Monday, September 22, 2008

News You Can Use: FMLA advice from the pros

Benefit managers listened with rapt attention to the morning session "Maximize the effectiveness of your in-house FMLA management program" by Linda Southard, president of Work & Well.

Most managers in the audience were on hand to learn more about administrative issues like stemming FMLA abuse. Southard presented data suggesting upwards of 40% of benefit managers experience "extreme difficulty" in administering intermittent FMLA leave. When administering this type of leave, 38% of HR professionals felt that notification time was inadequate and 28% reported tracking difficulties.

For the 40% of benefit managers out there who feel as if they've been forced to approve illegitimate claims, Southard offered a handy tip sheet. Here's her checklist of ways to leverage FMLA regulations to work to your advantage:

* Maintain a trail of documentation - this means detailed calendars of every absence and each and every request. Time on the front end can eliminate claims on the back end.
* Require paid leave substitution when applicable. If possible, Southard suggests modifying your own policies to be most strict about definitions than FMLA - in essence at times allowing for Short Term Disability when an employee would otherwise be eligible for FMLA.
* Designate a specific health care provider for FMLA concerns, and talk to those physicians about documentation requirements. In a targeted medical review, ask if the employee can perform specific job functions and be sure to clarify any inconsistencies up front.
* Insist upon FMLA recertification every 30 days, particularly for those employees from whom you suspect abuse. This is covered under provision 825.308 in the FMLA handbook. If necessary, this can be modified to require that an employee reclarify every absence if necessary. "It's a pain in the neck administratively, but it works!" says Southard.
* Get second and third opinion exams from physicians.
* Watch scheduled appointments - doctor's appointments should require no more than a three hour or half-day absence from the job, says Southard.
* Schedule periodic reviews of files for patterns of abuse, like chronic Friday absences.

For more information on FMLA issues, look for Managing Editor Leah Shepherd’s feature in the November issue of Employee Benefit News.
Overheard At:

Nicole Price, benefit manager for the National Wildlife Federation, attended the session. Here are her thoughts:
  • "It's a great overview for those who wanted to learn more about FMLA in general. I would have liked to see more information about how to handle suspected cases of abuse."
  • Nicole, a nine-year veteran of the benefits industry, says she's most looking forward to the Spy Museum event this evening, but also really enjoyed this morning's keynote address with Newt Gingrich. Check the EBN home page for details on that address.

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