Savvy Human Resources professionals know that there are only two ways to effectively communicate with their employees: Early and often.
Of course, the most common organizational communications challenge is around employee benefits. Helping employees not only understand what is being offered, but the value of the offering in the context of their total compensation package – the non-cash components – that commonly comprise up to 30% or more of the overall value.
Think about the annual rite of benefits enrollment. Experienced HR folks know that to be successful, benefits communications need to begin weeks in advance of the actual enrollment period to properly inform employees about their upcoming choices, the overall slate of offerings, and any changes from the previous year.
To be effective, these enrollment messages don’t just come in a single email note. Employees are invited to benefits fairs and informational meetings, they see posters reminding them of key dates, they are sent handbooks, brochures, and instructional videos… you get the idea. The old adage is true that to attract and retain good employees, a solid benefits package is required. And employees need to be reminded of their benefits consistently to drive home the message. Very often, managers and supervisors are enlisted to reinforce HR messaging and make sure their direct reports understand the many critical details and schedules to ensure a successful enrollment process.
Combining Federal & State Regulations with Employee Benefits Plans
So, with the necessity of consistent communication as an accepted premise, let’s take it a step further and discuss Family Medical Leave (FML). FML is not a benefit; it is a federal regulation. Companies with more than 50 employees are required to provide job-protected leave to employees, and many states have their own set of regulations requiring compliance, as well. But because FML involves absence, and is sometimes taken in conjunction with company leaves, it is often discussed in the context of time off from work.
That is one of many common misunderstandings associated with FMLA, as we’ve uncovered in a recent ClaimVantage research study. Forty-six percent of absence managers couldn’t answer our basic FMLA test*, which asked participants to choose the type of employer required to offer FMLA and the benefit that FMLA provides. Unfortunately, the stakes can be much higher in the administration of FML because of the potential penalties of non-compliance with regulations, which can include DOL audits and fines, or even worse, a lawsuit.
Front-line Absence Management
The one thing that FML and employee benefits do have in common, however, is that the first resource most often consulted for information by employees is their immediate supervisor. Rather than call an HR Service Center, or scrolling through the employee handbook, an employee looking for answers is more apt to seek direct assistance from someone close by and familiar. It’s human nature. But what happens when the immediate supervisor is no better informed than the employee? In the FMLA test mentioned above, 47%% of employees and 46% of managers surveyed didn’t pass the test*, suggesting there is a lack of knowledge among both groups, attributing to a significant FMLA Knowledge Gap.
If you think your medical plan is difficult to explain, try providing an overview of protected leave vs. paid leave, or eligibility vs. entitlement, intermittent vs. reduced schedule, state vs. federal FML, etc. Don’t even get me started on ADA, ADAAA, and work-site accommodations. It’s a lot to know, even for those whose job it is to explain it clearly to others. For managers and supervisors that focus on a completely different set of day-to-day accountabilities, it’s not surprising that a majority get many of the details wrong, leaving you open to litigation. Not only that, but over 26% of managers state that managing leaves of absence keep them from spending time on their primary job*, indicating that this responsibility can impact manager productivity.
Communication & Benefits Education
We can agree that employee communication is a task that is never complete; it is an ongoing process. Despite a creative and consistent multi-media campaign, though, sometimes simple communications and reminders are not enough, especially when the penalties for getting it wrong are so high. This is when actual training comes into play.
Because 76% of managers are notified of an absence by an employee, and 80% play some role in executing their company’s absence policies*, it’s critical that they are well-informed. However, many are not aware that their responsibilities go well beyond simple tracking and reporting. Do they know the difference between bonding and medical leave, or perhaps which of their employees may have caregiver duties for family members, or that they are personally liable as a supervisor for FML and ADA violations?
A former mentor of mine once told me how to give an effective presentation. He said:
- Tell the audience what you’re going to say;
- Say what you want to say;
- Tell them what you just said.
Obviously, this needs to be done with creativity and nuance to be well-received and avoid redundancy. But the point is that key messages must be delivered consistently, with context and urgency as appropriate, to reinforce organizational goals. Having a shared information resource for both managers and employees, such as a self-service directory or portal, is a great place to start, but training and communication must be multi-faceted and delivered on an ongoing basis to be effective.
Like it or not, a supervisor’s responsibilities do include managing absences according to company policy as well as prevailing state and federal regulation. A simple email reminder is not enough. Address the knowledge gap at your company by implementing a recurring training program to explain to supervisors the importance of FMLA regulations.
And then tell them again.
*ClaimVantage conducted proprietary research to investigate the levels of understanding for FMLA and PFL regulations, among absence managers and employees. With 15% of employers stating that relying on managers for leave enforcement is extremely challenging, we uncovered evidence to support this. We found a significant Knowledge Gap among front-line managers tasked with managing employee absence in accordance with federal and state-mandated FMLA and PFL.
Download the full report to get the low-down on the FMLA Knowledge Gap among front-line absence managers.