Employers today face continuing challenges when it comes to managing Family and Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. These laws seek to protect employees who may need to be absent from work for a period of time due to a disability or health condition. Because the complex laws approach employee leave from different perspectives, however, their implementation and compliance can place a tremendous administrative burden on the time and resources of a companys human resources department.
In addition, almost all states have enacted their own leave laws, creating more than 140 state leave laws that employers must also manage. Clearly, managing employee absences is not for the faint-hearted, and many employers will be quick to admit that they need help in administering the complex laws.
Here are five reasons employers should think about outsourcing:
1. Ensure compliance with FMLA and ADA requirements. Employers have a legal duty to comply with both FMLA and ADA regulations, which can often be confusing, particularly for companies who have limited or no in-house legal expertise. A third-party company with strong legal resources can help ensure that all federal, state and company-specific leave policies are applied consistently, helping employers avoid costly penalties.
For example, an outside company can help an employer verify employee eligibility and approve or deny FMLA and state leaves, as well as track and record all reported federal, state and company-specific protected absences.
In addition, a third-party company can help guide an employers benefits staff through the process of interacting with a disabled employee, which is a chief requirement of the ADA, including offering suggestions for potential worksite or job modifications, providing short- and long term disability updates and more. Such a resource can also help an employer manage all the transactions, conversations and documentation that is required when employees are out on disability or need help to stay at work.
2. Ensure standardization and consistency in applying the laws. The FMLA has clear-cut regulations that employers must follow when administering leaves by using a consistent process. This can be a challenge for companies that are diversified or decentralized with multiple worksites, since managers in different locations may make different leave decisions. Also, managers at different sites can be confused about how to interpret medical information required under the ADA.
Outsourcing the implementation of such leaves can help prevent inconsistencies throughout an organization, and ensure that all employees and employee classes are treated the same when it comes to FMLA/job-protected leave eligibility and timing, and related ADA regulatory considerations.
3. Alleviate the administrative burden on HR departments. Benefits managers are now spending much of their time helping employees understand their health care benefits under the Affordable Care Act. As a result, theres often not much time left to effectively administer the requirements of both the FMLA and ADA, especially if the application of the laws overlaps.
Outsourcing this responsibility can help relieve the burden on companies whose benefits managers may be deployed on other initiatives, such as the ACA, or those with smaller HR staffs.
4. Realize better coordination of employee leaves. The FMLA provides 12 weeks of leave in a calendar year for employees, but it doesnt have to be taken consecutively and many employees use the FMLA for intermittent leaves. In addition, there may be a short-term disability leave running concurrently, or in some cases, a leave under the ADA may take effect when FMLA leave is exhausted.
Outsourcing absence management can make it more convenient for employers to track these various leaves, along with any new leaves and changes in leave dates and expected return-to-work dates. Many third-party companies will provide reports that include case status and an update on employees leave status. An outside company can also help identify patterns and trends in employee absence and help employers understand how these absences impact costs and productivity enabling them to more effectively control their benefit costs.
5. Enhance return on investment. With employers continuing to be concerned about employee productivity, using an outside company can help ensure that productivity is not affected more than it has to be. Relieving HR professionals of the time-consuming duties of dealing with leave tracking and absence management results in better use of their time. In addition, a third party may be able to suggest ways for a disabled employee to stay at work or return to work, allowing them to remain productive during this time, as well.
Outsourcing can also help meet an employers need for a simple, more cost-effective absence management option by providing access to a cadre of expert resources, including medical and legal experts, virtually eliminating the need to have these employees on staff.
The bottom line is that by outsourcing FMLA and ADA management, employers can gain valuable time for their more strategic initiatives, while leaving the details to a third party.
Kristin Tugman, PhD, CRC, LPC, is AVP of health productivity with Unum.
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