As the legal statutes mandating and regulating employee leave grow in scope, complexity, and unpredictability, many employers are struggling to remain compliant, while continuing to use paid leave as a recruitment and retention tool, according to the results of a survey on leave management conducted by the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), an association that educates employers on managing their disability and absence programs.

The findings of the survey of more than 1,100 U.S. employers of various sizes and industries were released on March 6. The survey asked employers about the challenges they face as they seek to effectively implement and manage their leave policies, while dealing with the complexities involved in complying with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act and Amendments Act (ADA/AA), and other Federal statutes; as well as state, county, and city leave laws.

The survey found that employers are increasingly choosing to outsource FMLA management, although relatively few are outsourcing the management of ADA accommodation. The results revealed that many employers are selecting a vendor that offers an integrated solution for managing FMLA compliance, short-term and long-term disability programs, and employee assistance programs (EAPs). The survey also showed that satisfaction with outsourcing is high, as employers believe it improves compliance, customer service, and efficiency.

The findings further indicated that while most of the surveyed employers report that they are increasingly skilled at managing a complex leave landscape, many believe that more manager training and online tools are needed. Significant shares of respondents also said they believe that training and other resources should be extended to legal staff, consultants, and third-party administrators (TPAs).

In addition, the survey found that as the uniformity and centralization of policies increases, employers are moving toward adopting more comprehensive absence management approaches that improve their preparedness for U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) inquiries. The results showed that large employers have in-house legal resources for achieving uniformity and centralization, while smaller employers (fewer than 500 employees) are more likely to use external legal counsel.

The survey also indicated that large shares of employers are attempting to stay ahead of the legal and regulatory curve by asking legal counsel to help them construct leave programs that are more generous than required. More than three-quarters (78%) of respondents said their organization has paid leave programs that include parental leave and other family member leave, while 77% said paid leave is available to all of the employees in their organization. A further 35% of respondents said their company has a separate paid leave policy.

Moreover, the survey found that employer use of automated systems for FMLA management is growing, with the numbers of employers making electronic rather than manual updates to their human resource information system (HRIS), time and attendance, and payroll systems increasing slowly. According to the survey, respondents believe that in addition to providing much needed regulatory expertise, automation reduces the time and resource burden associated with managing these systems, and makes it easier to produce reports that provide useful and actionable data.

e leaders surveyed said they believe that employees are increasingly looking for development and coaching opportunities, and 53% said they think that personalizing feedback and coaching would significantly improve employee performance; 52% of the leaders acknowledged that the annual review process is often used as an alternative to engaging in actual performance development, and 73% of the employees polled reported that they have not seen performance management practices move away from a focus on paperwork to a focus on conversations.

Yet researchers observed that some companies are experimenting with new approaches to performance management: for example, rewards can be allocated based on real performance data or survey data from all of an employee’s project leaders, or employees can determine rewards for one another in a crowdsourced approach.

From Benefit Trends Newsletter, Volume 60, Issue 4

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