3 simple ideas for streamlining your FMLA procedures

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It’s been over twenty years since President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, questions and concerns arise in navigating through the FMLA’s intricacies to this day.  It seems that with each passing year, new rules and laws are established making even the best HR pro feel completely confused at times. If you’ve felt this way I hope this article gives you some insight as to what you can do. If you have not felt this way and in fact find FMLA laws enjoyable to read and learn about, then congratulations, good for you, you are a rare breed (unicorn rare).
I’m sure with working in the HR field you have often wondered “what can I do to make FMLA simpler for myself and the employees?” Because let’s face it, just keeping up with the ever changing laws is a job in itself.
First, let’s quickly, and hopefully painlessly, discuss what FMLA is for.  FMLA gives eligible employees job-protected unpaid leave for 12 weeks in a 12-month period to care for any of the following:
  • birth of a child and to care for a newborn child of the employee or spouse
  • placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • a serious health condition that makes an employee unable to perform the functions of the employee’s job
  • a qualifying exigency arising out of the employee’s spouse, child, or parent’s covered active duty* or call to active duty in support of a contingency operation
  • to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of active duty if the employee is the spouse, child, parent, or next of kin of the service member (military caregiver leave)
Of course the above are stated in simplistic terms.   For each one of those bullets the FMLA goes into further detail to explain, for example, what qualifies someone as a “parent or spouse,” or what is considered a “serious illness.”  Shocked? I think not as I’m sure the majority of you reading this article have the most up to date “FMLA Compliance Guide” sitting directly in front of you.

However, if you’ve burned that book out of frustration and rage, you can also visit the United States Department of Labor here: http://www.dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-fmla.htm as a refresher.  Enjoy!
 
Nevertheless, in addition to “reading” the Compliance Guide and/or Department of Labor website, there are a few simple things your company can do.

IMPLEMENT company call-in procedures and thoroughly TRACK call-ins/absences
Institute simple, consistent call-in procedures that are immune to supervisor abuse and track each and every one!   Sounds simple and in this case simple is the way to go. Employees want a simple, fast way to report an absence and employers want to receive that information in a simple fashion without possible manipulation from the employees’ immediate supervisors who may be biased (ie, friends with the employee calling in).  According to the 2013 ERC FMLA Practices Survey, proper and unbiased “tracking” was the number one challenge for 40% of the participants. In this regard, there are attendance tracking systems out there that offer the employee a convenient way to notify an employer of an absence via a third party website and/or call center.  Such systems make it easy for the employer to receive/monitor that information.  Most of these will also keep accurate track of each employee’s calls, letting supervisors know how often someone calls off, for what reason, and when they will return to work. Nice, right?  Before rushing off to do a Google search to find which system works best for you, read on for more valuable information. 

Document EVERYTHING
Although tedious and time consuming, I cannot stress how important this is.  Again, attendance tracking is an enormously vital and money saving tool to tracking employees for FMLA (and other purposes).   However, if you do not want to spend the money purchasing an attendance tracking system, documentation is still necessary, albeit more difficult.  Keeping track of each employee’s call-offs can give you a better understanding as to which employees are calling in more than others, what they are calling in for and how often they are out of work.  Documentation can also alleviate the he said/she said when a dispute arises.

Confirm, confirm….oh and confirm!
It’s always a good idea to remind yourself and eligible employees what the qualifying reasons are when taking FMLA protected leave – we discussed these above.  With everyone on the same page it can ease the awkward discussion when a time off is denied.  Make sure the eligible employee’s serious health condition meets the “regulatory definition”.  Again, refer to the United States Department of Labor website to learn more.  Man, that site sure is helpful.
Although overwhelming at times following these steps will definitely relieve some of the “FMLA headache.”  Remember why you chose the HR field in the first place and that without you, a company could not function properly!  You get priceless benefits such as being the face of your company to the employee welcoming a newborn into the world, you get to help ensure only the best of the best are hired, and of course, you are the voice of reason when tension sets in.  In summary, excellent absence tracking software not only reduces potential tension but when it does arise, it makes decisions simpler and your job easier.

About the author
Lindsey Brown
Director of Marketing & Sales
Acculor Attendance Systems, a division of Port City Companies
Lindsey.Brown@portcity.com

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