Although, the Administration Office of the US courts just reported a 26.3% increase in FMLA lawsuits in 2014, the fourth annual DMEC Leave management Survey has shown that employers have made positive changes to deal with difficult tasks when managing FMLA and ADA leaves of absence over the past few years.
In 2012 there were 291 FMLA lawsuits, 877 in 2013, and in 2014 the number jumped to 1108 FMLA lawsuits. As highlighted in a recent article, one of the reasons for the increase is ignorance of the law, and/or the frustration by employers with the ever-changing rules. In the DMEC survey, employers listed the factors that negatively affect their FMLA programs:
• Managing intermittent leave
• Lack of training or knowledge of leave laws
• Leave Management staffing issues
• Lack of technology
• Decentralized approach and nonstandard policies
Employers who have dealt with these issues reported an overall success of their leave management program.
So how can other employers ensure a successfully implemented leave program?
Ensure you have enough employees assigned to manage and monitor employee leaves of absence. Be it your managers, supervisors, or your HR department, anyone who is responsible for employee leaves of absence needs to be trained to know the law thoroughly, and encouraged to work with the HR or legal department to understand employees rights to leave.
Once rights have been established, it is critical to monitor employee leaves of absence, and remember to utilize the honest suspicion rule if necessary. Your staff should be comfortable to know where employees are at all times, and be confident in approving or denying leaves of absence, or requesting recertification when necessary.
Technology can make the process of managing employee leaves of absence much simpler. Automated systems may determine eligibility rules, and ensure effective management of intermittent leaves. There are a few options for implementing technology in your business, including homegrown software, externally developed software run internally, or outsourcing to an experienced vendor. The decision on which system to use depends on the business resources, including overall cost, company culture, consistency of policy administration and operational perspectives.
Another important element to consider is integration of leave and other benefits, or other internal software platforms.
One of the most critical elements to consistently manage employee’s leave of absence is the structure of the business. Employers with a centralized approach to management, and with leadership support, report that their leave management policies have been successful.
Another important element of the business is to ensure policies are applied uniformly. If employees feel they have been treated unfairly, they are more likely to retaliate through a lawsuit.
In addition to implementing these three steps, it is most important to ensure the whole process is fully documented in case a lawsuit is ever presented against you. This will ensure you have the right tools to stand by your decision in a court of law.