Real-life applications of The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can prove to be more complex than what you learned in a class or seminar. Leave Solutions uses the guidelines below to drive processes and decisions that make FMLA administration an easy and enjoyable process.
Set a process. Follow the process. Easy, right?
But in the real world of Human Resources, there are always exceptions. The secret is to allow for “safe exceptions”.
Safe exceptions are decisions that are based on facts and that are applied absent of any discriminating or qualitative factors.
For example, performance should not be a factor in deciding to make an exception on an employee’s FMLA claim or approval status. Treating an employee who scored “average” on their last performance appraisal different than employee who “exceeds expectations” in relation to an FMLA claim could be considered FMLA interference.
Making exceptions for employees will also set a precedent for future exceptions. We recommend documenting your exceptions, and the reasons behind them, so that you can apply them consistently in the future.
Being conservative in your FMLA administration means building an employee-friendly process to help shield your company from legal costs.
Consider this . . . Which employer below is less likely to be sued by their employee for FMLA interference?
- The employer who denied an employee’s FMLA claim because the paperwork was one day late even though the employee asked for a 3-day extension because their doctor lost the paperwork.
- The employer who approved an employee’s FMLA claim after helping them fax the paperwork to their doctor with instructions (with the employee’s permission, of course) and extending the due date when the doctor responded to ask for more time.
The answer is B. Can you deny FMLA for not getting the paperwork in on time? Technically, yes. Should you? Probably not.
A conservative FMLA process will include asking the employee if they need help printing and sending the paperwork to their doctor, asking if their next doctor’s appointment is before the due date, and at least one reminder about the due date about 5 days in advance. These small steps on the front end of the process will not only save you time later, but it shows that you’re making a good faith effort to help the employee exercise their rights under FMLA.
So, do what you can to help them through the process and the experience will become nicer for you, less intimidating for the employee, and risk-adverse for your company.
When I talk to an employee about starting the FMLA process I try to approach the conversation as if I’m talking to a family member. It’s not John from Accounting whose needs 4 weeks off because he just had a heart attack . . . it’s my Uncle George. And it’s not Gretta from Marketing who needs time off to care for her spouse . . . it’s my grandmother.
And how would I explain the FMLA process to my Uncle George or my grandma? With compassion and patience. Short of baking them a casserole (like the proper Midwesterner that I am), I would do everything I can to make it an easy process.
Yes, FMLA administration has timelines, forms, rules, and regulations. But you can absolutely adhere to a standard process and include compassion and empathy for each and every employee who requests FMLA.