Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

Ten Tips for Leave Management

By: | May 19, 2015 • 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.

The environment for leave management has become increasingly complex—and potentially costly to those not in compliance with the growing number of leave laws and regulations. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the myriad of state and local laws have made managing leave, while remaining in legal and regulatory compliance, more difficult and complex.

Leave laws not only create risk. They also create opportunity.

There is good news. A large and growing number of conferences, webinars and other resources are available to help guide risk managers and others through the ever changing leave landscape. DMEC’s recent Compliance Conference addressed many of the issues surrounding leave management and the ever-changing landscape.

During the RIMS annual conference, Karen English of Spring Consulting Group and I offered the following leave management tips at one session.

One: Training is critical. Managers must understand the leave process and their responsibilities under it and the law and uniformly administer leave policies. We don’t expect them to be experts but they need to understand how an employee might evoke their rights under FMLA or ADAA.

Two: HR and other staff must be qualified. Appropriate leave and HR administrators need to be up to date on all absence management programs and be prepared to answer employee questions about their rights for leave and job accommodation.

Three: Collaboration across business units is key. Leave programs across organizational boundaries; HR, disability, legal and other departments need to work collaboratively. Removing barriers between disciplines creates efficiencies and limits liability.

Four: Implement clear and consistent processes and policies. FMLA and ADA policies should be as uniform and applied as consistently as possible across the organization regardless of size or geography, allowing for some flexibility. Stakeholders need to engage with consistent correspondence, tracking, management, decision-making and communication.

Five: Centralize administration of the leave function. Employees and managers should have one source for questions and answers.

Six: Evaluate your program. Inventory the system used, are you tracking or managing your program. If an organization has internal system to manage or track its leave program, it should be regularly evaluated for effectiveness. If you choose a software system or outsource administration make sure that your vendor has ongoing compliance support.

Seven: Outsource if necessary. Outsourcing has increased over the last three years, there are more options than ever, and the list continues to grow. But it doesn’t fit every culture or organization; choose what works best for your company.

Eight: Evaluate your vendor. Just because a company outsources leave management, it does not mean it outsources its legal responsibilities.   Even with outsourcing, an organization must establish a process to update its leave programs to meet its changing business and staff needs.

Nine: Measurement, tracking and reporting should be actionable. Key metrics like lost time, costs, return-to-work rates, abuse and productivity are useful to the degree they enable managers to change leave programs to better meet the needs of employees and the organization.

Ten: Create a culture of continual improvement. While legal and regulatory compliance is essential, it is not enough to ensure a leave program helps advance strategic business goals. That requires that managers—and executives–view leave programs as an arena for new investment and training to catalyze change to maximize returns.

Leave laws not only create risk. They also create opportunity.

Planned and implemented in a thoughtful and strategic way, effective leave management can be a competitive advantage in the battle for the best talent. Take advantage of the resources out there and become educated on both the risks and opportunities offered by the new world of employee leave.

Risk Matrix: Presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance

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