Spring to Lead “Is Your Leave Program Compliant?” NEEBC Session

The landscape of employee leave is ever-changing, with new regulations frequently popping – both at national and local levels. As an employer, it’s your duty to understand what it means to have a compliant leave program, and how to keep it that way. It’s no easy task, though, which is why we’re leading an educational session on the topic, in partnership with the New England Employee Benefits Council (NEEBC)Leave Law Compliance

Spring Partners Karen English and Teri Weber will be presenting, “Is Your Leave Program Compliant? Getting and Staying Ahead in this Constantly Changing Landscape” on Tuesday, October 10th from 12-2PM at 800 Boylston Street in Boston. Karen and Teri have helped many clients of varying sizes, industries and geographic locations navigate this complicated employer area, and are looking forward to sharing their advice and best practices with session attendees.

The discussion will involve a deep dive into leave laws, including but not limited to FMLA, ADA, PFL and PDL and then explanations on how to keep up with compliance through all of these different policies and nuances. So if you’ve ever found yourself scratching your head over a new regulation, or worry about your leave program’s compliance status, be sure to join us on October 10th. Questions are welcome and lunch will be served!

For more information on registration and professional education credit, click here.

DMEC Recap: 5 Employer Policies to Consider

After every conference I attend, I try to take time to reflect on the core themes that popped up. In fact, this is one of the primary ways that I can stay on top of industry trends and employer needs. As an advisory board member for the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), I am wholly familiar with the organization and have been attending their events for many years. To this day, each conference leaves me with new knowledge gained and something(s) unexpected.Employee Absence Management

DMEC celebrated its 25th anniversary and welcomed over 700 professionals in the absence and disability management fields to its summit in Anaheim from July 31st to August 3rd.  With summer having winded down I’ve finally had time to put my thoughts together on the event. So if you didn’t have a chance to make it to the conference, or could merely use a refresher, here are the highlights from my perspective, organized into policies for employers to consider.

 

  1. Parental & Family Medical Leave

With states such as New York and Washington having recently passed paid family leave laws, it’s no wonder this topic was prevalent throughout the conference. Each year, there is something new to discuss on this topic – if not several.

Paid Family LeaveThis year, speakers from MetLife discussed the challenges of striking a balance between productivity, compliance and retention when it comes to leave management. A panel including Mary Chavez of Levi Strauss & Co. and Dianne Arpin of T-Mobile spoke about how and why employers in the US, the only developed nation without a standardized leave policy, are still going above and beyond what is legally required. Robyn Marino from Cigna led a session on where the current White House administration stands on paid leave and how it relates to employer mandates and decision making. On Wednesday afternoon, speakers from Aetna discussed the relationship with Family Medical Leave and Short-Term Disability – how the former often leads to the latter, and what to do about it.

Ultimately, many employers are determining how to best to structure their policies with regard to paid leave, whether or not it’s legally required of them.

 

  1. Drugs in the Workplace

While the topic only played a key role in two of DMEC’s education sessions, they were both strong in emphasizing the crisis. With an uptick in awareness and new laws being passed in states like Massachusetts around the legality of marijuana, it is definitely a topic worth noting.

One session did a deep dive on how to navigate marijuana in the workplace – how does legislation affect workplace policies? Does this change employer drug testing? If marijuana is legal, does that mean it should be allowed in the workplace?

Further, Michael Coupland of IMCS Group got serious when presenting on opioids in the workplace. As the opioid crisis continues to sweep the nation, the session provided employers with guidance on how to stay ahead of the issue and steps to intervene and mitigate problems should they arise.

 

  1. Getting Ahead of Mental and Behavioral Health Issues

Having long been a “taboo” issue, it’s great to see mental health continuing to get more attention and being spoken about openly. In fact, the pre-conference was incredible and gave so many real-time examples Employee Behavioral Healththat many of us in the audience were beside ourselves, and wanting to do more. The question “Are you okay?” has taken on a new meaning for so many of us as a result, and will no doubt prompt us to work on increasing awareness and making tools and resources available for those struggling. This also includes offering benefits or EAP programs that align with tackling mental and behavioral health problems.

On the second day of the conference, a presentation led by Broadspire highlighted ways to identify different types of mental health issues – what are the red flags? How can they be addressed early on? They also discussed how and when it’s appropriate for an employer to intervene, and encouraged the audience to help de-stigmatize mental health. As one in five of your employees is suffering from a behavioral health problem, it’s important to learn how to motivate them and help them get better.

 

  1. ADA and Compliance Challenges

Keeping up with regulations and compliance requirements is very difficult in this industry; new regulations are sprouting up across different regions of the country every day. Luckily, several presentations at DMEC helped attendees come to grips with these challenges.

A panel including Adrienne Paler from Sutter Health discussed the importance of integrating and accounting for Workers’ Compensation as it relates to federal laws like the ADA and the FMLA. A later session addressed obscure or difficult-to-manage FMLA requests and how to best handle such claims. Representatives from Aetna talked about how oftentimes a family medical leave will turn into a disability leave, and let employers know what to watch out for, providing research-based stay-at-work strategies for at-risk employees. A different presentation went over ERISA regulations and, lastly, a Thursday morning session covered how to use mobile apps and platforms to improve FMLA and overall leave compliance, providing employers with more efficient and modernized solutions to respond to an evolving workforce.

 

  1. Returning to Work

It’s not uncommon for employees to realize that coming back to work after some sort of leave is a great hurdle. It’s important for employers to recognize that the transition isn’t easy, and provide ways to mitigate anxiety and make the shift run as smoothly as possible for employees.

Return to Work ProgramReturning to work has been a hot topic for years, but with each passing year there are new challenges to overcome and new strategies to help do so. A group of representatives from Guardian discussed the positive impact of vocational rehabilitation, while another panel explained how to proactively get in front of leaves and how to retain employees, happily and healthfully, upon returning to work.

Spring partner and my close colleague, Teri Weber, led a Thursday morning session with Memorial Sloan Kettering that looked at return to work from a broader perspective, that is accommodations overall. She emphasized the difference between merely doing what’s legal vs. doing what is best for your employees. The group recommended expanding the stakeholders involved in return to work strategies to include those who work in areas like health and safety, recruiting and diversity. They presented the client’s methodology and showcased how it’s helped in communication, compliance and record-keeping in a timely manner.

Overall, the 25th annual DMEC conference exceeded my expectations. I always enjoy going and seeing familiar faces, as well as meeting new ones. The topics covered at the event were informative, grounded in research, relevant and diverse. Beyond that, DMEC always does a great job organizing activities and networking opportunities throughout the course of the conference, and I caught my first Angels game!

If you have questions about any of the topics above, feel free to reach out. I’d love to chat about your disability and leave management goals and challenges – any time!

Natural Disasters & Employee Benefits: Legal & Moral Considerations

Making Natural Disasters Less Disastrous for Your Employees

With the recent hits of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and José as well as the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Mexico and the ongoing wildfire problems in the Western United States, many are left wondering what they’re supposed to do in the face of such tragic, unprecedented damage caused by natural disasters.

This goes for everyone – if you’re a victim, how do you cope, and get back on your feet? If you’re lucky enough to be far away from destruction, how can you help? If you work in politics, what is the plan for disaster relief? However, working in the space that we do, we’d like to weigh in on the employer perspective: what benefits and leave allowances your employees are legally entitled to in the midst of a natural disaster and what employers might want to consider, while not required, in order to alleviate the burden for their employees.

natural disasters employee benefits

FMLA & ADA and Natural Disasters

What’s Required

When it comes to FMLA and/or ADA related leaves of absence, there’s essentially no real change in process in the face of a natural disaster, at least in terms of the law. There are, however, a few factors to consider, even if you’ve no plans to make a policy change:

  • A bad storm or earthquake may heighten the severity of any pre-existing conditions your employees might have. A spike in FMLA or ADA leave requests is not uncommon in the aftermath of a natural disaster; someone with an exiFMLA Accommodationssting nervous disorder may be dealing with stress-related conditions, blood pressures may be on the up-tick, people may need time to care for relatives who didn’t fare the storm well, etc.
  • It is possible for a natural disaster to spur a new condition or injury, such as backpain from home repair, stress-induced migraines, or anxiety over destroyed property.
  • Employees who are members of the National Guard and are called for disaster-related duty are not necessarily protected under USERRA, but certain states do protect such absences.
  • Even in face of a natural disaster, the FMLA does not account for absences due to things like tending to flood damage, home repair, or looking for missing relatives after a storm. For these situations, employees would need to take personal or company leave to take care of such matters.
    • Absences that are protected by the FMLA that might arise would include the onslaught of an existing condition or a new one brought about by the natural disaster (as mentioned above), as well as the need to care for a spouse, child, or parent who cannot tend to their own medical needs. For example, perhaps a relative is diabetic and they need help managing their medication, which needs to be refrigerated, as they’re now without power.
  • If your office is impacted by a natural disaster and you need to shut down business operations, or if employees are not expected to work, FMLA entitlement days should not be counted for any employee during that time.
    • If an employee is on FMLA leave at the same time that the office is shut down, you need to treat them (in terms of pay, benefits, etc.) as if they are on non-FMLA leave according to your organizational policies.
  • A natural disaster can very well be considered an “extenuating circumstance”  that might prohibit an employee from completing the requisite claim and eligibility paperwork by the original deadline. See below.

What Some Employers Are Doing, “Just Because”

As a high-category hurricane or powerful earthquake are no doubt devastating both materially and emotionally, many employers are doing their best to show empathy and support for their employees during such difficult times. A few ways they are doing so are:

  • Allow more time for claims.
    • For example, we have clients in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey who are allowing employees an additional 30 days to meet any claims requirement – whether STD, FMLA or any other kind. Keep in mind that if people have been evacuated, relocated, and/or are experiencing a power shortage, they should not be expected to meet the same deadline. They may not receive a certification form in the mail because they haven’t been at their home address, and without power and internet they might be unable to complete any such documentation online.
  • Consider those in FEMA-designated disaster areas.
    • Individuals in these areas may need unique assistance and, depending on the damage, there could be cause for a temporary process change on a case-by-case basis.
  • Expand or discount any available medical services.
    • We have a clients who, as a benefit, offer telehealth services to their employees. Some organizations, in the aftermath of a natural disaster, allow employees to access this service for doctors’ visits and consultations completely free of charge, regardless of their health insurance plan.
  • Remind employees of support services.
    • In times like these, employee assistance plans (EAPs) can be essential. Whether it’s providing updates to community situations, arranging access to local services or offering a counselor to talk to, employers are reminding employees how to contact the EAP and in many cases extending access to be 24/7, rather than restricting it to regular business hours.
  • Take your employees’ word.
    • If an employee requests FMLA leave while you suspect they might be using the time for something like assisting an elderly parent with their flooded home, it might behoove you to simply allow it and take their word for it.

As with all matters relating to employee benefits, there are things that employers legally have to accommodate for, and things that are just nice for them to do. It is important to understand the difference and come to an agreement as to what kind of plan will be put in place, if any. Further, if your organization has not yet been faced with a serious a natural disaster, there’s never a better time than the present to start developing a system should the need ever arise (and we certainly hope it doesn’t).

Technology Opens New Leave Management Program Options

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?

Employee Experience

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.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 Technology

Conclusion

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.

 

References
1. Spring Consulting Group. Integrated Disability, Absence and Health Management Employer Survey, 2016

How Business Might Change Under Trump: Maternity Leave

trump maternity leave

Image credit: Diego Cambiaso via flickr

Note: There are many unknowns for employers as Donald Trump takes office in two months. While many policy specifics are not crystal clear, we do know that a Trump presidency will be significantly different than our last eight years under President Obama. This is the first in a series of posts we will be writing that are aimed at letting you know what this regime change might mean to you as an employer.

One of the most developed policy announcement of the Trump presidential campaign came midway through the summer and was presented by his daughter Ivanka. Within Trump’s childcare reform plan was a program for ensuring paid maternity leave for all mothers in the United States. Here is how it would work conceptually:

The proposed Trump maternity leave plan would offer mothers six weeks of partial pay while they are out on leave. This maternity pay applies to women that work at companies that don’t already pay for maternity leaves and would be handled through unemployment insurance, which according to Trump represents 1.4 million women annually.

It should be noted that Trump’s maternity leave proposal, as we understand it, does not include any additional leave benefits for men or parents that adopt and there are conflicting views on whether it covers unwed mothers.

It is also worth noting that some have called the funding source of this initiative into question. Trump’s program calls for paying this new entitlement, which he estimates at $2.5 billion annually, through savings the Federal Government will realize by cleaning up unemployment fraud. Trump pegs “improper payments” of unemployment insurance at $5.6 billion, which covers the maternity leave program and then some, if his estimate is accurate.

It is unclear if this plan will garner enough support from Congress to be enacted, and frankly, it is unclear if Trump would send it to Congress as proposed. We will be monitoring this as the transition proceeds and will provide updates here if anything materializes.

You can read the entire Trump Childcare Reform position paper here.

11 Interesting FMLA Statistics and Facts (May 2016)

FMLA statisticsThough it has only been around for little more than two decades, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has made a very serious impact in the way employers view and administer absence management. The guidelines in which most employers have to operate within under the FMLA can be challenging, at times, as is compliance documentation, but all in all, employers do recognize that the law is an important one that does have a positive impact on the workforce.

So how much impact has the FMLA had over the years? Here are some helpful FMLA statistics and facts that we have been able to uncover during the course of our consulting work. We will try to update this post fairly regularly. All stats and facts are linked to their original source, where appropriate and source dates are included.

FMLA Statistics

Date FMLA was signed into law:

February 5, 1993


Number of times the FMLA has been used since enactment:

More than 100 million times

Last checked 5/20/16


Percentage of US private sector employees that have access to paid family leave:

12%

Last checked 5/20/16


Average percentage of the US workforce that is on FMLA leave at any point in time:

10.7%

Last checked 5/20/16


Average duration of an FMLA leave:

14.2 days

Last checked 5/20/16


Top reason for FMLA leaves:

Employee’s own health conditions

Last checked 5/20/16


Top medical condition employees take FMLA leave for:

Surgery

Last checked 5/20/16


Percentage of total FMLA leaves in the US that are due to pregnancy:

17%

Last checked 5/20/16


Top FMLA enforcement complaint to the US Department of Labor in 2015:

Termination


Number of FMLA enforcement complaints in 2015:

1,419


Percentage of employers that report complying with the FMLA has had a positive or no noticeable effect on employee absenteeism, turnover and morale:

91%

Source date: 2013


Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide: The Employer Impact

supreme court same sex marriage fmla

As you are likely aware, a short time ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry anywhere across the United States. Prior to the ruling, 36 states and Washington D.C. allowed same-sex marriages. Now, the 14 states that have bans will be forced to lift them.

You can read the full Obergefell v. Hodges decision here.

This ruling is game-changing on a number of different levels socially and politically, but we’d like to point out that many employers will be impacted by this decision as well and should be prepared.

The most notable change will be evaluating your spousal eligibility in all areas of employee benefits. In addition, leave policies including but not limited to FMLA compliance will need to be reviewed. Dust off those policies and start re-reading them to pinpoint what changes need to be made.

Photo by tedeytan

Paid Sick Leave Compliance and Employer Best Practices

sick leave photo

Photo by umjanedoan

Across the United States, a legislative movement to mandate paid sick leave time for all employees has picked up significant momentum over the past couple of years. With a number of states, municipalities and even the President advocating for these new mandates, it is important that employers know how these changes impact them.

At a recent Disability Management Employer Coalition event, Spring partner Teri Weber gave the presentation below on paid sick leave laws with fellow industry experts Geoffrey Simpson from Presagia and Mike Soltis from jackson lewis.

We hope you find this slidedeck helpful and please don’t hesitate to reach out to contact us with any questions about paid sick leave laws or anything related to leave management.