Not surprisingly, employee medical leave requests can spike in the summertime. If your organization is challenged with managing medical leave in the workplace, here are several best practices for administering the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
1. Update and communicate your policy. Make sure your organization has an updated policy and communicates this policy to employees and supervisors. Your policy should be detailed and conform to the latest Department of Labor (DOL) regulations.
2. Request advanced notice. The simplest way to limit FMLA’s impact on your business is to request notice of leave at least 30 days in advance, which will allow you to make other staffing arrangements and coordinate the proper paperwork.
3. Use medical certification and recertification forms filled out by an employee’s doctor instead of doctor’s notes. If there is incomplete or insufficient information on the form, follow-up with the employee and request additional information by a certain time, or directly contact his/her doctor (with the employee’s permission). Frequency and duration are typically areas where you may need to ask for additional clarification.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information or a second or third medical opinion if you aren’t able to determine whether the health condition or situation qualifies. Also, don’t be afraid to deny an employee’s request if it doesn’t meet the standards of a serious health condition or if he or she doesn’t comply with your policy.
5. Assess if ADA applies. If you determine that an employee does not qualify for FMLA for their health or medical condition, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) may still apply, in which you will need to accommodate. ADA may apply for approved FMLA as well.
6. Meet one-on-one with employees. Meet with employees one-on-one to review the FMLA process. Create a checklist or process outline for them that details which forms they need to submit, by what deadlines, how payroll/benefit deductions will be dealt with during their leave, points of contact for changes in their leave, and other important information.
7. Treat all FMLA-related occurrences equally and be consistent with your requirements. For instance, if you request a return to work form from one employee, make sure all employees fill out this form as well. If you require one employee to use PTO concurrently, make sure all employees are required to do the same.
8. Train and update supervisors. Ensure that supervisors are well-trained on their role in the FMLA process and when they need to direct their employees to HR. You should also communicate to supervisors details about the employee’s leave, specifically schedule changes.
9. Limit disruptions to your operations. Intermittent leave can often be more disruptive to a business’s operations, depending on an employee’s role. Request that employees schedule their treatment or appointments in ways that are least disruptive, or consider transferring the employee to a different job (although be aware that there are certain legal guidelines for transfers when FMLA applies).
10. Use rolling 12 month periods instead of a calendar year, fixed 12-month leave year (such as by an employee’s employment anniversary), or 12 month period based on the date that an employee’s FMLA leave begins. Using rolling periods helps prevent stacking of leave and is favored over other methods.
11. Require concurrent use of other paid time. Many employers require employees to use paid leave concurrently, such as PTO. This can help reduce abuse of FMLA. But also be aware, that some progressive employers do not require this, and even offer other additional paid leaves to supplement FMLA and support their employees.
12. Offer flexible schedules. A variety of flexible schedules (compressed work weeks, part-time options, flexible start and end times, allowing employees to make up time, etc.) can help limit use of intermittent FMLA, by providing an employee with the flexibility to manage their schedule versus requesting leave for intermittent situations.
13. Research suspicious behavior or patterns. If you have honest suspicions or reasons to believe that an employee is improperly using FMLA, you are entitled to research these situations or patterns of behavior. For example, if you suspect that an employee is abusing FMLA (such as infamously taking off on Mondays and/or Fridays), research the issue or ask the employee’s health care provider if the patterns of time off are consistent with the employee’s condition or course of treatment.
14. Reduce manual tracking and administration. Manual methods (i.e. spreadsheets) are prone to error especially when tracking intermittent leave and other leave concurrently with FMLA. Frequently, employers may miscalculate hours which costs their organization time and money. Using a system specifically designed for FMLA tracking or an HRIS can be beneficial in reducing error and yield excellent ROI.
15. Conduct due-diligence when applying discipline and terminating an employee on FMLA or for excessive absence. Review employees’ absences to make sure that they were not FMLA-qualifying. In addition, make sure that you are able to prove that you would have laid off or fired the employee regardless of them being on FMLA leave.
As a final thought, the best advice we can offer relative to administering FMLA is to talk with employees. Make sure they understand the process, and openly discuss any questions you have with them about their leave and the certification process. Also, when in doubt, we always recommend that employers consult the DOL regulations pertaining to FMLA. These regulations provide a great deal of information about how to execute and administer leave.
Please note that by providing you with research information that may be contained in this article, ERC is not providing a qualified legal opinion. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application.
This course gives a broad overview of the human resource function, and is designed for anyone involved with human resources. It gives attendees the skills necessary to face difficult HR situations and compliance issues, and is appropriate for HR Specialists, Administrative Assistances, Controllers, Office Managers, Recruiters, HR Generalists and Executive Assistants. Topics to be covered in the session include FMLA and other labor laws/employee relations issues.
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