7 Keys to More Effective FMLA and ADA Compliance Training

By: | May 1, 2019

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.

When most people do break or violate the law, it’s usually out of ignorance of a particular law or a lack of information about it. We may know a law exists, as with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but we don’t know the details and some of the obvious red flags that indicate potential compliance issues.

According to Helen M. Applewhaite, FMLA branch chief at the U.S. Department of Labor, this is exactly what drives a large percentage of FMLA enforcement actions.

Speaking at the 2018 DMEC FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference, she said front-line managers in particular are often uninformed about their role in the process if an employee invokes the FMLA.

For example, they sometimes engage in improper communication with employees about motives or personal lives. Or they don’t recognize that an employee statement constitutes a leave request. It’s exactly these types of behaviors that can lead to discrimination and wrongful termination claims and introduce risk to an organization.

Training Is Not One Size Fits All

The good news is, most lack of knowledge and misunderstandings can be overcome through simple training. This is what’s happening with anti-harassment and other anti-discrimination laws. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York State and New York City mandate sexual harassment training for at least some and, in certain cases, all employees. We can expect more such state and local anti-discrimination mandates in the future.

States and cities have not yet taken the step of mandating FMLA and ADA training. That day might come. If and until it does, employers can avail themselves of the supervisor and other manager training programs available.

But not all training is the same. Experts say effective training should:

1) Be accessible and reasonably priced.

Today, online training is the standard, especially when the subject is law, regulation, or policy.

It’s flexible in terms of time and place and, if necessary, is easily repeated. Given the number of supervisors and other managers at larger organizations, online training can also be relatively inexpensive.

When considering the cost of offering training to all relevant managers, organizations should keep in mind that training is itself evidence of a good faith effort to comply with the FMLA and the ADA.

This is important should an employer face an enforcement or other action.

2) Be audience specific.

You have to know employees’ knowledge, skills, and expertise levels. You don’t want to waste training time and money figuring out where employees are in their professional learning.

An audit can be very useful in this case.

3) Capture attention.

Colors, animation, and other methods are good for capturing and keeping a learner’s attention. While training isn’t entertainment, it shouldn’t be tedious and uninteresting. Our brains recall more when we enjoy what we’re doing.

4) Be brief and focused.

A basic training session should be limited to about 30 minutes.

Anything much shorter, and it is likely critical information does not receive the attention it deserves. Anything much longer, and people lose attention and don’t retain what they need to.

Online training should also contain a clear framework that divides key concepts into sections. Since the brain learns through repetition, these concepts should be laid out in a “step by step” process that repeats key points.

5) Engage emotions.

Emotional involvement amplifies memory.

Again, training isn’t a television drama so the appeals to emotion can be subtler.

In the case of the FMLA and the ADA, training should help supervisors empathize with employees and others in the process. This connection both enhances learning and makes learners more likely to act on their knowledge.

6) Include case studies as well as dos and don’ts.

One of the better ways to engage emotions is through case studies. These are basically brief stories. Stories are memorable and help supervisors see that everyone in the FMLA and the ADA process has a legitimate role to play.

They say true wisdom is knowing what you don’t know. When imparting information about laws and regulations, it’s essential that supervisors and other managers learn what to do and what not to do. It’s better for a supervisor to take no action themselves than take the wrong action.

That doesn’t mean ignoring what an employee says; it means knowing the limits of one’s own expertise and referring the issue to someone who possesses it, like the HR department.

7) Include interactive content.

The easiest way to add interactivity to compliance training is testing learners’ knowledge, either throughout the training or at the end. Simple tests demonstrate mastery of the material. As important, a test also enhances memory because it adds to the repetition of core information.

There are solid FMLA and ADA training programs available, including DMEC’s new FMLA/ADA Training for Supervisors and Managers. View a brief preview of this online training.

More employees than ever are taking leave under the FMLA. And legal actions under the ADA are steadily increasing. While compliance with these laws requires time and resources, the most obvious risks can be reduced, and even eliminated, through easy and cost-efficient investments.

This process starts with an investment in training supervisors and managers. Given the cost-benefit trade-off, it’s an investment organizations can’t afford not to make for the benefit of employees and all stakeholders.

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