More employers look to outsource leave management services

Managing employee leaves of absence is becoming more complex for employers of all sizes. Nearly every day, there are updated interpretations and applications of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act and Amendments (ADA/ADAAA). Plus, the increasing number of states and regions passing additional leave laws, paid and unpaid, make this complicated for all employers.

That’s why more employers, large and small, are looking to outsource leave management services.

Smart Business spoke with Linda Croushore, senior director of Disability Services for UPMC WorkPartners, about how to navigate the challenging proposition of managing absence.

How many companies are currently outsourcing leave management services?

The Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) and Spring Consulting Group found in its 2016 Employer Leave Survey that 34 percent of all employers with 50 or more employees are now outsourcing FMLA management. Employer groups with more than 1,000 employees are outsourcing their programs at a rate of 45 percent, while also looking for help in managing the ADA leave accommodation process.

In general, what are the pitfalls that make employers seek help?

The DMEC study confirmed that one of the most difficult things that managers and supervisors face is accurately tracking intermittent leaves. Employees may also have difficulty accurately accounting for their time away from work. It is frequently a manual process and the timeliness of the reporting becomes an issue.

Failure to accurately account for missed time leads to missed opportunities for the employer to evaluate the validity of the time being requested against the FMLA. Accurate and timely completion of the medical certification needed to support the intermittent leave can also be a stumbling block.

What did the study find to be the major leave management challenges for most organizations?

According to the DMEC study, the top challenges facing organizations are:

  • Managing intermittent leave.
  • Training and education about roles and responsibilities of managers.
  • Integrating with ADA/ADAAA.
  • Managing workers’ compensation leaves in conjunction with the FMLA.
  • Managing short-term disability with the FMLA.
  • Coordinating leaves with attendance policies.
  • Relying on managers for leave enforcement.
  • Keeping up with new federal, state and/or municipal/county laws.
  • Controlling employee abuse.

How can employers streamline the process?

An area of increasing litigation is the end of leave process used by employers in relation to ADAAA. In many cases, employers do not offer an extension of the federally mandated FMLA time as an ADAAA accommodation. In addition to time away from work, other situations may arise where an employee asks for accommodation for a protected disability.

While some requests are straightforward and require little interaction, many of the disabilities for which an employee may request accommodation are not clearly recognized and could easily be ignored. These situations require discussion with the employee and the health care provider to determine functional abilities and possible accommodations. The employer is obligated to provide a reasonable accommodation that allows the employee to function in the workplace. However, the requested accommodation may or may not align with that definition.

What should employers that are considering outsourcing look for?

In seeking a third party administrator, look for one that can provide a streamlined process that centralizes intake, and integrates management of leave and short-term disability claims. Look for one that can act as a single point of contact for employees, their health care providers and front line managers.

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