identifies their roles and responsibilities regarding FMLA tracking.
In other words, get everyone on the same page so that the tracking process is consistent among departments and individuals. Training for supervisors and managers should include:
- Overview of protections for employees
- Liability of supervisors
- Process checklists for managers
- Questions that are appropriate to ask employees on leave
7. Educate your employees on the documentation process.
They know what to expect prior to requesting FMLA leave.
8. Once you determine the ways you will improve your FMLA administration process, be sure to obtain support from leadership to ensure organization-wide change is implemented and communicated effectively.
FMLA can impact everyone in your workplace, and it’s critical that employees understand any changes that may impact the ways in which they access this benefit.