Research indicates that employees who invoke the Family Medical Leave Act are much more likely to request short-term disability within a year. Rather than just sit with that sound bite, Integrated Benefits Institute advises companies to do something about it.
“A worker's request for leave under the FMLA may be a precursor to other, more costly leaves. Rather than view the FMLA as strictly a legal compliance requirement, employers should consider using FMLA as an early-warning system to detect potential costly health issues among their employees and their families,” said Thomas Parry, IBI president.
A panel of IBI experts has come out with six practical steps employers can take to address the impact on their business of such absences.
1. Connect employees with resources: When employers become aware of employees’ challenging personal situations through FMLA requests, they have the opportunity to direct workers to resources that can help minimize the risks of subsequent claims. Employers should take steps to connect employees requesting FMLA leaves with resources such as employee assistance programs, ergonomic interventions and disease management programs.
2. Explore work continuity options: Discussions with employees about job accommodation and stay-at-work options should commence at the earliest opportunity. Job accommodation and stay-at-work programs involve making changes to the duties of affected employees to enable them to continue working at a reduced level.
3. Expand training for supervisors: Employers and their benefits partners should expand FMLA training for supervisors on early warning signs and potential interventions. They should also conduct periodic “roundtables” with supervisors and human resources staff to review ongoing cases and provide appropriate coaching and support for supervisors.
4. Stay in touch with workers: Supervisors should remain in contact with employees during FMLA and STD leaves to keep them engaged and connected to work.
5. Better educate employees about FMLA: Training for employees about their FMLA rights and responsibilities should be improved and consistent. Employees generally receive information about FMLA from their human resource departments, but typically only at the time of requests. This increases the workload of personnel who must verify requests with no chance of approval. Workers should also be educated on the types of leaves FMLA does and does not cover.
6. Synchronize HR duties related to leaves: Employers should coordinate FMLA-related activities of human resources, benefits and occupational health departments so cases can more actively be monitored and managed.