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Optis Blog: Your Place to Find Our Bright Ideas

If you want to get a clearer idea of what Optis does, or if you're curious about our perspective on absence, risk, and data management, our blog is a great place to start. Feel free to leave comments or share our blog posts with any of your social connections.


 

It’s probably no surprise that employers of all sizes and in any industry continue to grapple with the ongoing complexity and change around paid and unpaid leave for family and medical issues. So it only makes sense that employers are also increasingly turning to leave management tools, such as Optis LeaveXpert and ADAInteract, to help them administer leave programs and remain compliant.

Based on a survey last year of 1,203 employers by the not-for-profit Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), more employers who manage leave internally are using technology to assist them. The survey found the trend is led by technology to support leave management related to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and state and local leave ordinances.

And though larger firms are more likely to use leave management technology rather than outsource the job, big companies are not alone in turning to software to solve their leave management challenges. DMEC found the following use of leave management technology based on company size:

  • Under 100 employees: 19 percent use vendor-provided leave management software
  • 100 to 999 employees: 29 percent
  • 1,000 to 4,999 employees: 31 percent
  • 5,000 to 19,999 employees: 38 percent
  • Over 20,000 employees: 50 percent

Employers also are moving toward integrating management of different leave types, “including sick leave taken prior to disability [leave] coming into play,” DMEC CEO Terri Rhodes said in a news release. Employers overall reported that vendors improved their ability to stay apprised of changing regulations and requirements, particularly given today’s high level of leave legislation activity.

The size of a company, meanwhile, makes a difference in what drives employer satisfaction with leave management technology and vendors:

  • Satisfaction is highest among the largest employers (for whom vendors play a key collaboration role).
  • Midsize companies appreciate having a variety of information intake options, including online portals.
  • Small employers value leave-related fraud identification and technology tools.

Optis is a leader among leave management vendors in recognizing and responding to the varying expectations and needs among companies of different sizes. It’s a key reason Optis offers three versions of LeaveXpert and three editions of ADAInteract (which can be purchased as a stand-alone solution or embedded in LeaveXpert). Optis makes it easy for anyone responsible for managing their company’s leave policies to find the right leave management system.

  • LeaveXpert Essential delivers all of the essential capabilities of a more robust leave management system, including federal and state FMLA regulations, automated alerts, correspondence, and task management.
     
  • LeaveXpert Plus offers flexible leave management at an administrator’s fingertips — with an employee self-service portal, company-configured leave types, and company-defined fields — at an affordable cost per user, per month.
     
  • LeaveXpert Unlimited is Optis’ total absence management system, designed to give large organizations with complex leave management needs everything they need, from integration of all leave types to increased data storage and other essential features.

ADAInteract, meanwhile, mitigates ADA compliance risk, helps eliminate employee grievances around leave policies and decisions, and empowers HR to make the necessary workplace changes to maximize employee productivity despite ADA-related leaves. Like LeaveXpert, ADAInteract is available in three versions, each with an increasing level of features and types of leave they help manage. 

Still, despite the increasing use of technology like LeaveXpert and ADAInteract to help manage leave complexities, the DMEC survey found that challenges continue to exist, particularly in managing intermittent leave and requirements under the ADA. Topping the list of headaches for leave managers are very real daily challenges like relying on managers and supervisors for leave enforcement — and even getting managers trained on these tasks in the first place.

The bottom line is that regardless of the size of your company, leave management by spreadsheet is quickly becoming an unsustainable practice. In addition to the headaches and time needed to do the job manually — either on paper or using Excel or similar software — manual leave management is nearly impossible to use for tracking and managing employee leave, staying current with changes in laws and requirements, and staying compliant.

An online leave management system can absolutely reduce leave abuse and noncompliance risk, and minimize costs.

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.

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