Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

Five Leading Trends in Managing Leaves of Absence

By: | March 7, 2017 • 3 min read
Terri L. Rhodes is CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Terri was an Absence and Disability Management Consultant for Mercer, and also served as Director of Absence and Disability for Health Net and Corporate IDM Program Manager for Abbott Laboratories.

I have said this before, but will say it again. The way employers manage their obligations under state and federal law is changing, and it is more complex than ever before.

Federal programs like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been joined by state, county and city leave laws that overlay federal programs with paid sick leave and paid family leave requirements.

The good news is that employers are meeting the challenges these complex regulations bring and, in many cases, using them as an opportunity to implement deeper enhancements to their programs to both increase employee productivity and lower absence and disability costs.

These efforts are highlighted in the “2016 DMEC Employer Leave Management Survey.” This broad picture of positive change can be seen in the top five leave management trends found in the report.

Outsourcing. Satisfaction with outsourcing is high, as employers believe it improves compliance, customer service and efficiency. More employers are outsourcing FMLA management, while ADA accommodation outsourcing is still in its infancy. Many employers are turning to their existing vendor partners to integrate short-term and long-term disability with FMLA, and an increasing number of employers are also including employee assistance programs (EAPs) in this integration.

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Training. Even as employers are better able to manage leaves, they believe more training is necessary. Mandatory manager training and more online tools are preferable solutions. Respondents also believe training and other resources should be extended to legal staff, consultants and third-party administrators.

Uniform Policies. Uniformity and centralization, which continue to increase, move employers to a more total absence management approach. Legal resources to achieve uniformity and centralization are provided in-house for large employers, while smaller employers (fewer than 500 employees) are more likely to use external legal counsel. These types of activities improve an employer’s preparedness for U.S. DOL and EEOC inquiries.

I have said this before, but will say it again. The way employers manage their obligations under state and federal law is changing, and it is more complex than ever before.

Technology. Employer use of automated systems for FMLA management continues to grow. A slowly increasing number of employers are using data feeds rather than manual updates to their HRIS, time and attendance, and payroll systems. Employers believe automation reduces the time and resource burden, and provides much needed regulatory expertise. Reports are easier to produce and provide more useful and actionable data.

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Paid Leave. Employers are constructing leave programs more generous than required as they rely on external legal counsel to guide them. For those employers that currently offer paid family care leave, the overwhelming majority (78 percent) have paid leave programs that include both parental leave and other family member leave, and 77 percent of respondents apply paid leave to all employees in their organizations.

Employers increasingly view paid leave as an important way to attract and keep talent, especially in a tightening labor market. While it certainly has a compliance element, it is also increasingly viewed as a competitive advantage and tool to help drive deeper changes in absence and disability management practices.

While a federal paid leave law is not on the immediate horizon, employee leave will continue to influence employers, HR, absence, and disability management professionals as well as legal strategies.

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