Magazine article Personnel Journal

Managing the FMLA-A Big or Little Challenge?

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Managing the FMLA-A Big or Little Challenge?

Article excerpt

Today's HR professionals are required to have a vast amount of knowledge on a wide array of topics. Let PERSONNEL JouRNAL find the experts to answer questions on the personnel issues important to you. Your colleagues asked: What is the best way to manage the FMLA?

James J. Carabetta, director of human resources at Fosdick Corp. In Wallingford, Connecticut, says:

The most effective way to manage FMLA leaves is to not mismanage them. This means HR must comply with notification and posting requirements. For good measure, add the FMLA's poster text to your handbook or employee manual.

That being addressed, immediately assess all of your employees-exempt and nonexempt-for the effect on the operation during their absence whether for a week, a month or an undetermined length of time. Short leaves should pose no problems. Most employees qualify for some vacation or personal time. A company would be hard pressed to claim a hardship for an employee who requests a leave of a few weeks when that same employee had been suitably covered while on vacation. For longer leaves, the company's strongest tool is people development. During the assessment of employees, determine who replaces whom during absences. Each employee should be given a goal at his or her first performance review: Help develop your own replacement.

If the company subscribes to a performance management system, part of the expectations should be to help develop a subordinate. If, during the assessment, any position poses a reason for panic, begin training immediately. Understand that not all qualified leaves will be prefaced with a notice. In a larger company, ask department managers to come up with their own action plans for leave replacement and to identify problem areas or positions that would be difficult to cover. Update these plans each time someone is hired or terminated in either key or problem positions.

One of the biggest challenges is scheduling. Just as leaves may come up without notice, requests or needs for leaves may overlap with other leaves, causing short-staffing. Ask for documentation of the need for leave prior to granting it. If scheduling is a problem and the leave request doesn't appear critical, ask the employee whether the leave can be postponed. If not, perhaps intermittent leave would be acceptable. Whatever is agreed upon, make sure it's clearly spelled out in the FMLA notification forms.

Compare your state's leave laws with the federal regulations. The employee will be deemed covered under the regulations that provide the most benefit. If there's a discrepancy in benefit level between federal and state, state in your notification under which regulations the leave is granted, or explain that the state and federal leaves will run concurrently.

Inspect the practices that are affected by leaves, especially the ones dealing with length of service and periodic reviews. Then obtain legal advice on the administration of such programs. For example, as absurd as it may seem, depending on how your program is worded, an employee who hasn't been to work in 12 weeks under a qualified leave may qualify for a perfect attendance award.

Lastly, keep accurate records on all leaves. It would be impossible to determine when the employee's entitlement ends, if there were no record of when it began. Also, there's a limit to the entitlement. The number and length of an employee's leaves are significant when the total time approaches 12 weeks. …

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