Let’s face it. Managing employee leave isn’t the most glamorous aspect of HR or workforce management. But it’s certainly among the most challenging. The legal and regulatory backdrop to leave management is complex, and it varies based on factors that range from where you do business to the size of your company. You feel as if the rules are ever-changing. It’s like doing business in an amusement park fun house; it’s a challenge to keep your footing, hard to know if what you’re seeing is real, and difficult to get a firm hold on the rail to help lead you through the maze.
But you need to stay up to date with recent developments in leave management and have a system in place to act on those changes if you want to reduce the risk of mistakes and lower the potential for penalties, fines, and litigation.
Here, for example, are the top 10 developments and trends in employee leave identified earlier this year by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC).
1. Proliferation of State and Local Paid Sick Leave Laws
The patchwork of state laws that require employers to offer paid sick leave continues to grow; Arizona was added this year and Washington will be added to the list in 2018. In addition, at least 33 counties and cities also require employers doing business within their boundaries to offer paid sick leave, or do so by the end of 2017.
2. New Paid Sick Leave Requirements for Federal Contractors
Effective Jan. 1, 2017, employers were required to offer paid sick leave to employees working on certain federal contracts. Determining which employees are covered, how to track sick leave accruals, and how to reconcile the rule with state and local paid sick leave laws will be a challenge for many federal contractors.
3. Continuing Efforts to Implement Paid Parental Leave
The State of New York last year said that in 2018, certain employers must offer up to 12 weeks of paid time annually for an employee to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, or address military family needs. San Francisco later became the first municipality with a similar ordinance. Three states, meanwhile provide workers with partial pay during parental leave.
4. EEOC’s Enforcement Focus on Inflexible Leave Policies
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s five-year Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) for 2017–2021 reaffirmed the agency’s enforcement priority on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Almost one-third of EEOC’s lawsuits in 2016 included claims for disability discrimination, resulting in multimillion-dollar settlements in some cases, according to the ACC.
5. Litigation Trap Created by Intersection of FMLA and ADA
Much ADA litigation centers on the alleged failure of employers to consider leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. According to the ACC, “employee handbooks that lack policies describing the accommodation process or that limit available medical leave to that afforded by the FMLA can raise red flags.”
6. EEOC’s Enforcement Focus on Accommodating Pregnant Employees
Federal agencies are more aggressively acting against employers they claim require pregnant employees to take leave when other accommodations might allow them to continue working. The ACC notes that the EEOC and Justice Department have particularly targeted policies that offer light-duty assignments to temporarily disabled employees but not to pregnant employees.
7. Rise of ADA Interference Litigation
The EEOC’s August 2016 Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues suggested the agency would more aggressively pursue claims for interference with ADA rights. Apparently, conduct that would not be “materially adverse” for retaliation purposes may still be actionable as interference; non-disabled individuals can invoke protection under the statute’s non-interference provision.
8. Efforts to Control FMLA Abuse
The ACC says a growing body of case law supports an employer’s right to discipline employees based on the employer’s “honest belief” after a “reasonable investigation” that an employee engaged in FMLA abuse or fraud. Questions remain around precisely what constitutes a reasonable investigation or what is a legitimate reason for FMLA leave.
9. Heightened Importance of Regular Policy Review
Considering trends 1 through 8 above, employers need to review their leave policies and procedures every year. In addition to achieving legal compliance, annual reviews should ensure consistency among policies governing leave, accommodation, paid time off, attendance, and disability.
10. Leave as Accommodation to Care for Disabled Family Members
In 2016, a California court ruled that an employer who denied a non-disabled employee’s request for leave to care for a disabled family member may have violated California law. The California Supreme Court refused to review the case, so the decision was binding. The ACC commented, “Importantly, a similar ADA provision prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s association with a disabled person.”
An automated, cloud-based leave management solution is the only way to keep up with trends and developments affecting employee leave and any employer’s responsibilities. LeaveXpert® from Optis makes it easier than ever to find the right leave management system for your organization’s needs.
With three editions, LeaveXpert and its built-in FMLA software can help your company get a handle on leave management. Learn how with just a couple of clicks, you can have efficient absence management at your fingertips. Start managing your people data in the cloud today. Contact Optis now.