Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA):
Making Room for Creativity

Sonja TeagueWhen you think of FMLA, you may not think of advocacy, creativity, and understanding.

That’s understandable. FMLA is designed specifically to offer job protection for employees. Yet employers can manage FMLA leave in a way that reduces the significant costs associated with leave while also improving the employee experience.

How can you advocate for your employees and also keep organizational costs in check? Start with these steps.

Know the regulations. Rules and regulations about FMLA have increased in volume and complexity. One issue is that other types of leave, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA/ADAAA) or Worker Compensation leaves, can overlap with and affect FMLA benefits. Many experts refer to this overlap as the Bermuda Triangle. Consider also that 10 years ago there were roughly 50 FMLA-related regulations; now there are more than 4001. In addition, many states, including California and New York, have adopted paid family leaves that may have an impact on FMLA. For organizations with employees in multiple states, and particularly organizations that manage employee leave administration rather than outsource it, it can be difficult to remain informed and compliant.

Track your employee data. FMLA is notoriously hard for employers to track, especially in the case of intermittent leave. Consider, for instance, an employee with diabetes. His doctor certifies he can take up to three days of leave per month due to complications of his illness. If someone in your organization tracks that time on a spreadsheet rather than in a software program, it’s easy for tracking errors to emerge over time. This challenge can be more costly than it might seem: Employers who don’t consistently administer FMLA leave can be subject to six-figure fines and penalties levied by EEOC.

Advocate creatively. Just as important as tracking employee absences is understanding why they happen in the first place. This information positions employers to help their workers minimize leave or potentially avoid it altogether.

For instance, as people live longer, chronic health issues have become more prevalent in the workplace. And many employees (particularly women) are caring for their aging parents. Once you know why employees are absent, you’ll be better positioned to confront the challenge head-on.

In the case of employees caring for parents, some employers are connecting employees with firms that screen elder care providers. These screening firms streamline the research employees need to do when making tough decisions about a parent’s care. Another resource is an “e-care diary.” Families can share a parent’s appointment calendar so one person doesn’t have to manage all of the parent’s care.

Creative, positive approaches like these can help reduce the need or time required for family leave – good news for employee and employer alike.

Sonja Teague, AIC, ARM, CPDM, is Assistant Vice President and Integrated Disability Management Practice Leader at ESIS, Inc. Organized in 1953, ESIS, Inc. (ESIS) provides customized risk management services. ESIS is a Chubb company.

1. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Categories: Employment Matters
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