Having enough staff to handle unpredictable workloads has always been a management challenge, especially in customer-facing departments like call centers or hospitals, where managers must deal with a high volume of incoming calls or constantly shifting patient censuses. In addition, employee absences allowed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) make difficult scheduling tasks almost impossible. The result is often increased overtime pay or expenditures for nursing registry temps as managers scramble to close unanticipated staffing gaps. Changes in FMLA regulations effective Jan. 16 may allow employers a greater ability to manage FML absences.
“One of the challenges has been that employees can take FML absences without calling in advance of the absence and are able to use the time in small increments,” says Janice Dragotta, senior consultant for Health and Productivity at Watson Wyatt Worldwide. “Employers have little control because their ability to contact a treating health care provider is quite limited and, in the past, such contact could only be made by a health care professional that was either on staff or contracted by the employer.”
Smart Business spoke with Dragotta about the new FMLA changes and how employers can mitigate the business impact from intermittent employee absences.
How has intermittent FMLA impacted business and created administrative challenges?
FMLA allows employees who have completed one year of service and 1,250 hours of employment to take up to 480 hours (for full-time employees) for qualifying conditions. Under FMLA’s intermittent time off provision, employees have not been required to call in before the start of their shift, impacting customer service, workflow and productivity. Employees can also take partial days off or use small increments of time for their absences, which makes keeping track of time off difficult, especially for salaried workers.
What are some of the new FMLA provisions?
Now, in addition to a health care professional, a company HR representative, a nonimmediate manager or the company’s leave administrator can contact the employee’s treating health care provider to clarify the FMLA request. For example, a treating provider may have suggested four days off per month but if a supervisor notices a pattern of absences (e.g., every Monday), a company HR professional can now clarify with the provider if such a pattern is to be expected based on the employee’s health condition. If an employee is taking a full day of absence for a medical appointment, the leave administrator or HR professional can contact the treating provider to determine if the appointment requires a full day of absence. Also, employers are now able to ask the treating provider for the frequency and duration of expected absences, which provides a greater ability to manage attendance. Also, unless there are unusual circumstances, employees must adhere to their work group’s call out policy when they miss time from work, so managers should expect earlier notification when employees need to take an intermittent absence.
How can employers better manage intermittent FML?
By following a few best practices, employers can reduce the business and administrative burden imposed by employee absences.
- Educate supervisors about FMLA,
including how to track employee
absences and set appropriate expectations. FML is an entitlement but it can be
managed more effectively.
- Coach outsourced FML providers or
in-house leave administrators to offer
resources to workers requesting time off.
For example, offering respite care or EAP
services to an employee who is caring for
a terminally ill family member might help
provide support and assistance but also
lessen the number of days an employee
may need to take off.
- Manage FML consistently across the enterprise, including a standard method for reporting time off, so you can track FMLA time off as well as determine the business impact.
What else should employers do?
While every company’s policy is unique, many employers craft their time-off policies so employees must use their allotted sick time or PTO in conjunction with FML, which avoids ‘stacking’ of unpaid time off and PTO, for instance. FML can help employees manage through a difficult period, but with some changes in the regulations, employers have a greater ability to manage FML, particularly intermittent absences.
JANICE DRAGOTTA, L.C.S.W., is a senior consultant for Health and Productivity at Watson Wyatt Worldwide. Reach her at (415) 733-4404 or email@example.com.