As leave law complexity continues to increase, the interaction of all these laws has also become more involved.
We have federal, state, and local Family and Medical Leave Acts plus other leave laws, and their interaction with disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and even workers’ compensation is constantly evolving.
Gone are the days when experience professionals can work off a spreadsheet and feel confident that they are achieving full compliance with the myriad of laws. Instead, they are finding ways to boost their certainty, either through relationships with external vendors or by using more sophisticated tools.
Whether an employer takes an outsources, co-sourced, or insourced approach to managing its leave program, technology is somewhere in the mix of supporting daily operations. Many technology solutions go beyond providing a common place for documentation to offering confidence in compliance, ease of use for all parties involved, and data that can be used at many levels of the organization.
The Spectrum of Employer Options
Over the six years that DMEC and Spring Consulting Group have collaborated on the annual DMEC Employer Leave Management Survey, some trends have become apparent:
- more employers are outsourcing leave management to third-party administrators (TPAs) or carriers;
- the concept of co-sourcing is maturing and now feasible for more employers; and
- employers that still insource acknowledge their need to increase their use of external tools.
Technology is undergirding all of these options; it has probably had more impact that any other factor in providing this broad range of options for employers to choose from.
In an outsourced environment, technology is enabling TPAs and carriers to improve the employee experience by obtaining real-time information about the employee, automating their eligibility decisions, and communicating status and other useful information back to employees, managers, and corporate representatives.
In a co-sourced setting in which the employer conducts some of the administrative activities and the TPA or carrier conducts others, technology is critical to sharing timely and accurate information about each claim and in the aggregate across both parties.
In an insourced capacity, the most current technology solutions not only offer employers a place to document activities and record pertinent case management information but also guide their leave decisions in a compliant way.
All may offer self-service portals or mobile applications for initial leave reporting, status updates, and reports with access level determined by security levels within employer groups.
Leave Management Technology
Technology solutions providers range from new companies to older companies, smaller firms to larger firms, and those that focus exclusively on leave or offer a broader range of insurance or other human resource administration services. A handful of technology companies are organized to upgrade capabilities for the 20 or more insurance carriers and TPAs that help employers outsource their leave management programs today.
These technology companies are primarily focused on leave and have purposely built their software to embed the numerous regulations employers need to follow as business rules and update them constantly to keep all users current. They are very much like the “Intel inside” that makes the leave management process faster, stronger, and more effective for all parties involved.
To support this intelligence, most TPAs and carriers retain in-house legal experts who regularly monitor the laws and ensure products and systems are updated accordingly. The majority of carriers and TPAs also customize their leave management technology, so their programs are unique, even if they are built on widely used platforms.
Employers that co-source or insource can get a dedicated leave management technology package, or can turn to modules included in payroll, timekeeping, or human capital management systems. In either case, employers can pay an annual or monthly fee for sophisticated cloud-based technology (i.e. programs accessed over the Internet) to ensure their compliance needs will be met.
They can use the system to initiate a leave, calculate eligibility, create and push communications to employees and their supervisors, document “accept” or “deny” decisions, then continue their workflow through return to work, accommodations, and ultimately claim closure. They can rely on the system to produce day-to-day management reports as well as aggregate reports that provide trend information about their company’s experience.
Fine-Tuning Your Delivery Model
With technology constantly adapting to today’s increasingly complex leave environment, the pieces are in place for compliance – but also for employers to miss important policy or process mandates if they aren’t working with external experts to prompt them.
If you outsource your leave management administration to a TPA or carrier, you should ask:
- Are we getting the most from our leave management partner?
- Is the process customized enough to our unique population?
- Are there new features on our partner’s technology roadmap that we could use?
If you are in a co-sourced arrangement, you should ask:
- Are there aspects of our carrier or TPA partner systems that we can better leverage?
- Can we access their system to enable our documentation?
- Do we need to pursue an additional tool for our in-house use?
If you insource, you need to assess your program in the light of these questions:
- Are our current tools doing enough to ensure compliance?
- Does the functionality exist to help us achieve our desired process?
- Is it time for a technology upgrade?
Compliance is a core reason for upgrading your organization’s leave management program, but it doesn’t stand alone.
Reduced costs, easier administration, a better experience for employees, and enhanced tracking and reporting are additional advantages employers cite in fine-tuning their leave management programs.1 Overall, your organization needs to know if employees feel supported or penalized by the leave management process. Because the ultimate goal of leave management is for the employee to return to work and stay at work, employee confusion or dissatisfaction with the leave process may translate into longer time away, declining employee morale, or mounting litigation. To help avoid this, many organizations make a satisfaction survey part of the closing process for leaves and track employee engagement on a broader level that ties back to leave.
Leave management program functionality includes compliance but also looks beyond it to address employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the overall employee experience. The better the program delivery in the eyes of the employee, the better the chances for a positive experience and improved return to work. Therefore, the functionality that is afforded to your program through the latest and greatest technology warrants your time and consideration. If after a comprehensive review you determine that gapes need to be filled, it is time to cast a broader net and take a look at what the sophisticated technology firms have to offer.
1. Spring Consulting Group. Integrated Disability, Absence and Health Management Employer Survey, 2016