The future of leave compliance: 3 takeaways from DMEC
Editor's note: The following is a contributed piece by Terri L. Rhodes, CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition.
At the Disability Management Employer Coalition's (DMEC) annual FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference, stakeholders gleaned myriad insights and lessons from speakers. But three themes emerged that promise to have a significant impact on day-to-day leave compliance.
1. Managers and supervisors are key
Helen Applewhaite, FMLA branch chief for the U.S. Department of Labor, kicked off the conference with a discussion about the most common compliance problems that DOL finds during investigations. A large number involve front-line managers, she said, who are often unaware of what is protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and uninformed about their role in the process. They also sometimes engage in improper communication with employees about motives or personal lives, and it’s exactly these types of behaviors that can lead to discrimination and wrongful termination claims and introduce liability for organizations.
These supervisor missteps can be easily addressed through proper training, however. Even 30 minutes of training can instruct front-line managers about what to do when it comes to the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — and, just as important, what not to do. This type of FMLA and ADA training should be included along with discrimination, anti-harassment and other training now standard in many organizations. The cost is minimal when balanced with the benefits of risk reduction and employee satisfaction.
2. Paid leave isn’t going away
There’s every indication that employee paid leave programs will continue to be the benefit story of the decade. Both paid sick leave and paid family leave laws are cropping up throughout the U.S. at a rapid pace. This patchwork of leave laws requires employers, particularly those operating in multiple jurisdictions, to take a close look at both their compliance efforts as well as their company policies and cultures.
For the most part, employers have largely reacted to others’ initiatives. That’s beginning to change as data is collected around paid leave’s ROI. Employers can and should take a more proactive stance on the issue, both inside and outside their organizations. HR and disability management professionals can help lead the way.
Resources developed by The Paid Leave Project make clear that implementing the right leave programs can pay large dividends for employees and employers. When it comes to human capital competitiveness, leave is often the lowest of low-hanging fruit.
3. ADA compliance requires an effective interactive process
Employers often think that if they have consistent, clearly communicated policies regarding the ADA, their compliance requirements are met. But the many ADA cases covered at this year’s conference highlight the importance of conducting an effective interactive process, customized for each employee requiring a reasonable accommodation. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to accommodations under the ADA.
Employers need to ensure they’re proactively watching for accommodation requests, participating in a good-faith, interactive dialogue with employees, consistently applying company policies (such as call-in procedures) for all employees regardless of disability status and documenting each step along the way. Employers also should identify program gaps by performing a self-audit of its ADA accommodation processes and correct deficiencies as they are identified.
While compliance may sometimes feel impossible, the three themes that came out of our compliance conferences are practical, thoughtful approaches that can help put your programs on the path toward compliance — now and for the future.