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Optis Blog Archive

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.

Cloud computing continues to open new opportunities for enterprise companies to capitalize on one of their most valuable and often underappreciated assets: employee data, also known as “people” data. This is particularly true with the surging trend toward online programs for benefits administration, employee engagement, and learning and development. For HR, the ability to manage benefits and talent management programs in the cloud has the valuable potential to transform a wealth of their people data into accurate and practical insights that can drive more-effective strategic decisions for the business and HR. Most significantly, an optimal online employee- or people-data management system gives HR the ability to efficiently and accurately integrate and manage the continual flood of data from several sources. In most companies, benefits data lives in many disparate locations — HRIS, payroll, provider systems, and in-house spreadsheets.

A quality vendor (like Optis, for example) will offer fine-tuned expertise in mapping and integrating data from multiple systems, allowing HR to centralize its separate depositories of data into a single source of truth. The results include:

  • The confidence that employees receive the right benefits at the right time, while controlling access to data
  • An improved employee user experience, by eliminating the piecemeal system that develops when information needs to be obtained from several providers
  • A more effective and easier-to-access bank of data for investigating trends and developing changes (more on this below)

Improved data security — risk mitigation — is another primary benefit of people-data management software. A cloud-based employee-data management system can remove the burden on employers to ensure data is secure when it’s transferred among myriad parties. Many legislatures have used ISO 27001, a globally recognized industry standard for information security management systems (ISMS), as the framework for accessibility, confidentiality, integrity of information, and legal compliance in the field of personal data like the kind HR depends on. Optis, for example, in February 2017 announced the successful renewal of its ISO 27001 certification.

A third primary benefit of employing cloud software for managing people data is the increased power it gives HR to identify and act on key trends and metrics. It enables HR to better adapt to and make defensible decisions around changes in employee and business needs. Centralized employee data can be used to investigate everything from cost of employment to international migration costs to which benefits choices are creating greater engagement and higher retention rates. With this kind of data — easily accessible through the cloud if you have the right vendor — HR can deliver better-informed and more-effective decisions.

Easier compliance is a fourth benefit of cloud-based people-data management. For example, it can automatically record employee interactions and create a full audit trail for HR and benefits administration teams. For global companies, another example of increased compliance capabilities from cloud-based people-data management is the ability to easily and accurately manage country-specific reporting requirements from a single centralized source.

Optis is one of the leading options for making your people data visible and manageable through cloud-based software. Optis Insights is intentionally built to work for enterprise employers, insurers, and third-party administrators with complex people-data needs. People-data management solutions from Optis include:

  • Data Warehousing — to put your people data in one location and make that mountain of data easier to manage
  • Reporting and Intelligence — to turn your people data into actionable business decisions
  • Analytics — to create cost savings and increase workforce productivity
  • Data Conversion Services — to adapt your people data to meet changing business needs

Learn how Optis Insights can mitigate risk and give you greater insight into data from all of your HR data systems. Contact Optis now.

It’s been over a quarter-century since President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, and more than eight years have passed since the act was amended to give employers and business owners greater clarity and guidance into the civil rights protections the ADA set in place. Now, the same way the ongoing debate over healthcare reform has reached into nearly every corner of American life, it’s similarly raised concerns around the ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA).

Consider these recent headlines:

As Congress debates plans that could have sweeping implications for people with disabilities and what that could mean in the workplace, employers must still meet the already complex ADA accommodation regulations. Although the 2008 amendments provided comprehensive guidance for employers, compliance remains a huge challenge. The risks of noncompliance can be costly. And it looks like things aren’t going to get easier to manage anytime soon.

That said, if you’re an employer that must comply with the ADA and ADAAA, you can take seven steps to ensure that you efficiently and accurately track, manage, and document your accommodation process to mitigate compliance risk and eliminate employee grievances.

  1. Use an interactive process. Simply put, an interactive process means that employers and employees who request accommodations because of a disability work together. But simple doesn’t always mean easy, uncomplicated, or without potential risks. The right process solution makes a huge difference.

  2. Have a way to safely validate accommodation claims. Legal experts and courts routinely disagree on what defines a “reasonable” ADA/ADAAA request or accommodation. But you need a process to manage those requests and accommodations to ensure compliance, maintain productivity, and prevent employee disengagement.

  3. Have a smooth return-to-work process. If a returning employee is disabled or has a record of a disability, they may need additional accommodations after returning to work. Required under the ADA, these accommodations can include time off for medical appointments or therapy sessions, special equipment, or workplace modifications.

  4. Stay up to date with EEOC enforcement guidance. The EEOC has issued guidance on ADA topics ranging from the “unlawful disparate treatment” of workers with caregiving responsibilities to the definition of psychiatric disabilities under the act. You need a system that will automatically update your accommodations process.

  5. Perform efficient and complete compliance self-audits. You need to regularly review your compliance strategies and tactics. A compliance self-audit that reviews all of your ADA-related policies and practices requires the ability to monitor all of the actions related to any accommodation request.

  6. Have a process for complying with local and state laws or multiple leave accommodations. An employee may qualify for multiple leaves and accommodations. The FMLA and ADA/ADAAA often overlap. The results can be an administration quagmire for HR and cause significant disruptions for managers and employees. You need a way to ensure that your plans comply with all applicable laws.

  7. Be prepared to accept full responsibility. Regardless of who manages your employees’ requests for ADA/ADAAA accommodations or their claims under FMLA, if the IRS determines any penalties or fees are due, you’ll be the one it holds responsible. You need to be able to absolutely trust any outside solution or vendor you use to manage your process and plan.

To better understand why these steps are so important, and to get a clearer picture of how to act on them in your organization, download our e-book “Seven Steps to Safe Swimming in the Dangerous Waters of ADA Accommodation Compliance.”

ADAInteract® from Optis makes it easy to manage accommodation requests and the ADAAA interactive process. ADAInteract increases efficiency in the disability accommodations process by providing a centralized system for managing every accommodation request — and the entire ADAAA interactive process. With three editions of ADAInteract, Optis makes it possible for your company to get exactly what you need to manage every piece of the complicated ADA process and be sure you’re in compliance.

Start your free 30-day trial today!

It’s no secret that employee absences can hamstring your organization’s ability to achieve its strategic goals. But what may be surprising is the scope of the problem or how much it actually costs American businesses.

  • In 2015, an estimated 3 percent of an employer's workforce was absent on any given day, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Paid absences cost employers between 20.9 and 22.1 percent of total payroll, according to a SHRM/Kronos survey.

A comprehensive, cloud-based employee leave and attendance program can play a strategic role in keeping employees at work and reducing the costs of healthcare and workers’ compensation. The result will be an increase in productivity and overall business performance. But for those programs to work, you need to be sure your company’s leave and attendance policies and practices are comprehensive; promote appropriate employee behaviors; and are well communicated and understood by employees and supervisors.

The first two elements for success are all about the design of your leave and attendance policies and programs, and can be pretty concretely defined. The last critical measure — making sure your leave and absence policies are well communicated and understood by everyone — is more subjective. In fact, ensuring the success of even the best comprehensive, technology-based leave and management program depends on how you communicate it to and gain the support of front-line managers and supervisors.

Yet leave management is part of the job of your front-line managers. Unfortunately, front-line managers at best get one-time training on leave and management policies and programs and get relatively little, if any, time to coach or work with employees to use those policies to better manage time away from work. Consider these workplace findings from McKinsey & Company:

  • Across industries, front-line managers spend 30 to 60 percent of their time on administrative work and meetings, and 10 to 50 percent on non-managerial tasks.
  • They spend only 10 to 40 percent of their time actually managing front-line employees by, for example, coaching them directly.

By comparison, the McKinsey research found that at best-practice companies, front-line managers allocate 60 to 70 percent of their time to the floor, “much of it in high-quality individual coaching. Such companies also empower their managers to make decisions and act on opportunities.”

Here are five tips to help your line managers better manage leaves and absences to boost employee engagement and help achieve business goals.

  1. Use absence and leave management software to identify trends. Managers could probably tell you which employees tend to take more time off than others. Having hard data — easily accessible from a leave management software solution — gives managers meaningful insight into absence trends and sets the stage for one-on-one conversations to identify problems and improve attendance.
  2. Understand, know, and communicate the rules for extended leaves. Regardless of whether the right to an extended leave of absence is mandated by federal law, local law, or your organization’s policies, managers need to know how to respond to requests with knowledge and empathy. A quality technology-based leave management system will include updates for any rules or laws that affect your workforce.
  3. Set and follow realistic return-to-work schedules. Having comprehensive medical leave guidelines in your leave and management software gives managers the tools they need to have an informed conversation with the employee about the length of leave and any accommodations that may be necessary upon return.
  4. Encourage employees to plan for vacation as far in advance as possible. The more line managers know about who will be out and when they’ll be gone, the more easily and effectively they can plan for coverage. A comprehensive leave management solution will help employees apply for time off sooner and help managers plan for absences in advance.
  5. Respond to absence requests quickly. Front-line managers can benefit greatly from a cloud-based leave management system that gives them real-time capabilities for reviewing and responding to requests for time off.

Sick days happen. And when they do, employees need to be able to have the time they need to care for their health. It is, of course, in your best interest and theirs to allow employees adequate time. You want to ensure that your employees are healthy, happy, and operating at full capacity for the benefit of your company. But you also need to comply with FMLA requirements.

However, when employees take leave in small chunks, these sick days can take a toll on your company. While leave is important and required by the FMLA, you need to be sure that your efficiency and bottom line don’t suffer.

Does your company have the right systems and policies in place to minimize the cost of intermittent leave? The Society for Human Resource Management suggests several ways to curb leave abuse and reduce costly oversight. But implementing these best practices is a lot easier and more likely to be successful when you have an online leave management system to help you. Here are five ways leave management software can help you reduce leave policy abuse:

  1. Tracking intermittent leave

    By accurately tracking your employees’ leave — logging the type of leave, reason, specific times, doctor’s notes, etc. — you can discover any patterns or suspicious behavior. For example, tracking might allow you to realize that a certain employee often takes leave on Fridays, leading you to speak with the employee and figure out why this is happening and if their reasons are legitimate. With an online leave management system, all requests will be automatically logged and available for easy access, so you can quickly review and compare.

  2. Having written requests and responses

    While FMLA guidelines allow for verbal leave requests, the best way to minimize confusion, miscommunication, and dishonesty is to ask employees to submit written requests and obtain written approvals. An automated system with an employee self-service portal makes it easy to complete written leave requests and responses online, capturing and storing all the details you need to make sure your employees and managers are on the same page.

  3. Requiring and collecting medical certifications

    One of the best ways to curb leave abuse is to require medical certifications. By asking doctors for detailed instructions for the employee’s duties and stop and start times, you will be able to determine eligibility and accurately plan for the employee’s time away. Rather than trying to organize all these medical certifications on your own, a leave management software system will effortlessly track and store the certification requirements and receipts in one place for your easy review.

  4. Helping employees return to work successfully

    The last thing you want is an employee returning to work before they’re ready, causing low productivity or extended leave time. The ability to track their return-to-work details with leave management software will allow you to set requirements for fitness-for-duty exams and manage accommodation requests. You’ll be able to know with confidence exactly when and in what capacity your employees will be returning to work.

  5. Combining FMLA and short-term disability forms

    Sometimes FMLA leave and short-term disability payments overlap, and when they do, combining the two forms can save time and money for you and your employee. Rather than having the physician fill out two forms and charge fees for both, provide a single form to increase efficiency. The right leave management system will also be able to integrate with short-term disability claims and keep all needed information relating to leave management readily available.

Disorganized, time-consuming leave management can be a liability for your company and a burden for you, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time to consider an online leave management system to reduce leave abuse and minimize costs. Optis’ cloud-based leave management system, LeaveXpert®, will help you strengthen your leave management processes, so you can monitor employee leave with accuracy and efficiency.

It’s easier than ever to get a handle on leave management. In addition to the tips above, Optis LeaveXpert and its built-in FMLA software provide the ability to do custom reporting, manage workflow tasks, track employee demographic data, and more. With three different editions, LeaveXpert works to help organizations of all sizes see bottom-line business results through effective leave and absence management. Start your free 30-day trial today!

It happens. No matter how well you think you’ve trained your staff on FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) compliance, or how well you’ve informed employees about their rights, or how closely you think you’ve managed the FMLA process, employees sometimes seek retaliation.

For that simple reason — and despite your company’s best intentions and actions — it’s good to understand:

  1. Why an employee can claim you’ve made an adverse FMLA decision and the damages they can seek
  2. The most common mistakes that lead to a negative employee action
  3. How to reduce the likelihood of a retaliation claim

Retaliation under the FMLA simply means an employee seeks recourse, claiming you’ve adversely affected the terms and conditions of their employment after they exercised their rights under the FMLA. Common examples of “adverse employment decisions” related to the FMLA include:

  • Terminating an employee for requesting FMLA leave
  • Demoting an employee for taking intermittent leave to care for a family member
  • Marking FMLA absences as a negative in performance reviews or project assignments

An employee can seek remedies ranging from reinstatement to monetary punitive damages, such as those awarded in personal injury or libel cases. Other remedies can come in the form of:

  • Back pay: income lost before the case reaches a court decision or is settled
  • Front pay: the employee’s projected future earnings or continued lost income
  • Value of lost benefits: medical expenses and related costs, for example
  • Other monetary losses: needing to hire a caretaker instead of taking leave to care for a family member
  • Interest, court costs, and attorney’s fees

To mitigate the likelihood that an employee will seek recourse after they’ve been granted (or even taken) leave under the FMLA, it’s a good idea to know the most common mistakes employers make that lead to retaliation claims:

  1. A poor notification process (e.g., you don’t request medical certification in writing)
  2. Over-aggressive certification (e.g., a manager asks for more information than the FMLA requires)
  3. Misunderstanding qualifying circumstances (e.g., a manager denies FMLA leave despite an employee’s qualifying serious health condition)
  4. Wrongful termination (e.g., terminating an employee during or after their FMLA leave without a clear and valid reason)
  5. Failure to offer the same or an equivalent job (e.g., shift changes without a good business reason)
  6. Denial of parental leave (e.g., not granting FMLA leave to provide physical or psychological comfort for an employee’s parent)
  7. Poor absentee policy (e.g., not designating FMLA when it should be applied)
  8. Poor communication of FMLA use (e.g., failure to send an employee the required out-of-time notice in a timely manner)

To prevent retaliation claims — and to avoid employee misunderstandings and confusion in general — remember the adage that the best defense is often a good offense. It’s better to go beyond just understanding the law, instead taking steps to actively train managers and communicate to employees.

Start by regularly reviewing your FMLA policies and procedures to ensure they are consistent throughout your organization. Next, train managers and HR staff on how to handle accusations of FMLA abuse or improprieties. Perhaps the strongest move you can make is to automate your entire leave management system. Tracking employee leave in the cloud enables you to access leave data anywhere, anytime, with any device with an internet connection.

To this end, it’s best to look for a leave management system that’s secure and quick to deploy. In an ideal case, you’ll be able to get started with a turnkey solution that works out of the box; however, if you’re looking for a more complex system, your company may need a solution with a base model that can easily be built up or customized.

Finally, you’ll want a leave management system that includes:

  • An intake portal that will allow your employees to have a single, designated location to submit a leave of absence request. The intake portal should then push automatic notifications to your leave managers, creating a streamlined process.
  • Case information and history, to give you the most detailed picture of your employee’s leave of absence. The system should allow for auto-generated letters, attachment upload and storage, email tracking, and a communication history log.
  • Instant references for employee eligibility, so you’re not constantly digging for hire date, hours worked, etc.
  • Automatic updates on federal and state FMLA, military leave, and other regulation changes.
  • A specific area where you can track return-to-work and accommodations actions.
  • The capability to generate reports showing the big picture of your absence state, including a glimpse at areas that need to be adjusted. This reporting will also help you track trends over time so you can make better business decisions and improve your company's absence program.

Your organization knows it needs to get a better grasp on its people analytics. With workforce costs comprising an average of 70 percent of the typical company’s expenses, HR needs to get a reliable understanding of its people data.

So what’s getting in the way? According to a report by the Harvard Business Review, the three biggest obstacles to achieving better use of people data for HR and talent management professionals are:

  • 54 percent say their data is inaccurate, inconsistent, or hard to access, requiring too much manual manipulation
  • 47 percent say they lack the analytic acumen or skills
  • 44 percent say they lack adequate investment in necessary HR/talent analytical systems

What HR needs to overcome those challenges is the right data and skills to guide the critical business decisions that will improve the bottom line. Here’s how that kind of data and those kinds of skills apply to each of the three big challenges facing HR professionals.

Obstacle No. 1: Inaccurate, inconsistent, or hard-to-access data

HR leaders can operate effectively with a lot of inconsistency, but when HR takes the data they derive from inconsistent systems and processes, these inaccuracies become problematic for business decisions.

Solution: HR needs to begin with the organizational objective of generating consistent data. For many organizations, this will mean working with a capable partner or making a hire with the firsthand experience to support positive changes. For example, Optis Insights provides employee data-management software that delivers high-quality, centralized data from any source or system, giving you the tailored intelligence your organization needs to overcome the burdens of inferior data.

Obstacle No. 2: Insufficient analytical acumen within HR

Business leaders ask a lot of HR professionals. Not only does HR need to effectively manage the administrative aspects of talent management, HR must have an adept understanding of the strategic needs of the business and deliver analyses of how business outcomes relate to employee performance.

Solution: For HR leaders who are learning on the go, the first important lesson is to understand that sometimes data trumps instinct. After reliable data is obtained, many organizations struggle to make sense of it because the data doesn’t align with what HR believes to be true about the business. Making sense of new data can often be as simple as asking HR leaders to set aside their preconceived beliefs.

Obstacle No. 3: Inadequate investment in HR analytics systems

With minimized understanding comes minimized investment. When HR leaders don’t have the analytical acumen to make a compelling and conclusive business case to executives for greater investment in workforce analytics, it can be truly challenging to justify the right budget.

Solution: HR leaders need to first embrace and promote a data-driven culture. For many organizations, this is the first step to realizing the possibility that workforce analytics solutions have the greatest potential to self-fund based on the savings they generate.

When HR leaders work with the right strategic partner, they can develop their understanding of critical workforce analytics and see which metrics can have the greatest impact on business outcomes. Now is the time for HR and business leaders to learn, invest, and grow. Optis offers 25 years of experience in people-data integration, with an unparalleled focus on time and attendance, absence, and disability. We have a keen understanding of the insights needed to make your people data visible and manageable and to provide you with the data and skills you need to improve the bottom line.

Regardless of how large or small your company is, and no matter how complex or simple your leave programs are, you can always benefit from following tried-and-true best practices to design and implement more effective leave policies. But designing great leave policies is only half the battle in the war against the high costs and administrative headaches of unscheduled leaves and the risk of regulatory noncompliance.

Winning the war on the costs, negative employee engagement, and lost productivity because of unscheduled absences demands effective management for your great leave policies. Increasingly, that means having an automated leave management system designed specifically for this purpose for HR by a technology vendor that fully understands the entire landscape of the world of employee leave. With a manual leave management system or a system that was not originally designed to handle leave management, you simply won’t be able to get the most from what could otherwise be highly effective leave policies.

For example, here are five guidelines for designing and implementing effective leave policies and why an automated system is the best way to take them from policy to practice. These items are from a list by Mary Tavarozzi, group benefit practices leader at Willis Towers Watson. It first appeared on the Employee Benefit News website.

1. Review your current leave policies. As Tavarozzi points out in her presentation, this best practice is particularly important for large employers. But small and midsize businesses should also take a close look at their leave statistics: How many employees take advantage of your leave policies and at what cost to your organization?

LeaveXpert, the automated, cloud-based leave management system from Optis, gives HR departments easy insight into the impact that absence has on their organizations. This includes FMLA, disability, and other company-specific leave events. Features like automated case creation and real-time reporting mean you can get the kind of insight into leave usage that you need to assess your current leave policies.

2. Know the laws that apply. The cost of regulatory noncompliance can be huge. The risk of noncompliance is compounded because the rules seem to be constantly changing. The problem is further exacerbated by local and state leave laws that are rarely used and often overlooked.

With the right partner, you can take advantage of a cloud-based leave management system that provides knowledge, support, and software solutions designed solely for helping you better manage every kind of leave in your organization. LeaveXpert, for example, automatically updates for changes in state and federal leave policies. To learn how to navigate all of the leaves that may apply to your organization, download the Optis e-book “The Land of Unusual Leaves — It’s a Jungle Out There.”

3. Don’t let “perfect be the enemy of the good.” Keep this saying in mind when designing your leave policies. For example, if you cannot afford to offer full-paid leaves, consider offering partial paid leaves.

With an automated leave management solution that offers different tiers of features, you can similarly manage your leave policies one step at a time. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. LeaveXpert, for example, offers three versions: LeaveXpert Essential, Plus, and Unlimited. 

4. Communicate your leave policies clearly and frequently to employees and supervisors. If you have a number of leave options for your employees, they should know generally what they are. Train supervisors on the specifics of your leave policies and how to talk about them with employees.

An automated leave management system can give you an immediate view of all of your policies, in every single one of your operations, and how leave is being used. It’s a big help in putting together communication to inform employees about types of leaves they might not be aware of, for example.

5. Think long term. Try to anticipate what your business needs and workforce demographics will look like five to 10 years from now and try to design leaves that are relevant today and down the road. And of course, though all organizations share some needs when it comes to leave management, no two organizations have exactly the same set of requirements or demands.

Again, a tiered system, like LeaveXpert, makes it easy to find the right leave management system for your current needs and plan for your future demands. Because the entire system is cloud-based, it’s easy and simple to upgrade, whether you use LeaveXpert Essential, Plus, or Unlimited. Learn more in our e-book “Managing Employee Leave: Yes, You Can Afford to Do It Better.”

Managing employee leave can certainly feel like you’re on a huge, never-ending roller coaster ride — a ride that comes with all the ups and downs, twists and turns, and sudden surprises you’d expect from any thrilling amusement ride. It’s a heck of ride for most HR leaders who are responsible for managing employee leave to keep the wheels of the company’s business goals on their tracks.

You’ve just survived the winter holiday season and its challenges of managing so many employees taking time off to be with family and loved ones. Things may quiet down for a couple of months, and then you’ll be into the spring season of requests for time off to coincide with school breaks.

After that, there will be the annual onslaught of employees jockeying for summer vacation time and managing all of the hoops that you and your managers will need to jump through to accommodate those requests. Then you’ll get a short breather in the fall, but only until the annual cycle starts again, with the disruptions and workflow reassignments to meet the needs of leave requests during the next winter holiday season.

The ride can be even more dramatic and have more contortions (and potential repercussions for noncompliance) if your company relies heavily on seasonal workers or part-time workers who are also eligible for leave benefits. The same is true if you have fluctuations in the number of full-time employees during the year. The leave-management roller coaster ride can also be more jostling if your company needs to meet various leave requirements because of factors such as union contracts or unusual state or local regulations and laws.

Throughout it all, you need to know how to lower your risk against:

  • Noncompliance under the FMLA and state laws
  • Productivity loss
  • Employee disengagement

In fact, simply staying on top of state leave documentation can be time-consuming, especially if you have a manual process in place. With so much at stake, you need to know the lay of the land. (To learn more about how to best manage complex leave laws, download the Optis white paper “The Land of Unusual Leaves — It’s a Jungle Out There.”)

As for handling leave requests from temporary or seasonal employees, you need to be sure your leave management system accounts for them. Just because temporary and seasonal employees may be ineligible for company-paid leave, they most likely are still protected under workers’ compensation laws. According to the federal Small Business Administration, “businesses with employees are required to carry Workers’ Compensation Insurance coverage through a commercial carrier, on a self-insured basis, or through a state Workers' Compensation Insurance program.”

When it’s all said and done, the best and most cost-effective way to smooth the ride of your leave management roller coaster is to implement an automated leave management system like LeaveXpert® from Optis. It ensures that your organization operates efficiently and stays in compliance despite the ups and downs of seasonal requests.

For HR leaders and company managers, an automated leave management system makes sure that leave policies are fairly and accurately enforced across the organization. Requests for leave are routed and approved based on your company's unique business processes. Most important, to make future rides on the leave management roller coaster even smoother, an automated leave management solution like LeaveXpert delivers easily accessible and consolidated time-off information for analysis, reporting, and financial planning. You’re able to make better business decisions moving forward.

Increase employee productivity by managing absence accurately and quickly. With LeaveXpert, your HR department can easily gain insight into the impact absence has on your organization, including FMLA, disability, and other company-specific leave events.

You’ve probably heard it before, but just to get started here and put things in perspective: The cost of absenteeism is huge. The laws and regulations surrounding employee leave management have become increasingly complex, including FMLA, disability, and other company-specific types of leave. And managing all of that is the responsibility of the HR leader today.

The direct costs of unscheduled absenteeism in the United States can be up to $602 per employee, according to CCH Incorporated, a tax and business law information and software solutions firm. In addition, indirect costs can equal 25 percent of an employee’s salary (e.g., overtime pay or the cost of temps for replacement workers, missed deadlines, lost sales, poor morale, and lower productivity).

Obviously, when managing employee leave, the stakes increase with the size of the organization and the amount of employee compensation. But it’s all relative. In fact, for a small business (up to 500 employees) or a midsize organization (up to 2,000 employees), the impact of unscheduled absenteeism can be even greater than for an enterprise organization. A small or midsize business may lack the scheduling flexibility, employee bench strength, and financial ability to quickly plug an unscheduled absence hole, pivot, and move forward.

So, where can you start to reduce the impact of unscheduled absences? A good first step is to get a complete understanding of what’s happening with scheduled leave in your company. Consider getting the answers to the following questions to get a better handle on leave inside your company:

Which months have the most scheduled employee leave?

In the United States, the least number of leave days are recorded from June through September, according to research by Empxtrack and reported on HR.com. Scheduled leave is at its highest around Christmas and the new year. The answers may be different for you, depending on your industry, your business cycles, and other variables. Knowing the trends in your company will help you better plan for staffing needs and potential unscheduled absences.

Which days of the week do employees take leave?

Friday and Monday are the peak days for leave, as people create their own version of a three- or four-day weekend. Again, when you know the trends in your company, you can better manage all kinds of leave to prevent the hazards and costs mentioned earlier.

How long are people on a leave?

Empxtrack broke down leaves into “day leaves” (one day), “short leaves” (three days, on average), and “excursions” (12 days, on average). Its records found that 75 percent of all leave requests that HR processes are for a single-day leave. If you’re managing leave on paper or through traditional manual methods, that translates into a burdensome amount of distraction and disruption, and it increases the risk of errors.

The best way to get a handle on leave in a company of any size is with an online leave management system. Optis’ cloud-based leave management system, LeaveXpert®, helps organizations of all sizes see bottom-line business results through effective leave and absence management. Purpose-built for speedy implementation and access, LeaveXpert gets answers to your leave questions immediately.

Increase employee productivity by managing absence accurately and quickly. With LeaveXpert, your HR department can easily gain insight into the impact absence has on your organization, including FMLA, disability, and other company-specific leave events.

Do HR Managers focus too much on “administravia” and lack vision and strategic insight? This question was posed in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review within the article, “Why We Love to Hate HR…and What HR Can Do About It.” The author, Peter Cappelli, states that now is a moment of “enormous opportunity” for HR. Now’s the time to investigate what works and what doesn’t, and to use these findings to make a powerful impact on the organization.

Cappelli offers a few tips on how to do this:

  • Set the Agenda – “…HR must show why the issues it addresses matter to the business and that it has sensible ways to manage them.”

  • Focus on issues that matter in the here and now – respond to today’s challenges and what works for your organization.

  • Acquire business knowledge – use analytics and derive the knowledge from your employee data

  • Highlight financial benefits – show your ROI

  • Walk away from time wasters – ensure your programs have impact

Although this article is more focused in the talent space, these themes directly translate to managing employee benefits and integrated disability management programs -

  • Set the Agenda – implement an integrated disability management program

  • Focus on issues that matter in the here and now – respond to today’s challenges – such as issues surrounding compliance, communication between employees, managers and HR.

  • Acquire business knowledge – use analytics and reporting to derive knowledge from your employee data. Gain information around employee accommodations, leave of absence details, lost time, absence durations, etc.

  • Highlight financial benefits – once you get a handle on your people data, you’ll have the information you need to streamline processes and identify opportunities for improvement. Once those improvements are in place, highlight the ROI and float this up to management.

  • Walk away from time wasters – ensure the programs you are implementing are making a difference. Use the data you have to measure what’s working and what’s not.

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This month marks the 25th anniversary of the ADA. President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. As you probably know, Title I of the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals (unless it would cause an undue hardship.) A few examples of these include a modified work station or schedule, acquisition or modification of devices, leave of absence or leave extension, etc.

We've provided a few resources below to help HR teams in managing employee accommodations. Happy Anniversary ADA!

ADA.gov: Introduction to the ADA

EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Job Accommodation Network (JAN): Employer’s Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA

Optis Blog: Best Practices in Centralizing Your Employee Accommodation Process

Optis Resource: A Nuts & Bolts Guide to the ADA/ADAAA Interactive Process

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The summer edition of the Optis Insight newsletter is out! Get the full scoop on what's happening at Optis and in leave and absence management. Inside you'll find details on:

• Best practices in employee accommodation management • New leave laws effective this month • Optis' latest solution, Claim View

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If you’ve ever been confused or concerned about the complex requirements of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its supplement, the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), you’re not alone.

To ensure that every qualifying employee receives effective and reasonable accommodations under the law, you need to implement and follow an interactive process. An interactive process is a system to help manage requests and determine effective accommodations in partnership with your employees.

Download our latest resource, “Nuts & Bolts Guide to the ADA/ADAAA Interactive Process” to get a practical guide to help you travel the often rough and shifting terrain of ADA/ADAAA compliance and successfully implement an interactive process for accommodation management.

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Need assistance in tracking employee accommodations? Contact us.

Mark your calendar for the 2015 DMEC Annual Conference in San Francisco August 2 – 5 and visit Optis at Booth 509!

This week, planning for the DMEC 20th Annual Conference is underway! Mark your calendar for the conference August 2-5 in San Francisco and register here.

Here are a few conference highlights we’re most looking forward to:

1. Getting Updates on What’s Next in Washington Hearing from FMLA Branch Chief Helen Applewhaite, Pierce Blue from the EEOC, Jeff Nowak from FMLA Insights and Jackie Willingham from The Standard for the panel, Washington Update: Don’t Get Caught Unprepared.

2. Networking The DMEC conference gives attendees many opportunities to network with HR leaders from all across the U.S. and meet with vendors face-to-face. Don’t miss the Welcome Reception Sunday night. Most of the breakfasts and lunches are hosted in the exhibit hall so it’s a convenient opportunity to scope out your next HR tech purchase. You’ll also receive a game card for a chance to win the $1,000 conference grand prize. We’ll be raffling an Apple iWatch at booth #509 so stop by and say hello!

3. Session: Elevating Disability Management: How Chevron Leverages Integrated Data to Manage Absence Mark Huggins, Team Lead, Disability Management at Chevron will be discussing Chevron’s most recent initiatives in employee absence management and how these best practices can translate to your organization for increased program effectiveness and lower disability durations. Don’t miss this Chevron/Optis session on Monday at 1:30 p.m.

Stay tuned for more updates on the DMEC Conference. We’ll see you at booth #509!

Visit Optis at booth #509 for a chance to win an Apple iWatch! applewatchsocial.jpg

This week’s blog post is brought to you by Optis' Executive Vice President, Rene Gates, and previously appeared in the March issue of DMEC’s @Work magazine.

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Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandates that federal contractors do not discriminate against individuals with disabilities and that they make a concerted effort to hire these individuals.

In addition to this clause, the regulations contain specific data collection requirements that contractors must follow in their recruiting process. Specifically, they are required to examine the number of applicants with disabilities that apply for their open positions, and the number of applicants with disabilities that were hired. According to the DOL, this data must be collected on an annual basis and retained for three years to identify trends, with the goal of 7% utilization for employing individuals with qualifying disabilities.

Aside from collecting recruiting data in the federal contractor space, we know that employers with 15 or more employees are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) What other data elements should disability managers be collecting and documenting if an employee with a disability requests an accommodation or a job applicant self-identifies? Contractors must invite self-identification at multiple points in the process, and employees must be invited every five years at a minimum.

First, let me emphasize the number one best practice in the interactive accommodation process is communication and evaluating each accommodation request on a case-by-case basis. What may work for one individual might not work for another, even if the disabilities are the same and the employees have similar positions. Accommodation solutions may even vary across different work locations, so examine each situation individually.

A crucial step in building out your accommodation process is documenting the essential job functions for every position in the organization. Ensure these functions are clearly stated in each job description. Having this information documented before an accommodation is requested will streamline the process so that more emphasis can be placed on assessing each employee’s unique abilities, rather than marking check-boxes on a list.

Make certain that work restrictions are documented in detail. If the employee has a visual impairment, document the distance he/she can see, or if the employee has a lifting restriction, make sure you document the weight. This information will be helpful if the accommodation needs to be adjusted in the future. Clearly document the type of accommodation offered for each restriction, including any costs or third party vendors utilized.

Keep an eye on dates. Set alerts or reminders to keep the interactive process moving forward. Today, there are no hard deadlines around ADA regulations, as with the FMLA, but the EEOC has advised that employers should respond “expeditiously” to requests for accommodation. Also, if the disability is temporary, set a reminder for quarterly or annual check-ins with the employee to touch base.

Making documentation and data accessible, through central storage and ensuring all data is in compatible formats, is a best practice in any disability management program. When documentation and data are fully accessible, they can be used to streamline your internal and external audits, and also to measure the effectiveness of your accommodation process.

Interested in learning how to use a cloud-based solution to track your employee accommodations and interactive process? Join us for an open demo of ADAInteract on June 24, 2015 at 1 pm EST. Sign up here and we'll send you the conference call information.

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Accessing comprehensive claim information for your return to work program and investments in employee productivity.

We are pleased to announce the launch of Claim View, a new addition to the Optis Insights product line. Optis’ Claim View provides a gateway for employers to access claim details from any source. With an intuitive interface that’s powered by the Optis Insights data warehouse platform, Claim View integrates your typically disparate claims data and gives you and your team visibility into your claim information in an accessible, organized and meaningful interface.

Unlike reporting, where information is static, Claim View provides the ability to drill down into an employee’s claim detail, providing you with not only the “what” but the “why” for the history of the claim. Claim View also supports adding notes and other documentation to each claim and provides users with the ability to configure reminders and other workflow configurations.

“Many of our clients outsource their claims administration, and are accessing their claims data via Optis Insights business intelligence reports,” said Rene Gates, Optis’ executive vice president. “While this information is extremely valuable, our clients wanted to interact with their data in real time, such as adding their own case notes and follow-up tasks. We are very pleased to launch Claim View and look forward to seeing the results from our clients taking a hands-on approach to interacting with their claims data.”

Read the full press release here.

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The volume of data in the world is growing exponentially. For the enterprise organization, much of that data is all about your people — data related to time and attendance, absence and leave management, disability accommodations, and more.

Our latest e-book, “Turn Your Tsunami of People Data Into a Steady Stream of Data-driven Business Intelligence,” explains how to more efficiently, securely, and effectively acquire, integrate, manage, retain, and dispose of all of that data.

Download the e-book today to learn how you can get total transparency into your people data — centralized from any source or system — to deliver data-driven intelligence tailored to your organization’s needs.

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This week’s blog post is brought to you by Jim Bryant and the letter Y.

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I wonder if the farmer Old MacDonald would have a problem spelling FMLA and ADAAA? Would Mr. MacDonald, wonder what his first name really is, and after a hard day on the farm feeding the livestock and tilling the fields would he be able to research these two regulations on the internet and apply the rules to his farm employees?

As we saw recently in the GEICO commercial when Old MacDonald was asked to spell “cow,” he naturally reverted to some old habits when he added, ee i ee i o. Without any training, processes or systems support he could be the target of an EEOC investigation if he added these letters to FMLA or ADAAA. To make things even more difficult, Old also had relatives in Ohio and Missouri and when he asked them for advice they had a different interpretation of the spelling of FMLA and ADAAA as the version of the song in Ohio added these letters Ohio-i-o and in Missouri it was he-hi-he-hi-ho.

After finding that the origins of the Old MacDonald Farm Game and Song had so many different versions, dating back to the 1700’s, I was surprised we still even see the song being used today. I wondered if other professionals are using similar inconsistent approaches to educate and inform individuals about the important facts on the intersection of FMLA and ADAAA.

So just like Old MacDonald I returned to the web and after a quick search found a 2013 article by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment and Litigation groups at Cleveland law firm Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. Hyman had written an informational piece on whether the ADAAA has made FMLA irrelevant, and provided important facts that need to be reviewed by any employer.

Hyman states that employers need to be practical and tread very lightly around these issues, and that the “EEOC is aggressively pursuing businesses that enforce leave of absence policies to the detriment of disabled employees by denying extended unpaid leaves.” His recommendation may not have helped Old MacDonald with the spelling problems he faced in the GEICO commercial when he was trying to spell “cow,” but if he had followed Hyman’s recommendations, remembering the AEIOU vowel song and applying it based upon Hyman’s recommendations below, he may have avoided a visit by the EEOC to his farm:

  1. Avoid leave policies that provide a per se maximum amount of leave, after which time an employee loses his or her job.
  2. Engage in the interactive process with an employee who needs an extended leave of absence, which includes the gathering of sufficient medical information and a tentative return to work date documented by a medical professional.
  3. Involve your employment counsel to aid in the process of deciding when an extended leave crosses the line from a reasonable accommodation to an undue hardship.
  4. Open your workplace to disabled employees to demonstrate to the EEOC, if necessary, that you take your ADAAA obligations seriously.
  5. Unpaid leaves and all associated costs (modified schedule, added overtime, temporary hires, lost productivity, etc.) should be documented to help make your undue hardship argument, if necessary.

“A, E, I, O, U” can help you avoid the defense of a costly disability discrimination lawsuit.

For more information on how to efficiently and accurately track, manage and document the interactive process, download our latest e-book, “Seven Steps to Safe Swimming in the Dangerous Waters of ADA Accommodation Compliance,” or try our free 30 day trial of ADAInteract.

Check out our latest video for seven quick tips on managing employee accommodations under the ADA/ADAAA.

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For more information on how to efficiently and accurately track, manage and document the interactive process, download our newest e-book, “Seven Steps to Safe Swimming in the Dangerous Waters of ADA Accommodation Compliance,” or try our free 30 day trial of ADAInteract.

If you track FMLA leave, you have probably experienced a snag in the process or headache somewhere along the line. Good news! There are tools available to help you track FMLA, state, military leave, and employee accommodations.

We have 5 spots available for LeaveXpert Explore, an open demo of LeaveXpert, tomorrow, May 14 at 1 pm EST. Sign up here and we’ll send you the conference call information.

Here are a few facts about the FMLA and how LeaveXpert can help:

  1. HR Managers are required to maintain all leave documentation and case history to be compliant. Ensure you have a centralized location that keeps all documentation organized.

  2. An employer has the right to request a medical certification for an employee absence. Implement a seamless method of communication with your employees.

  3. 12 month FMLA calculations can be counted in a variety of ways, but must be applied consistently across all employees: Calendar year, rolling 12 month period, a fixed 12 month period, or the 12 month period when an employee first takes leave.

  4. Employees qualify for FMLA leave if they have worked for you any accumulation of 12 months in the last seven years. (Time prior to the last seven years also counts if either USERRA or other written agreements apply indicating the employer’s intent to rehire.) Or, if they have worked 1,250 hours in the last 12 months. The good news is, you don't have to do all of this math in your head. A system can calculate the hours worked for you.

  5. If your employee is located in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana or Nebraska, the definition of spouse is applied differently than the rest of the states. Read more about that here. Keeping up with current FMLA regulations can be a full time job. Implement a process where you receive automatic updates for any legislative changes.

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Discover the five steps to successful data and vendor management from Optis’ Executive VP, Rene Gates, in the latest issue of DMEC’s @Work magazine (members-only content.)

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Although it’s been nearly four years since the EEOC issued long-awaited final regulations interpreting the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, compliance remains a huge challenge, and the risks of noncompliance can be costly. Keeping up with changes to — and interpretations of — the ADA/ADAAA can be a full-time job. And it’s not a job that is necessarily in HR’s wheelhouse.

Download our newest e-book, “Seven Steps to Safe Swimming in the Dangerous Waters of ADA Accommodation Compliance,” and learn how to more efficiently and accurately track, manage, and document your accommodation process.

Download the e-book to mitigate compliance risk and eliminate employee grievances.

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Last week, Optis attended DMEC’s FMLA/ADAAA Employer Compliance Conference. After hearing several sessions regarding the ever-changing employment law landscape and compliance challenges, we thought it’d be beneficial to recap the best practices in managing ADA/ADAAA employee accommodations:

  1. Always engage in the interactive process Have open and transparent communication with your employees if they bring up a medical condition. Ensure your managers and HR team is trained and can identify an accommodation request even if they don’t use the ADA verbiage. Also, take the opportunity to engage in the interactive process after an employee returns from a leave of absence to see if they need an accommodation.

  2. Do your due diligence Although a particular accommodation request may sound unusual, it’s important that you do your due diligence and investigate the request. Document all of your findings.

  3. Stay updated on legislative changes Ensure you have a solid process in place to stay up to date on legislative changes and EEOC enforcement guidance. One of our favorite resources for the latest news is Eric Meyer’s The Employer Handbook blog.

  4. Keep the potential of an audit at the forefront of your mind Have a centralized system in place for any audits that may arise. Ensure that all documentation is organized and all communication regarding an accommodation is ready at a moment’s notice. Conduct a self-audit to test your policies and documentation, if needed.

  5. Ensure your processes include the interplay between FMLA and ADA Don’t manage FMLA & ADA in a vacuum, separate from one another. Even if you outsource your FMLA administration, your organization is still on the hook for managing ADA accommodations.

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Need assistance in managing FMLA leave or employee accommodations? Mark your calendar for LeaveXpert and ADAInteract Explore at 1pm EST on May 14. Sign up here or contact us for a one-on-one demo.

This update is provided to you by Optis’ Business Development Analyst, David Spring.

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Last week, we addressed the DOL not enforcing the Final Rule that was issued in February of this year in four states - Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska. The Final Rule aimed to increase the consistency across the United States in how the FMLA is provided to same-sex spouses. So, if you were legally married, based on the state of celebration, you’d be entitled to take FMLA protected time for your spouse, no matter which state you lived in and whether or not the state recognized same-sex marriage.

On Friday, April 10, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor did not lift his injunction, as requested by the DOL, and which was issued in March. Consequently, this decision by Judge O’Connor eliminates, or at least postpones, required enforcement of the Final Rule in the four states bringing suit against the expanded definition of spouse. Organizations in these four states can continue to not provide the FMLA entitlement to same sex couples, without the concern of violation.

Clearly, this is not the end of the story. Multiple cases are to be heard by the Supreme Court this year regarding same sex marriage. These cases focus on whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license same sex marriages in the same way they license other marriages. Secondly, also at issue is whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to recognize same sex marriages considered legal in other states.

We’ll keep our ear to the ground and let you know of any updates as they become available.

Need help keeping all of the state leave laws organized and up to date? Mark your calendar for LeaveXpert Explore, a 30 minute open demo of LeaveXpert on May 14 at 1 pm EST. Sign up here and we'll send you the conference call information.

This week’s blog post is brought to you by Optis’ Business Development Analyst, David Spring.

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If you manage FMLA leave, you’ve most likely heard the recent news that the Department of Labor's (DOL) Final Rule on the definition of spouse has been temporarily stayed in four states. The final rule was issued February 25, 2015 by the DOL and aimed to increase the consistency across the United States in how the FMLA is provided to same-sex spouses. So, if you’re legally married, based on the state of celebration, you’d be entitled to take FMLA protected time for your spouse. That means same-sex couples married in California would receive the same FMLA spousal benefits even if they move to Georgia, which has a ban on same-sex marriage. Why? Because the state of celebration is California.

This final rule aimed to change the previous state of residence rule, which required employees live in a state recognizing same-sex marriage to receive the protected leave entitlement. Under that rule, a couple moving to Georgia would have “moved away” from the spousal FMLA benefits they were entitled to, having tied the knot in California.

But keep reading...

Back to our point earlier, as of April 8, 2015, the DOL will not be taking action to enforce the Final Rule in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska. The DOL is recognizing a preliminary injunction issued by the United States Court for the Northern District of Texas, Wichita Falls Division. The injunction was issued on behalf of these states, which argue that enforcement of the Final rule would be contradictory with existing state laws defining marriage. A hearing is scheduled for Monday, April 13 in order to resolve, but until that time providing same-sex spousal FMLA leave to employees in those states is not protected or required.

Here’s what didn’t change -

Documentation requirements associated with confirming family relationships did not change with the final rule issued on February 25, 2015. Existing regulations associated with Sec. 825.122 (k) will remain in effect. What this means is that the same regulations guiding employers to confirm any type of FMLA-related leave family relationship are the same. So, confirming a child is not different than confirming a same-sex marriage. These regulations allow employers to require employees to provide “reasonable documentation or a statement of family relationship.” So, whether an employee provides a birth certificate for a new child or a marriage certificate for a same-sex marriage, it is at the employee’s discretion; the employer must accept verbal confirmation as well as proof of the family relationship.

If you need additional guidance on tracking absence, don’t miss the Optis-sponsored Blogging4Jobs podcast which answers a wide variety of commonly asked questions having to do with FMLA, workers’ comp and disability.

This month, we’ll be heading to DMEC’s FMLA/ADAAA Employer Compliance Conference in Washington, DC. This is one of our favorite conferences of the year, and we’re looking forward to connecting with absence and disability management professionals and discussing the complex challenges they face today.

The conference is taking place April 20 – 22, and registration is still open. Here are five reasons to attend:

  1. Hear about real-word scenarios Learn about last year’s FMLA and ADAAA cases from Eric Meyer, JD, Partner at Dilworth Paxon LLC in the session, “The Wild, The Weird and the Wonderful FMLA/ADAAA Cases…and the Lessons for Employers!” If you haven’t heard insights from Eric before, tune in to a recent Blogging4Jobs podcast which features Eric as a guest host.

  2. Become a content expert Learn in depth information on topics such as the ever-changing laws, how to conduct a self-audit, handle on-site investigations, and how to navigate the ADA/ADAAA interactive process.

  3. Connect with your peers with over eight networking opportunities Learn the specifics on compliance and program strategies others have implemented.

  4. Learn the facts directly from the source
    Laura Fortman, Deputy Administrator for the Wage and Hour Division at the U.S. Department of Labor is the invited speaker for the Welcome & Opening Remarks.

  5. Gain maintenance credits for continuing education DMEC has applied for CEUs for several certifications and professional designations. Check the DMEC website for more information.

If you’d like to connect with Optis during the conference, contact us. We can’t wait to hear from you.

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Learn more about the conference here.

We are pleased to announce that we have added several new features within the LeaveXpert self-service portal! These new features are designed to increase time savings, communication efficiency and workflow between the leave specialist and the employee.

The portal is offered with the Plus and Unlimited editions of LeaveXpert, our cloud-based employee leave management system. This is where employees can request a leave of absence and provide details about their leave. The new features include the ability for employees to upload certifications and case notes about their leave to the portal, and the ability for the leave specialist to post letters and forms to the portal for the employee to view. Auto-generated email alerts are sent to both parties once a new piece of communication is added to the absence case, and all communication views are logged in the case history.

“In speaking with our customers, we learned that there was an opportunity to improve the workflow in the leave management process by providing leave specialists and employees with a centralized location to post notes, letters, and forms about the leave of absence,” said Rene Gates, Optis’ executive vice president. “These enhancements are designed to not only improve workflow and communication, but also lead to time savings for leave specialists and employees, as all communication is streamlined to a central location. These enhancements bypass having to mail forms and sort through emails.”

Read the full press release here.

Interested in learning more about LeaveXpert? Contact us or sign-up for our free 30 day trial.

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A few weeks back, Optis sponsored the Blogging4Jobs Triple Threat Webinar discussing updates in FMLA, Workers’ Compensation and Disability. It was extremely popular and our panelists, Eric B. Meyer, Casey Sipe and Jessica Miller-Merrell received over 70 questions from webinar attendees. They have continued the conversation answering a number of the webinar questions on this special episode of the Blogging4Jobs Workology Podcast. Click here to listen.

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This week’s blog is brought to you by Optis’ Business Development Analyst, David Spring.

According to a 2014 survey published by the Employers Health Coalition, there’s a likely chance that 2 out of every 10 employees in your organization have been diagnosed with depression in their lifetime. Depression is just one of many mental illness diagnoses responsible for 30% of all disability costs. In fact, it’s probable that 1 in 10 of your workers may have missed an average of 10 days a year of work due to a depression diagnosis.

With mental illness on the rise, what steps can your organization take to better manage your disability management program and help your employees? Here are a few steps:

Step 1: A Shift in Mindset The first step, as an employer, involves recognition of mental illness as not just a disability but a prevalent hurdle in the workplace. According to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health less than one-third of employees with mental health illness even receive treatment. Why? The reasons are many, but one key reason is fear of the potential loss of employment because of the stigma that is often associated with it. Also, recognition of mental illness involves the understanding that other disabilities are sometimes the result of mental illness. For example, obesity is highly correlated with depression and other mental health diagnoses. In other words, mental illness doesn’t necessarily present itself with obvious symptoms. What’s the point? Recognition and appreciation of mental health illness requires a broad understanding of the potential signs and symptoms associated with these types of disabilities. How can this be overcome? Changes in workplace culture are needed. A shift in mindset is required.

Step 2: Make Sure Your Policies and Processes are In Check Ensure you are including mental health benefits as part of your overall benefits program. Having this program in place will not only help employees while absent from work, but will also help employees return at the right time. Also, check the message you are sending to employees. As recommended by the National Mental Health Association and the National Council for Behavioral Health, employers need to change the message they are sending whether inadvertently or not, if the message is negative. What else can employers do to support employees with mental illnesses besides creating a stigma-free environment? Managers should be encouraged to have an open, proactive communication processes in place with employees.

Step 3: Ensure Your Disability Management isn’t Occurring in a Vacuum Disability management shouldn’t occur in a vacuum. Your organization should have a centralized system to manage leave, accommodation requests, the interactive process and solid data around your integrated disability metrics. Having a concrete process in place will be more beneficial for the employee and bottom-line productivity will be enhanced.

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Interesting in learning more about proactively managing employee accommodations and accommodation requests? Contact us.

What are a few of the best practices in the employee accommodation process? Find out from Optis’ Executive VP, Rene Gates, in the latest issue of DMEC's @Work magazine (Members-Only Content).

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Thank you to everyone who attended the Optis-sponsored Blogging4Jobs webinar last week! We hope you enjoyed it.

If you missed it, here’s a link to the slides.

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This week’s blog post is brought to you by Optis’ National Sales Representative, Scott Lenox.

“The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” - Socrates

Routine is comfortable. It’s something that is humanly planted deep within our beings that the majority of us strive to create and to achieve. It’s the building of a process around our actions. It’s perceived as a safe harbor. Routine can be productive or unproductive. It can be a difficult workout every day, a simple disciplined meditation or a particular route to work and back. In a world where nothing is perfect or finite, there are daily interruptions, large and small, that can throw off our routine. Your coffee shop being fresh out of your favorite drink, a fender bender on your way to work with cars creeping by on the shoulder, a complete change of direction with a project at work, or maybe your email is down today so you stumbled upon this blog, just to name a few. What about the snow Boston has been receiving over the past 3 weeks? Talk about a change in routine for millions of people! For most, our immediate reaction to a change in routine is that of a negative one. It can cause stress and fear. What do you mean I have to order a different drink this morning? I know what I like! However, a change in routine or process has the possibility to open up a whole new world that could benefit you and those around you for the better. Each new routine had to start with a catalyst whether it was by force, by choice, or just by pure circumstance. We may have fought it, but we eventually embraced it, and now it is part of our new routine. Why? Because we all have the power to adapt.

The employment landscape across our nation is rapidly changing. Paid sick leave officially passed in Philadelphia as of last week, bringing the total number to 16 cities and 3 states to pass a similar law within the past 7 years. There is a push for the Federal government to pass an all-encompassing paid sick leave legislation for all 50 states. The minimum wage war and fight for equality in the work place are ongoing battles picking up more steam and media coverage month after month. Businesses across America are being pulled into the limelight whether they want to be or not. Some by their own mismanaged practices and wrongdoing around employment matters. Just like with any change, these businesses are going to have to adapt. For some, the change will be a conscious decision, and for others, it may be a forced one. Being prepared for an upcoming change and putting some resources in place for when the change occurs, can alleviate some of the challenges we feel while adapting to the change. An HR or Benefits department that has been tracking employee data on excel spreadsheets for years may be experiencing a change with the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) regulations taking place. An HR or Benefits department that has been tracking accommodations for employees on paper forms may have to undergo some additional change in the near future. An organization that doesn’t fully know how many people they may have out on a given day or for what reason, should search for change and evaluate its management practices and workflow around employee absence.

As an organization, it is naïve to believe that legislative changes won’t have an impact on your business. The best action you can take is to start having internal discussions regarding possible legislation before it takes effect so that you are prepared. On 2/4/15 the EEOC released its “Fiscal Year 2014 Enforcement and Litigation Data.” The data displays that nearly 89,000 charges of workplace discrimination were received in their fiscal year 2014 which ran from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014. The charges include retaliation, race, sex, disability discrimination, and others. A quote from the release includes, "Behind these numbers are individuals who turned to the EEOC because they believe that they have suffered unlawful discrimination," said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang. "The EEOC remains committed to meaningful resolution of charges and strategic enforcement to eliminate barriers to equal employment opportunity."

Change can be difficult. It never seems to happen at the right time. However, interruptions in our routines are what make change possible and keep everyone moving forward. If your organization isn’t discussing the changes around employment that are occurring around our nation, then now is the time. It is time to start discussing what resources and expertise are available and can help you mitigate these potential risks and challenges so that you are prepared before it may be too late.

Stay up to date on recent legislation and employment law during the Blogging4Jobs webinar on February 26, “The Triple Threat: FMLA, Workers’ Compensation & Workplace Disability.” This webinar if free to attend and sponsored by Optis. Register here.

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This week’s blog post is brought to you by Optis’ Business Analyst, David Spring.

As you can imagine, the sunsets over the Rocky Mountains are quite picturesque. Depending upon ones vantage point the view is more gorgeous; oftentimes, the more beautiful, the further from the mountains. In a similar manner, self-service associated with leave of absence benefits and entitlements like disability, workers’ compensation and FMLA are likely experienced differently depending upon the viewpoint of the employee. Those closest to the self-service, the employees going out on leave, don’t necessarily see the self-service mountaintop as beautifully as those in HR or the C-Suite. To increase the gratification of the 100 foot view, organizations need to develop an appropriate company culture.

This corporate culture begins with streamlining the purpose of self-service throughout the entire organization. How can this be done? More often than not, successful vision begins somewhere near the C-Suite. Is it typically related to the bottom line? Yes. For HR, having an accurate count of employees on leave at a given moment of any given day, is oftentimes a great challenge. But, knowing this information and having this data available in an easily measurable manner provides an advantage to HR in terms of measuring goals associated with leave of absence.

Assumedly, your proactive absence management efforts involve establishing monthly, quarterly or annual leave of absence (LOA) rates related to disability, workers’ compensation and FMLA. If HR aligns their absence management efforts with the cost-saving vision of the C-Suite, then the organization will operate more effectively and will probably achieve the desired LOA goals. Ultimately, cost savings are more reachable, when absences are captured through self-service portals because HR will know about the absence in a more timely manner. This opportunity drives better decisions and eventually improves program efficiency.

Additionally, the 100 foot view of self-service needs to change dramatically. It’s this close-up view that often doesn’t see the big picture of the corporate vision. It’s quite likely that employees going out on leave don’t see the self-service portal the same way as HR. HR, rightly so, believes they have implemented a tool to improve the efficiency associated with some type of absence management efforts. The employees going out on leave may see the self-service portal differently. They quite possibly think they now have to perform a function previously completed by HR; in other words, they have to do some of HR’s work for them.

How can this be overcome? Education is the key, but also presentation of the tool will help. As elaborated by Jason Averbook in his book, "HR From Now to Next: Reimaging the Workplace of Tomorrow," one way to present self-service tools differently would be to not call them self-service tools at all. Instead, Averbook suggests considering a name such as "Direct Access." How does this help? It communicates a different message to employees taking a leave of absence. They now have the ability to easily access a corporate communication tool for sharing about an upcoming or current absence. This helps HR accomplish its goals and ultimately helps the company accomplish its corporate vision.

Not convinced the 100 foot view is important? Then, let’s consider the issue of compliance. For FMLA, we know (or should know) that employees must be notified within five business days of a request of leave of the status of their FMLA eligibility. In multiple situations employers have done everything right regarding FMLA administration, except communicate this notice of eligibility within the five business day period. The result, if employee termination is involved, can be detrimental to the employer; a financial loss obviously is not consistent with the C-Suite vision of cost savings.

How can this type of non-compliance be avoided? That’s right; a self-service (direct access) portal. This type of tool will provide multiple benefits. First, an electronic record of the employee’s leave of absence request date will forever be recorded. Secondly, the self-service portal, or associated software, will trigger reminders to properly provide a notice of eligibility to the employee within a timely manner. And, when sent, the date of delivery is also recorded. This type of tool will ensure compliance, which in turn will ensure a better experience from all points of view.

The 100 foot view may not always be considered when implementing new HR strategies or software tools like a self-service portal related to absence management. But, those organizations willing to improve the 100 foot point of view, will ultimately improve the view point of the entire organization; HR and the C-Suite alike.

Interested in learning more about FMLA and employee leave management? Join us for the Blogging4Jobs webinar, The Triple Threat – Your FMLA, Workers’ Comp & Disability Update on February 26. This webinar is free to attend and sponsored by Optis.

This week’s blog post is brought to you by Optis’ Senior Data Analyst, Andy Kersh.

In a previous blog post we discussed the basics of data conversions, the various types of conversions, and how to begin the data conversion process. Once a conversion is completed for a given source of data there are many details that can and should be learned. So, before you slap your hands together and declare completion, let’s take a look at a few essential steps -

Store the Mappings – don’t reinvent the wheel each time

Data mappings are both where each data entity is mapped from the input source to the destination source and where the values within each data entity are mapped from the input source to the destination source. Once a conversion is completed you should store all mappings from the input to the destination. This basically is a technical term for saying, “save what you did” so you can replicate it in the future. Mapping the actual values for each data entity is by far the most time consuming component of the data conversion process.

These mappings include not only the data sets but also the details within each data set. The details within a data set correspond not only to each item within a dataset but also the specific values for each item. It’s very detailed…

Once all of the conversion aspects are stored in a data repository, all of the knowledge gained in the first conversion can be applied to subsequent conversions. This knowledge gain allows for a much quicker and more accurate conversion. The more details you capture from each conversion allows for more knowledge gain with future conversions.

Take for example Workers’ Compensation claims and financial data. Many employers use a finite variety of Workers’ Compensation claims administrators. When one employer decides to change vendors, for whatever reason, this is where the data conversion process comes into play. Most employers will want their historical claims and financial data converted when they move to a new vendor. This brings me to my next point…

Glean knowledge from these data sets and build in automated logic

When multiple employers move from one vendor to another, the knowledge gain with each conversion is improved. Within each conversion there is more and more data that is processed. With this additional data there is more opportunity to experience the dynamics between the input source and the destination source.

At Optis we are using all opportunities to improve the conversion process, and we’ve begun to leverage every opportunity possible to improve the knowledge gain from these dynamics. One way we are doing this is by developing logic from all of the mappings we complete.

For example, you might have a code that represents lower leg in the input source that maps to leg in the destination source. You also might have upper leg in the input source that maps to leg in the destination source. With more manual data conversions, in both these scenarios the user would actually manually program this mapping. But by building in automated logic, any subsequent data conversions you go through you can have the conversion process recall that both these mappings were made in previous conversions. There are many tools that can be used to create this logic. Much like the computer used by IBM, Watson, Optis is utilizing cutting edge technology to leverage past information to dynamically and accurately create these mappings without the users’ judgment. With these initiatives in place, it allows Optis to more accurately and more timely convert customer’s data.

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Learn more about Optis' Insight Data Conversion Services.

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When: February 26th - 1 pm EST

Hear from experts at Blogging4Jobs as they discuss updates in FMLA, Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Disability. Register for this important webinar to discuss and learn about some of the most recent changes in legislation, reporting, and pieces that are most often overlooked. Speakers Jessica Miller-Merrell, Eric Meyer, and Casey Sipe will get you up to speed and help you navigate these moving pieces.

Register here.

This webinar is free to attend and sponsored by Optis.

This week’s post is brought to you by David Spring, Optis’ Business Analyst.

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On Monday, January 12, 2015, a male patient, with a fever, was transported to Denver Health from the city of Arvada, CO. Why? This man had recently been in an Ebola-infected country and required testing to confirm the absence of Ebola. According to Dr. Connie Price, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Denver Health, "Medical experts have to be astute in order to identify such an individual, but would likely have to just manage one patient at a time." Identifying individuals such as this man is important and requires scrutiny; working with employees who may get sick during the winter months is an entirely different effort and unless handled properly can lead to negative workplace results.

What are the chances an employee will come to work sick? According to the 2014 Fifth Annual Flu Survey from Staples, 60 percent of employees will come to work sick. This number has fluctuated significantly during the years of the report but is a positive drop from the 90 percent of employees in 2013. But still, employers must take notice, if they haven’t already, regarding ill employees coming to work. Despite wellbeing efforts to minimize contagion in the office, illness and disease can be transmitted easily. This time of year in particular demands proactive efforts by employers, since we are in the midst of the influenza season and right around the corner from peak flu activity. According to the CDC February is the peak month of flu activity. Does your team have the processes in place to manage a spike in employee leave? As the following chart displays, February has been the peak month for flu in the United States for 14 seasons as measured over the thirty-two years from the 1982-83 to 2013-2014 flu seasons.

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In addition, employers must be prepared for the potential of virus outbreaks, such as has occurred with Ebola in Africa. As the situation from Denver indicates, employers need to be ready to triage, one employee at a time, employees who potentially have Ebola or some other similar virus. Not convinced? The following section from OSHA should serve as a cautious reminder to take seriously and be prepared for potential situations even if they don’t elevate to the level of an epidemic in your work location but do elsewhere.

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Viruses such as Ebola would be considered a recognized hazard. For employers to successfully maintain a place of employment ‘free from recognized hazards’ means providing a place of employment that does not have an employee with a virus such as Ebola. Yes, it is a potential OSHA violation if you have an unmonitored, Ebola-sickened employee at your place of employment, working unfettered and roaming freely throughout the workplace.

Even though the likelihood is small that an Ebola-infected employee walks into your work location, you are required to provide a hazard-free environment. Even though peak flu season is right around the corner, you’re not likely to prevent the 60% of employees who are ill, with flu or something else, from coming to work sick. But, what can you do? If you think you’ve done all you can to encourage and provide a healthy workplace, it’s time to take an imaginative step and provide an alternative work environment, not just when employees are sick, that will increase the chances of promoting a healthier workforce and workplace.

It’s time to be creative and offer your employees the chance to work remotely. You might be thinking, "No way! Besides, didn’t Marissa Mayer’s actions at Yahoo suggest that working virtually isn’t productive?" The actions at Yahoo were individual and corrective and shouldn’t necessarily be considered a disruption to the trend of establishing alternative environments for work. A remote/virtual environment would be beneficial on several accounts. First, it’s likely the number of employees coming to work sick would be reduced, knowing they can work from home. The motivations for coming to the traditional workplace sick (loss of PTO, falling behind, etc.) would be diminished while the chances for a healthier workplace would be increased.

Furthermore, providing a remote/virtual workplace will have additional positive impacts; unscheduled absences, another negative workplace result, will shrink. According to the American Management Association, organizations that implemented a remote work program realized a 63 percent reduction in unscheduled absences. If a healthier, more productive workplace is the result, aren’t virtual workplaces worth a consideration? Interestingly, according to SHRM, 66 percent of multinational organizations utilize virtual teams compared to only 28 percent of U.S.-based organizations.

Not all companies will have the right mold to offer a virtual work environment. Different employers are in different industries, have different characteristics and work structures and are more suited to offer a remote work environment. But, if you are looking for an imaginative alternative to ‘hosting’ sick workers and want to increase your chances of not having a hazardous workplace, consider offering a virtual workplace. It’s quite likely you’ll have a healthier, more productive workforce.

This week’s post is brought to you by Optis’ Executive Vice President, Rene Gates.

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2014 was a busy year for Optis’ product develop team. We rolled out a Self Service Portal for LeaveXpert®, unveiled a new platform for Optis Insights, and launched an end-to-end employee accommodations solution, ADAInteract™. While we were expanding our product roadmap for 2014, we kept a close ear to the ground on new developments in HR technology. The HR tech industry is rapidly evolving and there are exciting times ahead. Here are a few of my predictions for what we’ll see in 2015:

Cloud will evolve from the minority to majority If your solutions aren’t currently operating in the cloud or if you don’t have cloud technology on your radar, now is the time to move on it (and move quickly.) In 2015 we’ll see more and more HR tech vendors transitioning their product lines over to the cloud. This brings me to my next prediction…

Mobile If you attended the HR Tech Conference this October in Las Vegas, this most likely sounds very familiar. With the rise of cloud-based solutions, the next step is mobile. One of our team members here at Optis was able to renew her driver’s license from her mobile phone at the airport this year after realizing her license had expired. In 2015, we’ll begin to see organizations building out mobile technology and responsive website designs.

Increased Investment in HR Technology With the rise of big data, organizations are discovering the vast amount of insight they can gain by integrating and examining their information when it’s powered by a database. Having data stuck in spreadsheets and file cabinets isn’t a best practice for long term growth. As a result we’ll be seeing more and more HR technology line items across budgets.

Metrics & ROI This is one of my personal favorites. With the increased investment in HR technology, HR vendors will have to be able to demonstrate the value that they are providing to HR teams. Additionally, HR teams will need to have the ability to pull solid numbers around program impacts, trends, etc.

Security With the Target and Sony hack, and the rise of cloud-based technology, security is going to be a crucial topic in 2015. Make certain that all of your vendors have rigorous security policies in place, are ISO 27001 certified, and are constantly testing and improving upon their security standards.

The HR Tech industry is fast paced and quickly growing. Staying ahead of it all can seem overwhelming at times. Here are my recommendations of ways to stay ahead:

We have an exciting year ahead of us in 2015. If you’d like to connect, send us an email at solutions@optis.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Greetings!

It’s hard to believe we are already in the last month of 2014! This year was a very busy and productive year for us here at Optis. First, we rolled out a Self Service Portal within LeaveXpert®. The Self Service Portal streamlines the leave request process for both Human Resource departments and employees by giving employees and managers the ability to submit a leave request from anywhere that has an Internet connection.

In May we launched Optis Insights, building our business intelligence, data conversion and analytic services on a new platform, which gives users an intuitive interface with more flexibility.

Most recently, we launched a new employee accommodations solution, ADAInteract™, which assists HR in managing the end-to-end ADA interactive process. This includes functions such as assessing essential job functions, documenting approvals, restrictions, types and costs. We’ve also included functionality for letters, correspondence and attachment upload, tasks, and case review. ADAInteract is a brand new stand-alone product, and is also embedded within LeaveXpert.

We have also been working on resources for Human Resource professionals to help them manage employee leave. Check out our new lightpaper, e-book and whitepaper.

We’re looking at another busy year for 2015. We invite you to connect with us at any time by sending us an email at solutions@optis.com. We’ll also be attending the following conferences next year:

All of this couldn’t be possible without our dedicated team, partners, and customers. Thanks for your continued support and a successful year.

Best wishes for the holiday season and 2015,

Archie Anderson | President and CEO

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The latest issue of the Optis Insight Newsletter is out! In this issue, you’ll find details about our new ADAInteract solution, get the scoop on the diverse landscape of employee leaves, discover a few of the common challenges organizations face when managing employee accommodations, and more!

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We all know that absences cost your company money and that compliance is HR’s No. 1 leave management concern.

Yet an Optis survey of HR professionals found that almost 90 percent of their departments are tracking leave manually or in systems not designed for leave tracking, and are covering absences ineffectively. Additionally, budgets for HR technologies are usually managed outside of the HR group.

Learn more about what’s missing from the puzzle of leave management that could reduce your compliance risk and your cost of absences.

Read our Lightpaper “Solving the Puzzle of Leave Management” today.

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This week's post is brought to you by Jim Bryant.

Many of you may have seen the movie Moneyball released in 2011 starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. The subject of the movie being a former player and now the Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players. More than likely, anyone who has interviewed and selected new hires immediately thought; I can apply these principles to my job.

Just the other morning I saw a new book, "Moneyball for Government", written by Jim Nussle and Peter Orszag which takes a similar approach to Government performance. One comment from the writers of the morning TV show, Morning Joe on this book, is that it doesn’t require Washington to reach a consensus on health-care reform or defense spending. But it does require that we introduce more objective evidence and data into our policy-making process and budget decisions, even as we continue to debate what those policies and dollar allocations should be. Our choices should be more informed by what will have the most impact and have the best results.

I had to pause after hearing this and think how long had it been since I attended a meeting, responded to an RFP or completed contract negotiations that outcomes, analytics, return on investment, dashboards, ad hoc reporting, key performance indicators and performance penalties were not part of doing business.

A quick search on the Internet reveals many articles, research papers and studies on how Moneyball strategies have been considered for many Human Resource functions. One article in particular written by Eric Krell, a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas does a great job in analyzing how Moneyball relates to HR in his article, "How 'Moneyball' Measures Up As An HR Approach."

Another blog by J. Scott Armstrong, marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania entitled, "Moneyball for Managers: Paul Meehl's Legacy," discusses work done by the late Professor Paul Meehl, whose research was based on findings that statistical models do better than unaided judgments for personnel decisions.

Why is this important? Mr. Armstrong writes that Billy Beane used two key procedures to select and retain his baseball players: the first relates to developing statistical models, and the second to ensuring the models are properly used. He then analyzed the data on players’ performance and used the models’ outputs to select players. He understood that opinions should be used only as inputs to a model.

What is really interesting as pointed out by Mr. Armstrong is that Professor Meehl was completing this research in the 1950’s and in reviewing the evidence on predictions about people, he concluded in 1956 that, “it almost looks as if the first rule to follow in trying to predict the subsequent course of a student’s or patient’s behavior is to carefully avoid talking to them, and the second rule is to avoid thinking about them.” Armstrong also notes, “change occurs slowly.”

Moneyball is a great book, a good movie and sound approach to using data to predict performance. As I found out there are many articles written on the subject, and the research started decades before the ideas were made popular by the movie.

Remember, when applying these techniques to business, keep it simple, Billy Beane used two key procedures to select and retain his baseball players that business professionals involved in hiring need to consider:

  • Develop statistical models
  • Ensure the models are properly used

Finally, according to Professor Meehl do not revise the models’ recommendations based on opinions.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll have the initial framework of how to gain insights into the information you need.

This week’s post is brought to you by Optis’ National Sales Representative, Scott Lenox.

“Where attention goes, energy flows and results show.” -T. Harv Eker

My five year old daughter is at the age of telling her mother and I about how everyone else, her fellow classmates, have been misbehaving and it has been difficult for her to listen to instructions the teacher is sharing. The three notes we received from her teacher last week said otherwise. After asking just a few more questions, her head finally dropped and the truth came out that she has been the one talking a little too much in class when the teacher is speaking. If you have spent an extended period of time with children, I’m sure you’ve encountered a similar situation and can agree how it can be a bit humorous when they are young and learning lessons. However, it would have been much easier for us to have just believed our daughter and directed our focus on the “reported” actions of the other kids in the class.

When I speak with organizations across the nation that are looking for an absence management solution, they tend to put their focus of curbing absence abuse as a top priority, if not the top priority. Employers are correct in that absence abuse is a real issue that does impact productivity, bottom line, and employee morale especially when the team has to pick up the absent employee’s workload. However, according to a survey conducted by the Department of Labor (DOL), less than 2% of covered worksites confirmed misuse of the FMLA, and less than 3% of covered worksites reported suspicion of FMLA misuse. Often the challenges of managing intermittent FMLA, in particular, have caused major headaches for employers. Employers have reported; granting what they consider illegitimate requests for FMLA, accepting imprecise information in medical certifications from medical professionals, and the overall difficulty of tracking compliance of an intermittent FMLA leave event. This raises a few questions -

  • Is curbing employee abuse the correct issue employers should be focusing on overall?
  • Is it possible that the lack of resources the employer is using to manage absences can actually create a false sense of employee abuse or even allow for employee abuse to take place?

So, do these shortcomings lie with the employer or the employee? Similarly, is it my daughter’s fault for not listening in class, her classmates fault, or us, the parent’s fault for wanting to choose sides before having all of the correct information? It’s all about directing your focus in the right place.

Every employee leave event is different from the next and each one can present its own set challenges and frustrations. Sometimes (not always) when abuse is suspected, it can become a personal impediment that demands a lot of energy and focus to resolve or even eliminate. Getting taken up with resolving the abuse of a select few in your organization and not focusing on creating a more comprehensive absence management and return to work (RTW) program that can impact the other 98% of your employees can have its own long lasting negative effects. Don’t let the absence abuse of a small percentage give you tunnel vision of what your overall program can become.

You don’t have to look far to find articles and resources on the importance of Integration, Clear Communication, Tracking, and Measurement when it comes to producing an effective and complete program.

Integration of data can open up a world of answers that have been residing in disparate filing cabinets, systems, excel spreadsheets, and departments. Imagine data that is integrated between HR/Benefits/EAP/Wellness/Safety and a third party. What potential could this data bring to your program? If you are a small company this could be data residing in separate files on one single computer terminal! Integration of data allows for historic data to be viewable and compared. It allows for baselines to be established and ongoing measurements to take place. Integrating your data can even allow comparisons against similar organizations in your space.

Clear Communication and Tracking go hand in hand. It is recommended that you do a complete check to make sure that all of your communications, forms, letters, and policies are all up to date with the Department of Labor. Once this audit has taken place you can now track your absences in a compliant environment and make policy changes as needed. Next, be sure that your policies and procedures for requesting a leave are easily understood by your management team and displayed for your employees to access. Tracking is more than just capturing calendar dates and hire dates, it also includes tracking all communications and correspondence with the many different individuals involved with the entire leave event. Be sure to include, the employee, management, doctors, legal, human resources and benefit individuals in all of your communication tracking inside and outside of your organization.

Finally, Measurement of your program is a must. This allows you to measure if the changes you have implemented are working or still need some adjusting. Ongoing measurement of your absence management program allows you to see if leave frequencies are decreasing, if durations are decreasing, how much leaves are costing your company, if your numbers are matching or beating your established baseline, if the wellness program is taking affect, what improvements need to be made and how can the new policies be measured. This process seems to repeat itself as you strive to become better and continue to build your program. There are several excellent articles and resources that explain the importance of building a comprehensive absence management & RTW programs and the benefits in doing so. Including; “Foundation for Optimal Productivity: The Complete Return to Work Program” created by the DMEC, “Absence Management: What’s Your Game Plan?” written by David Spring and featured on DMEC’s website, and “Return-To-Work Best Practices: Roles, Responsibilities, and Outcomes” written by Marcia Carruthers.

Absence abuse is an issue that every organization must remain vigilant about and address. Don’t let the few abusers dictate the policies and procedures you’re building into your absence management and RTW program, or even worse, let it derail you from building out your absence management and RTW program. Integrating disparate data, building clear, concise, up-to-date communications, investing in tracking tools, and ongoing measurement of your program will allow you to address not only absence abuse, but all of the other concerns that organizations need to be focused on for their absence management and RTW programs to be successful.

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Take a look at the diverse landscape of less-noticed leave with our new eBook, or start a free trial of LeaveXpert today.

This week’s post is brought to you by Optis’ Business Development Analyst, David Spring.

In a previous blog we shared that training supervisors to identify and work through accommodation requests and the interactive process is one of the top challenges in managing employee accommodations. The interactive process refers to making communication a priority throughout the entire accommodations process, from request to implementation. You can read more about the interactive process explained by the EEOC here.

We know that training supervisors on the interactive process can be time consuming and unfortunately sometimes bog down your team’s interactive process efforts. But, user-friendly tools are available that will help guide your team through the interactive process. One benefit of these tools is configurable, auto-generated tasks. These tasks alert users of day-to-day activity that shouldn’t be missed. They help your team know what’s next in the interactive process. Typical tasks include:

  • Approved accommodation expiration
  • Certification past due
  • Temporary return to work expiration
  • Restriction re-assessment

When an employee indicates the need for an accommodation, this triggers the end-to-end interactive process. While you or your team members may respond timely with a request for additional medical information, sometimes collecting this additional information can be forgotten. We know, you’re beyond busy. But, with the ADA, lengthy, repeated hesitation is not viable, and managers must find a way to more efficiently and effectively engage in the interactive process and get things moving.

Fortunately, user-friendly tools as simple as tasks can be utilized because they remind managers and give them a friendly nudge of the need to collect medical information. What’s cool is that the best tools allow configuration of the reminders in multiple ways:

  • Specific time frames - a reminder can be configured to alert at a specific set of time; like one or two weeks.
  • Repeated intervals - a reminder can be set to repeat; say every week until the medical information is collected. To truly increase efficiency and effectiveness, the reminder should occur soon enough that the task isn’t forgotten, but not so frequent that the task begins to be ignored.

One of the reasons the interactive process can feel overwhelming is having multiple restrictions and/or accommodations for one employee during the same period of time. It can be especially difficult because it’s quite possible the restrictions and accommodations, while concurrent for some of the time, likely begin and end at disjoint times. It is particularly important to manage these events timely and properly.

Tools that provide guidance throughout the interactive process are uniquely helpful. Each restriction and its associated details are tracked separately from any other concurrent or consecutive restriction, including essential job functions impacted, the need for safety evaluations, etc. For temporary restrictions, managers will be reminded prior to its expiration of the pending end of the restriction. These reminders allow the manager to properly plan for an employee’s full return to work or the possibility of the need for additional accommodation due to the continuation of the impairment associated with the restriction.

What’s your need to know what’s next in the interactive process? If you believe that the process could be more efficient and more effective than its current state, then consider implementing tools to assist your managers and your team. Get yourself out of the quagmire onto more solid ground!

Learn more about Optis' new employee accommodation solution, ADAInteract™

Optis is very pleased and excited to announce the launch of our new solution, ADAInteract! ADAInteract provides Human Resources with an end-to-end cloud-based solution to help manage employee accommodation requests and the interactive process.

According to the United States Census Bureau, about 56.7 million people, or 19 percent of the population have a disability. As you most likely know, as an employer, under the ADAAA you are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to someone with a qualified disability to enable them to perform essential job duties. Common types of accommodations include:

  • Modified work schedules
  • Lifting restrictions
  • Flexible leave policies
  • Workstation modification
  • Providing assistive technology

As we mentioned in our post last week, at first glance, managing the complexities of the ADA and ADAAA doesn’t seem too complicated - an employee requests an accommodation, you determine if the employee has a qualified disability, confirm the accommodation isn’t an undue hardship for the organization, then offer the accommodation and implement it. But, recent EEOC lawsuits have shown us otherwise. At times management isn’t in the loop or properly trained on how to handle employee accommodations. Or, employees don’t know how to request an accommodation or the resources that are available to them. Or, (and let’s be honest) sometimes HR teams are so stretched that accommodation requests get lost, follow-ups are missed, and implementations are delayed. All of these things can increase your organization’s risk exposure. But aside from the risk or public relations disaster, we know that the core desire of Human Resources is to help their employee population succeed in their role and job duties. Here’s how ADAInteract can help you manage that process:

  • Provides a tool for tracking the end-to-end accommodation case from request to implementation – from the initial employee request to implementation, ADAInteract helps document disability determinations, essential job functions, restrictions, and other detailed information about the accommodation request.

  • Correspondence tracking – ADAInteract provides configurable letter and email templates specific to the interactive process that can be emailed from the system. Outside attachments can be uploaded and linked to a case. A contact library helps you keep track of the employee’s contact information, manager, and all of the contacts associated with the accommodation so you have everything you need at your fingertips.

  • Auto-generated & configurable tasks – Auto-generated and configurable tasks alert users of day-to-day activity that shouldn’t be missed.

  • Case history documentation – all activity associated with an accommodation request is tracked in the system, providing you with a comprehensive view of the case. Having a detailed case history assists in instances of staffing changes, case reassignments, or audits.

ADAInteract is offered in three editions – Essential, Plus and Unlimited depending on your organization’s needs. It’s also embedded in Optis’ FMLA tracking solution, LeaveXpert.

Want to learn more about ADAInteract or try a free 30 day trial? Contact us

Here at Optis, we know that Human Resource teams are typically the first to jump in and help their employees. When it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ADAAA, HR are the key project leads in finding and coordinating the implementation of employee accommodations. You can read more facts from the EEOC about the ADA here.

At first glance, managing the complexities of the ADA doesn’t seem too complicated – an employee requests an accommodation, you determine if the employee has a qualified disability, confirm the accommodation isn’t an undue hardship for the organization, then offer the accommodation and implement it. But sometimes things aren’t so straightforward. Keeping track of accommodations and having a centralized system for all of your team members to document the interactive process can have its challenges. Here are the most common challenges that we’ve been hearing -

  • Identifying possible accommodation solutions
  • Determining if someone has a qualified disability
  • Defining essential job functions
  • Tracking part time or modified work schedules
  • Communicating with management, the employee, and healthcare providers
  • Documenting accommodations and keeping track of which employees have them for annual reviews and check-ins
  • Finding an appropriate device/software to install so the necessary modifications can be completed
  • Training employees, managers and others involved on how to use the new accommodation tool
  • Training supervisors on the interactive accommodation process (i.e. how to identify and work through accommodation requests)
  • Creating a supporting workplace environment that supports accommodations

Do you have another challenge to add? Let us know in the comments below.

Want to learn more about Optis’ new solution, ADAInteract? Contact us

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Take a look at the diverse landscape of less-noticed leave with our new eBook, or start a free trial of LeaveXpert today.

This post is brought to you by Optis’ Business Analyst, David Spring.

Have you ever experienced a situation in which your HRIS system indicated an employee was being paid for a disability but you weren’t sure that his or her disability was approved by your third party administrator (TPA)? Most of us have probably all been there at some point and had that uneasy feeling that something isn’t right. Having this notion is uncomfortable and unsettling, and, with the right tools in place, anyone in benefits and compensation should readily be able to resolve. An organization making an attempt to successfully ‘sail’ through the waters of integrated disability management (IDM) should easily be able to answer these types of absence management discrepancies with integrated data from both systems. But how do you start?

First, you need to determine a way to integrate the data from your HRIS system and the TPA’s system(s). This is typically done by a company that specializes and provides business intelligence services related to benefits and compensation. This type of partner will have the ability to create methodologies which are able to associate records from multiple systems in order to link common records. Unfortunately, it’s not usually as simple as matching records from both systems because both systems don’t typically use a common identifier. Other routines must be utilized to successfully combine information from both the HRIS and any TPA system (disability, workers’ compensation, FML, etc.) and assess any discrepancies.

Secondly, a framework needs to be developed for what type of discrepancies will be identified and assessed. The types of discrepancies may be driven by existing suspicions or assumed problems, but it’s best to let the data drive the types of discrepancies. Data will often indicate three types of discrepancies:

  • Absences in HRIS not in the TPA’s system
  • Absences in the TPA’s system not in HRIS
  • Absences in both systems but with differing data

Each of these inconsistencies is symptomatic of a different type of problem. What type of problem, you ask? An absence in HRIS but not in the TPA’s system may be indicative of a misstep on the part of the employee to contact the TPA informing them of his/her absence. So, it’s potentially a telltale sign, and potentially an epidemic depending on the volume of a breakdown in the expected behaviors of employees who are going out on leave. An absence in the TPA’s system but not in the HRIS system is suggestive of a different type of HR-related glitch or snag. This problem is more likely company-driven resulting from a breakdown between employee managers and HR of the process to report and record employee absences.

Absences in both systems but with differing data can result from a variety of reasons and are connected with either system. It may be that the disability start and end dates associated with the absence are different. Why is this significant? If the end date in the HRIS system is three days longer than in the TPA’s system and the HRIS data is the primary system of record for check-cutting, than the employee is potentially overpaid. If this type of overpayment is frequently repeated, then it needs to be detected and resolved. Other types of discrepancies in this third category can be related to differences in claim status, differences in the amount of FML time taken or differences in the type of injury reported for workers’ compensation etc. The possibilities and ramifications related to discrepancies can easily begin to grow exponentially, leaving you with a mess to sort through.

Without an integrated IDM approach, discrepancies will continue, excessive absences will be unabated and losses can occur. Start today by taking the necessary steps to ensuring your HRIS system and TPA carrier are on the same page.

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Take a look at the diverse landscape of less-noticed leave with our new eBook, or start a free trial of LeaveXpert today.

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Take a look at the diverse landscape of less-noticed leave with our new eBook, or start a free trial of LeaveXpert today.

This week's post is brought to you by Optis' National Sales Representative, Scott Lenox.

Attend any number of Human Resources/Benefits-related conferences hosted around the nation, and you will hear speakers and conversations regarding the ADA/ADAAA and the return to work process. You will listen to lists of companies that have paid a significant amount of money in settlements. You will hear conference attendees sharing their own personal stories around trying to manage their return to work processes and administering accommodations. The question I raise is, “Why is this still an unresolved issue amongst HR and Benefit professionals today?” After all, the American Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, and the American Disabilities Act Amendments Act was passed in 2008. Organizations have implemented new policies and procedures to adhere to these amendments. Employee handbooks have been rewritten, managers have been trained, and many organizations are even outsourcing much of the administration associated with leaves of absence to their benefits providers and specialists. So why is return to work and accommodations still a theme amongst HR/Benefits professionals, and still so misunderstood?

The answer is because there is still a lack of understanding and tools. The management of these leave events still remains the full responsibility of the employer. Whether you are administering a disability absence internally or outsourcing your leave administration, the employer must interact and manage the responsibility of returning that employee back to work. The risk of paying a large monetary fine or settlement and receiving a public relations “black eye,” has caught the attention of executives everywhere. According to the EEOC, the number of people benefiting from these charges have spiked in the past 5 years alone, from 2,908 beneficiaries in 2008 to 5,347 beneficiaries in 2013. Over that same 5 year span, benefits paid have almost doubled from $57,155,828 to $109,169,275. The risk of mishandling a leave event and the return to work process associated with the leave event continues to be a major concern for organizations. And, until these numbers begin to drop, or at the very least level off, the discussions are going to continue.

So, how can HR/Benefits professionals gain a handle on these individual leave events that may pose such a risk to their organizations? As I stated above, understanding and tools are a large part of the solution. Closer tracking and management of the leave event including return to work are part of the process. Better documentation of communications between the employer, employee, and anyone else involved is crucial. Gaining knowledge and training of the employee’s rights and responsibilities as well as the employer’s is a step in the right direction. Exploring what tracking and management tools are available to assist your organization is paramount. Network with associations, other HR/Benefits professionals, and legal entities to get your questions answered. Read online conversations as well as government websites to help you fully understand the Interactive Process and terminology.

Education and tools available to HR/Benefits teams are endless, but the important point to remember, is that you are ultimately responsible. Disability discrimination is not going away, and if you feel your organization could use assistance in this area, start exploring the tools that are readily available to you so you can avoid the hot seat and the headlines.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Enforcement and Litigation Statistics. http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm

It's a jungle out there. Navigate the land of employee leave with our latest whitepaper.

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This week’s post is brought to you by Jim Bryant.

Collaboration is used extensively today in both the private and public sectors, with considerable focus on the lack of collaboration and the impact on many aspects of our family and work environments. As a matter of fact, the term “collaborator” used to have a negative meaning when used in wartime to describe actions of someone who is working against your goals with your adversary.

Is “collaboration” just another term we are using to describe what one would expect to receive from a stakeholder involved in absence management? Do we really know who is invested in the results being achieved using the solutions that are associated with the many aspects of this industry?

Really think about it. Anyone who has a long tenure in the absence management industry is required to speak the languages of Information Technology, Legal, Risk Management, Human Resources Systems, Finance, Employee Relations, Employee Benefits, Training and Operations. Looking back I can actually say I have seen all these groups collaborate, and believe it or not, it was on…absence management.

With multiple conferences, industry groups, articles, blogs, studies and even products focused on absence management integration or coordination and analysis of data associated with why employees are not at work, one would think we would be further along the curve to solving these problems –

  • Why aren’t my employees at work?
  • If my employees are at work, are they engaged and performing at a level that will deliver the financial results the employer has forecasted?

Anyone who has been in this industry long enough has been at a conference table and saw the look in their customers eyes when they say, “I need your help. I’m being asked questions that require data that I don’t have, or if I do have it, I can’t interpret it in a way that we can use to make business decisions.”

I think we all agree that compliance with the complex regulations for Federal and State leave laws are important to an organization. Failure to meet these requirements could impose considerable financial risk on an organization. However, you can mitigate these risks with training, technology and analysis to ensure improvement.

When you add in the coordination of claims for workers’ compensation and disability with leave laws, and then add an additional topping for the ADAAA, many employers just throw up their hands and outsource to one of several groups who are willing to take on the employer responsibilities in these critical areas of productivity.

As you would expect, there are many organizations that have been providing outsourced leave administration for years. There are others who have either been consolidated into competitor organizations or have exited the industry, leaving employers to ask the question, "Is it better to continue to outsource or use software and utilize the existing benefits team to administer leave?

You may be wondering where I’m going with this discussion…The point is often times it doesn’t really matter who is providing the administration of employee absence. What matters is selecting the right tool for your organization, training your staff and reviewing the processes to ensure continuous improvement.

The important part to remember is that absence data and mastering the management of that data will always be the responsibility of the employer. We also know once you own something it also becomes your responsibility to translate and distribute that data so that everyone in your organization becomes a collaborator for a successful absence management program.

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Optis obtained the ISO 27001 certification in the fall of 2013. Earning this prestigious certification is great, and further reinforces our commitment to securing and protecting our customer’s data. Over the past few months, we’ve had questions surrounding our certification. How did we get this? What did we have to do to get it? What was tested, who tested it, etc.? So, we sat down with our Director of Information Technology and Security to get the scoop.

Q1: Optis is ISO 27001 certified. Can you tell us what the ISO certification is and what was involved to obtain this certification?

RG: The ISO 27001 certification is issued by an accredited ISO third party called a registrar. The accredited ISO third party conducts an audit and assesses our Information Security Management System (ISMS) using the ISO 27001 standard. The audit consists of a stage 1 audit and a stage 2 audit. The stage 1 audit is a “Document Review” which ensures that you have the necessary supporting documents. The stage 2 audit is the “Main Audit.” During the audit, the auditor checked to see if we were really doing what our documentation says we were doing. Is the ISMS alive (and not just on paper?) They checked records and interviewed employees. They looked for non-conformities. They determined that we passed the audits and issued us a certificate. Is that it? Not quite. The auditor will come back each year to ensure that we are doing what our documentation says we are doing (in other words maintaining our certification.)

Q2: There are a variety of different ISO certifications - 27001, 27002, etc. Can you tell us about the differences?

RG: The ISO 27000 standards are a family of standards which provide best practice recommendations on information security management. The ISO 27001 standard is the specification for an Information Security Management System (ISMS). The objective of the standard is to “provide requirements for establishing, implementing, maintaining and continuously improving an Information Security Management System (ISMS)”. ISO 27002 standard provides guidance on how to implement hundreds of security controls. The standard provides guidance on how to implement the Information Security Management System (ISMS). The ISO 27005 standard provides guidelines for information security risk management.

Q3: What are the main benefits of having this certification?

RG: From my point of view, most of the benefits are not having the certification but obtaining and maintaining the certification. Don’t get me wrong, the certificate is important. The certificate demonstrates to our customers, the stakeholders and staff that the Information Security Management System (ISMS) is effective at Optis. The certificate is a third party validation that our Information Security Management System (ISMS) adheres to the ISO 27001 standard. The real value for us is making our ISMS a living management system based on a risk based approach. What I mean by this is that the ISO 27001 standard requires that you implement a PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) method to manage the Information Security Management System. We do “P” and “D” and at times have not effectively implemented “C” and “A” (before ISO 27001.) With ISO 27001, we check, we act and we continuously improve our ISMS.

Q4: How prestigious is the ISO 27001 certification?

RG: To be honest I don’t know and I don’t like tooting my own horn. On a second thought, toot! I have 15+ years working with Information Security. I have participated in 100+ third party security assessments/audits. I have implemented many information security controls into many versions and iterations of an information security management system. Throughout my experience I have my opinions on the security standards and regulations (e.g. SAS 70, SSAE No. 16, HIPAA, SOX, etc.) And with all of them, I am ultimately responsible to implement an information security management system that protects the customer’s information and the organization. ISO 27001 provides the guidance to help an organization effectively design and implement a living information security management system which we are continuously improving. Based on my experience, I believe that ISO 27001 is prestigious.

Q5: Where should our customers go if they have questions?

RG: Customers can direct any questions to their Optis Account Manager or email us solutions@optis.com.

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Complicated leave laws can create some rough waters and increase your risk of noncompliance, reduced productivity, and employee disengagement.

We have taken a lot of the guesswork out of managing the diverse leave laws you face in each state today with our latest e-book, “From Sea to Shining Sea: A Look at the Diverse Landscape of Less-noticed Leaves.”

Consider this your go-to handbook. You’ll be navigating your state’s leave laws in no time with our help. Download the e-book today and get ready for smooth sailing in the choppy waters of uncommon leaves. Ahoy!

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It’s always good to be reminded about behaviors or policies that could lead to legal trouble. One such reminder comes from section 105 of the FMLA, which indicates that interfering, restraining or improperly denying the benefits of the FMLA also includes not discouraging in any way usage of the FMLA. If this message was clear and obvious to all employers, then it would seem violations of this nature wouldn’t still occur, but unfortunately, they do. Even reminders by the DOL, such as in Fact Sheet WHD #77B, are necessary because of continued violations.

Discouragement could happen in multiple ways, but the big three include:

  • Written communications
  • Written policies
  • Over-aggressive absence management practices

Use of a certification form is not required by the DOL, but if it’s used, wording in the document should not be obtrusive. One such case, likely familiar to readers, involved written language, in bold at the top, indicating that certification forms would not be accepted prior to the anticipated absence.

“Medical certification forms will NOT be accepted prior to the first day of a reported absence.”

Imagine not having confirmation of your request prior to the time of actual absence; this type of environment would add additional discomfort to already difficult circumstances. Having this type of language on a certification form creates road blocks to employees utilizing the FMLA; the exact opposite of the spirit and intent of the law. So, take time to review your certification forms to be sure unnecessary and potentially illegal wording doesn't exist.

In addition, threatening absence policies are likely also to be seen as a discouragement of the use of FMLA. For example, having universal language suggesting swift termination after three days of an unexcused absence is the type of blanket policy that will lead to legal trouble. Circumstances exist around each absence which most likely require unique evaluation. Considering each situation individually is more in line with the movement behind creation of the FMLA.

Take time to review your attendance policies for these types of threatening blanket statements. These policies typically originate from a negative view of taking time off from the workplace. It’s not surprising that employers might become hardened by the FMLA because of time-off abusers, but those employees who take advantage of a well-intended program shouldn’t drive workplace policies.

Finally, potential risk results from over-aggressive absence management practices if those practices in any way discourage or limit appropriate and necessary time off associated with the FMLA. Problems have resulted when employers or third party administrators acting on behalf of employers have put in place restrictive standards or guidelines. The positive of these types of guidelines is that they can provide a sense of how long an employee should be absent for various serious health conditions or health impairments. The negative of these types of guidelines is when they are used as strict, all-encompassing standards that are applied in restrictive manners.

This happens when, for example, a guideline suggests a potential duration of leave of 25 days and the Absence Specialist managing the absence interprets the time strictly as only 25 days. Subsequent actions to prematurely return or terminate the employee, when not returning on the 26th day, spell doom. In these types of situations, if medical certification has been collected, then it should contain information that can be used in determining absence begin and end dates related to time off for the FMLA. Whatever the case, provide time off for eligible employees to which they are entitled and is available.

Waiting until the legal pot boils is not the right approach. Now’s the time to proactively assess and review your certification forms, attendance policies and absence management efforts to identify potential wording or practices that could be interpreted as discouraging use of the FMLA.

We’re packing our bags and going all-in for the 2014 DMEC Annual Conference next week at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. We’ll be at booth 412 talking with HR folks about the challenges they face while managing employee leave. We’ll also be doing a drawing for a Tory Burch handbag and an iPad mini, so stop by and test your luck for a chance to win.

Here’s a list of tid-bits to know to become a “high-roller” in managing FMLA leave:

  • FMLA has been around for over 20 years, and we would put our money on expanding guidelines. Check out a few bills related to FMLA and workplace flexibility that have been introduced to Congress this year and could expand FMLA’s reach.

  • The number of onsite FMLA investigations is expected to increase. A recent blog post by Jeff Nowak at FMLA Insights explains why.

  • All chips are on the table - HR Managers are required to maintain all leave documentation and case history to be compliant.

  • Test your luck here and see which states have leave related to medical emergency responder leave.

  • Be an “FMLA bookie” and know that 12 month FMLA calculations can be counted in a variety of ways, but must be applied consistently across all employees: Calendar year, rolling 12 month period, a fixed 12 month period, or the 12 month period when an employee first takes leave. Also, Employees qualify for FMLA leave if they have worked for you any accumulation of 12 months in the last seven years. (Time prior to the last seven years also counts if either USERRA or other written agreements apply indicating the employer’s intent to rehire.) Or, if they have worked 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.

Don’t rely on beginner’s luck in managing leave. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with Optis by contacting us.

This week’s post is brought to you by David Spring, Business Analyst.

This week marks the 24 year anniversary of when the ADA was signed into law, occurring on July 26, 1990. With over two decades past, ADA coordinators may be feeling tired and overwhelmed with surmounting responsibilities related to complying with the ADA and properly fulfilling reasonable accommodation requests. We understand, the journey sometimes feels more like a cyclone than a walk in the park. If during this 24th anniversary you’re looking for one single focus, then let it be this: focus on demonstrating good faith effort in all of your ADA-related activities. In order to demystify good faith effort, let’s consider a few possibilities; a sample of situations employers could begin to show good faith effort and also what activities should not be pursued.

Build a workplace that’s inclusive and supportive

It’s not always about reaching perfection in your activities, processes or forms; it’s more about building a workplace community and environment that is inclusive and supportive. If ADA coordinators and recruiters could do one thing, then do this: consider changing your hiring practices to open up the door broader to those candidates with disabilities. Stimulating and creating a more diverse applicant pool will demonstrate good faith effort. Talent may look differently than what you think because the picture of excellence does not look like a box. Not only will the OFCCP be happy, but your work teams will be enhanced as a result.

Emphasize supervisor training

The second emphasis is supervisor training. While employers are ultimately responsible for what accommodations are made, supervisors are at the front lines. Success can begin with this type of internal education. Begin simply; even changing mindset can be monumental towards demonstrating good faith effort. Shift thinking from, “how soon can we terminate” to “how soon can we accommodate.” Train supervisors to ask, “how can we help?” If you begin by accomplishing this type of training with supervisors, not only will governmental bodies be pleased, but your employees will most likely find the approach refreshing. Supervisors should also be trained to maintain good documentation on existing accommodations so that orientation for their potential replacements is made efficient and accommodation efforts aren’t negatively interrupted. Supervisors can play such an important role and in many cases are critical to a successful accommodation process. Don’t let their training be overlooked so that their involvement is seen as pivotal and not a roadblock to the process.

Know what resources are available

Oftentimes, it seems, the reason those responsible for coordinating reasonable accommodations feel like their job resembles a cyclone results from the belief that they need to become ADA experts. That outlook may very well be what requires the most significant change of all. It is understood that no employer wants a damaging lawsuit. Focus on beginning to learn what resources are available and not only begin to use those resources but document use of those resources. Yes, this is seen as good faith effort! Baby steps count because governmental bodies like the EEOC, DOL and OFCCP want to see evidence of taking steps towards moving in the right direction. Need some help identifying a few key resources to start? Here are a couple, but many exist.

Review your policies

Is it possible your ADA efforts might be misplaced? The aforementioned governmental bodies have repeatedly emphasized at such recent 2014 conferences as DMEC’s FMLA/ADAAA conference held this last spring in Washington DC and the ADA National Symposium held in Denver last month that good faith effort is not demonstrated by attempting to establish what was referred to as “cookie-cutter” approaches. Could this apply to you? Maybe, if either of the following two examples, a sample of many, describe your efforts. You may have “blanket statements” or policies, which aren’t evidence of good effort. “No eating at your desks,” is an example of this type of blanket statement. Certain disabilities will require a modification of this policy, and that’s a good thing because modifying a policy is a form of a reasonable accommodation. Maybe, your organization readies the termination packet as you see employees show no indication of returning to work near the exhaustion of FMLA. Not so fast, continued leave as a reasonable accommodation might be applicable. It all depends upon the individual situation.

So, start finding your way out of the cyclone by taking baby steps towards good faith effort. Be seen as a helper; cooperatively building a community of diverse workers. Make a paradigm shift from a possible focus on termination to a focus on opportunity and motivation. Identify your most helpful resources and positively redirect energies by focusing on what will work.

The Minnesota Women's Economic Security Act was recently signed into a law, providing women with more protections in the workplace. Here are a few items to have on your radar going forward if you are an employer in Minnesota with 21 or more employees -

  • Pregnancy and parenting leave under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act is expanded from 6 weeks to 12 weeks. The leave may be used for pregnancy-related needs. Also, employers must engage in the interactive process regarding accommodations requests related to pregnancy.

  • Sick leave benefits can be used to care for illnesses of the employee's mother in-law, father in-law, grandchildren, or step-grandchildren.

  • Paid time off for "safety leave," which allows employees to provide assistance to relatives who are the victims of sexual assaults, domestic abuse, or stalking.

Also, no matter what your employee count, if you are an employer in Minnesota, you must provide unpaid break time and a private space (not a restroom) for nursing activities. Additionally, you cannot require employees to maintain their wage information as private or confidential, or take any adverse action against employees who disclose their wage information.

Here’s a Fact Sheet with more information about the Women’s Economic Security Act.

Also, diary in your notes that on October 5th of this year, the Act expands unemployment eligibility to victims of sexual assault and stalking.

Wondering what other types of leave you could be missing? Check out all of the leave policies that apply in your state.

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With Independence Day freshly past, as a nation we celebrated one of our most treasured days of the year. Ensure the freedoms we enjoy bleed over to every aspect of your life, even working in HR. Make sure you have the freedom, tools and capabilities to get what you need from your data vendor. If you find yourself restrained, it’s time to break loose and shed the shackles of HR data confinement. Here’s what you should be looking for during your data vendor selection process:

A vendor who’s data agnostic

Find a vendor who integrates your people data regardless of what systems you use. Whether you insource or outsource your benefits administration, data from those systems should be efficiently and effectively incorporated into business intelligence tools. This independence should also apply to whatever HRIS, LMS, TMS, payroll or time and attendance systems you use. Steer clear of a vendor requiring standard layouts. These shouldn’t be required because the business intelligence tools shouldn’t operate with that kind of restrictive approach to data integration. Develop inclusive processes that are competitively sustainable if your vendors or systems change, so you can have a consistent environment for usable data and reporting.

A vendor with experience

While terms like big data, people data, and the cloud may seem new, the idea of assembling this type of person-centric tool is decades-old. Select a vendor who has experience collecting data daily, weekly, and monthly or whatever frequency is suitable for your organization. Data frequency is dependent upon your need for information and your need for information is dependent upon the types of business decisions you are making.

A vendor with flexibility & adaptability

You need a vendor who can adjust quickly to changing business needs. You need dynamic information generated in a multitude of fashions with numerous multi-select capabilities. This type of varied outputs allows you to focus on reporting which provides answers to your unique business needs and problems. Obtain the reports that YOU need. Reporting is based upon employer individuality. At Optis, we like to start with your existing questions and problems and build from there.

Learn more about Optis Insights.

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We know it’s a jungle out there when it comes to managing employee leaves of absence. Eligibility determinations, intermittent leave tracking, and keeping management in the loop can be a headache for HR with even having just one employee out on leave. Staying on top of state leave documentation alone can be time-consuming, especially if you have a manual process in place. With so much at stake, you need to know the lay of the land.

Our latest white paper, “The Land of Unusual Leaves — It’s a Jungle Out There,” can be used as your handbook for managing complex leave laws. You’ll learn how to navigate the land of unusual leaves, including how to lower your risk against:

  • Noncompliance under the FMLA and state laws
  • Productivity loss
  • Employee disengagement

Get a handle on leave by downloading your guide here.

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We’re packing our bags for the SHRM Conference next week in sunny Orlando Florida! We’ll be at booth 370 talking with HR folks about the challenges they face while managing employee leave. We're also having a drawing at our booth for a Tory Burch handbag and an iPad mini.

Here’s a list of ten things you probably didn’t know related to FMLA leave that you can learn more about by visiting us at booth 370:

  1. FMLA has been around for over 20 years, and is trending to expand its guidelines. Check out a few bills related to FMLA and workplace flexibility that have been introduced to Congress this year and could expand FMLA’s reach.

  2. The number of onsite FMLA investigations is expected to increase. A recent blog post by Jeff Nowak at FMLA Insights explains why. It's more efficient and less time consuming for the DOL to visit onsite where documentation can be readily accessed and interviews can occur face-to-face.

  3. HR Managers are required to maintain all leave documentation and case history to be compliant.

  4. Nine states have leave related to medical emergency responder leave. See which ones here.

  5. Eleven states have leave related to civil air patrol, volunteer emergency management, emergency services, or disaster workers. See which ones here.

  6. 12 month FMLA calculations can be counted in a variety of ways, but must be applied consistently across all employees: Calendar year, rolling 12 month period, a fixed 12 month period, or the 12 month period when an employee first takes leave.

  7. Employees qualify for FMLA leave if they have worked for you any accumulation of 12 months in the last seven years. (Time prior to the last seven years also counts if either USERRA or other written agreements apply indicating the employer’s intent to rehire.) Or, if they have worked 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.

  8. FMLA provides leave stemming from foreign deployments, meaning that spouses, children or parents of a military member can take leave during a qualifying exigency. Some examples of that would include arranging childcare during deployment, attending military-related activities, taking leave to spend time with a military member during a period of rest and recuperation, etc.

  9. An employer has the right to request a medical certification for an employee absence.

  10. You don’t need to know every nook and cranny, twist and turn about employee leave to manage it successfully. LeaveXpert can help you reduce your administrative burden and reduce your risks. Check out our free 30 day trial here.

Schedule a one-on-one meeting with Optis by contacting us.

World Blood Donor Day is this Saturday, June 14. This year, The World Health Organization (WHO) has established the theme of “Safe blood for saving mothers” to help generate awareness surrounding the importance of having timely access to blood donation. Worldwide, the number of deaths related primarily to blood loss is staggering. Here are some other facts about blood donation from the American Red Cross:

  • Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood
  • More than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day
  • A healthy donor may donate red blood cells every 56 days, or double red cells every 112 days
  • A healthy donor may donate platelets as few as 7 days apart, but a maximum of 24 times a year

As a member of the HR team, what can you do to provide blood donation leave as an important employee and community benefit, without disrupting your day to day operations? The key is having a solid process in place surrounding how to manage employee leave.

Currently, in the United States, about a dozen states have employer donor leave laws for organ, bone marrow, blood and blood platelets. As an example, the state of New York requires that employers provide employees with up to three hours of leave in any twelve month period to donate blood. The employee does need to provide advance notice if the donation is to occur off-premise. In these situations, an appropriate notice should be provided at least three working days in advance. Other types of blood donation only require two days’ notice, such as an onsite blood drive.

Ensure that your HR team has properly informed employees of their right to take blood donation leave, whether it’s a break room poster or part of the employee handbook. Employees may be required to demonstrate evidence of blood donation in the case of off-premise blood draws. You can check out the NY state guidelines for employee blood donation leave here.

Will more states pass blood donor leave laws enabling employees to donate blood? Consider these additional statistics from the WHO: 15% of the world’s population donates approximately 50% of global blood donations. In some countries 90% of donations are from voluntary unpaid blood donors.

Even if your state doesn’t currently have this leave law enacted yet, it’s important for employers to be proactive. Have the necessary tools in place to effectively provide this employee benefit and track it accordingly. It may seem like an unenviable consideration to offer employees another reason to take time off, but this type of leave tracking doesn’t have to be cumbersome. Efficiency is available through technology, so don’t let inaction result from these types of challenges. Make the decision today to implement a streamlined employee leave management program, and provide this important leave time for your employees, local and global community, without throwing a wrench in company operations, or your organization’s bottom line.

Check out “Navigating the Land of Leave” to see what other leave types apply to your state.

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This week’s post is brought to you by David Spring, Optis’ Business Development Analyst.

What people data analytics are you providing to your internal stakeholders?

  • Going 45 days without a driver accident has saved our company roughly $5,000,000 year-over-year.
  • Decreasing, from 15% to 10%, the number of family-related FMLA claims progressing to short-term disability and workers’ compensation paid benefits has dropped cost in those company benefits by 8%.

Maybe these analytics don’t seem meaningful to you, and that’s likely because they might not address current HR problems or strategies at your organization. While they are meaningful to some organizations, you may have other challenges for which people data analytics would be valuable. Whether you’re an HRIS manager trying to reduce turnover or a risk manager working to identify not only the top injuries plaguing your organization but the top medical conditions, you will benefit from people data analytics. The opportunity for leadership and foresight in your company has never been riper. (The following thoughts stem in part from having attended a wonderful 2014 IHRIM Conference (#ihrim2014) in Anaheim, CA, earlier this week.)

Business Strategy The best place to start is to work from existing corporate business strategies. The genesis of successful people data analytics begins with identifying and solving HR challenges specific to your organization. You don’t really want to just use ‘big data’ so that you can appease a superior or attempt to be trendy. Tackle real problems with people data analytics demonstrating positive value. As the keynote speaker at IHRM 2014 (#ihrim2014), Jason Averbook (@jasonaverbook) indicated that strategic HR must be thinking about what’s next. This concept of ‘Nexting’ is partly based on the principle that not all HR departments should be trying to do the ‘next’ same thing. Why? Not all organizations experience the exact same business problems simultaneously and congruently.

Whether it’s unacceptable turnover rates for high performers/regrettables (#ihrim 2014, @SteveSecora) or challenges with the time to productivity for new hires (#ihrim2014, Joanne Bintliff-Ritchie), HR challenges vary by many different characteristics. Whether a symptom of your indicative data such as location or an aspect of your particular industry, such as healthcare, specific variables are associated with these HR challenges. You need to identify the situation individual to your organization.

Initial Data Question Start simple and identify the most important problem area or initial data question that can be answered using your people data analytics. Don’t attempt to solve the needs of all internal stakeholders looking for analytics from your people data resource. This type of approach will not only be lengthy but it may never lift off the ground. An iterative approach is best.

  • Pick 3-5 measures which seem most associated with your business strategy.

If you are successfully able to answer one question for one stakeholder using people data analytics, they will be very satisfied, and not only will they want more analytics; other internal stakeholders will come knocking on the door.

Your success, in these early stages, will be contingent on properly setting expectations related to how the process of obtaining, utilizing and refreshing people data analytics is structured. (#ihrim 2014, Melissa Ackerman) Otherwise, you face the risk of potentially souring the appetite for these analytics because the process of creating, measuring and sharing isn’t yet mature.

Wondering where to begin? Think about what’s is important to the C-suite; one way or another it usually has something to do with the bottom line. Numerous cost saving analytics could be identified, but again, link back to corporate strategies. Many organizations have challenges related to onboarding, compensation, benefit utilization or issues with unexpected and/or unexcused absences.

These are just some initial thoughts to get you started and are just a small sampling of the wonderful sessions I attended at the IHRIM 2014 conference. Make the decision today to improve your ability to use people data analytics for better-guided business decisions and to make significant contributions to your organization.

Do you have a question or an HR issue about utilization of your organization’s benefit plans? Getting answers to that question might be easier than you think. Most likely, it can be solved by looking at your people data. Next week at the IHRIM Conference, Optis’ Business Development Analyst, David Spring, will be discussing how you can get started and the tools you need to make more educated decisions in benefit plan design during the session, “Ask the Right Questions: Your People Data Holds the Answers.”

Certain questions to ask yourself are:

  • What factors are driving my benefit costs?

  • Is there a small percentage of claimants who are contributing to a large percentage of my costs?

  • Are there differences in total costs verses average costs regarding claim type or location?

For example, one scenario that we’ll be looking at on Monday is what conclusions you can draw when you integrate your FMLA, STD and workers’ compensation data. In one particular organization that we looked at –

  • 28% of claimants had both an FMLA & STD claim

  • An additional 8% had an FMLA, disability and workers’ compensation claim

After looking at the data further, it was revealed that 9% of family-related leaves were followed by either a STD or WC leave within 6 months. What factors are driving this and what can you do to set up HR processes that positively affect your bottom-line and help your employees?

Check out a sneak peek into our #IHRIM2014 session in this short video interview.

You know you want to handle all ADAAA accommodations properly and appropriately, but this goes beyond correctly participating in the interactive process. The process of returning an employee to full-duty should begin before they’ve missed the first day of work associated with a possible absence or require an accommodation. How? The need for a modified work situation or absence is not typically a sudden event but develops over time. You should proactively recognize the effects of presenteeism that are associated with chronic health conditions.

Consider, would you get ahead of the game if you were able to anticipate those employees who are more likely to be in need of some type of accommodation? Your sole focus should not be on just compliance; although, compliance is very important. Absence management should be seen as an opportunity; not an obligation. The process should be about cooperation with the employee; not complication or separation. Let’s ask ourselves three questions; questions whose answers should begin to put you in front of employees’ needs for absence and/or accommodation.

Question 1 - Are employees out on FML, WC, STD/LTD or workers’ compensation more likely to need an accommodation?

Typically, FML benefits are used more frequently when comparing FML with STD, LTD and workers’ compensation. Second to FML is the frequency of disabilities. As can be seen then, non-occupational lost time occurs more frequently than occupational lost time. Significant? Yes! With increasing regularity, disability leave is being considered a reasonable accommodation, subsequent to an FML leave. While not all serious health conditions under the FMLA are disabilities, all disabilities are serious health conditions. Furthermore, the serious health conditions being considered as disabilities are only increasing; take obesity as just one example.

So, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket and focus solely on safety programs in order to minimize workplace injuries. Consider implementation of wellness programs which have the possibility of impacting non-occupational health conditions and the risk of non-occupational injuries. More importantly, employers can’t always rely on what are considered ‘typical’ utilization benchmarks and metrics. A more effective strategy would be to understand your own cost and utilization experience related to these benefits, so that you can implement a more specific strategy based on your own FML, STD, LTD and workers’ compensation data.

Question 2 - Are employees with certain types of health conditions, injuries or disabilities more likely to need an accommodation?

More often than not, productivity is not first disrupted when the employee first leaves work for an absence or requires an at-work accommodation. Depending on the disabling condition, symptoms will begin to present themselves and presenteeism will be manifested before the request for assistance or absence. For example, symptoms associated with allergies are not always sudden but appear gradually depending on the time of year and other factors. In addition, some of the most prevalent conditions are often very subjective in nature in terms of diagnoses. These types of conditions include mental health and strains and sprains, particularly associated with the lower back. Knowing that these are the most frequently occurring conditions, employers can address them accordingly.

One way in which employers can respond to the prevalence of these types of conditions is by relying on analysis of FML, STD/LTD and workers’ compensation claims data that has been assembled in one central reporting and intelligence tool. In this way, either the most prevalent, long-lasting or the most costly conditions can be identified and strategies can be developed to address particular problems. But, this type of tool is greatly enhanced when additional types of data are integrated into the reporting tool because other types of data can identify potential patterns before they are seen in the claims data. What type of data is this? Health risk assessment data is just one example of this type of data which can be used to identify potential risk areas before they manifest themselves as prevalent medical conditions and become more costly.

Question 3 - Are certain demographics characteristics more likely to be associated with an increased need for an accommodation?

Combined with both the benefit types and health conditions are other employee demographics which influence and increase the likelihood of the possibility for absence and/or an accommodation. For example, depending on the age of the employee some conditions are more likely to transition to more permanent disability situations. Examples of these types of conditions include circulatory, respiratory and musculoskeletal conditions. In all of these categories older employers are more likely to progress to more complicated and lengthy disabilities. Also, another factor increasing not only the likelihood of employees taking FML but those health conditions progressing to disability is industry. Healthcare, manufacturing and telecommunication are examples of three industries that experience higher rates of utilization than others.

Age and industry are just two characteristics impacting the increased need for accommodations. Other factors can include work location, job type and supervisor. Really, without an understanding of your benefits data, employers won’t know the actual characteristics impacting their particular benefit experiences. Having your FML, disability and workers’ compensation data integrated in one reporting tool will help employers identify the characteristics not otherwise seen. A ‘reveal’ that really cannot afford to be hidden!

Don't settle for a second place finish. Reporting and intelligence about your absence and accommodation experience will help your benefits utilization management efforts reach new levels. Not only will you improve the bottom line for your organization, but you’ll build community by providing a better experience for your employees and your benefits department. If you’re not sure where to begin or you need to calculate the current impact of finishing second, then consider a solution based on the new Optis Insights platform.

Optis is pleased to announce the rollout of Optis Insights. For more information, click here.

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On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that a former city worker from Hot Springs, Arkansas is entitled to liquidated damages nearing $56,000 under the FMLA. You can read the full story here.

The employee went on FMLA leave to recover from surgery, but wasn’t able to return to work after his leave expired. The City of Hot Springs did provide additional time off without pay according to company policy, but instead of evaluating whether further time off should be provided as a part of the ADA, the employee was terminated, despite not being released to work by his doctor. Two months later, he applied for his old position but was not selected. He applied again four months later, but was never selected to interview.

After two years of court proceedings and appeals, it was determined that there was a causal link between his FMLA usage and the city’s decision to not rehire him. Internal emails to human resources from the hiring supervisor that stated hiring the former employee would be a “mistake” was presented as evidence, along with job applications of the other candidates with similar qualifications who were hired for the position.

What are the main take-aways that human resources can gather from this court ruling and avoid getting bit by the FMLA litigation bug?

  • Train your managers on FMLA guidelines – ensure that they know general eligibility guidelines, such as hours worked, leave reason and office location requirements. Additionally, make sure they know about intermittent leave. To ease the burden and help you sleep at night, you can even implement an employee Self Service Portal so employees have a standard way to send their leave request directly to HR.

  • Keep detailed documentation – initial leave requests, eligibility determinations, case history, emails, letters, medical certifications, etc. all need to be organized and easily accessed. Don’t let an email, letter or key piece of documentation get lost or misplaced.

  • More leave can be an accommodation – is your employee only able to return to work following a short duration after the FMLA expires? It’s in your best interest to accommodate as much as possible (within reason of course.)

  • Aside from FMLA, know any state leave laws that apply to the states where you have employees. Also, know the other leave types that can apply in your state. You can check out those here.

Don’t get blindsided by FMLA guidelines or bit by the FMLA litigation bug. Check out our free 30 day trial of LeaveXpert.

What are the insights you can gain by looking at your people data? Catch a sneak peek of Optis’ session at the 2014 IHRIM Conference “Ask the Right Questions: Your People Data Holds the Answers" here.

David Spring, MS, Optis’ Business Development Analyst will be presenting at 4pm on Monday, June 2 at the conference in Anaheim, California. We are looking forward to the conference and you can follow the conversation on Twitter at #IHRIM2014.

The 2014 wildfire season has already started, so what better time to honor all firefighters in conjunction with May 4th, International Firefighters Day. Many inspirational quotes exist honoring the world’s heroes, but the following Maya Angelou quote is good because of its inclusive nature:

"How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!"

While states like Colorado may have a better wildland fire potential outlook for 2014; other states like New Mexico, Arizona and California do not, according to the National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook. The current outlook, through June and July looks particularly ominous and higher than the normal fire threat.

As we think about the brave men and women who will engage in life-threatening activities on our behalf, we should note that not all firefighters work full-time for the fire department; in fact most are not career employees. Of 26,482 fire departments registered with the National Fire Department Census, seventy-one percent are entirely volunteer departments. That translates to approximately 750,000 volunteer firefighters across America, serving their country in a time of need in addition to other occupations and livelihoods.

While the threat of wildland fires varies by state, thirteen states have volunteer firefighter leave laws. Many of those same states have additional leave time for Civil Air Patrol, Volunteer Emergency Management, Emergency Workers and Disaster Workers. If you are an employer in one of the states with these leave laws and you also find yourself in or near a high risk wildland fire zone, you need to prepare for expected leave time for those employees which are volunteers. Oregon, California, New Mexico, Colorado and Wisconsin are just a few examples of states which should expect and prepare for employees to be absent for work to fight wildland fires.

Let’s focus in on New Mexico to see how this type of leave should be administered. According to the New Mexico Volunteer Emergency Responder Job Protection Act, employees in good association with a volunteer fire department are able to take up to ten regular business days in a calendar year in order to respond to a gubernatorial or presidential declared emergency or disaster. (Under this act, leave exists for other types of responders but this post is highlighting volunteer firefighters.)

If an employee takes more than ten days then they are subject to termination. Hopefully, circumstances won’t arise that lead to this type of separation. Prior to and over the course of the absence the employee should be communicating proactively with the employer. The employer should document all such communication so that an accurate record can be kept and maintained. If desired, an employer may request an employee provide written verification from the appropriate federal, state or local officials to verify any time served.

All in all, employers are typcially supportive of efforts to combat not only fires in our wildlands but all fires requiring the services of volunteer firefighters. Let’s keep in mind this overarching goal, as we support those who risk their lives to preserve and keep us safe.

Check out which leave types apply in your state, and don't get blindsided by the unknown.

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As reported by the Child Trends Database, 87% of parents attended general school meetings in 2012, which is fantastic, but only 42% volunteered or served on a committee. Should employers care? According to the Center for Public Education, “Parents want to be involved, and parental involvement can make a difference in student learning.” Furthermore, according to the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, students with involved parents are more likely to succeed, including graduating and pursuing higher education. But what does any of this have to do with employee leave management?

More than you’d probably think. Did you know employees in a variety of states can take job protected time off to volunteer for these events? For example, employers in California with 25 or more employees at the same location must provide up to 40 hours each year for parents, guardians or grandparents to participate in school activities.

Employees value the benefits available to them whether they are legislatively mandated or voluntarily offered by the employer. HR will enhance their reputation and credibility with employees the more comprehensively they are monitoring and offering multiple employee benefits at all levels. Company, federal and state leaves are all part of the mix and each provide sometimes similar but sometimes different types of benefits. At least eleven states offer some type of separate parental school leave or school involvement time off. Employers need to have proper knowledge of these benefits, invest in the workforce and track this leave time appropriately.

A proactive, knowledgeable approach should include some type of trusted mechanism or leave management software, which will help ensure you are compliant in providing the correct leave time. This software should assist you in determining whether their employees are both eligible and whether they have any available time to use. (Tip: Employees can only take 8 hours of leave per month.)

In addition to this detailed eligibility and time tracking, HR needs reporting that indicates what employees will be out on any given day, why they will be out, and whether they are utilizing school-related leave or any other non-FML, family or military leave type. For example, a report should be available for a given time range so that the employer can identify which employees will be absent. Or, an absence calendar should be available so that you can see what days of the week a particular employee will be absent. Any and all of these types of reports will help you properly plan for anticipated absences related to school-related and other types of leave.

As an HR leader, take steps to be sure you know whether you have employees in one of the states with leave laws encouraging school involvement. A proactive, knowledgeable approach will avoid the problems and troubles that arise from a reactive management style, and we all know what can happen then…

Parental school leave is just one type of non-FML leave. The question is are you not only aware of school involvement leave, but other types of leave, such as Emergency Responder or Organ Donation leave types. To learn more about which leave types apply to your state, check out what we’ve put together to help you navigate the land of leave.

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Do you know all of the leave types that are offered in your state? They aren’t as simple as you think, and they go way beyond FMLA and military leave. Check out your state here.

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Last week, we discussed FMLA eligibility guidelines, and how important it is to keep managers in the loop regarding what qualifies as FMLA leave. This week, we’re talking about tips on improving your leave request intake process and best practices we’d recommend to improve communication and reduce your administrative burden.

Often times it’s difficult for HR to keep track of who requested leave, when, and their leave details when you work for a mid-sized or large employer (or even small employers sometimes.) There’s a lot of disconnect that can happen during the leave request process, for both HR and the employee.

What best describes your leave intake process?

  • I typically receive leave requests 30 days before the leave, or a few days before the initial leave date in urgent situations.

  • I typically receive notice that an employee is on leave after their leave has started.

  • I typically receive a notice that an employee is on leave well after their leave has begun. Or, in worst case scenarios, after the leave expired and they are still covered under our employee benefits or are still being paid.

Details such as leave reason, leave effective date, and anticipated return to work date can have a big impact on how the leave is managed, so it’s important to have a streamlined leave intake process to make sure you can collect all the information you need, and make it easier for your employees.

Here are some best practices we’ve found for increasing efficiency in the intake process:

  • Transition your leave intake process to a cloud portal so employees can request a leave of absence easily over the internet.

  • Give each employee a standard set of instructions on how to submit their leave request via the portal. Keep a copy of the instructions on your company intranet and bulletin boards.

  • Provide a standard set of questions for each leave of absence, including leave effective date, leave reason, anticipated return to work date, and any other information that HR will need.

  • Ensure that the employee's initial leave request information is documented for case history, even if the leave details have been updated during their leave.

In a perfect world, we know that you’d like to receive notice of leave as soon as possible, and have all of the leave details at your fingertips. Fortunately, this is now possible with our new edition of the LeaveXpert Self Service Portal. Check out all of the details here.

Lately, we’ve been chatting with several HR generalists who suddenly find themselves responsible for their organization’s absence management. Whether it’s a team member taking on a new role or a staffing reduction, let’s face it, sometimes you’re left holding the bag. But luckily, when it comes to absence management, it’s a designer bag because there’s a lot you can do to proactively manage absence and make significant contributions to your organization’s bottom line.

But keep in mind that there’s a lot of moving parts with absence management, especially with FMLA leave. Let’s review the basics so you don’t get blindsided by FMLA guidelines. (Side note – pass this along to your managers as well so they are in the loop.)

Your organization, if a private employer, is required to provide FMLA leave to those employees at locations with 50 or more employees within 75 miles. Other employees working at employer locales not within these parameters are not eligible for FMLA. Do you have employees that have no fixed work site or work from home? They count as employees at the location to which they are assigned or from which their work assignments are made. Does your total employee count hover near the total of 50? Once you employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the preceding or current calendar year, you are a covered employer.

Furthermore, don’t fool yourself into thinking, that as the employer, you can decide to provide FMLA leave to ineligible employees. It’s not a decision employers make; FMLA eligibility rules are not employer-modifiable. If you are tracking leave time as FMLA leave for such employees, what you are providing is not FMLA but company leave. Is there a risk? Most definitely! If one of these employees begins working at a location with 50 or more employees, they then become eligible for FMLA and are entitled to a full amount of time.

Additionally, if you are a government agency, or public or private elementary or secondary school, all employees are protected.

Employees qualify for FMLA leave if -

  • They have worked for you any accumulation of 12 months in the last seven years. (Time prior to the last seven years also counts if either USERRA or other written agreements apply indicating the employer’s intent to rehire.)
  • In the last 12 months they have worked 1,250 hours

And at least one of the following is true:

  • They have a serious health condition
  • They need to care for their spouse, son, daughter or parent that has a serious health condition
  • The birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child
  • If a family member (spouse, son, daughter, or parent) is in the military and you have to attend to family logistics to arrange for that person leaving for active duty or care for a covered servicemember who is determined to have a serious illness or injury.

If they are part of an airline crew, that’s a different set of eligibility parameters and tracking guidelines that you can find here. If you are uncertain about what qualifies as a serious health condition, the DOL has a definition here.

In addition to providing job protected leave, you are required to maintain the employee’s health insurance. If needed, the employee has to pay their portion of the health insurance premiums.

When the employee returns to work, they must return to their original position or equivalent. No adverse action or discrimination can be taken toward them for taking leave. Any seniority or other benefits remain intact. Also, don’t forget that requesting more leave could be an accommodation under the ADA, so always manage absence with the ADA in mind.

There’s a lot of moving pieces to the FMLA. If you are looking for a system to keep everything straight, check out our free 30 day trial of LeaveXpert.

This week’s post is brought to you by David Spring, Optis' Business Development Analyst.

You’ve probably heard the buzz about big data analytics. Is it a fad? Is it here to stay? Should you dive in? Yes, it’s time to take the plunge and start using big data analytics for making human resource program decisions.

The results of HR analytics provide concrete evidence for making effective decisions. Analytics illuminate metrics and statistics related to your people data; measures related to not only job performance, but also pinpointing problems with absenteeism and interrelationships between utilization of the various paid/unpaid benefits available to your employees. This is beneficial for the short and long term. Begin to build an HR Analytics Team and partner with an organization that complements your existing HR department; even if your team currently consists of just you. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that a partnership can provide:

Supplements stretched resources - you are likely bound by limited resources. First and foremost, how readily available, integrated and summarized is your people data? Data has to be manageable for statistics to be measured and relationships to be identified. Is your HR data joined so that relationships can be identified between the different types of data? Or, are you already aware of whether, for instance, one location or job type more heavily utilizes certain benefits more than other groups?

Lightens your workload - your time is valuable, precious and consumed with responsibilities other than to design a way to integrate and summarize your HR data. Leave this legwork to the people data experts.

Provides guidance – if you are inexperienced in regards to analytics, that’s okay. Analytical skills, in part, are associated with organizing data in a useful fashion, identifying and answering business questions and detecting the most actionable items from your HR data. Even if you have developed analytical skills, it’s not likely you consider yourself a data scientist; nor are you necessarily interested in becoming one!

Create the Right Partnership Choosing the right HR analytics partner is important; you want an organization with whom you are compatible. Compatibility is driven by many characteristics but a few include: having the right sized vendor that can adjust to your needs, data expertise, and a vendor that will challenge you to new heights.

Implementing a new HR solution requires explanation and guidance. When your expertise is not in data integration and HR analytics, you may be unclear as to how to go about providing valuable, actionable information to senior leadership. The right partner will come alongside explaining the truth while opening the door to new possibilities with your HR data.

A vendor with data expertise is also important. This type of expertise spans the horizon of different HRIS vendors and incorporates this type of data even when changes occur. The vendor should be able to securely, collect, join and assemble benefits, payroll, talent and other types of data in order to maximize what can be learned from this data integration.

Furthermore the right partner will challenge you by providing the appropriate level of guidance as needed. Not everyone likes to be told what to do! While similarities exist between the types of questions asked by practitioners of HR, not all organizations will pursue the same path to answer those questions. One company may pursue learnings that can be obtained from relationship between the data triumvirate of workers’ compensation, disability and FMLA data. On the other hand, a different company may investigate the relationships between safety, productivity and payroll. Learnings and subsequent actionable items may be different for each individual organization. Let your vendor guide you in the right direction.

It’s time. Big data is useful and can give you insights into your organization. You are ready. Take the plunge.

This week's post is brought to you by Andy Kersh, Optis' Senior Data Analyst.

Data conversion is a concept that’s been used for decades in the HR Tech realm. But, what exactly does it mean?

Simply put, data conversion is the transformation of data from one format to another. There are many types of data conversions - file type, database type, or even a whole system of data. A conversion is required when data from one environment needs to be converted into a different format in order to support company operations and reporting.

This is where it gets complicated…

Converting an entire data environment takes data expertise and patience. Often times, not only does each data entity need to change, but the components within each entity need to change as well. Typically, this occurs when converting all of the data in one database so that it will seamlessly transform into the format of another database.

Keep in mind that no two vendors manage information in the same format. Take for example a database containing workers’ compensation data. One database might have claims data, payment data, financial reserve data, and claim notes data all in a series of various tables within the database. If a company wants to change their workers’ compensation vendor, all of this information will have to be converted to a specific format.

So, where do you begin? Here’s a rundown -

  • Step 1: Accurately define the target data format. A company might be receiving new business where data will be coming in from a variety of sources. It’s vital that this company has a well-defined format so that the new data can be converted to the new format. The conversion process really begins with understanding the destination source (where the data is ultimately going to end up.) Once the destination source is understood, then any input source can be converted into the destination format.

  • Step 2: Define the format of the input source. This is one of the most important and complicated steps. Understanding how the input source defines their claim data, payment data, reserve data, and claims notes data can be an arduous task. (Pro tip: The most complex of these entities are the payment and reserving information. There are a multitude of ways companies can design their payment and reserve data and how this information interrelates.)

  • Step 3: Load the input data into a conversion database. Run quality assurance checks to make sure the data was accurately loaded.

  • Step 4: Start the conversion using your defined format. Tables and fields are defined and mapped from the input source. If there’s a blank data field, often times a pre-determined default will be used.

Things to keep in mind…

Often, the most challenging part of a conversion is the financial component. For example, you could have a workers’ compensation conversion that has less detailed financial information that needs to be converted into a more detailed financial environment. Where do you start? This is where the data expertise comes in. The data analyst needs to apply their workers’ compensation knowledge in order to accurately map between the financial environments. If this part of the conversion is not completed correctly then the integrity of all of the subsequent reporting from the destination source will be jeopardized. A financial control total check at the end of the process is an important step in verifying the validity of the financial part of the conversion.

Additionally, within the claims, financial, and claims notes data there are numerous descriptive fields that must be accurately mapped. While these are usually not as complex as the financial component, they are just as important. Any inaccuracies here will result in flawed reporting, so again, a solid understanding of workers’ compensation data is important to have.

You’ve probably gathered that complex data conversions need to be well planned out. You first need to accurately define the destination source and then you need to completely and accurately map the data in order to assure a successful conversion. Any flaws in the overall design and process will result in a final database that doesn’t support subsequent reporting and can dramatically affect the overall performance of a company.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be. Leave the conversions to the People Data Experts.

It’s trivia time! We’ve listed three scenarios below, two FMLA leaves, one light duty and one reduced schedule. Can you tell which one is which?

1 - Melissa will be having bypass surgery, and will need to miss 6 weeks from work. When she returns she can work her regular job duties as plant foreman but will be limited to four-hour work days for the first three weeks.

2 – Jason has a bad cold and will need to stay home for two days and miss work at his job as a flight attendant to recover.

3 - Brian will be having knee surgery and will miss at least two weeks but not more than the six weeks for which he is certified. If he returns after two weeks, he will not be able to perform the heavy lifting duties associated with his regular job. A light duty position is available after two weeks of his absence, which he could do for 40 hours per week, but he doesn’t want to do it.

Which of these scenarios do you think is FMLA leave, light duty and reduced schedule?

Answers: Jason’s leave request doesn’t qualify as an FMLA leave. His need to miss two days for cold symptoms doesn’t meet the criteria as a serious health condition under the FMLA, so it is associated with sick time; not FMLA. It’s not related to any of the possible serious health condition elements outlined by the DOL:

  • It’s not inpatient care
  • It doesn’t require a period of incapacity requiring absence of three or more calendar days
  • It’s not due to pregnancy or prenatal care
  • It’s not associated with a chronic serious health condition
  • It’s not a period of incapacity that is permanent or long-term
  • It’s not associated with multiple treatments

So, which scenario is a reduced schedule? It’s Melissa’s leave.

All three situations will involve absence time, but only one involves a reduced schedule. Melissa’s job is protected while she’s absent six weeks because her bypass surgery and recovery meet the criteria as a serious health condition. Since she is able to work her same position with a modified schedule, this is interpreted as returning to an equivalent position with a trimmed or reduced schedule; she’s able to perform all of her regular job duties without assistance or accommodation but just not on a full-time basis.

What about Brian? Light duty is not required with the FMLA.

Brian is certified to miss six weeks of work, but his company has identified a light duty position he could complete after two weeks of absence. An employee who is physically or mentally unable to perform the essential functions of his or her position may be able to return to work sooner in a light duty position. But, according to the FMLA, employers are not required to create light duty positions and employees are not required to accept these positions. Light duty positions are not considered an equivalent position because they involve restricted duties or are a completely different job; consequently, the FMLA does not require reinstatement in this manner.

So, Brian has every right to refuse the offer of light duty under the FMLA. And, if his serious health condition doesn’t qualify as a disability, then the ADA and associated reasonable accommodation regulations are not applicable.

So what about you?

When employees, like Jason, request time off for situations other than serious health conditions are you consistently able to identify these situations as inapplicable to FMLA? Consider improving your workflow to include checks for these types of situations.

When employees, like Melissa, are only able to return to work on a reduced schedule, are you continuing to correctly identify and sum non-worked hours as FMLA? With the FMLA, her job is still protected despite her part time full duty.

Employees, like Brian, may turn down the opportunity for light duty work, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue or even increase efforts to return employees to work. Those employees, who do choose to return full time with a light duty position, while not still using FMLA, are still in a temporary position. These temporary return to work efforts should be well-documented and monitored prior to complete job restoration.

What do you think? Did you know the answers to the trivia questions? Let us know in the comments section below.

We’ve been speaking with several prospective customers lately who are growing more and more alarmed with the number of FMLA leaves that are occurring within their organization. Often times, prospective customers are at a loss of not only why more leaves are occurring, but also the most productive way to track and manage their ever growing leave issues and staying current with leave laws.

Many times, organizations are tracking their leave manually - spreadsheets, calendars, paper files or sticky notes; we’ve heard it all. As the number of state leaves continue to increase, along with the increasing trend of paid leave, HR professionals are finding that they are spending more and more time out of their day managing these leaves, researching leave types that the employee is eligible for, and ensuring their employees return to work. Not having a cloud-based system with automatic leave type updates can lead to a lot of administrative work and research, and we know HR is busy.

So, to hopefully give you a little more time back in your day, we’ve listed a few leave types below you may not have on your radar if you are managing employee leave for employees in Illinois or New York -

For employees in Illinois

  • Blood Donation Leave - Up to one hour of paid leave, or more if authorized by the employer or collective bargaining agreement, every 56 days.
  • Platelet Donation: Up to 2 hours or more to donate platelets. Leave for platelet donation may not be granted more than 24 times in a 12-month period.

For employees in New York

  • Blood Donation Leave - Employers must grant employees at least 3 hours of leave in any 12-month period to donate blood.

Stay tuned for more information on other leave types by state.

Feeling overwhelmed? Try check out our free 30 day trial of LeaveXpert and take the first step to getting a handle on leave.

Another year of FMLA court decisions is complete. What better way to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the February 1993 passage of the FMLA, than with a brief review of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Midwinter Report reviewing all FMLA court decisions from 2013. The report summarizes decisions by FMLA-related content, so we thought it would be interesting to summarize the content according to industry.

Industries were determined utilizing the entity of the defendant in each court case. The top 21 industries are listed in the table below; 21 on the 21st anniversary. As can be seen, a variety of industries are represented. They are spread across the services, manufacturing, retail, finance, public administration and transportation groups. The top 21 industries accounted for nearly 80% of the 450+ court decisions in 2013.

ABADecisions1

Two of the top three, Health and Educational Services are Service-related industries. Health Services is comprised primarily of hospitals, medical centers, along with nursing and personal care facilities. It is not surprising that this industry, often associated with a larger volume of FMLA absences, is also associated with the largest number of FMLA court decisions.

Just over 50% of the Educational Services group was colleges, universities or other professional schools. Also included in this category were other types of institutions along with elementary/secondary schools.

The Executive, Legislative and General Government category was associated with 62 court decisions. 50% of decisions involved counties, 33% involved cities and the rest of the court decisions were associated with state or federal level entities. After these first three of the 21 industries, court decisions drop off to smaller but not negligible amounts.

Whether you consider your organization susceptible to court proceedings, as the ABA Midwinter Report indicates by sheer volume, some industries appear more susceptible to these types of events than others. Consider yourself lucky not to be listed, but prepare yourself as best you can to minimize the possibility of being in next year’s ABA Midwinter Report.

To find a copy of the Midwinter Report, click here.

Over the past 18 months Optis has moved from a waterfall project management model to a SCRUM & AGILE project management philosophy for our new customers who require increased configuration. Developed in 1993, SCRUM promotes agile software development.

Yep, we get it…why would you care what project management methodology is used, just that your high quality product is delivered on time, within budget & scope, etc. But, it turns out that the SCRUM methodology has several benefits for you as the customer. Including –

  • Higher quality product – rigorous testing processes and iterative feedback
  • More flexibility in the requirements gathering process – leads to cost savings

Also, the SCRUM methodology has solid project values that we’ve found work well for us here at Optis -

  • Transparency: everything about the “project” is visible to everyone
  • Commitment: be willing to commit to a goal
  • Courage: have the courage to commit, to act, to be open and to expect respect
  • Focus: focus all of your efforts and skills on doing the work that you have committed to doing
  • Respect: respect and trust the different people who comprise a team

We’ve found that the SCRUM values can be applied to much more than just project management to improve productivity. There are various leadership aspects of Human Resources where the values can apply.

  • Transparency - ensure your Human Resource policies and procedures are visible and known by everyone. Is your FMLA tracking rolling back, rolling forward, on a calendar year, or some other fixed 12-month year? Make sure your method is clearly stated and known among employees.
  • Commitment - everyone should be willing to commit to a common goal, whether it’s a broad corporate goal or a project goal, implementing a new system, or managing an employee’s leave of absence.
  • Courage - Encourage employees to have the courage to creatively find solutions, to commit, to act, to be open and seek out solutions that are the best for the company and its employees.
  • Focus - focus all of your efforts and skills on doing the work you have committed to doing and reaching the common goal. Don’t get sidetracked by competing priorities.
  • Respect – in Human Resources, you work across all levels of the organization. Respect is earned but is fostered by open communication and a company philosophy that everyone in the organization has the potential to equally provide value.

Keep these values in mind, be willing to change, and then take the first step to disrupt the status quo.

Happy Valentine’s Day! This holiday we’re counting the ways in which employees and HR can get to know and love the Family & Medical Leave Act, and employee absence tracking. We know that FMLA tracking can get cumbersome at times – eligibility calculations, the snippets of intermittent leave time, obtaining medical certifications, etc., but there are several beneficial aspects of the FMLA we can get to know and love.

Just to recap, FMLA entitles covered employees to take unpaid, job protected leave with continuation of group health and insurance coverage for family and medical reasons. Twelve weeks of leave can be taken in a 12 month period.

Let’s take a look at some of the things to know and love about FMLA and employee leave management -

  1. FMLA gives covered employees 12 weeks of job protected leave in difficult times – to care for their own illness or an illness of a family member.

  2. FMLA gives covered employees job protected leave to care for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child.

  3. FMLA provides leave to covered military members, meaning that spouses, children or parents of a military member can take leave during a qualifying exigency. Some examples of that would include arranging childcare during deployment, attending military-related activities, taking leave to spend time with a military member during a period of rest and recuperation, etc.

  4. FMLA has been around for over 20 years, and is trending to expand its guidelines. Check out a few bills related to FMLA and workplace flexibility that have been introduced to Congress this year and could expand FMLA’s reach.

  5. They’re even state leave laws that can be used in addition to the federal FMLA leave. You can check some of them out here.

  6. FMLA allows for intermittent leave, so if employees need to see a doctor only sporadically, they don’t have to use all of their leave at once.

  7. Employers can select one of four options to determine the 12-month period in which employees can use FMLA. Check out the four ways here.

  8. Collaborating with employees, through administration of the FMLA, nurtures enhanced family relationships, which will likely have positive returns in the workplace in both employee attitude and effort.

  9. The difference between a headache and a heart throb is often just the place in the body where the throbbing is occurring. Change the throb from your head to your heart by modeling your FMLA administration workflow after the DOL guidelines.

  10. There’s LeaveXpert! Now there’s a cloud-based system that can help HR track their FMLA leaves anytime, anywhere, over the internet. Check out our free 30 day trial here.

After reading this list, your affection for the FMLA may not have grown but hopefully your relationship has become closer and tighter because you now know the FMLA better than before!

There has been quite a bit of discussion at HR conferences, associations, and blogs that has been focused on Human Resources gaining the attention of the C-Suite. Numerous articles and studies have concentrated on Why HR should get invited to strategically share in the business decisions of the top floor, but rarely have we seen the How mentioned. You may be a newly hired HR Director at a 100,000 employee company or an HR associate at a 50 employee company and have never previously had the opportunity to approach the C-Suite with your ideas and strategy. After all, waltzing into a boardroom, where your top executives are collaborating on everything from bricks and mortar to finances, to present your latest idea or solution proposal, may seem a little intimidating. So, before we have a conversation about all the excellent reasons as to why we should implement a new system, make a change to policies and procedures, solve a problem, or ask for a larger budget, let’s take a step back and look at some tips on How to approach the C-Suite.

Understanding today’s business climate and your executives’ schedule is a good start. Take into account the extremely fast pace of business - staying one step ahead of your competition, accomplishing more with less, needing it done yesterday, increasing profits, balancing multiple meetings and a busy travel schedule. This is what your executives breathe on a daily basis and what you have to contend with to get noticed by your C-Suite. Be prepared to bring your “A” game to your meeting - a value proposition that is solid, has concrete facts, and evidence to back it up is necessary. If you truly believe in what you are presenting, whether it’s improving results or solving a problem, you can make it happen. So let’s discuss the How.

  • Do Your Homework - Not only on the item you want to present, but also do your homework on your own organization. What direction is your organization heading? Does resolving the problem coincide with the goals of your organization? Have you experimented with the proposed solution via a trial period? What are the project time frames? Is your organization losing money because of process inefficiencies, and if so, how much? Are there any compliance risks associated with your business case? What similar organizations have already implemented your proposed solution and are they benefitting from it? For specifics on building a solid business case check out one of our prior blogs here.

  • Time Is Crucial - As discussed above, executives don’t have a lot of time, so use your time with them wisely. Start with presenting facts and statistics that prove the need for change. Keep it high level. If your C-Suite wants to know more, they will ask questions and will dictate the time.

  • Stay Focused and Concise – You may have ran into the owner of your organization or your CEO in the break room this morning while grabbing a bagel and enjoyed some small talk with them, but your meeting is the time to focus on what you feel would benefit the organization the most and ultimately impact your employees and bottom line. Keep the discussion about the topic, unless they want to turn the conversation towards your new dog or workout regimen.

  • It’s Not About You - Make sure that when you are presenting your challenge you have personal experiences ready to share, if asked. However, be careful that you do not make it all about you. Remember that this new system you would like to implement is for the benefit of the entire organization. It’s not about how many times you have failed to hit Save on your excel spreadsheets! How will your change make a difference?

  • Share Your Solution With Others First - Talk to others within your department about your new idea. Ask them to poke holes into your idea, and be open to their feedback. It’s likely they will ask you questions that you may have not thought of before. Try to find other “believers” in your organization that share your same thoughts and buy in to your idea.

  • Believe In Your Idea, and Believe In Yourself - Emotion is addictive. Feeling confident in your solution that you are bringing to the table for the betterment of your organization can be exciting. Exude your confidence and excitement that this change will be for the better. Have the data to back up your facts, and be open and professional towards the feedback you may receive.

  • If Your Project Is Not Considered – This does not mean it’s dead in the water. It may be a timing or a budgeting issue, and you may have a better chance next time because you have already planted the seed. If you’re asked to go back and do more research, consider this a win! If your project is not earning top priority status, consider it a minor road bump towards progress.

Every day you will be approached by numerous advertisements, emails, and calls about how to improve your business. Filtering through all of this will seem daunting, but you ultimately know what will benefit your department, employees and organization. Always look for new ideas, new technology, and strategies that can set your department and yourself apart from others, and improve your bottom line. Have a good basis for “How” to approach the decision makers in your organization. Utilizing some of the tips above will propel you on the right track. Don’t be afraid of change, and don’t be afraid to continue to push your organization forward.

Want to learn more about elevating HR to the C-Suite? Join us for a webinar on February 11, "Using Absence Analytics to Elevate HR to the C-Suite."

Do you have a high performing call center? Is it based on a certain location or job type? It wouldn’t be surprising to determine that high performers all worked for the same call center coach; one that is motivating, thoughtful, creative, etc. It might be more surprising to discover that high performers were all participants in the wellness benefits program; knowledge resulting from data analysis; not personal conversation. Regardless, some characteristics of that employee population differentiate high performers from the rest. Identifying those characteristics is the challenge, and it’s oftentimes the hidden gem that’s too hard to reach with your current tools and processes.

With disparate data in multiple systems, such as HRIS systems, time and attendance and payroll, it’s not surprising that these hidden gems of information remain buried. All too frequently this data remains separate, leaving you with an incomplete view. Getting a complete view is only possible when the data from the various systems are joined together to develop an understanding of the big picture. This complete data view illuminates the data and allows those hidden gems to be discovered.

It’s possible that leave of absence data hasn’t been included in your data integration efforts thus far, which, if that’s the case, integrating this data may be the golden shovel which will lead to discovering those gems. If you go the outsourcing route, it’s not uncommon to rely on reporting from FMLA or disability vendors. This is an acceptable approach, however, the downside is it's a siloed approach because it’s not combined with other types of benefit data, such as workers’ compensation, healthcare, pharmacy, dental, etc. Healthcare is often identified on the surface as a primary driver of benefits exposure. But, an integrated view of the data helps uncover data drivers associated with absence.

As the chart below indicates, 8% of the employee population is associated with just over half (53%) of the cost per employee for the benefits mentioned.

Healthcarechart

What’s missed without data integration is how absent employees are driving the generation of these high costs. This is a fact only seen from joining the data together in a tool, which creates the whole picture through integrating data from disparate systems. The direct cost of absence, illustrated by the disability (STD and LTD) and workers’ compensation indemnity (WCI) are all costs that would not have otherwise been visible. It’s also revealing that it’s these absent employees who also have the highest healthcare costs. Without this illumination, you might have pursued a different path or benefit plan design.

The link between healthcare cost and absence was the hidden gem! As a general principal, this link can be generalized to all organizations. But, the specifics of your disability absence cost can’t be known or discovered without data integration. Your situation will likely have some different characteristics. Let’s take a look at a few conclusions described in one company’s disability experience, which are fairly typical.

  • As tenure increases, salary increases
  • As average salary increases, STD durations get shorter
  • Musculoskeletal is the most common disability diagnosis category

Interestingly enough, here are some conclusions that you might not expect:

  • As average employee age increases, STD durations get shorter
  • Percent of women employed and length of tenure are unrelated
  • Increases in average age is not related to an increase in occupational disability claims

The data tells a story, but the story may not always be what you’d expect.

Which describe your organization? Do you know? Would you like to know? Having this type of information at your fingertips will empower you to make better benefit design decisions. These decisions which will help you improve the bottom line for your company, as well as strengthen your position with C-Suite executives, who will be pleased with the powerful information you hold in your fingertips from the hidden gems uncovered with your data integration tools.

Learn more during our webinar with the Spring Consulting Group, “Using Absence Analytics to Elevate HR to the C-Suite" on February 11. Register here.

Did you know that 80% of CEO’s and CFO’s want the head of HR to be a key part of their company’s strategic planning, but only 38% say that’s actually the case? This is alarming considering the fact that HR is responsible for the company’s most important asset: their people.

Join Optis and Spring Consulting Group on Tuesday, February 11 for the webinar, “Using Absence Analytics to Elevate HR to the C-Suite.” We’ll be exploring how a deep look into your organization’s absence management practices can help HR identify program issues and create an actionable plan that positively impacts the bottom line, securing HR’s place in the C-Suite. Specifically, we’ll be taking a look at:

  • The financial impact of employee absence
  • Options for managing absence, including insourcing and outsourcing
  • Identifying a step-by-step approach to business intelligence that provides clear information, enabling HR to make program improvements
  • How to become ‘data strategic’ and answer important, costly questions to secure HR’s role as a strategic partner

Register here.

With the start of the New Year, do you feel like you’re experiencing information overload? Perhaps there’s too much data to begin to make sense of it all?

On Friday, January 17, we’ll be speaking at the Mile High SHRM 2014 Annual Conference, HR Unplugged – Amplify Yourself, and we’ll be providing examples of strategies businesses can use to make sense of all of their people data. We’ll also be examining unique perspectives into the hot topic of big data and the methods HR departments can use to manage disparate employee information, drive improvements in their HR and benefit programs and positively impact their bottom line. Additionally, we’ll also be looking at how analytics can be used as a beneficial business intelligence tool to identify trends and lower costs.

We’re looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and connecting with new folks in HR, and presenting in our own backyard here in Denver. If you can’t make the conference, you can follow the conversation on Twitter at #2014HRC. If you’d like to learn more about people data and how it can help you make business decisions that positively impact your bottom line, we welcome you to download People Data In Your Business. This whitepaper provides best practices that can help you become people-data strategic and make your disparate data easy to see, understand, and control. Key ideas include:

  • Start Simply
  • Establish Baselines
  • Develop Iteratively
  • Adapt by updating previously created reports and metrics

We'll see you on Friday!

MileHighSHRM

Believably or unbelievably not all states have passed laws providing time off from work to victims of domestic or sexual violence. This, while a February 2008 CDC report indicates that, in the U.S., nearly one in four women report experiencing violence by a current or former partner at some point in their life. Whether for the employee or a child/dependent of the employee, a need exists to take time off when events of this nature occur. This need for time off is driven by five general purposes.

  • Counseling
  • Victim services
  • Actions ensuring the victim’s health and safety
  • Medical treatment associated with recovery from injury
  • Legal action related to civil and criminal proceedings

As recent as March of 2013, the Security and Financial Empowerment Act bill was proposed at the federal level in order to guarantee employees can take time off for these same five reasons, when either the employee or the employee’s family or household member is a victim of domestic/dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. If passed, this legislation would provide a benefit of 30 days of emergency leave in any 12 month period. The employee would also be protected against discrimination and job loss, while the employer could require certification that the employee is unable to return to work because of the violence.

For those states which haven’t proposed or passed this type of law, they need look no further than the state of Oregon, which recently made an eligibility change to the Leave for Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault or Stalking protections. Prior to the change the following were eligibility guidelines:

  1. Covered employers must have 6 employees in Oregon
  2. Protected employees worked at least 25 hours a week
  3. Protected employees were employed at least 180 days prior to requesting leave

As of January 1, 2014, eligibility was expanded with elimination of the second two bullets so that all employees of any covered employer with at least 6 employees in Oregon are protected.

The number of states with laws protecting victims of domestic and sexual violence is only going to grow. You need to ask yourself, ‘How many states do my employees work in, which have this and other crime victim law leave time benefits?’ If tracking leave time is becoming excessively cumbersome, then consider software tools which can track this type of crime victim leave time along with other family medical, military, emergency responder, organ/blood donor or parental leave. With the complexities of individual state laws in conjunction with corresponding existing/future federal laws, tracking leave time will only become more complicated and complex in the near future.

Overwhelmed by tracking leave? Try our free trial at leavexpert.com

When you think about it, HR managers are pretty much just like Santa.

You have long lists (absent employees, job codes, open positions, letters to send, grievances to review … the list of lists goes on and on).

And, you have to check them twice. (Does that absence need recertification? Was that initial notice sent? Is your new hire under the right pay code?)

And, whether you want to or not, you know who’s naughty and nice (thanks to employee complaints, performance reviews, and recognition programs).

You might not see employees when they’re sleeping (unless it’s on the job), but you spend a lot of time with them when they’re awake. So, you know if they’ve been bad or good … which is a lot to manage (for goodness’ sake).

And, you’re constantly giving gifts; approving leave requests, hiring new people, rewarding top performers, and providing benefit and wellness programs. These are gifts that keep on giving the whole year through.

Yes, as we see it, HR managers can find a kindred spirit in Santa Claus… only you work more than one night a year.

So, thank you, HR! Happy Holidays to all of the HR Managers and leave specialists out there! You deserve a wonderful holiday season!

HRRockstar

We’re about 3 weeks away from the New Year. (Yes, 3 weeks!) Looking forward to the year ahead there are two important leave updates for human resources to have on their radar. Here’s a quick rundown –

Portland, Oregon Paid Sick Leave Effective Date: January 1, 2014

All private sector employers with employees working in Portland will have to provide sick leave for eligible employees.

  • Employers with 6 employees or more have to provide employees with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work performed by the employee
  • Employers who have less than 6 employees have to provide one hour of unpaid sick leave for every 30 hours of work performed by the employee
  • Employees can only accrue up to 40 hours/year

Accruals start on January 1, 2014 for current employees. For new hires after 1/1/2014, sick leave time accruals will begin on their date of hire. New hires are eligible once they have worked 240 hours and have been employed for at least 90 days.

Mondaq has a good list of FAQs here.

California Emergency Responder Leave Effective Date: January 1, 2014

California’s Emergency Responder Leave is expands on January 1 to provide job protected leave to reserve peace officers, emergency rescue personnel and voluntary firefighters to attend emergency workers’ training for 14 days per calendar year. The previous leave protected volunteer fire fighters only.

  • This applies to employers with at least 50 employees

Action Items & Next Steps for HR

  1. Update leave policies, documentation and processes
  2. Notify and train management on these updates
  3. Make sure employees are in the loop

LeaveXpert

Feeling overwhelmed? Sign up for a free trial of LeaveXpert and start managing employee absence today.

Productive

December has arrived and the end of the year is upon us. Where did the last 11 months go!?

Like most people, you’re likely planning holiday parties, baking, shopping, and, oh yeah, working.

This time of year it can be especially challenging to get everything checked off your 'to do' list. And, if you’re managing leaves of absence, your day-to-day work ‘to do’ list is probably growing longer and longer by the minute.

With unscheduled absence and holiday observances, not to mention cold and flu season, the burden of managing leave becomes more cumbersome during the holidays than the rest of the year.

To help you during the hustle and bustle of preparing for the season ahead, in both your work life and personal life, we’ve come up with 5 tips to help you do more in less time. Check out our brand new resources to be more productive despite disruptions, delays and [holiday] drama:

In addition to great ways to get more done before 2014 arrives, we’ll also give you 10% off of any Optis cloud service as a thank-you for downloading either resource.

Happy December!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our clients and business partners! We're looking forward to a long weekend, kicking off the holiday season, and cranberry sauce over here at Optis. We hope you have plans for a nice holiday as well.

In HR, we see a lot, we deal with a lot, but there is also a lot to be thankful for. During this week of thanks, we'd like to celebrate eight reasons HR professionals can be thankful!

  1. Open enrollment only comes once a year.

  2. Thanksgiving = a day off.

  3. Awesome tweets chats, such as #nextchat, #HRISchat, #tchat.

  4. The business casual dress at conferences – long live flats for walking those exhibit halls!

  5. All of the swag you can get a conferences. Margaritas anyone?

  6. Daily lunch breaks with DriveThru HR.

  7. There’s now a cloud software solution to track FMLA.

  8. And you can trial it for free and gain access immediately, without a demo, RFP process or drawn out implementation.

Thanksgiving

Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

Why aren't consistently successful individuals and companies upset by life's unexpected twists and turns the way the rest of us are? What do those people and organizations know that we don't?

Check out our infographic below to understand the five key practices that successful individuals follow to avoid disruptions, delays, and drama.

ProductivityInfogrpahic

Want more? Download the full guide, Doing More Despite Disruptions, Delays, and Drama — A Guide to Greater Productivity now!

Step 5: Make the Purchase!

After the business justification process has been completed, we’ll assume you received the stamp: ‘APPROVED.’ The last step of the process is making the purchase, but remember with purchasing, comes great responsibility.

Double Check Security A purchased solution is only as strong or secure as its weakest component, so be sure to only enter a relationship with a company that has demonstrable security certification. A good place to start is to confirm that your preferred vendor is ISO 27001 certified. What should this mean to you? You can be assured that your preferred vendor is abiding by strict data security protocols, which means you can be confident that your information is protected, and you can sleep at night.

Kick Things off on the Right Foot Have you had to experience productivity-inhibiting downtime due to necessary software updates? Anymore, these types of updates should occur seamlessly to you the user; in other words, software updates should not negatively affect you during regular hours of use of the software. Don’t begin your relationship with your preferred vendor without a service level agreement which provides you with a clear understanding of any downtime. This document should also guarantee to you a minimum uptime, which should be in the neighborhood of 99.9%.

Training, Training, Training No solution is acceptable that does not provide some type of customer support and training. These days, training and support comes in many fashions. It could be comprised of an online knowledge base, which includes FAQs, email support, live support or even video tutorials, which provide a clear demonstration of how the software solution should be used. Just be sure you understand and are comfortable with the type of support offered by your preferred vendor.

The best way to learn the ins and outs of new software is to practice using the tool. Regardless of whether formal training is a part of your software agreement, now is the time for you, the purchaser, to roll up your sleeves and interact with the software – provide an example and be the teacher.

Adoption You know users will get hooked when they begin to experience the features of the software which simplify and increase the productivity of their work experience. But, how do you engage them? Just as in training, you as the purchaser need to engage with the software and utilize it frequently enough that it become second nature. Without this type of engagement, it is likely the software will not be adopted by your staff and only be used at a peripheral level.

Talk About Your Buying Prowess After a period of initial use of the product, a follow-up to the business case ROI analysis, mentioned in Part III of this series, should be conducted to financially confirm the value of the software purchase. Not only should you be able to complete an analysis of any changes in average FMLA days used per employee, but you should also be able to analyze other improvements related to direct measures of success. These measures of success include quantifying various activities related to the number of cases associated with each user. Metrics include average tasks, communications, attachments and letters completed per quarter. Improved efficiencies should be reflected in the increasing number of activities completed per quarter. After you’ve calculated the improvements you’ve made, show your boss.

DoingMore

Why is it that some people and companies are consistently productive, day in and day out, despite the curve balls that life and business throw at them? What lessons have they learned that we seem to have missed?

Your game, too, could be less affected by the curve balls of disruptions and upheaval. How? We've uncovered five key practices that can help you do more despite disruptions, delays and drama.

What are they? Here's a sneak peak at the first three practices:

  1. Have the right systems in place — for today and down the road.
  2. Perform due diligence in every aspect of your personal and business life.
  3. Stay on top of your information, and be sure you separate information from knowledge.

To get the other two tips and more details about implementing these practices into your life, check out two new resources that can benefit your game:

As a thank-you for downloading either resource, you’ll receive a 10% discount on any Optis cloud services purchased before March 1, 2014.

Intermittent FMLA leave tracking, eligibility requirements and varying leave policies by state is enough to haunt HR in their dreams. However, managing employee absence doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. Here are a few general tips to follow to keep you on track and help you sleep this Halloween -

• An employer has the right to request a medical certification for an employee absence, but don’t ask for one more often than every 30 days (in most cases.) Give the employee space. Don’t wear that metaphorical bladed glove.

• Determine the best “FMLA Year” and publicize it. The four ways to count an “FMLA Year” is using the calendar year, any fixed 12 month period, a 12 month period measured forward, or a rolling 12 month period. You could even have the 12 month period start on Halloween each year! (Technically speaking…) Whichever you choose, make sure the determined time period is applied consistently in every absence.

• Notify an employee of their eligibility within five business days of the leave request.

• Stay up to date on leave policies by state. Know the states that recognize same-sex marriages and same-sex marriages in other jurisdictions and make sure you’re using the term spouse appropriately. (Quick tip: Those states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington, plus the District of Columbia.)

• Manage FMLA with the ADA in mind – always. Provide employees with reasonable accommodations when requested. Keep in mind that extra leave time can be a reasonable accommodation.

Following these tips, along with others can help you avoid any DOL nightmares. Ready to track employee absence in the cloud? Give LeaveXpert a test drive (but not in a convertible) with our free 30 day trial. We’ll leave you with this little ditty – Happy Halloween!

One, Two....DOLs Coming for You... Three, Four....Better Document More... Five, Six....Know the Leave’s Basics... Seven, Eight....Better Track the Dates... Nine, Ten.....Never use Spreadsheets Again!

Step 4: Establish the business case

So, you know you have a leave management problem. You’ve committed to change and you’ve done the research to make that change happen. The next step on the list? Get management buy-in.

The most effective way to do that, whether you’re required to provide it or not, is to present a business case for your sought-after solution. It will demonstrate forethought, planning and evaluation that will improve your chances of getting the purchase approved.

Whether your business case with be a simple one-page document or a complex report, we recommend you include the following three components to make the strongest case possible:

• Document the opportunity for improvement • Measure expected financial impact • Be guided by your overall vision

DOCUMENT THE OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVEMENT You should begin by asking questions your senior team might ask, such as ‘How do we operate today?’ or ‘Why do we need to change?’ The answers to these questions will not only document your business problems but will be the catalyst for change. It is telling to indicate that current processes are epitomized by self-generated spreadsheets and that no standard method or tool exists for absences associated with the FMLA. The ability to provide basic summary leave of absence statistics or comparative leave specialist caseload measures to management is often impossible because time is spent on inefficient, untracked efforts. When process dictates and dominates delivery and management of the benefit, only hassles can result.

Also important is detailing any inconsistent application of company policies and/or state and federal laws, not because of neglect of duties, but due to outdated work structures. Whatever you accomplish in documenting the opportunity for improvement, you must disrupt the thinking, assumptions and understanding of decisions makers. If they aren’t shaken, the likelihood of change is minimized.

MEASURE THE FINANCIAL IMPACT While calculations of financial impact vary, it is still good to calculate a prospective Cost/Benefit ROI for any hosted cloud solution you have investigated. Since the FMLA does not involve wage replacement cost, any estimate of savings will be based on indirect cost saving factors. One primary factor is the gain in productivity resulting from a reduction in FMLA absences and employees returning to work in a timely manner. A positive cumulative effect results from both the employee returning to his job sooner and other employees being able to focus solely on their regularly assigned duties.

One Optis case study projected annual savings in the reduction of FMLA days of 5% over a four-year period after implementation of a hosted cloud solution. For an employer with 5,000 employees, which also averages 3.5 FMLA days per employee per year, a 5% savings corresponds to a decrease of 875 FMLA days for one year. Including other productivity factors, we would then expect indirect cost savings to total approximately $200,000.

In order to calculate an ROI, we must also consider the cost of the investment. Costs of hosted cloud solutions are typically based on the number of users. Assuming a multi-user investment cost of $10,000 per year, the return on investment, in this example, would be just over 19:1, or a return of $19 for every $1 invested in the solution1. So, consider the investment, predict the savings, and your ROI estimate will provide substantial evidence in building your case.

BE GUIDED BY YOUR OVERALL VISION Sometimes, when taking in feedback from various stakeholders, varying opinions on important features pop up. Evaluation of features is important and should factor into the decision-making process. But, it is more important to value a solution that provides a superior user experience, which not only streamlines and automates the experience of the leave specialist but maximizes long term engagement with the product.

A great solution should be so good at removing the complexities of your existing work environment that when you’re involved in the everyday tasks of leave management your work occurs so seamlessly that you don’t even realize and aren’t even aware of all that you’re accomplishing. In other words, the aspects of work, which previously were so draining and felt lengthy and somewhat overwhelming, now are simplified and are not weighing you down.

Thinking of transitioning from manual FMLA Tracking to a cloud solution? Read Part I & Part II

1 This ROI estimate and these cost savings are projections only and will vary from one company to another.

Results

It’s All About Implementation … In the end it’s about usage, smart data and building stronger teams. Will this product be worth the effort and expense? Deconstruct the technology down to its core deliverables. The rest is just a waste of time.” – Meghan M. Biro Have you seen Forbes’ “7 Hottest Trends in HR Technology” by Meghan M. Biro? The quote above is an excerpt from the article, which we think is spot on. The implementation of new software should get you to the end result in the simplest, most efficient way.

At #HRTechConf, everyone was chattering about being in the cloud. Other than being a hot buzz word, it’s important to understand what that really means for your business. The savings that can come from a cloud solution start at implementation. With the right cloud software, you can avoid the pitfalls of implementations gone bad.

How exactly can a true cloud solution help you identify the implementation “usual suspects “ that lead to project delays, bulging budgets, and a poor end result? Well, let’s take a look:

  • Procurement delays – the RFP and contracting process can take weeks and weeks. A good cloud solution will provide a free trial so the end user can test out the system while continuing to do their job, rather than checking off a list of procurement questions.

  • Customization overload – customization of software tools can quickly get out of hand. While every business has unique needs, an excellent cloud solution will provide simple configuration options and will include a workflow that will require less customization in the first place.

  • Overwhelmed resources – For the most part, we are all really busy. Taking on a side project or a huge implementation adds even more to your already-full plate. The cloud approach frees up your time and allows you to start seeing results instead of checking off boxes in an RFP.

  • Dependencies on siloed departments – If only you had a nickel every time we heard “We’re waiting on our IT department.” No offense to them (we love IT!), but they are overwhelmed with keeping the technical side of the company running, most likely with little resources. Intuitive cloud software with data management capabilities allows you to by-pass needing a tech resource.

  • Lack of user training – There’s nothing worse than software that isn’t being used (just thinking about all those unused, outdated systems breaks our hearts). A good cloud system will offer trials, demos, and FAQ’s to be sure that your team understands how to best use the system to become more efficient.

So, instead of depleting resources on a lengthy implementation, seek out the HR technology in the cloud that will get you up and running quickly, streamline your processes, reduce costs, and give you back some of your time.

Optis Announces ISO 27001 Certification at HR Tech Conference

In life, we all take great strides to protect our personal data and identity. We rip up all those credit card offerings we receive in the mail, we run our free annual credit report each year, and keep our social security cards tucked away in a safe place. This week we announced big news - and more proof that you can rest assured that your data is safe with Optis.

Earlier in the week we exhibited at the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas and revealed that after a rigorous auditing process, we obtained our ISO 27001 certification. Established by the International Organization for Standardization, ISO 27001 is the international standard for Information Security Management Systems (ISMS). It provides the framework for an ISMS that enables the continued accessibility, confidentiality and integrity of information as well as legal compliance. It has been adopted globally with over 15,000 certificates issued in 117 countries, and is the most stringent certification for information security controls. To summarize, this certification is big deal, and we’re very proud to have it.

ISOB

“Earning the ISO 27001 certification provides additional assurance to our clients that our long-standing security best practices provide protection of their most valuable information at the highest possible standard,” says Richard Ganzce, Director of Information Technology and Security for Optis.


So, what does this mean for our customers and partners?

  • Confirmation of data security - your personal information continues to be protected and upheld
  • Business continuity – our framework is rigorously tested to avoid downtime and security concerns. Assurance that customer data, financial information and intellectual property are protected from loss, theft and damage.
  • All of this is tested and verified by a third party.

A tremendous amount of hard work and preparedness went into achieving this certification. We thank everyone here at Optis who helped us obtain this highly respected designation.

#HRTechConf is just days away. You can almost hear the slot machines, can’t you? Do you see the Vegas skyline when you close your eyes? We know - you’re excited. We’re excited, too. Everyone is planning to have a good time in Vegas.

HRTechConf

But, aside from having fun at the after-parties, you’re being sent to #HRTechConf on a mission, aren’t you? And that mission is: to learn about the latest HR technology and cloud-software.

However, it can be hard to stay focused with the bling-bling-bling of slot machines ringing in your ears for days on end. And when you’re back in the office, after the haze of four days in the city that never sleeps is lifted, you’ll find it even more difficult to keep track of everyone you met, what you learned in sessions, and the vendors you enjoyed visiting on the tradeshow floor.

So, how can you go to Vegas this weekend and get your search for HR software on (and still manage to have a good time)? Here’s how:

  1. Have a plan. Peruse the exhibit hall and session agenda before you arrive. Use the mobile app to ‘favorite’ the sessions you want to attend and the vendors you want to meet. Know when the exhibit hall is open. (Monday 10am-12:15pm, 2-6pm; Tuesday 10am-4pm)
  2. Make appointments. You might stumble upon an exciting product demo as you wander the tradeshow floor, but the chances of getting all of your questions answered in a group demo are pretty low. Instead, reach out to the companies you’re most interested in before the conference and schedule a private discussion or demo. If it’s too late to schedule a meeting or your schedule is already packed, visit the companies you want to learn more about to set up a post-show, private demo.
  3. Don’t sign up for every gadget and gizmo. Sure, you really want the newest, smallest, and fastest handheld gadget on the market, but that’s not why you’re here. Dropping your card in fishbowls or getting scanned for every raffle will only cloud your memory when you get back to the office and are bombarded with hundreds of, “Nice to Meet You – But You Didn’t Win,” emails. Only pass your information on to the vendors you have a genuine interest in purchasing from or you desire to get real product information from post-event.
  4. Don’t party too hard. We’re all excited for the events taking place next week at a number of the best clubs in Vegas, but don’t overdo it. Enjoy the parties. Get your networking on. But use the after-parties to meet people you follow on Twitter or who share in your passion for HR. Don’t use them as an excuse to have too many cocktails and end up sleeping through the next day’s general session.
  5. Take notes. You might think you’ll remember the name of the coolest people you meet or the vendors that were the most interesting, but sometimes things do stay in Vegas – like your memory. Jot down a few important features on the data sheets you grab from vendors. Make a quick note on the back of a business card of where you met someone and why you exchanged cards. Capture good ideas shared at sessions. Writing things down as they happen will help you remember everything more clearly - once your ears stop ringing from those darn slot machines.

P.S. Make an appointment to visit us at Booth 536 at #HRTech and find out how you can save 10% on your LeaveXpert purchase.

Two weeks ago, we discussed the first two steps of transitioning from manual FMLA tracking to a cloud solution. This week, we’re exploring Step 3.

Step 3: Investigate the options

Bad habits are hard to break. But, as the saying goes, “The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Sure, it may be hard to let go of your paper-based FMLA tracking process because of the familiarity, the consistency, your habit – call it what you will. But, if you’ve recognized the problems of your existing processes and are committed to change, then it’s time to stop doing the same thing over and over and move to the cloud.

But, where to start? Investigate the options.

The options available when purchasing cloud-software can only be understood if they are explored systematically. And, more than likely, your organization may very well require you to document your investigative efforts.

Be thorough and follow these three tasks; do your homework, conduct vendor conversations, and experiment with free trials.

  1. Do your homework. Surf the internet and see what’s out there. Start with a simple internet search such as leave management software or absence management software. But don’t stop there. Take advantage of the suggestions provided by your search engine, and consider other ways to phrase what you’re looking for. Also, use social media sites and blogs – which hold a plethora of information. For example, by following hashtags on Twitter, you can get updates from HR technology vendors, find product reviews from HR bloggers, and get to know top influencers who can point you in the right direction. Our favorite hashtags are #HRTech, #HRTechConf and the new #HRISchat. You can also seek out (or start) discussions in your LinkedIn Groups, visit forums and follow the comments, or participate in an online class or webinar.

  2. Vendor conversations are critical when investigating possible cloud solutions if you have several custom needs. When having these conversations you should focus on sharing the problems you are currently experiencing. Unfortunately, these conversations can become sidetracked if you focus too heavily on the bells and whistles rather than functions that alleviate your problems. What happens? You may find a solution that seemingly ‘does it all’ but then you realize, while the snazzy features are nice, they don’t really solve your organization’s leave management issues. So, take the approach that you would when ordering wine at an expensive restaurant. You know you want wine with your meal, but you ask the waiter which wine goes best with your meal to have the best dining experience.

  3. Lastly, and most importantly, experiment with the software you want to purchase by taking advantage of a free trial experience. A free trial is play time that lets you pound the tires and gives you the opportunity of experiencing the thrill of the cloud solution meeting your needs and solving your manual FMLA tracking problems. Usually a trial will provide a 30-60 day window to work in the system real-time, which means you have the opportunity to track existing FMLA absences for a period of time or from beginning to end. For example, test how the solution tracks intermittent time over multiple weeks for different serious health conditions. In a good system, you’ll start to see how your current headache from tracking this type of FMLA time will be relieved. Like a good pain reliever (or a glass of wine), you’ll forget you even had a headache as you move throughout your day more productively and happily.

We all want to work smarter, not harder. (Such a catchy little phrase.)

The problem that most of us face when inspired by this phrase is how to get started. What exactly can we do ‘smarter’ or more efficiently? How can we accomplish all there is to be done, without additional hard work?

When managing workplace absenteeism, the conundrum is no different. Leaves are requested, notifications need to be sent, certifications need to be received, time needs to be tracked, and leave laws need to be followed. It seems as though there is hardly enough time to accomplish all that needs to be done, let alone changing the process. How can we even begin to be more efficient and break the cycle of burdensome work?

Cloud-software. With a cloud-based leave management software, you can gain immediate access to a better process. Without a long software implementation (that all the other leave management systems require) cloud-based solutions provide a time-saving, simpler process immediately.

You’ll be working smarter, not harder, within minutes of signing up by gaining:

  • Automated Task Management – Within a proper leave management system, tasks associated with employee absenteeism, such as sending an initial notice or following up with a doctor, are prioritized and organized by due date. Having an organized, prioritized list of tasks is the first step to working smart.
  • Correspondence Templates – Why reinvent the wheel? Every time you need to send a communication to an employee, supervisor, or another individual associated with a leave, you shouldn’t start from scratch. Instead, a good leave management system will have a library of templates that can be auto-populated to streamline your communication process. Additionally, they can be saved within a leave for future reference. Using a quality, repeatable process makes the hard work a little easier.
  • Centralized Information Hub – While a prioritized list and quality processes will definitely set you on the right path, the most important step is to keep information you need to know at your fingertips. Shuffling through employee files, looking up leave laws, or checking various systems for payroll information wastes time, adds stress, and is prone to error. The best leave management system, will integrate all of your employee information as well as provide the Federal and State leave laws that need to be considered when managing absenteeism. Keeping all of your information in one place will ensure you’re the most efficient (smarter) and reduce your administrative burden (not harder).

Ready to jump on the working smarter, not harder band-wagon? Sign up for our LeaveXpert trial today and gain immediate access to your own leave management cloud-software.

Step 1: Recognize the Problem

It’s one thing to track FMLA days when they are continuous, but it’s another gamut entirely when FMLA leaves are taken intermittently. The frustrations and headaches mount, especially in a manual, non-automated environment. Manual environments are paper-based or spreadsheet-driven, which while initially useful can become cumbersome, mistake-prone and non-transferable over time.

When tracking FMLA available hours manually, it’s only a matter of time until you’re not confident in your calculations. And those calculations come with serious compliance and cost risks. At this point it’s time to recognize that you have a problem that is insurmountable in a manual world.

Don’t believe us? Here’s something to consider: It’s simple when an employee starts with a balance of 480 hours, takes a continuous amount of leave of 130 hours and has a resulting balance of 350 hours. With that simplicity, spreadsheets can work. But, and it’s a big but, intermittent time can be taken on different days of the week in multiple non-consecutive months. Accumulating and properly subtracting these utilized hours to properly sum and determine potential exhaustion becomes difficult. (Just thinking about it is difficult.)

The opportunity to make a mistake magnifies exponentially.

Additionally, what happens when you want to take a vacation (‘cause you seriously need one)? Will another co-worker in the office be able to properly maintain your manual, non-automated process? It will take time to train him/her on how to effectuate your process, which likely they won’t completely understand. If it’s already difficult for you to properly track intermittent FMLA, imagine the frustration your replacement will have. And, what if they are the one to accidentally corrupt your spreadsheet-driven process? That result will not only complicate your FMLA tracking process but will potentially and unnecessarily confound the work relationship.

If you’re shaking your head in agreement or concern is creeping over you about the future of your manual FMLA tracking process, you’ve done the first step and recognized the problem.

Optis FMLA

Step 2: Commit to Change

How challenging does the situation have to become before you will decide to improve your situation?

For example, do you really want to have to ask the employee what they think their available FMLA balance might be because your manual process has failed and become unrecoverable? No. You don’t. It’s time to chart the course and change your process.

Commitment to making a change is simply making a plan to improve your existing processes. Ben Franklin’s centuries old quote, ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’ is quite appropriate because you don’t want to make a hasty decision that leads to a solution that doesn’t actually solve your FMLA tracking problems. Making a plan involves identifying key project activities. These activities should include detailing the problems with your existing efforts, identification of stakeholders involved in the decision process and inclusion of any necessary purchasing steps that must be followed pursuant to any company policy.

In addition to identification of these activities, project milestones should be established. These milestones should not only properly reflect the timeline in which you want to make your decision and implement the software, but they should also provide guidance and serve as targets for the endeavor which you are undertaking.

Execution of your plan will require due diligence. Whether your identified time frame is short or long, remember to stay on task. We’re all busy. We get it. You may miss targeted milestones or other work may circumvent your ability to spend time on this project, but stay on course. Continual, dedicated effort will be needed; while not all-day, every-day, you will want to dedicate certain parts of each day or each week, depending upon your schedule. Don’t let roadblocks, whether human, informational or budget-driven prevent you from completing the project and implementing the change.

Once you’ve completed step two by making the commitment to change, keep an eye out for Part II of this series to understand how to move your manual process to the cloud.

We are returning back from a relaxing Labor Day weekend and are very much looking forward to this week! Optis President, Archie Anderson will be a guest speaker on DriveThruHR this Friday, September 6 at 11:00 am MST / 12 pm CST, and will be speaking with co-hosts William Tincup, SPHR, Bryan Wempen and Nisha Raghavan. The entire speaker line up at DriveThruHR this week is awesome, to say the least. Here are the guests speakers:

On Friday, Archie will be speaking about several aspects of employee absence – the costs, the risks, what employee absenteeism looks like today and why it’s keeping HR up at night. Here are a few tidbits of information about employee absence before the show –

  • Absence is expensive – it costs U.S. employers $100 billion annually
  • Employee leave is increasing – 16.5% of the entire workforce used FMLA in an 18-month period
  • Leave is hard on your staff – 63% of HR professionals report morale problems with employees covering for absent employees

You can follow the DriveThruHR conversation on twitter at #DTHR. We’ll be listening all week!

DriveThruHR

Summer is on its way out. Fall is arriving. Labor Day weekend is ahead. And we all celebrate the day dedicated to the American worker by, ironically, not working.

Counter-intuitive as it may be, we’re looking forward to it. We think about not being at work a lot (i.e. absenteeism) and how to get people back to work sooner. Speaking of, did you catch the recent article that said depression is responsible for nearly $23 billion in absenteeism? Man … that’s depressing. The good news is, you can do something about it. (Learn more about reducing workplace absenteeism here.)

To change our usual focus from reducing absenteeism to celebrating being at work, we’ve dug up a few fun facts in honor of our American workforce and in celebration of our upcoming holiday.

  • Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 under the Grover Cleveland administration to placate unionists following the Pullman Strike.
  • The Department of Labor appointed Thomas E. Perez as the new Secretary of Labor on July 23, 2013. (Congrats on the new job!)
  • The DOL is 100 years old this year! That’s right, on March 4,1913, William Howard Taft signed legislation creating the U.S. Department of Labor. (Happy Birthday, DOL!)
  • Nonfarm Business has had a .9% increase in productivity, a 2.6% increase in output and a 1.7% increase hours worked in the second quarter of 2013.
  • Manufacturers have had a 2.7% increase in productivity. (Dang, we’re really workin’!)
  • US Labor Department announced the final rules to improve employment of veterans and people with disabilities on August 27, 2013.
  • Esther Peterson was selected by President Kennedy to lead the Women’s Bureau of the DOL and serve as Assistant Secretary in 1961.Two years later, she was the driving force behind the Equal Pay Act in 1963. (Woot!)

Happy Labor Day, folks! Enjoy your holiday weekend!

LaborDay

P.S. If you have questions about calculating absence over a holiday weekend, check out this post.

Did you catch the article in the August 12 issue of Business Insurance Magazine, “Total Absence Management Helps Employers Control Costs” by Sheena Harrison? The article describes how integrated disability management programs that were developed years ago for large organizations are now being modified for mid-market and smaller employers. Midsize employers are seeking to integrate their non-occupational and occupational leave data and begin developing a total absence management program. Tom Parry, President of CEO of the Integrated Benefits Institute weighs in on the issue of absence management in the article,

“Larger employers tend to have what we might call more “slack” in their systems…they have more people that might be able to fill in and do jobs and that kind of thing. Smaller employers don’t have that luxury, so absence and poor health really hit small employers big time.”

With increasing leave laws it’s no doubt that mid-size employers are feeling the squeeze with several absence related costs – overtime pay, employee engagement, staffing and scheduling, etc. We noticed this trend in the absence management marketplace as well, and as a response, expanded our current LeaveXpert product and created three editions, Essential, Plus and Unlimited. These three editions tailor to the business needs of small, mid-market and large organizations, and we showcased these editions at the DMEC Conference in Atlanta this week.

LeaveXpert

These new editions allow Leave Specialists to go online at LeaveXpert.com and sign up immediately. Instead of having long meetings with project stakeholders and drawn out implementations, Leave Specialists can start tracking FMLA leave in the cloud today with our free 30 day trial. Then, they can build upon LeaveXpert by integrating short term and long term disability, and workers’ comp data if needed, on their own time schedule. This allows Leave Specialists to start tracking leave today, and begin to get a handle on leave and see absence trends, instead of waiting weeks or months for a product to go live.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by our booth at the DMEC Conference, and a big thanks to all of the DMEC volunteers, and conference coordinators. We had a great time, and enjoyed seeing our customers and industry partners. Also, congratulations to our iPad winner!

ArchieDMECOptis President, Archie Anderson announcing Optis’ iPad winner!

Keeping employees engaged is a task that plagues many HR professionals, and for good reason. First, it’s tough to measure. And second, it’s tough to improve.

At Optis, we feel the number one way that employees are disengaged is by being absent. Those who are on an extended leave or are chronically out of the office (for non-work reasons) are typically not examples of engaged employees due to major life changes or ongoing ailments.

But, it doesn’t stop there. Employee absence affects engagement beyond the employee who is recovering, vacationing, on sabbatical, or abusing the system. How? We’re here to tell you:

1. Non-absent Employees are Overloaded To cover the work of absent employees, those who are still in the office are now doing more than one job. Whether their taking over a role that doesn’t interest them, doing a task that they don’t fully understand or just have too much work to get done each day, your employee who’s clocking in every morning may becoming less and less excited to be there.

2. Employee Morale Shrinks We believe this is especially true when dealing with intermittent leaves of absence. When one employee is chronically missing work and looking to coworkers to takeover tasks, cover shifts, or help with their workload, it wears people down. A lot of resentment can build up and exhausted employees might become unhappy with a company who’s seemingly catering to someone ‘who’s never there.’

3. Recently Returned Employees are Unhappy In many scenarios, employees go out on leave and return to work with restrictions or difficulties doing their old jobs. Even in a modified work environment, an employee who once thrived might find their new role monotonous and unfulfilling.

So, what can be done about all of these issues? Employees will continue to go out on leave but we don’t want to just accept the fate of disengagement, do we?

No, we don’t. We suggest that before organizations spend a lot of time measuring and money on improving engagement problems, that they first get good handle on their absence management with a cloud-based absence management system.

With cloud-hosted absence management software, HR can properly track and manage leaves to return employees to work sooner - easing the burden on non-absent employees as quickly as possible. Intermittent leaves can be exhausted in a timely manner – when tracked correctly. And RTW programs can be managed closely to be sure accommodations are provided and the satisfactions of the newly returned employee are met.

And the best part, you can test it all out for free. You can try Optis’ own absence management software, LeaveXpert for 30-days right now. Let’s get those employees back to work and keep engagement up!

Shark week. It’s a week that we look forward to all summer here at Optis. While watching theories about Megalodon and the increased shark activity in Chatham in Cape Cod, we can’t help but relate the sometimes voraciousness of sharks to tracking employee absence. (Yeah, we said it…)

Intermittent leave tracking, payroll, case documentation and compliance can seem dangerous and scary, but it doesn’t have to be. We recommend tracking your employee absence in the cloud to increase efficiency and streamline processes. You’ve probably heard by now that we launched new editions of our cloud based leave tracking system, LeaveXpert. Now, we have the right-sized edition of LeaveXpert for every organization – LeaveXpert Essential, Plus & Unlimited.

While watching Shark Week, we found some interesting facts about sharks that reminded us of tracking employee leaves of absence. And they are…

1. There are over 400 species of sharks Much like the different types of shark species, each employee leave of absence is different – sick leave, maternity leave, military leave, etc. Leave type, leave duration, leave reason, location, and many other factors all vary from one leave to another, making each case complex, and often times, difficult to manage.

2. Sharks have different ways of sleeping Some sharks need to constantly move while sleeping to breathe. Others have spiracles and can stay still. Some even “sleep swim.” Like tracking leave, people do things differently. Some leave specialists track leave on desk calendars with sticky notes, some use excel spreadsheets. When it comes to ensuring compliance and streamlining processes, it’s important to have a consistent work flow, each team member on the same page, working in the same system for smooth sailing.

3. Sharks have several rows of teeth Sharks have five to 15 rows of teeth. Top of the food chain here! Clearly they are smart, efficient and agile, much like how your absence management program should be. Managing absence in the cloud keeps you organized, and gives you the ability to access the information when you need it, with all of the case details at your fingertips (even on the beach.) Don’t spend your days fishing through file cabinets for employee information, or surfing the internet for current leave regulations. Have all of the information stored for you in one place. Additionally, gain the ability to run management reports, see case loads, leave trends, and be able to transfer cases seamlessly from one leave specialist to the other. Even better, increase speed and efficiency by starting your absence tracking in the cloud today with our 30 day trial.

4. Sharks are a long-lived species Large sharks can live up to 100-150 years. Smaller sharks can live about 20 – 30 years. The Family and Medical Leave Act celebrated its 20th birthday this week. The law took effect on August 5, 1993, six months after President Clinton signed it during his first term. It’s safe to say that FMLA is trending to a long life span. With the recent legislation of paid leave in New York, along with paid leave in Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C., we’re guessing that employee leave is here to stay, and will only get more complicated. Don’t find yourself underwater. It’s a good idea to start thinking of a long-term strategy to manage your company leaves.

Happy Shark Week, and Happy 20th Birthday FMLA.

Most human resources managers spend a lot of time thinking about how to maximize the potential and productivity of their employees. They strive for high employee engagement, recruiting the best and brightest, keeping the best and brightest, and offering benefit and wellness programs that improve their lives and, in turn, their work.

But, often times day-to-day tasks, repetitive activities, and data management problems bog down even the most skilled HR managers and most efficient, productive specialists. It’s impossible to work on your own well-being, improve your own output, and maximize your department’s potential if you’re stuck doing paperwork or constantly digging for important information.

Enter: Automation.

Everyone is talking about automated processes today and there’s a good reason for it. Instead of tracking reminders on sticky notes or shuffling through files for employee information, automation in HR allows us to streamline our processes and aggregate information so we can focus on improving our programs.

There are a lot of opportunities to automate processes and improve your efficiencies within the HR department to help you become more and more productive and achieve more than you thought possible. But, with all of the hats that an HR manager wears, it can be difficult to select the program that could benefit most from implementing an automated process.

That’s where we come in. We think the best place to start saving time and realize significant administrative efficiencies is your leave management program (there’s a cloud-based solution for it now). Not only is leave an expensive problem in the U.S., it is a time-consuming beast. You likely spend hours preparing individual notices, looking up leave laws, or looking up employee information just to approve or deny a leave event. Wouldn’t it be nice to send off notices, know you’re compliant, and have all of you employee information available with the click of a button?

It would. And we’d like to offer you an opportunity to try it out, for free. Sign up now for our free trial of LeaveXpert and start managing leave events in the cloud today. We’re certain you’ll start saving time immediately and be able to focus on improving your work and your company’s employee programs. With the free time you have, you’ll be able to make improvements that impact your company in many ways and show off the HR skills we know you have.

Let’s get started and help you achieve your greatest potential today.

FMLA court decisions are never-ending … and provide lessons for all companies and organizations (whether you’re in court or not).

Following the Young vs. The Wackenhut Corporation decision earlier this year, we’re reminded of the importance of individual notice. We know from the law that individual notice must be provided when an employee requests FMLA-related leave or when an employer acquires knowledge that an employee’s leave may be for an FMLA-qualifying reason (if you didn’t know that, consider it a free tip). In the above-mentioned decision, Jacqueline Young sought, was granted, and took all 12 weeks of her FMLA leave, but at the conclusion of her leave didn’t return to work and was terminated two weeks later.

So, to court they went. And it was found that when granting her leave, The Wackenhut Corporation did not provide individual notice; consequently, Jacqueline Young was not properly notified of her leave time and suffered prejudice.

Ouch, that one stings.

Reading decisions like this should inspire each and every leave manager, with employees covered by the FMLA, to ask themselves a number of questions:

  • Is my company in a similar position of risk?
  • Do we consider this risk to be great?
  • Am I doing everything I can to minimize our position of risk?

Saying no to any one of these questions may jeopardize the credibility of your HR department and may lead to unexpected, unforeseen and costly results.

You, being the HR rockstar that you are, are likely already aware of the fact that you need to send individual notice. However, is it possible that you aren’t always sure if the notice has been sent? Are you wishing there was a way to document when it was sent and even what the letter stated?

Are you shaking your head in agreement? If yes, it sounds like you’re missing something in your absence management program. Your FMLA administration program is in need of a cloud-based leave tracking system that will provide automatic reminders and auto-generated letters.

You won’t be asking yourself the questions above when you’re reminded of when to send an individual notice as well as store it and time-stamp it. We’ll even make sure you get the reminder to send it within the specified number of business days (five business days to be exact … just another free tip from LeaveXpert ‘cause we love you guys).

Further, if you’re like others, the reason that tasks sometimes aren’t accomplished is because they are unnecessarily complicated. Delivery of notice can be simplified with auto-generated letters containing employee and case information. You still have control over how you send, whether through email or mail, but auto-generation achieves consistency and the burden of creation is minimized.

Want to get in on this letter-creating, leave-tracking, super system?

Optis’ LeaveXpert is a cloud-software FMLA tracking solution that will assist you in properly providing FMLA notice to all of your covered employees. Not only can we help you reduce your company’s risk, we’re going to let you try it out for free (we love free!). With immediate access and no sales demo to sit through, you can start tracking your FMLA process in the cloud today. Learn more and take advantage of your FREE 30-day trial of LeaveXpert right now.

Missing

“Do more with less.”

This is a term you’ve probably heard at least once in the past few years. Most of us want to be more efficient. How many of us have read The 4-Hour Workweek or implemented the Pomodoro Technique to try and accomplish more in less time?

HR oversees and manages a lot. Whether its benefits administration, payroll, employee communication, recruiting & hiring, or employee leave management, HR’s time is valuable, and free time is hard to come by.

We created LeaveXpert to help HR “do more with less,” increase efficiency and see bottom-line business results through effective leave and absence management in the cloud. Here are some general productivity tips we think apply well to employee leave and absence management, and life in general.

1. Avoid multitasking.

Here’s a great article written by Lance Haun on TLNT, “The Multitasking Myth: The More You Do, the Worse at It You Really Are.” When tracking employee absence, avoid going from your employee files to your desk calendar to sticky notes to your email inbox to track down important information. Start tracking everything in the cloud.

2. Create a to-do list.

Prioritize your task for the day, or week. When tracking employee absence in the cloud, create automated tasks that will remind you when deadlines are approaching.

3. Don’t re-invent the wheel.

Make things easier for yourself. Save templates or content that can be easily accessed and modified for future use. For example, use standard leave approval/denial letters and customize them as needed for employee correspondence.

4. Be more mobile.

Have the ability to access your work away from your workspace. We’re not encouraging working more hours, but it is helpful to have the ability to login to the cloud and work while traveling, or manage employee absence on those days you are working remotely. (Who’s email inboxes were crammed after SHRM13!? Let’s see a show of hands … )

5. Streamline your knowledge center.

Employment law, updates from the Department of Labor and other regulations can get unwieldy quickly. Get automatic updates on any new state and federal leave regulations in your cloud system. For example, with the recent DOMA ruling, states that provide state leave benefits to same-sex spouses, such as California, can run this leave concurrently with FMLA now.

6. Get help and delegate when overwhelmed.

Too much on your plate? We’ve all been there. Gain the ability to delegate employee absence cases to balance caseloads or adjust to team reorganizations.

7. Get started today.

Don’t wait to start accomplishing your goals and getting things done. Time is limited and valuable. Long gone are the days of lengthy project implementations and stalled program improvements. Start tracking employee absence today in the cloud with no start-up time.

Need more tips for increasing productivity? Check out Forbes’ article, “12 Tips for Increasing Productivity” and Inc.’s “15 Ways To Be More Productive.”

Start tracking employee absence today with our free 30 day trial at leavexpert.com.

DOMA and FMLA. FMLA and DOMA. There’s so much to know! So many changes to make! So many acronyms to understand! So much work for leave managers!

Wait, there’s always been a lot of work for leave managers. We’re used to that.

Our take on the strike down of DOMA and the impacts on FMLA? Well, if you’re managing leave in the cloud, you only have two things to do:

  1. Know the states that recognize same-sex marriages and same-sex marriages in other jurisdictions. (Quick tip: Those states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, plus the District of Columbia.) Whew, #1 is done.

  2. Review your company’s policies to be sure you’re using the term spouse appropriately per your state’s (and all states in which your employees reside) definition of spouse and marriage.

Is that all? Yeah (for the most part). Because, if you’re in the cloud with LeaveXpert, you already have access to where your employees reside, a place to capture their spouse and next of kin information, and all the leave laws based on that employee’s state of residence at your fingertips.

When an employee’s leave request is entered, you can determine which leave types they are eligible for (including company leaves if you’ve entered those, too) in one screen and a couple of clicks.

Now, if you don’t have a cloud-based leave management system, then this time of understanding the DOMA ruling impacts on FMLA might be challenging for you. Maybe give our cloud-software a try and see how you like it. (You can use it for free for 30 days!)

See ya soon!

DOMA

Managing absence is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of HR. But nothing leaves you banging your head against the wall like a holiday week.

If you don’t have a cloud-based leave management system to get a handle on unscheduled absence and deduct the appropriate holiday hours for employees already on leave, it won’t be the fireworks or 4th of July celebration that causes your head pain.

In a previous series, we outlined a number of tips to follow to keep you from banging your head against the wall as result of managing leaves in your organization. (Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.) We can assure you that those tips are most beneficial during weeks like this, when a federal holiday falls smack in the middle of the week.

For your reference, the official ruling on a holiday week from the Department of Labor is, "When a holiday falls during a week in which an employee is taking the full week of FMLA leave, the entire week is counted as FMLA leave. However, when a holiday falls during a week when an employee is taking less than the full week of FMLA leave, the holiday is not counted as FMLA leave, unless the employee was scheduled and expected to work on the holiday and used FMLA leave for that day."

As a reminder, a few good tips to follow when managing FMLA are:

1: Excellent Tracking

2: Certification, Certification, Certification

3: Be Suspicious

4: Determine the Best Eligibility Method & Publicize It

This week, it’s especially important to follow these tips closely (especially #3). However, it can be hard to verify certifications, track closely to deduct the appropriate hours based on the DOL's statement, and even be alerted to the cases that you should be suspicious of – on top of everything else you have to do. Unless, of course, you have all the data in one place along with FMLA tracking capabilities.

With a cloud-based FMLA and leave management system, you’ll be able to get alerts on expiring certifications, track the days, hours and minutes that employees out on continuous leave or intermittent leave are using, and even identify trends that will help you begin to see patterns in your employees, cases, or your entire program.

Does such a system exist? It sure does. You can test drive our own FMLA and leave management system, LeaveXpert, for FREE for 30 days by signing up for a trial here. You’ll gain immediate access to greater insights on your leave program and start getting a handle on leave today. The best part, being that it’s all in the cloud, you can work on it anytime, anywhere – even on Friday … poolside.

Happy 4th of July, HR! Enjoy the fireworks and have a safe and happy holiday!

  1. #Saynotospreadsheets and wave goodbye to sticky notes.

  2. Gain insight into absence trends.

  3. Manage accommodation requests & approvals.

  4. Track eligibility and certification documentation online instead of in paper files.

  5. Keep your data secure in the cloud instead of in a dusty file cabinet.

  6. Show your manager and team you’re an HR Rock Star! Try before you buy and see which product edition works best for you.

  7. Track leave remotely; login anywhere that has an internet connection.

  8. Seamlessly transfer absence cases from one leave manager to another; balance case loads and necessary changes within the HR Team.

  9. Start tracking FMLA events today without a lengthy software implementation – no data feed setup required!

  10. Make life easier! Improve efficiency and get a handle on employee leave.

Have you tried our 30 day LeaveXpert trial? Start tracking FMLA in the cloud today by signing up at leavexpert.com.

HRRockstar

We just got back from #SHRM13 in Chicago! What an event!

There were over 78 countries represented, nearly 20,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors! Between networking events, sessions and a very busy exhibit booth, we have to say it was one of the best SHRM events yet!

In addition, #SHRM13 was where we unveiled our newest editions of LeaveXpert! We are thrilled with the response so far and are excited to see what our newest trial users and customers think of the upgrades.

For those of you that missed the announcement, here’s a copy of the press release. Also, did you know that absence costs U.S. employers approximately $100 billion annually? It’s true. And organizations simply can’t afford to not have a handle on leave in today’s workplace.

With our new version of LeaveXpert, we’re filling the void in the absence management industry with a true cloud-based, immediate-access leave management software solution.

We’re so excited to keep spreading the word about our upgraded LeaveXpert … #SHRM13 was just the beginning.

#SHRM13 was the first stop on our Optis Illumination Tour and we’ll be visiting the industry’s biggest events and discussing the factors that help companies get a handle on leave for the rest of the year! (Look for us at #DMEC2013 and #HRTech.)

We will be showcasing LeaveXpert with three new product editions, Essential, Plus and Unlimited, that can help organizations of all sizes see bottom-line business results through effective leave and absence management. Businesses can avoid the disruptions that absence causes by illuminating their leave data - from understanding the leave usage in their companies to seeing the direct and indirect costs of absence.

Our new LeaveXpert is:

  • A truly cloud-based leave management software solution
  • Built for organizations of all sizes
  • A system that provides data and greater insight into leave events
  • Capable of quick implementation, providing immediate access to leave data

Need proof? A 30-day free trial is available to see how LeaveXpert can work for your organization. Sign up today!

And thanks to everyone who stopped by during #SHRM13! See you in Orlando at #SHRM14!

We’ve got some big news to share.

We’re counting down the days until the 2013 SHRM Annual Conference & Expo in Chicago, where we’ll be debuting the next evolution in leave and absence management.

What could it be, you ask? Well, we know that when certain things are missing, it’s pretty evident. You wouldn’t visit the Lincoln Memorial and expect to see an empty chair. In your office, you wouldn’t have an important conference without a table. And you wouldn’t expect your employees to be productive without much-needed information for their jobs.

In the same way, many offices today are incomplete without a cloud-based leave management system. Instead, almost 70 percent of organizations are still using a manual, paper-based process to handle absence. Companies can’t see leave data clearly, understand the direct and indirect costs of absence, or get a handle on the impact that leave is having on their organization.

Absence costs U.S. employers approximately $100 billion annually. Organizations just can’t afford to not have a handle on leave.

But, how?

Join us on the Optis Illumination Tour: First stop — Booth 2325 at #SHRM2013.

We’ll be rolling out the next evolution in leave management systems and discussing the factors that help companies get a handle on leave. Stop by to see how businesses can avoid the disruptions that absence causes by illuminating their leave data — from understanding the leave usage in their companies to seeing the direct and indirect costs of absence.

Can’t make it to SHRM? Check out our website on Sunday, June 16 to see what we’ve been working on and how we’re revolutionizing the leave and absence management space.

See you in Chicago!

Optis returned back to Denver from exhibiting at the IHRIM 2013 HRMS Strategies Conference and Technology Exposition in Orlando, FL. Big thanks to IHRIM for another great conference! Although it’s a relatively young show, IHRIM’s conference features some of the most innovative and exciting HR technologies out there that help your department face the issues of managing today’s (and our future) workforce.

Inventive companies were popping up all over the tradeshow floor – identifying missing technologies and quickly providing automated and cloud-software solutions for everything in HR. No longer is HR tech about talent management and recruiting. You can find a cloud-based solution for every aspect of human capital management including case management, workforce analytics and, our fave topic, leave management.

But, it’s interesting … Optis was the only solution on the show floor featuring a stand-alone cloud-software for managing and tracking FMLA and other leave events. Just as IHRIM is the leading professional association for supporting the human resource information management community, Optis’ LeaveXpert is the leading SaaS leave management software … proving time and time again to be more accessible and innovative than our competitors.

We’ve been ramping up or cloud-software to be faster (and less expensive) with more features and capabilities to fill the gaping void in the leave management industry – while helping you get your missing employees back to work sooner.

Be sure to visit us at our next conference, SHRM 2013 in Chicago, IL, to find out about the next evolution in leave and absence management and the impact that managing absence in the cloud will have on your organization. We have some exciting news to share….

Thanks again to everyone who visited us at booth 303!

OptisBooth

Managers, we’ve all been there; your people manage tasks differently and have different ways of working. You have your superstars who excel under your leadership and create processes that seemingly no one else can do.

But then, life happens. And your most valuable employees experience a life event that requires a leave of absence.

Suddenly, your workflows have changed. You have temporary workers and you’re managing people who are covering tasks that they don’t typically tackle. You’re entire system is a little off-kilter. It’s a lot to manage – on top of all that you usually oversee.

In addition, you end up having to manage your absent employee. Keeping tabs on when they’ll be coming back, accommodating a return-to-work or ADAAA request, and knowing whether or not they are approved to be gone at all are tasks that require team managers to think more like an HR managers.

It’s a lot! And we hear you.

At Optis, we spend a lot of time talking about how HR will benefit from managing absence in the cloud. However, even though our state-of-the-art cloud-software was built with them in mind, we considered the employees and the management team who would also be affected by leave. Just like HR, you need to have a simple, efficient tool to keep up on the status of your employee’s absence.

With a cloud-based leave management software, employees and managers can also reap the benefits of a self-service tool. Gone are the days of calling the HR department looking for updates on FMLA and other absences. Say good-bye to assuming employees have been notified of expiring certification – to later find out you need to terminate them. Adios to surprise sticky situations!

Today’s managers can log into a self-service cloud-software and quickly get updates on who’s on leave, who’s approved, and when they’ll be coming back. They can work with HR to provide accommodations for employees who are returning to work or to communicate with an absent employee. And they can receive up-to-the-minute reports on scheduled (and unscheduled) absences for coming days, weeks, and months.

Your whole company can quickly get on the same page with compliance, tracking and workflow by managing FMLA and other leave events in the cloud – so you can get back to managing your employees.

P.S. If you'd like to stay in-the-know about leave management right away, follow us on Twitter: @LeaveXpert.

The official kick-off to summer is here … Happy Memorial Day!

Many of you are likely planning a camping trip, hosting a BBQ, or attending an outdoor event in some capacity. And we’re certain all of you will take a minute to thank our active duty and veteran servicemen and women.

Here at Optis, we’ll be using the three-day weekend to ponder absence management. Yes, it’s true. Memorial Day has us considering the ins-and-outs of managing Military Leave and has left us wondering, “How much does the average leave specialist really know about protected service member absences?”

Thankfully, the DOL has published an Employer’s Guide to Military Leave to help us all out. It runs down the who, what, why, how, (and huh?), to help HR teams stay in-the-know when it comes to managing absence related to service. It’s a great resource to help you understand the basic military absence provisions: Qualifying Exigency Leave and Military Caregiver Leave.

  • Qualifying Exigency Leave: If an employee’s spouse, parent, son or daughter is a military member who is deployed or has been notified of an impending deployment to a foreign country, and you work for a covered employer and are an eligible employee, they may be entitled to qualifying exigency leave. Qualifying exigency leave allows employees to take up to a total of 12 workweeks of FMLA leave for qualifying exigencies, such as making different day care arrangements for the military member’s children or attending official military ceremonies as your family member prepares to deploy. Source.
  • Military Caregiver Leave: If an employee is the spouse, parent, son, daughter, or next-of-kin of a covered service member, they work for a covered employer, and are an eligible employee, they may be entitled to military caregiver leave. Military caregiver leave allows an employee to take up to a total of 26 workweeks of unpaid leave during a single 12-month period to take care of a military relative if he or she has a qualifying serious injury or illness. Source.

Here’s the thing about the guide though, it’s twenty-eight pages long (yes, 28!). That’s a lot of reading (even in a hammock over a long weekend) … and a lot of material to thumb through every time you need a question answered about military absence.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a cloud-software that pushed Military regulations to you when an employee was eligible for one of the leave types above? It sure would be. And, guess what … there is.

When you get back to the office after your three-day weekend, be sure to keep an eye out for the next evolution of leave and absence management. It’s arriving in June 2013.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend! Thank you to our active duty and veteran servicemen and women!

We all love a little drama now and then. If we didn’t, TV shows about rich, dramatic families wouldn’t be so popular.

But, drama in real life is a little less fun. Especially when it’s your work life. When we think of drama at work, the first thing that comes to mind is FMLA tracking (and maybe a little water cooler gossip).

It’s fun to keep up with the latest relationship, who’s expecting, or the next big move on TV. However, at work it can be more challenging. In the role of HR, FMLA requires us keep up with all of the major life (and subsequent leave) events for every employee. We also have to keep up with the regulations that govern our employer provisions around employee life events.

There should an E! Channel for HR … HR! Channel, anyone?

Speaking of FMLA regulations, there have been a lot of changes in the past year and it sounds like more are in the pipeline. The National Partnership for Women & Families provided four recommended improvements for Congress and the Department of Labor earlier this year. In response to the Family and Medical Leave Act in 2012: Final Report Survey published by the Department of Labor, they recommended increased employer education in order to improve compliance with the FMLA. (Hum, seems like an HR! Channel would be useful here… ).

While the survey results indicate general compliance, one area of exception was associated with the incremental FMLA leave time provided by employers. Instead of the required one-hour increments or smaller, employers are typically providing incremental time in larger chunks closer to the length of one day. (The drama never ends! And the unnecessary costs keep rising!)

Clearly employers need assistance. We feel the need goes beyond just education to the more basic need of gaining back the valuable time HR spends on compliance requirements. While time spent gaining better understanding of the FMLA is important and critical, that time can quickly turn into hours spent reviewing case law, scouring employee benefit websites or attending seminars. (Seriously, the HR! Channel is sounding better and better.)

When we think about improved compliance through education, we have to wonder if it’s worth the cost? Especially when you consider the sad truth that most employers just don’t have the time to dedicate towards maintaining appropriate knowledge about the FMLA.

Everything always works out in the end of a reality TV show though, right? Good news, the same can happen here (with or without our HR! Channel). Did you know that an HR team can have their leave letters automatically changed every time a leave law changes? And leave specialists can receive an email notifying them of changes to laws and when they are taking effect? It’s true. It’s like being a celebrity and having your own personal assistant. While remaining cognizant of changes to the FMLA and other leave laws, you could focus on more pertinent aspects of your leave management program! Huzzah!

Additionally, stress levels would be reduced, or at least those associated with the current pressure of trying to maintain your working knowledge of FMLA.

How can you do all this, you might ask? Leave management cloud-software.

Invest in cloud-software and you will regain valuable time as well as your sanity (plus you’ll be able to leave work early enough to catch your favorite reality show). See, it does always work out in the end.

Last week, we explained why using spreadsheets to track employee leave isn’t ideal. Managing graphical output, looking for the latest document version, and setting up pivot tables spirals your valuable time into a tornado of wasted efforts. Hopefully we inspired you to say goodbye to FMLA tracking spreadsheets for good; but, we can bet you’re wondering how to navigate leave events without them.

Recently, we published a Leave Usage Assessment. Its purpose is to help HR get a high-level view of leave in their company. You can think of it as your ‘yellow brick road’ from spreadsheet to FMLA cloud-software. And after you’ve reached the Emerald City (of getting a better understanding of your company’s leave usage and costs), you can ask the wizard for the one thing you really need: an employee leave of absence system.

Whether you’re “Just Getting Started” with a score of 0-4 points or you’re “Almost There” with over 10 points, taking the leave usage assessment will leave you saying, “There’s no place like the cloud!”

Tracking your employee leaves in the cloud (otherwise known as the internet) means that you can access your leaves anywhere, anytime via any device with an internet connection. No more emailing documents to yourself so you can access them remotely, digging through file cabinets or downloading software. Suddenly, it’s like everything is in Technicolor (instead of black and white).

Second, look for a leave management system that’s secure and quick to deploy. You should start tracking your leaves as soon as possible with the peace of mind that you’re operating in a secure environment. Basically, you should be able to get started with the click of your heels. Even if you’re looking for a more complex system with say, company leave types, look for a solution that has a base model that can be built upon easily, not starting from scratch.

Next, you’ll want to take a look at the leave management system features. And, if we can keep our analogy going, we recommend a heart, a brain, and some courage:

Your system shouldn’t be an empty tin-box. The heart of your system should include:

  • An intake portal that will allow your employees to have a single, designated location to enter a leave of absence request. The intake portal should then push automatic notifications to Leave Managers, creating a streamlined process.
  • Case information and history to give you the most detailed picture of your employee’s leave of absence. The system should allow for auto-generated letters, attachment upload and storage, email tracking and a communication history log.

And you don’t want to find yourself wishing it only had a brain:

  • A good leave management system will provide the time benefit for employee eligibility, so you’re not digging for hire date, hours worked, etc.
  • It should also include automatic updates on Federal and State FMLA, Military, and other regulation changes. If there’s a regulation change, receive automatic alerts and updates so you’re not spending your time researching leave regs.
  • And, your leave cloud system should have a specific area to track return to work and accommodations. These are the areas where leave tracking can get tricky, with flying monkeys and whatnot, so you’ll want to be sure your system can manage them effectively.

Last, you must have courage (to make a difference):

  • Your cloud system should have the capability to generate reports and show the big picture of your absence state, show you where areas need to be adjusted and track trends over time so you can make better business decisions and improve your company's absence program.

It’s as easy as checking out our leave usage assessment and clicking your ruby slippers. Gain greater insight on leave events and improve your bottom line with tracking FMLA in the cloud (and over the rainbow) today.

Managing leave events by using Excel spreadsheets and desk calendars can get burdensome in a hurry. And yet, so many HR professionals rely on these seemingly innocent sheets.

What many people don’t consider is the cost of a spreadsheet. Sure, you might think of it as ‘free’ because the software is already on your computer, but is that the only cost to consider?

Let’s consider the amount of time it takes to format an Excel document (what is a pivot table anyway?). And consider how much time is spent sending it back and forth between necessary personnel or departments. And, let’s be honest, how much time do you spend looking for the latest version of your sheet in your files ... that time adds up. And your time is valuable.

The more time you are spending on an Excel spreadsheet, the more money that spreadsheet is costing your organization. In addition, that time isn’t being used to request recertification for a leave, follow up with absent employees, or determine if an absent employee is eligible for additional benefits.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could use all the time spent managing a spreadsheet to manage a leave event?

With the flexibility of cloud software you can. By upgrading to managing absence in the cloud (in a secure, scalable environment), you can reduce the undue administrative burden placed on leave specialists by spreadsheets.

Specialists and program managers can log in anytime, anywhere to get up-to-the-minute details on a leave of absence – eliminating the need to pass around spreadsheets or seek out the latest version of a manual document. Additionally, your cloud software solution strengthens and streamlines workflows by providing a clean interface and the reporting capabilities you need to stay organized. You’ll gain deeper insight into absence trends without formatting, setting up pivot tables, or managing graphical output and chart colors.

Each time you log in, the information you need is at your fingertips in an easy-to-use, simple layout so you can spend your valuable minutes getting your employees back to work sooner – saving money for your company in more ways than one.

Wave goodbye to spreadsheets and say hello to a healthier bottom line (and a happy management team).

Staying compliant with FMLA regulations is tough, but it’s even harder when you’re not sure how leave use impacts the costs and productivity in your company. You could be spinning your wheels trying to stay on top of leave without knowing the effects absence has on your organization.

Compounding those challenges is the fact that episodic leave has been the leading category of leave over the last five years. How can you plan for the unplanned?

We just wrote “Stay On Top of Productivity and Compliance — Understand Leave Usage in Your Company,” an article that helps you understand how you can still get a handle on leave, even when the unexpected arises. We review ways you can get a good view of leave usage in your company, as well as how you can understand the direct and indirect costs of leave.

You’ll learn how to:

  • Organize your leave
  • Watch out for leave management challenges
  • Set up plans to track leave and productivity
  • Manage regulation changes and stay compliant

Download “Stay On Top of Productivity and Compliance — Understand Leave Usage in Your Company” so you can get a handle on leave, manage the unexpected and keep regulations in check.

LeaveArticle

It’s not easy to know all the implications absence has on your company. In fact, after our survey at SHRM, we found that 54.3 percent of HR professionals weren’t sure how much absence costs their company. Are you in that 54.3 percent?

Costs can show up in many ways, but before you start counting dollars, you should be able to answer some key questions about leave in your company. In our recent Optis Leave Usage Assessment, we’ve compiled some of those important questions so you can see if you’ve got a handle on leave.

We’ve broken these questions down into some key categories:

  • Leave Use: Do you know how much leave is being used in your company?
  • Productivity: Does absence impact your company’s productivity?
  • Leave Tracking: Do you have mechanisms to track leave and its costs?

Download the Leave Usage Assessment so you can get a better view of leave in your company.

LeaveAsses

Most of us an have ingrained desire to do ‘it all.’ We’re all chasing after the dream of a successful career, happy family life, healthy living, and early retirement.

This deep-rooted craving for maximizing our own potential is prevalent not only in our human spirit but in the organizations we’ve created as well. In every company, at every level, there is an inherent need to maximize productivity while minimizing costs.

In HR, it’s no different. Not only do you need to keep employees happy and productive, you need to ensure that you’re compliant with federal, state and company policies, and you need to appeal to your executive team by cutting costs to save the company money.

However, much like life, it becomes exhausting to do it all in HR. This is especially true when managing absence, the trickiest and most fickle of all employee benefits - with some of the biggest cost impacts.

It can be challenging to get a handle on leave management and truly understand the costs of absence because there are so many factors to take into account when analyzing leave events.

  • Which parts of your leave programs are used the most in your organization?
  • Do you know why those leave events are used so much more over others?
  • Are you aware of how much the indirect costs of leave affect your company?
  • Do you know which areas of leave cost you the most money?

Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to these questions. Unfortunately, most HR professionals don’t and, not surprisingly, that means 54.3% of them also don’t know how much absence is costing their organization.

To understand how much leave costs your company, you have to be able to answer the questions above. To answer the questions above, you have to have a documented leave management program in place and excellent tracking capabilities. To achieve these goals – while improving productivity and continuing to ‘do it all’ you need the help of a leave management system.

With a leave management system you’ll be able to look at plan usage and cost to help you manage absence and leave events with greater efficiency and business impact — without busting your budget.

At the end of the day, your company will be able to stay on top of compliance, improve productivity, make sure you’re not giving away more leave than you had intended to.

That’s right, you’ll be doing it all.

HRRockstar

Absence management isn’t getting easier. We know this because we’ve seen the numbers. That’s why we’ve put together the Optis infographic “What You Need to Know About Leave.” These numbers are so important, we wanted to make sure that you got a clear picture of the factors that are making leave management so complicated and expensive.

You’ll learn:

  • The giant price tag leave has in the U.S.
  • How leave use is increasing
  • The difficulties your staff has managing leave
  • How regulation changes make compliance difficult

Do the numbers seem familiar? Are you experiencing the same trends and complications? This infographic is just the starting point, but soon you’ll see what kinds of questions you need to answer to stay on top of leave, as well as the best practices you should follow to understand leave use and costs in your company. When you get a handle on leave, you’ll set your company up to stay productive and compliant.

Leave Infographic Preview

When we think about the cost of absence, we may only be aware of direct costs related to budgeted items. For example, costs that are usually front and center include disability income replacement costs or the cost paid to a third party responsible for your FMLA administration. What’s missing is an understanding of indirect costs associated with an absence that may be hidden from view because they’re not considered or measured. In this post, we’ll begin to understand these indirect costs and how they can be measured.
Indirect costs can take multiple forms, but we’ll briefly discuss two of them:

  • Presenteeism
  • The cost of replacement workers

Presenteeism With presenteeism, employees are on the job physically, but their productivity is nowhere near 100 percent because they’re hampered by negative internal factors. It could be resentment over another employee’s frequent absence or dissatisfaction with their new duties under an accommodation. In some manner, projects are taking longer to complete, less product is pushed out the door, or service is subpar.

The cost of replacement workers Replacement workers come in many forms. A replacement worker could be a temporary employee hired to cover for an absent employee, an existing employee paid overtime to cover another employee’s shift, or a new employee hired due to turnover. In any case, the extra expense of paying the replacement worker when another employee is absent would also be considered an indirect cost. This type of expense can quickly become obtrusive, puts company productivity at risk, and could begin to erode the bottom line.

How do you measure these costs? Indirect costs must be measured, but measurement can be more of an art than a science. Some possible assessments include FMLA absences per 100 covered employees or the cost of replacing employees due to turnover. When measuring the incidence of FMLA, calculations can vary widely. Some have measured incidence per 1,000 covered employees, and others have measured incidence per 100 FTEs. Measuring FMLA absence per 100 covered employees appears more often in the research and is suggested for use here.

The most commonly referenced average is from an EMPAQ study for program year 2009, which indicates an average of 14.9 absences per 100 covered employees. While you might immediately want to compare yourself with this single-number point estimate average, it’s more effective to consider a range for average comparison purposes, similar to percent of voters likely to vote for a certain candidate. With that thought, it’s likely that if your measure of FMLA absences is between 12.4 and 17.4, you’re still quite comparable with the average of 14.9 absences per 100 covered employees.

Let’s now consider the cost of replacing an employee who has left the company. We’ll consider the cost of replacing employees from both a percentage and an average dollar point of view. The Center for American Progress published statistics in November 2012 from its review of over 30 case studies. This research indicated that the typical cost of turnover was 21 percent of an employee’s annual salary. Truly a burden on employers, this cost not only hampers the bottom line but is a strain on other employees until the new hire is onboarded into the organization. This average was also consistent across different pay levels, excluding the highest-paid employees.

When considering an average dollar cost of turnover, numbers will vary depending on the costs included in the statistic. Research does not necessarily separate direct costs from indirect costs. Indirect costs include recruitment, selection and training, and decreased productivity from current employees having to compensate. According to research from the Sasha Corporation, the average turnover cost for an $8.00-per-hour employee is estimated at $9,445. Excluding replacement costs that were significantly higher than the average, these estimated turnover costs drop to $5,506. Again, when comparing yourself to this statistic, it’s probably more appropriate to compare yourself to a range, say $3,500 to $7,000 for the typical average cost to replace an $8.00-per-hour employee. Either way, you can see that the cost of turnover will have a significant impact on your organization.

To truly understand the impacts of absence on your organization, these indirect costs must be recognized and measured.

It’s that time of year again … March Madness has arrived. While your employees are filling out their brackets and streaming games on their desktops, HR managers are thinking about one thing: lost productivity.

Notorious for disrupting the workplace, March Madness can be as big of an HR nightmare as managing FMLA. OK, it’s not that bad … but typically productive employees spend hours watching college hoops, discussing games with their co-workers, and checking their bracket standings. The result? A lot less work is accomplished by the end of March.

But is there something to learn from this blatant display of disengagement? And is it really all bad? We think there are a few things that HR can take away from March Madness and apply specifically to their leave management best practices.

1. Offer Self-service — Employees love pulling their bracket standings and getting up-to-the-minute stats and scores. Why not offer the same flexibility when they need to request a leave or check on the status of their leave of absence? Allowing employees online access to their leave requests provides clear communication and keeps employees engaged even when they’re not in the office.

2. Appeal to the Masses — Even those with absolutely no interest in or knowledge of college basketball can get into March Madness. Why? Because the rules of “bracketology” are simple and relatively unchanging across all websites and groups that use them. HR can apply the same approach to leave management. Provide clear, simple instructions to managers and employees and establish enterprise-wide policies (along with an easy-to use online tool) to manage those policies.

3. Go Viral — Part of the reason that March Madness has blown up in recent years is thanks to the Internet, as well as new social and mobile technology. Fans can have stats pushed to their phones and can be emailed updates if their teams won or lost. HR managers can offer the same convenience by emailing certification requests and necessary absence documentation to employees and operational managers. Instead of sending the bulk of materials by mail, an online correspondence tool can provide a leave specialist with the ability to send LOA correspondence with the click of a button.

4. Join In — If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Instead of fighting March Madness, embrace it by providing a company-wide bracket contest or streaming the games in the conference room. Letting your employees unplug from work every once in a while will usually result in happier, more productive employees post-Madness. In the same manner, a leave of absence managed by a consistent, compliant, and informed HR manager will result in a happier, more productive employee post-leave.

Besides, with a leave management tool that offers self-service leave requests, enterprise-wide enforcement of HR policies, and automated correspondence, you’ve already saved a lot of HR hours to make up for those lost to basketball. Have fun!

Managing leave can be tricky. Managing leave while managing all of the other tasks that fill up an HR manager’s schedule is even trickier.

We’ve found that even the most savvy leave manager can have trouble staying compliant and consistent when managing leave events. On top of administrative burdens, many HR leaders are also expected to shorten leave durations and lower the overall costs of absence. With all there is to do in HR, it can be overwhelming to even think about implementing a leave management program.

So, we’re going to tell you the best way to get started … with help from our friends at FedEx Ground.

Join us for a Free Webinar: Leveraging Technology: Track & Manage FMLA Efficiently Presented by: Rich Silva, FedEx Ground & David Spring, Optis Wednesday, March 20 - 1:30pm MST / 3:30pm EST

Why?

  • You’ll learn how to establish a standard process for leave tracking. We’ll tell you how FedEx Ground identified the best processes and the best solution to manage multiple leave types under one umbrella.
  • You’ll understand how to improve Federal and State leave compliance. We’ll give you a glimpse into how automated processes including task management, alerts, and communications will improve your ability to stay compliant.
  • You’ll get to hear from a leader in absence management. Rich Silva developed the leave program at FedEx Ground from the … uh … ground up. He can answer questions on getting buy-in, improving processes, and his favorite leave management tool.
  • We respect your time. We know you’re busy and we’re packing as much information as possible into a pretty short time frame. We’ll start on time, probably end early, and have a great method for answering questions so we don’t repeat any information.
  • It’s FREE! Keeping yourself in-the-know on industry trends and hot topics is important … and expensive. But, not with Optis. We’re giving away our knowledge to help you be the best HR manager you can be.

Need more reasons? Contact us with any questions!

Register Now!

FMLA Umbrella

Did you catch the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) study that was published last week, “Early Warnings: Using FMLA to Understand and Manage Disability Absence”? If not, HRE’s Leader Board did a great recap in their blog post here. IBI’s study found that FMLA leaves can be predictive of future STD claims. It also emphasized the need to see the big picture of your employee leave trends.

This study supports our claim that integrating your data is one of the main components to getting a handle on your employee absence. Previously, we examined one of our client’s data over a two-year period and found a clear relationship between FMLA use and use of other disability claims.

Of the employees who utilized a leave (FMLA, STD, LTD, or WC):

  • 65% used both an FMLA leave and another disability claim.
  • 28% of employees who utilized leave time used more than two FMLA leaves or a disability claim without an FMLA leave.
  • 6% of the employees who utilized leave time used two or fewer FMLA leaves with no other disability claim.

Clearly, these findings emphasize the importance of proactively managing FMLA leaves and return-to-work (RTW) at the end of the leave duration. Here are three simple recommendations we have for leave managers:

1. Integrate Your FMLA, STD and Leave Management Data - Considering that 65% of the employees who used leave used both FMLA and disability, there’s an opportunity to integrate the management of these claims and improve efficiency.

2. Run Reports on Your Integrated Data - Get the key data that tells the story of your current absence state and trends. Report packages should include:

  • Concurrent Leave Summary — highlights stand-alone vs. concurrent absence
  • Episode Detail — list of all absence episodes
  • Employee History — incident, case, and claim history for all employees with active leaves
  • Program Summary — summary of all absence types, volume, status, lost time, and cost
  • Leave Reason Summary — view all leaves by reason and category

3. Review Disability Policy Plans - Review plans regularly and determine their role in influencing the progression of intermittent FMLA leaves to a disability claim. Strategically defining disability plan policies can reduce disability indemnity costs by lessening the occurrence of intermittent FMLA leaves progressing to a disability claim.

For more information and help on how to manage leaves, contact us. Also, don’t forget to put up your updated FMLA posters by this Friday, March 8!

Optis Big Data

This week we’re blogging about audits again. But we can assure you that it won’t be that painful. And we’ll provide you with guidance on how to save money, time and productivity.

One of the first steps to getting a handle on employee absence is investigating what leave types are most commonly used in your company. Why, you ask? Because isolating the most frequently used leave types provides valuable case information — and ultimately, an analytical assessment of leave benefit utilization will uncover opportunities to save money, time and productivity.

And we all want that, right?

Understand Overall and Average Leave Usage Trends Many companies are not aware of the reasons for employee absence, let alone knowing how many employees are absent on any given day. Using a leave management system is one way to not only improve compliance and tracking but to begin to understand which leave types are most commonly utilized by your workforce.

This information can quickly be displayed by running reports with your data. So if you’re in the market for a leave management system, you should look for a system that has reports that offer this type of information. Examples include:

  • Accommodations Report — Allows the leave specialist to see which leave types are most commonly occurring with the part of the workforce that requires an accommodation. For example, are these types of situations more associated with one particular leave state or specific accommodation request types?
  • Case Status Detail — Provides insight into whether company, state or federal leave types are more commonly used.
  • Maximum Duration — Details which employees on leave are approaching the maximum duration of that particular leave.
  • Case Load Report — (An HR favorite!) Provides managers with information about open cases and those that are expected to close in the near future. This helps managers monitor the caseload of the leave specialists to make sure they aren’t overburdened.
  • Overdue Task Report — (Not an HR favorite!) Provides a quick snapshot into all tasks that are overdue. In conjunction with the Case Load Report, this information increases the manager’s ability to make sure that absences in their workforce are being effectively tracked and processed.

Save Money, Time and Productivity Once we’ve got a handle on our leave usage and trends, it’s important to proactively manage FMLA claims and try to minimize the likelihood that these claims will progress to paid benefits, such as Short-term Disability (STD), Long-term Disability (LTD) or Workers’ Compensation (WC).

In one of our customer studies, we compared an individual employer to a reference group. The study indicated that while the employer experienced a similar 10 percent progression rate from FMLA to these paid benefits, narrowing the focus to just intermittent FMLA revealed the employer’s progression rate was 4.5 percent better.

Projected savings from these FMLA absences not advancing to STD, LTD or WC was approximately $500,000.

Additional savings can be experienced even if FMLA absences do progress to STD, LTD or WC. Over a recent four-year period, while one company’s STD durations increased by 8.3 percent, from 49.2 to 53.3 days, this increase was lower than that experienced by the reference population, which experienced an increase of 14 percent, from 61.5 to 70.1 days. Similar savings can be experienced with both LTD and WC benefits, with a total absence management program based on an integrated point of view. Insight into this integrated view of an employee’s absence can be achieved with a leave management system.

LeaveDuration

So it’s clear that the cost of investing in a leave management system is small when compared with the potential cost savings. LeaveXpert returns an average of 5.5 full-time employees (FTEs) per 1,000 employees to the workforce on an annual basis who would not have otherwise been working. This return of employees is associated with increased productivity and cost savings. The typical return on investment (ROI) associated with LeaveXpert ranges from $2.85 to $5 for every dollar invested.

We know that’s a lot of information to take in, but the bottom line is that a leave management system will save you money, time and productivity. So let’s get you started today!

Everyone hates the word “audit,” but without an audit, you might be giving away more leave than you intended. It’s critical to know exactly how many benefit hours have been used in the past so that you can provide the appropriate leave time benefits to your employees.

Automatic Knowledge of Available Benefit Hours A leave management system is beneficial because it will help you automatically know available benefit hours. Knowing this information prior to the start of any new absence would be extremely helpful, and it’s easily achieved when all past leave data is collected and managed under one roof. Even before the start of the absence, a case can be created for any employee and the system will indicate not only hours worked for determining eligibility, but also average hours worked. Any previous time utilized will also be clearly indicated. If it’s expected that average hours worked will be different prior to the actual start of the leave, then the user can easily interact with their system and accurately adjust and determine how many benefit hours will truly be available.

For FMLA, regardless of which plan year is chosen — Rolling Backward, Rolling Forward, Calendar-year or another Fixed-year length of time — your leave management solution will accurately display available hours, even if a year ago the employee was in the midst of a leave and is currently accruing or being credited with available hours. But don’t stop there, because we know FMLA is not the only benefit available to many employees who also have additional state- and company-protected leave time available. Available balances for all applicable leave types will be readily accessible in a leave management system, like LeaveXpert. Additionally, we know that leave taken is often not continuous but in the form of periodic or intermittent time. These variations in episodic type don’t have to hinder your ability to effectively calculate available benefit hours for any applicable leave types.

Accurate Maintenance of Current Leave Time Used Once leave time has been approved, we know that precisely tracking time taken is essential to providing benefits within allotted hours. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to track all applicable leave types simultaneously? That’s exactly what’s possible with a leave management software solution. Current balances are produced and actively updated for any new leave time taken, and balances are correctly tracked, regardless of whether the applicable leave types may run concurrently or consecutively with one another. Since we know intermittent hours are approved and taken on a periodic basis, that approved number of hours can be designated, observed and easily compared with any weekly intermittent hours actually occurring.

It may seem that the discussion so far has implied management of just one case, but of course we know that multiple cases of leave are being tracked at the same time. In this situation, it’s important to be able to easily identify and determine which cases are approaching leave exhaustion. An appropriate software solution will contain numerous task reminders warning the user of upcoming leave type exhaustion. This way, the user is informed in a timely manner and can understand, prepare and effectively communicate with the employee and the employee’s supervisor of the impending end of leave benefits. And if in the weeks or days prior to leave exhaustion it’s necessary to recertify any leave being taken, any related certification dates — whether sent, due or received — can effortlessly be recorded within the software solution.

For more information on LeaveXpert, contact us!

Last week, you likely saw the final ruling issued by the DOL implementing FMLA expansions to military families and airline crews. Even with quite a bit of news coverage — as it coincided with the FMLA’s 20th birthday — new regulations tend to result in many, many questions.

But for us, the main question we asked was, “How will these expansions impact our customers?”

First, we listed out several sources right away to make sure you had resources at your fingertips to stay compliant with the expansions and other new changes, but that didn’t seem like enough.

We always take into consideration that in order to best serve our HR and leave management clients, we need to provide them with the best tools to serve their employees.

This is the type of thinking that led to the development of our leave request intake portal shortly after the launch of LeaveXpert® in 2010. This portal was created to support situations exactly like those in the new FMLA expansions.

“Enabling our military families to care for their loved ones without fear of losing their job and to actively participate in deployment, reunification and recovery reflects our deeper understanding of the role family members have in sustaining an all-volunteer force,” acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris said of the new rule. (Source.)

At Optis, we feel that it’s our responsibility to support this cause by giving your employees a cloud-based portal, accessible from anywhere at any time, to make requests for family leave and military service. Additionally, when your employee is caring for a service member or actively serving our country, being able to access eligibility notifications and certification requests should be a simple process that allows them to focus on the bigger tasks at hand.

The leave request intake portal is just one of the ways LeaveXpert goes the extra mile — beyond simple FMLA tracking — to provide a full leave management solution for your organization. With the goal of serving you, your employees, and our servicemen and servicewomen, we’re improving the process of going on leave for everyone involved — all while keeping your organization compliant.

FMLACompliance

Here at Optis, we keep our ears to the ground on recent industry news and regulations.

You’ve probably read by now that the DOL has issued a final rule implementing two expansions on the Family Medical Leave Act related to military families and airline flight crews. Additionally, they've recently issued clarification on what qualifies as an adult son or daughter and how it relates to protections under FMLA leave. And in state news, Philadelphia and others are considering paid sick leave policy adjustments.

It seems there are always new changes regarding absence rules and regulations. With 50 different states to keep track of, as well as federal laws, how do you keep FMLA compliance from sneaking up on you?

You could: A) Memorize the Family and Medical Leave Act from front to back B) Sign up for automatic FMLA and absence text message updates (and increase your monthly data plan to $1 million dollars)

Fortunately, the answer is C — None of the above. And luckily, the above was a huge exaggeration.

That being said, FMLA compliance does have serious implications, and you want to be compliant and give employees the benefits they’re eligible for. Although we were joking above, getting a handle on your employee leaves can be easier than you think — especially when you have a cloud-based system with an employee leave request portal, case management features, diary, automatic task updates, and more. Additionally, here are some general recommendations to help HR departments stay compliant and avoid any sticky situations:

  • Determine the best FMLA eligibility method and publicize it. There are four ways to count an “FMLA year.” More details on that here.
  • Send employees requesting FMLA the Notice of Eligibility and Rights & Responsibilities so they are aware of their entitlements.
  • Document all communications and keep doctors’ notes, emails and certifications on file.
  • Have a standard set of action items or tasks for each leave to make sure you’re managing each consistently and correctly. Set up alerts for yourself to track and oversee the leave in a timely manner and that nothing slips through the cracks.
  • Request fitness-for-duty (FFD) certifications every 30 days at the most. Employers don’t have the right to request FFD certifications during every intermittent leave.
  • Stay up to date on state leave laws. (Especially if you have employees in California. There’s a California Family Rights Act, Paid Family Leave program and several others.)
  • Make sure you are making decisions with the ADA in mind. Additional leave can be considered a reasonable accommodation if an employee’s serious health condition qualifies their leave under the ADA.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg on how to manage a leave effectively and within compliance. For more information on how to effectively manage employee leaves of absence, contact us.

FMLACompliance

If you read last week’s blog post you saw that task management tools are part of using a cloud-based leave management system to relieve the burden of mismanaged leave data. You might have wondered, “So just what kinds of tasks are typically offered?” In this blog post, we’ll answer this question as it relates to the FMLA and leave of absence (LOA) management. You’ll see how leave specialists can work freely and escape the clutches of leave management chaos.

A cloud-based leave management system will assist the leave specialist in all aspects of the leave cycle. Task management reminders are a source of improved compliance, from leave intake, eligibility, certification or recertification, and approval, to case management and ultimately employee return to work. Whenever leave requests are initiated, either by the employee or the leave specialist, an automatic system task will be generated notifying the applicable specialist. In this way, leave requests won’t go unnoticed, and an eligibility decision can be made within the federally mandated five business days.

Typically, a notice of eligibility to the employee also contains a request for certification. While we know most employers will be generous and provide subsequent requests for initial certification, the employee can be required to provide certification within 15 calendar days, according to the FMLA. An effective leave management system will have multiple automatic tasks reminding the leave specialist of the deadlines associated with collecting medical certification from the employee in a timely manner.

The next critical deadline in the leave cycle requires the employer to notify the employee within five business days of receipt of acceptable certification that the leave has been designated as FMLA. An approval determination task will be automatically generated informing the leave specialist that they should send this correspondence to the employee.

Case management tasks will vary, but one common type is associated with upcoming exhaustion of the leave. One helpful exhaustion reminder task notifies the leave specialist that less than one week’s protected leave time remains. This reminder helps the leave specialist plan for the employee’s expected return and communicate with them appropriately. Other exhaustion reminders alert the specialist that intermittent time has exceeded either a weekly or monthly limit.

Additionally, an effective leave management system will contain numerous prompts associated with returning an employee to their job or a nearly identical job. One such notice will inform the leave specialist to request a fitness-for-duty (FFD) exam in a timely manner prior to the employee’s upcoming return to work. Without such notice, a specialist might be delayed in obtaining the FFD, which could jeopardize the employee’s timely return.

As a leave specialist, you may or may not regularly engage in all aspects of the leave cycle. Regardless, task management tools within a leave management system will enable and improve your company’s compliance. The tools will remind you of tasks you may not readily be thinking about if you’re used to only a few leaves per month. If you have countless leaves per month, you’ll know exactly what the next step is for each leave. And with all those automated notices, you’ll actually have time to collect your thoughts once in a while!

Task Management

Last week, we discussed the benefits and importance of integrating your people data. Collecting data from multiple sources, cleaning it, and combining it is a great start to understanding how your people data can affect your business.

But once you’ve started integrating all of your data, it can pile up quickly. Think about PTO, LTD, STD, workers’ comp, sick leave, military leave, and all the other leave events your company has to keep track of! Even just one subset of data can quickly bury an HR manager or leave specialist.

When your leave specialist is trapped under heaps of leave cases without a shovel to dig their way out, errors start to occur, leave events are mismanaged, and your bottom line is impacted. Not to mention the liabilities that come with mismanaged leave — state and federal leave laws need to be upheld if you don’t want to end up in court.

Hand your leave specialist a shovel!

Utilizing a cloud-based leave management system that offers alerts, task management tools, and state and federal FMLA updates is the shovel your team needs when mismanaged leave events pile up.

Ideally, your system also has leave calculators that take into account the state requirements for protected leave to ensure that your organization is compliant. Online reporting also manages the activities and caseloads of your leave management team. What a relief!

Here at Optis, we don’t want you and your team to be buried under too many leaves. We’ve developed LeaveXpert, a cloud-based leave management system, to help you out. Don’t send out the SOS signal! Seek out an online solution like LeaveXpert and be the HR rock star of your department.

Click here for more information on LeaveXpert.

Optis Big Data

We don’t have to tell you that people data is the foundation of your HR technology applications. You know that having quality, usable data that can support effective decision-making is a must for your HR department. In the past, utilizing data effectively may have seemed impossible, too expensive or even daunting to an HR manager. But in today’s cloud-based world, the people data necessary to make the best business decisions is literally at your fingertips.

In an age when multiple technology applications are in use, how well do the different systems utilized in your HR department communicate with one another? You may ask yourself this question when a newer application, like your new leave management system, needs to exchange data with an existing internal HRIS. Is it possible for these two systems to share data?

Yes!

Why would you need shared data capabilities? Perhaps you’ve changed the status of a leave event in your absence management system from STD to LTD and that information needs to be communicated to your HRIS. A secure, controlled link can be established between the two systems, which permits this type of information to be shared, monitored and audited. Sounds convenient, right?

But wait ... there’s more.

Today’s HR manager wears many hats. Perhaps you’re also responsible for validating funding for your self-insured plans, but it’s not a simple task because it requires integrating eligibility, enrollment, demographic and claims data. These different data types will obviously come from different vendors and be in different formats, creating a data nightmare. But there’s good news: Today’s cloud-based systems offer the ability to integrate and convert disparate data sources into one secure data warehouse so you don’t have to manually integrate all of that information.

Hmm … but what about workers’ compensation?

Although frequently managed by different departments, the information in your HRIS and your risk management system can become twice as beneficial when two systems are integrated. Integrating information such as claims, payments and notes with your HR data will allow you to maximize the value of both systems. The more information you have on your employees and the longer you have it, the more complete a picture you will have of each individual’s experience.

Data consolidation, integration and cloud-based storage will create a single source of clean, quality people data for your HR team to use. Once routines are established for each system, they can easily be updated when either a new data source requires conversion or an existing data source makes a change.

With all of your people data in one place, you’ll be able to become the HR rock star you know you are. No longer are the benefits of data integration outside the budgets or abilities of top HR managers. You’ll be in control. Don’t settle for less than ALL of your people data!

Optis Big Data

In the last installment of our Intermittent FMLA series, we’re going to share one final tip to help alleviate the pains that come with managing intermittent leaves.

By now, we’re hoping we’ve gotten you to stop the head vs. wall pounding with the first three tips: Tracking, Certification, & Be Suspicious.

But, if you’re still at your wit’s end managing the seemingly never-ending intermittent leave requests, we’ve saved the best for last.

Tip #4: Determine the best eligibility method & publicize it.

There are four ways to count an ‘FMLA Year':

  1. The calendar year.
  2. Any fixed 12-month “leave year.”
  3. The 12-month period measured forward.
  4. A “rolling” 12-month period.

While there are benefits to each method, it is important to determine which is best for your organization based on factors only you can assess – absence policies, employee demographics, PT/FT status, etc.

Once you’ve determined which of the methods is best, if it’s not the method you currently employ, you first need to provide 60 days notice to your employees announcing the change.

Next, publicize your policy to the organization and be sure that employees understand it. A good rule of thumb is to issue the policy along with a statement of understanding that employees must sign and return to HR. Having a well-documented and well-communicated program that explains how and when eligibility will be determined benefits both the HR department and the employees requesting leave.

Last, enforce the policy in every case. No matter the status of an employee, all FMLA cases should fall under the same policies and procedures. It is important that employees are all treated equally within the parameters of the organization both for morale and to keep the organization safe from potential litigation.

For those cases that seem to go on and on forever, implementing the right method for your organization may finally put an end to ongoing leaves as you’ll be able to can show that they’ve exhausted their leave eligibility. And, it may finally stop you from banging your head against the wall.

Happy New Year!

2013 has arrived and we are stoked for the year ahead. We’ve been thinking about resolutions and what we hope to accomplish in the next year and have been reflecting on the year behind us for inspiration. In 2012:

As you can see, 2012 was a big year for Optis and we can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store! Our best to all of you in the new year!

A couple of weeks ago, we gave you a few tips to ease the head pains so many HR managers get as a result of managing intermittent FMLA.

While we hope our dose of FMLA-aspirin helped, we know that many circumstances beyond what we identified in Part 1 of this series can lead to forehead vs. wall (or desk, or keyboard) combat. One of the major ongoing headaches for HR managers is the potential fraud that may be committed and disguised as intermittent FMLA. With so many mandates and accommodations required by law, it’s difficult to sniff out fraudulent behavior. In this installment of ‘Tips to Stop Banging Your Head Against the Wall,’ we’re going share Tip #3 to keep fraudulence at bay (and your head safe).

Tip #3: Be Suspicious Establishing an anti-fraud program is one way to ensure that employees aren’t taking advantage of a never-ending leave request. A recent guideline to intermittent FMLA leave suggested an 11-step plan to limit potential FMLA fraud and we’ve pulled our favorite recommendations from the plan below:

  • Obtain medical certification
  • Enforce your policies
  • Examine the certification closely and ask the physician for verification
  • Ask for a second opinion
  • Make a limited inquiry each time the employee requests more leave
  • Carefully watch the schedule of absences
  • Request recertification
  • Track accrued leave and require it to run concurrently with FMLA leave
  • Aggressively pursue potential fraud and if concrete evidence exists, take disciplinary action

This anti-fraud plan can easily be transferred into a list of manageable tasks that an HR manager can set up in your leave management system. Alerts and task management reminders can keep HR mangers on top of potential fraud cases and allow them to upload any pieces of evidence or documentation that suggests fraud. It’s like you’re a headache-free HR detective.

When HR, Employee Benefit, or Risk Management leaders contract with insurance companies and third party claims administrators for coverage or claims management services, who owns and takes advantage of the data produced and generated by resulting claims from their workforce? Do leaders of employee benefits or risk managers ever consider this area in the contracting phase? Should they?

Ultimately, claims will be generated by an organization’s people – across life & health, disability, workers’ compensation, general and auto liability, etc. And, the leaders responsible for employee benefits and P&C/risk management, including CFO’s, will want to understand their claims costs and trends. So, the data is yours and the opportunities to use it are vast.

While it may seem that you are at the mercy of your insurer/TPA, you need not be. You should not have to depend solely on their reports, which could be biased for a variety of reasons. Independent assessment of your data can provide a cohesive and continuous source of reporting and analytics, especially when you opt to change insurers or TPAs. Existing report output can be continued, since data from your new insurer/TPA, while different, can be translated to coincide with previous data and current output. New reports from your data can be designed which highlight trends not previously realized. Seamless opportunities exist with business intelligence (BI) companies specializing in people data, which can provide this independent type of reporting.

Firms providing BI services not only provide an independent source for reporting, but also have capabilities that can integrate data from multiple insurers/TPAs on your behalf. Attempting to understand claims, cost and trends independently by vendor is like try to build a car with only tires or with only an engine. While the tires seem disconnected from the engine, and provide a completely different purpose, you won’t have a fully functioning car without connecting the various, seemingly disconnected pieces. In the same way, you won’t get a full picture of your organization’s claims experience until your data is integrated and analyzed together. So, it is imperative that the insurers/TPAs that you contract with make your data available for analysis upon your request.

The insights gained from understanding the true picture of your claims data will vary by company but some key insights will be similar. Are you aware of the characteristics associated with the employees incurring the majority of your claim costs across all benefits and have you adjusted your benefit plans accordingly? What percent of your users of FMLA ultimately migrate to long-term benefits such as workers’ compensation and long term disability? These types of trends and realities should be readily on your horizon so that you’re able to make cost saving decisions based on your claims data generated by your employees, with which you have unrestricted access.

The C-Suite correlates fiscal accountability of benefits with those responsible; HR, Employee Benefit and Risk Management leaders. That responsibility substantiates the leader’s ability to determine to whom and with whom their data can be shared and analyzed.

Management functions in HR and Finance want to access, manage and be able to analyze any claim data generated by their people. Consequently, as a ‘data governance’ policy the ownership and access to that detail data (protected for confidentiality, of course, and in compliance with HIPAA, GLB and any other Federal or State privacy acts) should be addressed in contracts with these providers and vendors. In this age of data and analytics, otherwise, how can leaders ever expect to better understand their own people data if vendors will not give you access to the data that “your” people generate?

Did you hear? We’re hosting a webinar next week:

Getting Control of Your People Data Thursday, Dec. 13th - 1:30p.m. mountain time You can register for it here.

We know what you’re thinking … you’re busy – why give us an hour of your time? Well, we think it’ll be worth your while and here are the top five reasons why:

  1. Everyone’s talking about data – and you should be too. Top HR Managers are seeking a better understanding of how to use their people data to improve programs and we’re going to tell you how in four easy steps.

  2. HR Managers are in a unique position to improve their companies. Who better understands your people than you, right? We’ll teach you the value of integrating people data and avoiding the pitfalls of not using it properly – which you can use to wow your bosses.

  3. We’ve added a speaker – so you’ll get not one but TWO industry experts’ take on people data in today’s work environment.

  4. We respect your time. We know you’re busy and we’re packing as much information as possible into a pretty short time frame. We’ll start on time, probably end early, and have a great method for answering questions so we don’t repeat any information.

  5. It’s FREE! Keeping yourself in-the-know on industry trends and hot topics is important … and expensive. But, not with Optis. We’re giving away our knowledge to help you be the best HR manager you can be.

Need more reasons? Contact us with any questions!

Sign up today!

Today's savvy HR manager can't truly be effective without understanding and using employee information, or as we like to call it "people data," to drive program improvements. Who better understands your employees than you, right?

But we understand that compiling data can seem like a daunting, tricky task ...even to the most experienced HR pro. That's where we come in.

Join us for Getting Control of Your People Data - A Webinar by Optis Thursday, December 13, 2012 1:30 p.m. Mountain time / 3:30 p.m. Eastern time

Our webinar will provide a unique perspective into the concept of using people data to drive significant improvements in your human resources and employee benefits programs. Participants will log off knowing the four key steps to follow when integrating people data and gain valuable insights into the negative impacts of poorly managed people data.

But the real take-away will come from understanding the advantages of being people-data strategic to answer the vital questions that impact your organization's most important asset - your people.

What are you waiting for? Register now!

We’ve had some big announcements this year — insights about people data, news on leave management and the biggest announcement: our new name, Optis. But enough about us — we’re looking to hear from you!

We’d like to learn more about what you and other members of the Optis community think and, more specifically, what you like to read. Our goal is to make sure we’re sharing the insight you want to see in the places you want to see it. Your feedback will help us bring you meaningful webinars, thoughtful white papers and maybe even an infographic or two.

So here’s what we need from you: Please take a few minutes to fill out our Readership Interests and Preferences Survey. In exchange for taking a few minutes out of your busy day, you’ll be registered for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card. And we’re not just giving away one gift card — we’re giving away 10!

$50 on Amazon can get you a bunch of neat stuff — Kindle downloads, kitchen gadgets, a DVD box set …

Thanks for taking the time to tell us what you think in our survey. We’ll start notifying our drawing winners on December 4th. Good luck!

Over half of HR professionals are unsure how much employee absence costs their organization. This unsettling statistic was revealed in our survey conducted in June at the 2012 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition in Atlanta.

Let’s think about that. Half of these professionals aren’t sure of the costs, so therefore, executives don’t know when money is literally walking out the door. Plus, the price tag on this problem is $100 billion.

With ever-changing FMLA laws and rising temporary personnel costs, absence needs to be properly managed to control costs and ensure compliance. But how can HR professionals even begin to manage the $100 billion problem when they’re unsure of how large their chunk of the problem is?

In our survey, Solving the Puzzle of Leave Management, we went directly to the source: YOU, the HR professional to uncover how absence is being managed in today’s workplace.

Download your copy of Solving the Puzzle of Leave Management to understand how leave information is obtained and distributed, how coverage is managed for absent employees, and what organizations are doing to put together the puzzle of leave management.

SHRM SurveySHRM Survey2

Thanks again to everyone who participated in our survey.

This week, many members of the Optis team attended the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) Colorado Chapter’s quarterly meeting, “Absence Policies to Consider from Three Legal Perspectives.” The sessions clearly focused around absence – a topic near and dear to the hearts of many Optis employees.

What was particularly interesting about one of the sessions was that it focused on leave for an absence type not clearly defined: Leave as an ADA accommodation.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires reasonable accommodations when necessary so that people with disabilities can perform the essential functions of their jobs, unless doing so would constitute an undue hardship to the employer. Leaves of absence—including those beyond an employer’s permitted number of days off—can constitute reasonable accommodations.” Source.

As you can imagine, this law brings up many questions for employers as navigating the details of what is ‘reasonable’ can be a challenge.

To help us understand ‘reasonable,’ the speakers provided several scenarios where a leave of absence would be the best accommodation for an employee and offered insights into how much leave would be appropriate.

Several interesting discussions sprouted among the DMEC members including when FMLA would be a factor, what would constitute an undue hardship, and how the EEOC defines ‘reasonable.’

Intrigued by the discussions and need for more understanding among the employers, we came back to the office and dug up a couple of resources for those who may need some guidance when facilitating a leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Employer Best Practices: Examining the Use of “Leave” as a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA

Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

If you work in HR, you’ve most likely heard of the term “big data.” It’s a common term used to describe the massive amounts of information which is generated in everyday life. This data is getting so “big” that we need different tools to help us manage it to make more educated decisions.

We recently read a Workforce.com article entitled, “The Promise of Big Data in Workforce Management” by Sarah Fisher Gale. You can read the full article here and we highly recommend it. The article describes how big data can help HR in many of the facets of the industry, including talent management, recruiting, workforce analytics, etc. It also explains how analytics can help HR departments refocus their business goals and generate results.

The article also states that there are some obstacles with big data. Most HCM systems are from different vendors, and there’s no method of integrating the data to see the big picture. As a response to this challenge, we’re seeing HR department making strides by investing in technology vendors that can combine this data for them. These vendors can also provide reports, analytics, intelligence and benchmarking to help you interpret all of your data.

For example, here at Optis, we have an extensive data warehouse. Our warehouse includes over 8 million employees and millions of claims. Customers use this data to compare their metrics across various categories (industries, geographical regions, company size) you name it. Currently, we have 10,000 active users on our systems and over 2 million reports run annually. Now that’s making big data accessible.

Optis Datawarehouse

But, what are the benefits of knowing all of these data metrics, you ask? Well, the broad answer is getting a better handle on how your people data gives you knowledge and understanding that your company can use to create cost-savings employee benefit programs, increase productivity, identify workforce trends and ultimately make better decisions.

Additionally, you gain other benefits that will help you in the short term. First, administrative efficiency will increase with all of your data integrated in a paperless system. You’ll also have readily accessible data to support your business case. Your programs will improve and your HR team will have more time to focus on additional business goals and initiatives you’ve been meaning to get around to.

What are the KSAOC’s (Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Other Characteristics) required in managing an employee leave of absence? While numerous requirements come to mind, the Leave of Absence Specialist should be a leader and innovator for his or her organization in regards to FMLA compliance, maximization of RTW efforts, and understanding and reducing disability and workers’ compensation costs and utilization. Today’s blog will focus on the first of these areas: FMLA compliance.

In order for the Leave Specialist to ensure FMLA compliance, he/she must remain vigilant in their knowledge of all law changes related to family medical leave. This knowledge is dependent upon a reliable source that will assist them in this obtaining accurate and current information. Additionally, this knowledge isn’t sufficient unless it’s transformed into rules and policies which are enacted and executed by the Leave Specialist. The development of such rules and policies can be created and implemented internally or outsourced to an organization that specialize in leave management programs. The Leave Specialist must also effectively manage the program to ensure that enforcement of the FMLA policy is consistent. Without equal fair treatment of all employees out on leave, trouble is likely to ensue.

One may wonder how this can be successfully achieved…

The answer is that KSAOC’s are best achieved through the use of HR technology software. Not only should this type of application provide a library of pertinent FMLA and state FML laws, but it should also be consistently updated to appropriately track eligibility and availability of any applicable family leave benefits. In other words, it should be your “go to” system for all of your leave management needs, and help alleviate some of your workload and administrative burden, while also helping you demonstrate the ROI of your HR department.

In addition, specific company leave policies should be incorporated into the system. Be sure to develop these business rules prior to using the system to ensure that Leave Specialists across the organization are administering the leave benefit in the same manner.

Questions about FMLA software? Visit www.oci.com.

2012 will likely be a year of change. As the economy slowly continues to recover, we’ll be evaluating our country’s leaders and making decisions that will surely impact the HR, employee benefits, and risk management professions.

In addition, the technology landscape will continue to evolve and create opportunities that have never existed before. In the year to come, keep an eye on the trends below to help you and your organization adapt to the changes in 2012.

  • Traditional reporting engines and silo’d data warehouses will be replaced by new, integrated data management models built around the Big Data theory.
  • Workforce analytics and HR data mastery will become a critical component of all successful HR departments.
  • HR leaders will take charge of their HR technology platforms, rather than relying on IT departments.
  • Legal compliance will become more and more complex, especially in the case of leave management.
  • Data security and content integrity will be in the spotlight due to cloud computing, Smartphones, social networks, and insider threats.

Want to learn more about what’s to come in 2012? Check out HRMorning.com’s 7 Crucial Health Reform Law Dates in 2012 for upcoming key dates.

In part one of this series, we talked about how an FMLA software tool can enhance HR’s ability to perform at a high level and remain FMLA compliant. We focused on Leave of Absence Specialist KSAOC’s traits such as leadership and innovation. Today’s post continues the theme but focuses on what KSAOC’s are associated with the maximization of return-to-work (RTW) efforts and how this can be enhanced through the strategic purchase of appropriate HR technology.

Let’s think about just a few of the KSAOC’s associated with effective RTW efforts. First, regardless of the size of your organization you must recognize and establish best practices for your RTW policies. This way these policies can be repeated by everyone responsible for returning your employees to work, which leads to both consistent and streamlined practices. Secondly, you must have the ability to examine your RTW programs. How often are employees with similar types of injuries receiving the same opportunities for transitional duty assignments?

A third skill involves the aptitude to effectively oversee all employee accommodation needs regardless of whether any lost time is incurred. The Specialist must track approval dates, request types, ADA Accommodation types, restrictions etc., which will maximize his/her efforts in accommodating employees successfully. Last, you must be analytically oriented and have the capacity to freely access your RTW data. Why? You need to measure and understand the improvements in program effectiveness and related statistics indicating the value your efforts add to the organization.

So, how will these KSAOCs be accomplished with a technology solution?

A software solution that is used to track the time component of every absence and accommodation provides a framework for consistent application of policies throughout your organization. What better way to automatically remind specialists of key tasks and procedures and to ultimately increase employee productivity! Since this type of HR technology will be used to track the time benefit of all absences and accommodations, job listings will be easily accessed from the HR technology solution as they will naturally be a part of the robust database. Subsequently, not only should available and applicable job types be accessible, but the user should be able to run reports highlighting the different types of transitional duty assignments most often associated with specific injury types.

An efficient return-to-work transition will be facilitated by an HR technology solution because the technology will be able to track and record all of your key milestones and communications. As a result, deadlines are less likely to be missed and the appropriate letters are sent out at just the right time. Finally, an HR technology solution will take the ‘haphazard’ out of your return-to-work program. Instead of trying to make program improvements based on notions, decisions can be made based on trends and from past year’s data.

Interested in learning more about managing absence with HR Technology? Download OCI’s Leave Management Whitepaper.

“The mantra of any good security engineer is: Security is not a product, but a process. It’s more than designing strong cryptography into a system; it’s designing the entire system that all security measures, including cryptography, work together.” - Bruce Schneier

At OCI, security is the most critical component of our strategic plan and company values. In fact, it is the cornerstone of the foundation of OCI. As employees, information security policies and procedures are incorporated into every aspect of our daily activities. Ranging from facility security, to encrypted documents, to password protected mobile devices (to name a few examples), we live security every day.

As we continue to grow and are ever-improving our security protocols, we’ve identified a few key indicators of our security success.

Specifically, we look at the following items:

  • Security Policies
  • Organization of Information Security
  • Human Resources Security
  • Physical & Environmental Security
  • Communications & Operations Management
  • Access Control
  • Information systems acquisition, development and maintenance
  • Information security incident management
  • Business continuity management
  • Compliance
  • Management

We are constantly monitoring and measuring our security policies. Are you evaluating your security procedures? Click here to read about OCI’s tips for audit preparation, and stay tuned for more information about security updates at OCI. Also, always remember:

“Passwords are like toothbrushes. They are best when new and should never be shared.” - Kara Kirschner-Brooks, CUDE; Learning & Development Specialist

Do you track FMLA employee leaves for your organization? Tracking employee leaves of absence can be difficult to manage, particularly if you manage leaves within a nation-wide organization with hundreds of employees working across several states with various different leave benefits.

It’s apparent that implementing a FMLA tracking system would make life easier. But, with already stretched budgets and staff, how to do you bring the business case to key stakeholders that a leave management tool is worth the investment?

What are the key benefits FMLA software will bring to your organization? Here are four reasons below that you can bring to your key stakeholders when building the case for the FMLA software buying decision:

  • Analyze trends – FMLA software will provide benchmarking and trends to give a broad view of your organization’s absence picture over time. With this knowledge, important forecasting measures can be taken.
  • Compliance – Currently, there are federal, state, and even city leave regulations that are ever-changing and overwhelming. FMLA software keeps you informed of new leave regulations. It also ensures that all of the Leave Managers in the company are managing and applying the leave benefits consistently.
  • Efficiency – FMLA software improves efficiency. It enables Leave Managers to organize employee absences and reduce the amount of time needed to manage them. In addition, as companies grow, and more employees are added, there won’t be an immediate need to add more resources to manage the increase of employee leaves. Furthermore, if a Leave Manager transitions to another team, employee leaves can be seamlessly transferred to another Leave Manager.
  • Impact the Bottom Line through Cost Savings – There are several areas where there’s an opportunity for money to be saved and have a substantial impact on the company’s bottom line. First, FMLA software will assist in returning employees to work sooner, saving money. Also, tracking software will help avoid any legal mishaps and help the HR leave tracking program remain compliant. It will also provide important trend information that will enable stakeholders make more informed decisions about employee benefit programs. Lastly, it will help reduce the need for a bigger HR staffing model with the increased administrative efficiency that a system provides.

These are a few reasons to help get you started. At OCI, we know that FMLA leave management contains several moving parts. Follow @OCIFastTrack on Twitter for tips on managing employee leave and industry information.

Looking for more information about purchasing leave software? Download OCI's Whitepaper, Can a Leave Management System Affect Your Bottom Line?

Are you looking for a way to make a difference?

Kids for Wish Kids is a branch within the Make-A-Wish Foundation that grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. This program is managed by students, who are responsible for the fundraising efforts and coordination.

Last year, students from Rock Canyon High School, in nearby Douglas County, Colorado launched a fundraising program for Kids for Wish Kids. Rock Canyon High School’s fundraising efforts totaled over $40,000 in donations, and broke the national record for donations to the Kids for Wish Kids program by a high school. This donation amount granted NINE wishes for kids!

OCI is proud to sponsor Rock Canyon High School’s Kids for Wish Kids for the second year in a row.

“We are proud to once again contribute as a sponsor to this worthy cause that the students of Rock Canyon High School have such incredible energy in supporting”, said Archie Anderson, OCI’s President. “As a father of Rock Canyon High School students, it is a joy to observe how enthusiastic these kids are in raising money for the wish kids. As a business leader, it’s just one small thing that we can do to contribute back to the communities in which my OCI colleagues and I live and work.”

Rock Canyon’s Wish Week dates are February 17-24. If you would like to contribute, please email Katherine Hartline at katherine.hartline@dcsdk12.org

Click here to read more about Kids for Wish Kids program.

All eyes are on the East Coast today as Hurricane Sandy travels along the eastern seaboard. Google has created a crisis map, you can use to track the storm. Here are some articles that provide resources for HR Managers during and after the wake of the storm we think are helpful. Stay safe everyone.

  • OSHA and DOL Resources - Check out Eric B. Meyer’s blog, the Employer Handbook.
  • Questions about Nonexempt vs. Exempt employees can be found here on HR.BLB.com’s website.
  • Carol Harnett offers great examples of employers who have offered services and help for employees affected by a natural disaster in this HRE Online article.
  • Here’s an informative article by Jeff Nowak on FMLA Insights that discusses FMLA eligibility during a natural disaster.
  • This comprehensive article from SHRM offers answers to pay and leave related issues.

As a leader in the HR and Employee Benefits realm, OCI is a member of several industry associations. OCI’s expertise in data integration with regard to disability, absence management, and productivity has allowed us to contribute on several levels to the organization, DMEC.

DMEC, the Disability Management Employer Coalition, and OCI have a strong history of partnership. Most notably, we collaborated with DMEC and Spring Consulting to author a chapter of the book Tools of the Trade in 2010. Additionally, we have sponsored, exhibited and presented at the DMEC Annual Conference & Tradeshow for multiple years.

In 2011, the OCI and DMEC partnership continued to grow. Several employees from OCI, including Jennifer Downey, David Spring, and Rene Gates, volunteered their time to sit on a steering committee to establish a Colorado Chapter of DMEC. The initial meeting and efforts were successful and the Colorado Chapter of DMEC is now in full operation. The organization will host its second meeting this Thursday, February 23rd in Denver, CO. Details about the event can be found here.

In addition, OCI employees Jennifer Downey and Stacey McBride will sit on the Board of Directors of the DMEC Colorado Chapter for the 2012 year. OCI is very thankful for the partnership opportunities that DMEC has offered over the years and looks forward to the continued collaboration.

Click here more information about DMEC, or follow the DMEC Colorado Chapter on Twitter - @CO_DMEC.

By Michelle Kern, Corporate Administrator

Last Friday, I attended Rock Canyon High School’s closing assembly for their Wish Week fundraiser. Wish Week is a seven day fundraising effort managed by the Student Council to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Colorado’s Kids for Wish Kids Program. This program helps grant wishes to children with life threatening medical conditions.

OCI donated to the cause for the second year in a row and I had heard a lot of great things about the fundraising efforts by the students. Last year, RCHS students broke the national record for donations to the Kids for Wish Kids program by a high school by raising over $40,000 in donations! That was an amazing accomplishment. This year, students dove into Wish Week with high energy, commitment, and determination. They hosted fundraising events such as dodge ball game night, Dish-for-a-Wish events at local restaurants, and sold Wish Week t-shirts among other things to grant Natalie’s wish to go to Disney World. Natalie is a 5 year old girl who has leukemia and lives in the community.

Upon entering the RCHS gym for the assembly, I was amazed at how committed to the cause students were. Everyone was excited for the assembly and all I saw was a sea of blue sponsorship t-shirts worn by all of the students. The assembly had high energy throughout the entire duration and included short presentations from student council members and representatives from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Colorado summarizing the activities from the days prior.

For the moment we had all been eagerly anticipating, student council leaders and Natalie took the stage, and they informed her that her wish had been granted; she was going to Disney World. This sparked a roar of excitement from the crowd, but no one had expected what was to come next. A gigantic check with an overlay hiding the check amount was brought out onto the stage to be presented to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Colorado. It was announced that the students had raised over $43,000!

I couldn’t believe it. What an incredible effort from the students! I was so happy to be there and see the students, Natalie, the teachers, parents, and everyone one else who supported the fundraising efforts. Congratulations to the RCHS Student Council. We are lucky to have you as part of our community!

Wish Week

Wish Week

In part two of this blog series, one KSAOC highlighted was analytical orientation. Decisions should be based on data and data trends and not on gut feelings and notions. An analytical orientation enables you to measure and understand improvements in program effectiveness. In this final segment of how Leave Specialist KSAOC’s are enhanced by your HR Technology, we will focus on how HR Technology can improve your understanding of and can help reduce your disability and workers’ compensation cost and utilization.

Ask yourself the following –

How well am I able to measure my disability and workers’ compensation cost and utilization?

Both monthly statistics and year-over-year information should be readily available. These statistics should be provided independently from your vendor management to eliminate all sources of potential bias. Accurate measurement is the sound basis for all future steps in the analytical process, so ensure that you’ve taken the best steps.

Am I easily able to interpret the statistics received?

You are probably quite adept at understanding incidence, duration and average cost metrics. But what about identification of high-risk claimants and correlations between factors influencing absence? Having a plethora of metrics doesn’t provide value to the Leave Specialist or the organization if the metrics are not understood properly.

Can I effectively communicate analytic results in such as way that they lead to action and change within the organization or reinforce the programs already underway in the organization?

If your data indicates that incidence is trending upward and is primarily associated with one particular location, then you have the data you need to approach management at that location with initiatives to curb the upward trend. Appropriate communication should also establish HR’s position at the C-Suite table. Demonstrating the full value of analytics will include a return-on-investment analysis justifying your analytic efforts and actions.

So how does HR Technology aid in assisting in the above mentioned Leave Specialist KSAOCs?

Selecting an HR Technology tool that provides a user-configurable web portal will open the doors to your data in ways not experienced before. The portal will provide reports such as Claim Incident Reports, Top Condition or Injury Reports and Lost Time Trend Reports. The user will not only have access to this data in a web-hosted or cloud solution, but these types of reports can be based on current data. Reports can also be scheduled to run so they are waiting for your review as soon as you arrive in the office.

In addition to a user-configured web portal, the HR technology tool chosen should provide predictive modeling tools allowing leave specialists the ability to access and analyze data.. The types of predictive modeling tools that should be available include tools that provide a High Risk Claimant Analysis. This type of tool should identify not just claimants who have a high risk of future cost, but more importantly those claimants whose expected claim experience has the most opportunity to benefit from early management and early intervention. Additional types of predictive modeling should provide tools which are able to identify relationships between your leave management policies and your lost time trends. For example, to what extent are employees absent on FMLA also migrating or simultaneously out on paid benefits? What trends and patterns of behavior are you able to determine? Predictive modeling helps identify these trends and isolates areas for improvement in your leave management policies.

Finally, and most importantly, effective analytics should lead to change in your organization. What type of change? Change that increases productivity by maximizing the number of employees who are at work through minimizing the effects of absenteeism. If analysis has determined that a high percentage of employees absent on FMLA also have lengthy disability or workers’ compensation claims, then quite likely the interactive process is not working effectively during the early stages of the FMLA absence. Understanding this problem from data analysis and subsequently developing better programs and policies will reduce the burden of absence and demonstrate the effectiveness of your analytical skills and the value of your department to the organization.

There’s only one month left until OCI kicks-off our busy spring and summer conference schedule! We have a busy next few months ahead of us. We’ll be attending and exhibiting at several conferences nationwide. Our upcoming event calendar is below. Click here to schedule a meeting with an OCI Sales Representative during a conference and learn about LeaveXpert™, the essential leave mangement solution for your organization. We’ll see you there!

2012 Western Region IPMA-HR Conference

April 11 – 13 | Phoenix

RIMS Annual Conference & Exhibition

April 15 – 18 | Philadelphia

FMLA/ADAAA Employer Compliance Conference

April 25 – 27 | Minneapolis

Louisiana State Conference on Human Resources

April 26 – 27 | New Orleans

IHRIM 2012 Conference

April 30 – May 3 | Chicago

Gulf Coast Symposium on HR Issues

May 9 – 10 | Houston

SHRM 2012 Annual Conference

June 24 – 27 | Atlanta

Meet The Team

We are pleased to share that over the last several months, we’ve added quite a few new customers to our LeaveXpert™ solution!

OCI launched LeaveXpert™ in 2010 and has received a positive response from the HR industry since. Over the past several years, OCI customers and other employers have asked us to help them improve their absence management via our robust data management and business intelligence solutions. At the launch of LeaveXpert™, we recognized the need for an end-to-end absence and leave management solution in the human resources marketplace.

While several offerings exist to track leave requests, very few offer the data expertise and reporting capabilities on which OCI’s core business and competencies are built upon. Our years of experience in providing data management and specialized reporting solutions allowed us to create a tool to manage the regulatory leaves but also provide employers with the information they need to improve their absence programs.

Additionally, OCI unveiled two versions of its leave management tool in December of 2011. In response to customer and industry needs, providing multiple versions of the system allows OCI to provide absence management regardless of a company’s size, number of leaves, or absence policies.

OCI’s new customers are not only within the human resources and employee benefits markets. OCI continues to add new data conversion and integration services for customers in the P&C/risk segment.

Interested in OCI? Click here to view our products and services.

Last week, HR blog TLNT posted an article by John Hollon entitled “Top 10 HR Issues for HR Pros? They Haven’t Changed Much This Year.” Once again, the issues of FMLA tracking and coverage remains among the top questions HR professionals have, since changes to the law are happening continuously. For example, the Department of Labor’s 2012 proposed rule implementing FMLA amendments enacted by the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010 (FY 2010 NDAA) and the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act (AFCTCA) will expand who is covered under each of these laws.

Here are some of the proposed changes in a nutshell –

Military Service Member Exigency Leave

Prior to Proposed 2012 Rule Changes - While FY 2010 NDAA immediately expanded coverage to families of the Regular Armed Forces deployed to a foreign country, the definition of foreign country was vague.

Subsequent to Proposed 2012 Rule Change Approval - The definition of foreign country will be expanded to include deployment in international waters.

Military Service Member Caregiver Leave

Prior to Proposed 2012 Rule Changes – FY 2010 did not immediately extend Military Service Member Caregiver leave to veterans because serious injury or illness of a veteran was not defined.

Subsequent to Proposed 2012 Rule Change Approval – The definition of serious injury or illness of a veteran will be defined extending caregiver benefits to veterans meeting the newly defined criteria.

Airline Flight Crew FMLA Entitlement

Prior to Proposed 2012 Rule Changes – The AFCTCA established that non-flight time hours count toward the minimum FMLA requirement but did not institute this rule in a detailed manner.

Subsequent to Proposed 2012 Rule Change Approval – Specific rules will create more detailed service eligibility requirements.

Remember, overextension of FMLA benefits means you’re providing leave benefits which do not count towards the FMLA benefit.

By Scott Lenox, National Sales Representative at OCI

This seems to be a question I continue to hear across a variety of different sized companies and at all different levels of HR leaders who are interested in moving from a manual leave tracking environment to a more automated system. Whether you have challenges with tracking FMLA, reporting, compliance, work flow consistency, a de-centralized leave management operation, or if you are simply looking to bring your outsourced operations back in house, the question remains the same, “where do I start?” Implementing a system can seem daunting at times, but in the end, it will give you administrative efficiency, improved compliance, a comprehensive view of your leave management trends, and a higher ROI of your HR department.

In Part I & II of this blog series I’ll try and offer some knowledge which can help make your journey in choosing a leave management system a little bit easier. These are tips that I’ve encountered while working in the industry for 11 years. Every organization is different, and these recommendations may not work for everyone, so I will try to keep my suggestions as general as possible.

First, I would recommend determining the need. Start with asking questions. The more questions you ask, and the more honest the response, the better. Some questions that you can ask of your leave management operations may include:

  • Do I know how many employees are out on leave at any given time?
  • Do I know why these employees are out on leave? (Here’s the big one) Do I know when these employees are expected to return to work?
  • Do I know how much money these leaves are costing our organization?
  • Do I know what leave policies are working or hurting our return to work numbers?
  • Do we have the right practices in place that benefit the employee and the organization?
  • What are we currently using to track leaves? Calendars? Excel Files? Access Reports?

If you hesitate on one, or more, or all of these questions, you may be in the right position to start exploring a leave management software system.

First, you’ll need a Project Manager. Whether this person is you, or someone you assign, the Project Manager needs to own the project AND be able to make key decisions. Having one person in charge of the overall project will keep the project moving while meeting deadlines that the Project Manager has designated important. Some examples of key dates may include:

  • Budget meetings
  • RFP Process – vendor research, demos, references, finalist selection,
  • Contract finalization
  • Implementation meetings
  • Testing
  • Go Live Date

Taking that first step to begin vendor research can be a bit overwhelming. Once again, where do I start?! You may run into some technical terms that you may not fully understand. (That’s okay, odds are you weren’t a MIS major or rebuilding computers in your garage in high school so don’t get discouraged!) Stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish for your organization. Do plenty of research online, talk with other HR leaders to see what they can share/recommend, attend speaking engagements at conferences that can give you insight, and last but not least, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call a vendor and start asking questions. Ask them if they have a demonstration of their system available, and if they can send you some information to review. Doing this once or twice, you will be on your way to understanding how the whole process works.

Stay tuned to next week’s blog post - Leave Management Software, No Really, Where Do I Start?! - Part II

Scott Lenox has been selling in the HR and Technology industries for over 11 years. Scott grew up in rural Illinois about 100 miles west of Chicago. He now resides in the Chicagoland area with his wife and three year old daughter, Stella.

By Scott Lenox, National Sales Representative at OCI

This week, we’re tackling Part II of the blog series Leave Management Software, No Really, Where Do I Start?!

Fully understanding the benefits your software vendor can provide, not only to your department, but other departments, and to the overall organization, will assist you in your internal discussions. Often times, purchasing a Leave Management software system will include different departments and decision makers.

Two departments that are typically included during the decision-making process are IT and Finance. Gaining Influencers around your idea and overall need can help you during these discussions. Ensure you fully understand the benefits your vendor has to provide before approaching different departments with your new goal. Communicating the benefits and advantages can ease the concern of setting up a new system. For example, an IT department may be extremely busy with existing projects. Luckily, many Leave Management software systems are in a SaaS (Software as a Solution) model, and Internet based. This model means the vendor is hosting the software, and you are accessing the software using a username and password via the internet, just as you would with your own bank account. Very minimal IT attention is needed with a model such as this, because all of the loading, upgrading, and ongoing maintenance is being handled by your vendor, not your IT department.

Another important factor to assess is establishing a budget. Don’t panic. You may have to go through a Procurement department, and/or design a business plan. During this process, more than likely, the final approval will have to come from Finance. Be ready to show tangible numbers based around ROI, cost savings, time savings, lowered RTW days, increased productivity levels, and employee retention. Try to tie these different beneficial areas into real dollars saved for the organization. Yes, that means pulling out the trusty ole calculator and figuring out average wages and applying those dollars to what additional lost days/hours around unmanaged leaves are costing the organization. Don’t forget to use your resources during building a business plan. There are templates of business plans out on the internet, and your vendor should be able to provide you with white papers around ROI studies they have conducted, and other published figures that can contribute to your findings.

Enjoy the fact that you are taking on a project that will truly benefit your department, the employees, and the organization. Better management of your leave data coincided with better reporting will give you the business intelligence needed to make better informed decisions around your leave management processes for years to come. I applaud you for taking the first step in learning more!

Scott Lenox has been selling in the HR and Technology industries for over 11 years. Scott grew up in rural Illinois about 100 miles west of Chicago. He now resides in the Chicagoland area with his wife and three year old daughter, Stella.

OCI is packing our bags for the upcoming IHRIM Conference in Chicago, IL!

IHRIM’s 2012 HRMS Strategies Conference and Technology Expo is taking place April 30 - May 3rd at the Hilton Chicago in the Windy City. OCI is pleased to participate for the second year in a row as an exhibitor in the Technology Expo.

IHRIM promises a packed schedule of HRMS education, information and networking events. The conference allows attendees to learn about and discuss solutions available surrounding issues that HR and HR system professionals face today and challenges they will likely face in the future.

To read more about IHRIM’s 2012 HRMS Strategies Conference click here.

Stop by OCI’s Booth #322 to discuss our solutions for HR professionals. Also, keep an eye out for OCI’s iPad giveaway during the raffle drawing.

To sign up for a demo during the IHRIM Conference, click the button below and a Sales Rep will contact you within 48 hours. If you need to speak with someone today, please call (800) 678-6613.

IHRIM

OCI will be at Louisiana SHRM April 26-27 in New Orleans. We’ll also be attending the Gulf Coast Symposium May 9-10 in Houston, TX.

Are you able to determine what number of employees are absent from your organization each day? Do you know who’s out, why they are out, and how long their leave duration is anticipated to be? Managing this information on a daily basis sounds overwhelming. But there are solutions in the marketplace today that can help you manage this information while staying compliant, reducing costs, and identifying key trends for business decisions.

A business intelligence solution which includes an integrated leave of absence data warehouse could be the first step toward better understanding your leave incidence, duration and cost. Having the ability to look at trends over time is crucial in maximizing your management efforts of both paid and unpaid leave benefits. In addition, this will give you the knowledge of which locations or departments in your organization are experiencing the highest absence rates or which job types or job schedules are linked with the highest duration.

Do you know which employees are most likely to be out an extended length of time? Of those employees, do you know which ones have the greatest opportunity for early intervention and management?

A daily disability feed from your vendor can be utilized to identify employee absences most likely associated with lengthy absence and/or high cost. But absence length and cost alone aren’t the only factors associated with which absences are the ones presenting the best opportunity for savings. Numerous characteristics of the absence have interplay into the length of the leave. Establishing a high risk score algorithm based on a daily disability feed is a great first step towards best managing those complex claims which are intricate but yet potentially shortened because of improved focus and care.

Do you know the differences in benefits consumption and which benefit plan design changes would be most beneficial to your organization?

An analysis of current disability expenditures might reveal gaps in current disability plan design or provide enlightenment as to which conditions are truly the most costly. Instituting a 90-day eligibility waiting period for new hires has the potential to reduce initial disability incidence if your current plan design offers employee enrollment in disability plans at an earlier day of employment. Furthermore, it might appear that mental health claims are the most prevalent and most costly, when in reality, based on the data, musculoskeletal claims are associated with the largest amount of your disability spend.

Having information, say from pivot tables or disparate spreadsheets only tells you what’s happened in the past. You need to be able to predict what will happen in the future.

Knowing the past is only part of the information you’ll need going forward. You must have a toolset which allows you to forecast the future. A business intelligence solution with an integrated data warehouse can be that predictor which will give you knowledge of your data.

Over the past two weeks, OCI has attended IHRIM’s HRMS Strategies Conference, the Louisiana State SHRM Conference and DMEC’s FMLA/ADAAA Employer Compliance Conference. Now we’re getting ready to exhibit at the Gulf Coast Symposium this week. At each conference, we’re seeing recurring trends and business needs.

Not surprisingly, a main concern of HR professionals and Leave Managers is navigating and staying compliant with ever-changing FMLA laws. What is surprising is how few solutions were offered at the events we attended to help Leave Managers with their FMLA compliance issues. Of the systems that are available, many come only as an “add-on” of another system, do not provide reporting or metrics to truly understand absence issues, or include a hefty price tag.

OCI is in the unique position of offering an independent leave management solution that integrates with any HRIS or payroll system already in place, improves legal compliance, accurately measures the direct and indirect costs of absence and is implemented quickly at a competitive price. As we look forward to future events and conversations with HR and leave management professionals, we’re confident that our solution will continue to meet the needs of and address the concerns of the industry.

Check out the features & functions of OCI’s LeaveXpert™ at http://bit.ly/ICoaW1

Visit OCI at Booth 304 at the Gulf Coast Symposium, and we’ll see you in Atlanta at the SHRM Conference!

Gulf Coast Symposium

What changes to your employee benefit plan do you think would result in the most cost savings? Sometimes, the answer isn’t what you would expect.

In hopes of reducing unnecessary spending, ensuring employee safety, and better managing return to work efforts, many employers scrutinize and adjust their benefit plans. However, every benefit plan and employee population is different and, as a result, it can be challenging to identify the company-specific cost-drivers that will make the most impact to an employer’s potential savings. Many employers lack the data integration and analytic capabilities necessary to identify true cost-drivers.

Join us for the DMEC Denver Chapter Meeting on May 24, 2012 at 2 pm at Elway’s Cherry Creek to learn how to identify significant cost savings by integrating all of your data to see your full benefits landscape.

As data experts, OCI has developed an analytic approach to identify cost-drivers and build scenarios to predict the impacts of plan changes. We’re pleased to share a case study detailing the analysis of one employer’s disability plan that shows how important and surprising the data can be.

Register online here. We look forward to seeing you!

Can’t attend the meeting? To read more about improvement strategies for benefit plans and review the case study that describes how one employer saved millions, check out OCI's analytic study, Improvement Strategies for Disability Plan Design.

Putting together a leave management program can feel like putting together the pieces of a difficult puzzle. It’s hard to see the whole picture when the pieces are scattered.

Your leave management team has to coordinate and comply with company policies, federal and state leave laws, and multiple types of leave. Managing communication with absent employees, coordinating replacement workers, and executing a smooth return to work program provide additional challenges.

Without a full picture of your leave management program, it’s impossible to truly understand the impact that all of the pieces of absence have on your organization – in both financial terms and worker productivity implications. Implementing program improvements to return employees to work sooner or reduce the cost of leave is nearly impossible without a holistic view of your absence problem.

But how can you put together all of the pieces into a clear picture?

The answer is a leave management system. With the right leave management system, disparate leave types are funneled into one view and easily managed. Federal and state leave laws as well as company policies are updated regularly to ensure compliance and improve internal processes. Task management, letter libraries, file storage, and reporting are provided online and allow necessary information to be shared and reviewed with the click of a mouse.

With the right leave management system, the pieces of your leave management program are put together to provide you with a clear picture of your company’s absence. With a holistic view of your absence, you can make improvements – saving your organization money and time.

Want to learn more about putting together the puzzle of leave management? Click here to learn about LeaveXpert™.

Going to the SHRM Conference? Click here to schedule a time for a demo of LeaveXpert™, or stop by and see us at Booth #2713 to talk to an OCI representative and register for a chance to win a designer handbag!

Recently, the state of Tennessee amended TCA, Title 8, Chapter 33, Part 1 regarding employees in military service. This may mean absolutely nothing to you. But, if you have employees in the state of Tennessee, you need to know what the amendment was and how it affects your employees’ leave eligibility.

In a time of frequent legislative changes, varying court rulings, and ever-evolving state and federal leave laws, it can be confusing for a Leave Specialist or HR Manager to keep track of which laws apply their employees. Uncertainty can lead to compliance issues, unhappy employees and, at worst, lawsuits.

Despite the possible legal and financial implications of not complying with the current leave laws, nearly one-third of respondents in a recent leave management survey cite ‘Google and Web Searches’ as their main source of leave information. Leave Specialists and HR Managers aren’t being provided the training and resources they need to stay abreast of state and federal changes, so they’re researching the information on their own.

To help with this big piece of the leave management puzzle, we’ve compiled a list of helpful resources that can guide an HR department when needing information to make the best decision regarding leave.

And if you’re in the state of Tennessee, here are the details on the amendment above.

Going to SHRM? Stop by Booth 2713 to learn how OCI can help you solve the leave management puzzle. Participate in our leave management survey for a $5 Starbucks gift card and enjoy a coffee on us!

Recently, we discussed how a good leave management system can help you put together the pieces of managing absence to view a clear picture of your company’s leave landscape.

There are some leave systems out there that can provide you with the tools necessary to track FMLA and direct some of the day-to-day activities of managing leave. But most are missing a key piece of the leave management puzzle: data integration.

As most leave managers know, managing absence in an organization isn’t limited to FMLA. Today’s leave specialist needs to have a full understanding of their company’s workers’ compensation leaves, STD/LTD leaves, and any company-specific leave policies.

It’s important for a leave specialist or HR manager to have access to all of their leave data in one place.....and it’s not an easy thing to come by. Most leave management systems don’t have the data expertise and ability to integrate the disparate data silos that house different leave types.

It’s imperative that data integration is done accurately and in a timely fashion to ensure that leave managers are using quality, up-to-date information to make leave decisions. And, thanks to the sensitive nature of leave data, security is of upmost importance.

Without a system that can provide accurate, secure data integration, leave managers will find themselves trying to put together a puzzle without all pieces. Be sure to look for data integration opportunities when building your leave management program and selecting a system.

Going to SHRM? Stop by Booth 2713 to learn how OCI can help you solve the leave management puzzle. Participate in our leave management survey for a $5 Starbucks gift card and enjoy a coffee on us!

In four days, OCI team members will be heading to Atlanta for the 64th Annual SHRM Conference & Expo! We are especially looking forward to the SHRM conference this year because we have great things planned for our exhibit at Booth # 2713.

Here’s a preview of what’s to come…

OCI Leave Management Survey

  • Help us solve the puzzle of leave management with OCI’s Leave Management Survey! We’d like your feedback on leave tracking, employee absence, budgeting & costs, and what your greatest concerns are in HR today.
  • The survey will be conducted at the OCI booth #2713 on an iPad and takes about three minutes to complete.
  • After you have completed the survey, each survey respondent will receive a $5 Starbucks gift card at the booth to thank you for your time and survey responses.

Starbucks gift card

Designer Handbag Give-away

  • What better way to solve the puzzle of leave management than with a Michael Kors handbag?!
  • Bring the leave management puzzle piece you received in the mail and see if it’s a winning puzzle piece that fits within our puzzle.
  • We’ll be giving away 6 handbags throughout the conference duration! If your puzzle piece doesn’t fit, drop your card in the bowl for a drawing for any remaining unclaimed bags at the end of the conference.

Michael Kors handbag

We’ll see you at OCI Booth # 2713! We are looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and meeting new ones!

Whoa!! What a whirlwind! The OCI team returned from the SHRM 2012 Annual Conference & Exposition last night, and it was an AMAZING conference! With conference speakers like Condoleeza Rice, Malcom Gladwell, and Tom Brokaw, we knew we had to step up our game this year. Attendees were buzzing about the speakers and the events and we helped them keep going by handing out Starbucks cards to those who took our leave management survey. This year, we stepped it up a notch by conducting a survey in our booth to help solve the puzzle of leave management. A big thanks to all of the survey participants! We appreciate your feedback and we hoped you’ve enjoyed your Starbucks card!

We also had an enticing giveaway this year. We gave away six, yes SIX, Michael Kors handbags to six lucky winners whose puzzle piece mailer was the missing piece to our leave management puzzle. Congrats to our winners!

It was a great conference all around. We’ve posted some pictures below of the OCI team in action! Now, we’re on to compiling our survey results so be on the lookout for our findings and more to come!

Also, check out “pro-tips” from Archie Anderson on attending the SHRM Conference here.

Scott SHRMSHRM Exhibit HallM LynesSHRM 12Survey Photo

At the annual SHRM conference in Atlanta, GA, OCI hosted our first-ever survey focusing on leave management. We set out to understand some of the issues facing employers with regard to absence, how important technology is to our human resources clients, and gain some insights into the issues on the mind of leave specialists.

The response at SHRM was very strong! We had several hundred booth visitors, many of whom took the survey. While we’re eager to compile the results, we’ve decided to open the survey online to anyone who is interested in participating but may not have been able to see us at SHRM.

Please CLICK HERE if you’d like to participate in our survey – it only takes a couple of minutes and we’ll be sure to send you the survey results.

Interested in what we learned? You can REGISTER HERE to receive a copy of the survey results in the fall.

A big thanks to all of our survey participants!

We recently came across an article that declared that many HR professionals still aren’t a part of the strategic leadership team at most organizations. We quickly asked ourselves why, as most HR and leave managers are among the hardest working people in their companies.

When we look at a typical day in leave management, there are FMLA state and federal leave laws to look up and understand, letters to write, reminders on sticky notes to get a doctor’s note or to email an absent employee, and a need to keep track of all the hours that those on intermittent leave are racking up. (Just to name a few things, that is.)

All of these activities revolve around a company’s most important asset: their people. And, when federal and state laws are involved, a company’s compliance (or lack there of) has repercussions that can have severe corporate impacts on the business and stakeholders.

So, with all of the social and financial risks being left to a Leave Manager and the HR Team, why aren’t they being recognized as the leaders they are?

We’ll say it again, ‘HR and Leave Managers are among the hardest working people in their companies.’ While the dedicated Leave Manager looks up leave laws, sends the appropriate communications, and keeps the company away from potential legal issues, there isn’t time for them to tell anyone how much they’ve done. And their work is going unnoticed.

In today’s workplace, a Leave Manager needs a system that will bring all necessary data into one place, provide updates and necessary information regarding state and federal leaves, include correspondence templates, auto-generate reminders and tasks, and help determine eligibility for leave. With a system in place to manage the day-to-day tasks, a leave manager will suddenly find themselves with… time!

And what can be done with that precious time? Evaluation of programs and implementation of changes to improve processes. They can provide reports detailing cost reductions, compliance issues avoided, and savings on absence that ultimately impact the bottom line.

“Impact the bottom line.” Now your HR Department and Leave Management team are providing a critical piece of the strategic plan. Continuing to provide insights, improvements, and savings opportunities will elevate HR professionals into the strategic leadership positions they deserve.

It’s like they say, “Work Smarter, Not Harder,” but make sure you have the tools in place to do so.

Side note: Have you taken our Leave Management Survey yet? Click here to complete our survey and see the results this fall!

With 2012 being an election year, everyone has their eye on the month of November. Here in Denver, the city is preparing for the Presidential debate, which will be held in our own backyard on October 3rd at the University of Denver. As always with an election year, there has been a lot of campaigning and political activity recently. Late last month, the Supreme Court made a decision on one of the bigger political issues: to uphold the health care act. Just last week, the House voted to repeal it. The bill will now go on to the Senate where it is expected to be shelved.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has several implications for employers, individuals, families, government agencies, and other institutions. We sought to find out what HR Managers need to know about the act and how it impacts health care plans, hiring, tax credits, subsidies, etc. We’ve gathered up the links below to help you decipher how this act impacts your organization and best prepare for the changes ahead.

Healthcare.gov

The Healthcare Law & You

SHRM

Health Care Law Upheld, Its Future Remains Uncertain

Health Care Reform Resource Page

Monster

The Health Care Reform Bill Becomes Law: What It Means for Employers

Small Business Council of America

Health Reform – What Small Businesses Need to Know

Expensive changes to health plans from new laws such as mental health parity and health reform are forcing employers to look for savings across every department in their organization.

Often, an enterprise will look to making changes in their benefit plans to save money – and disability plans offer a lot of opportunities for savings. But, choosing the correct plan elements to adjust poses a challenge for most organizations. How can they determine which plan changes would save the most money?

In this month’s issue of DMEC’s @Work magazine, OCI’s David Spring explains how one employer took a data-driven and analytic approach to changing their disability plans. He explains how looking at the data helped uncover their true cost-drivers and shares the millions of dollars in savings they could realize.

Log in to read the article at DMEC.org!

Want more from OCI? Stop by Booth 40 at the 2012 DMEC Annual Conference or register attend our session “Leveraging Technology to Manage & Track FMLA Efficiently,” co-presented with Rich Silva of FedEx Ground.

Are you faced with compliance concerns, extended leave durations, and administrative overload? Uncover industry best practices and learn how to track multiple leave types in a cloud based system during the session, "Leveraging Technology to Manage & Track FMLA efficiently" at the DMEC Conference.

The DMEC International Conference will be held in Denver this year from August 12 – 15th at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. OCI is honored to be co-presenting with Rich Silva, Leave of Absence Specialist at FedEx Ground on Monday, August 13th from 1:30 -2:30 p.m. Mr. Silva will reveal the best practices of how FedEx Ground has achieved a streamlined FMLA tracking program. View the full conference schedule here.

David SpringDavid Spring, Business Development Analyst

Rich SilvaRich Silva, Leave of Absence Specialist

Also, stop by and see OCI at booth #40 in the exhibit hall or click here to setup a time to meet with one of our team members at the conference. We'll have several folks from OCI at the conference and we welcome the opportunity to meet with our fans or prospective fans!

We'll see you in beautiful Colorado!

Visiting Denver for the first time? Here are some fun things to do:

  • Visit the REI Flagship store
  • Hike in the Mountains
  • Rent a B-cycLe
  • Climb the stairs at Red Rocks Amphitheatre
  • Tour a brewery
  • Go for a Run in Wash Park
  • Shop at the 16th Street MAll
  • Catch a RoCkies Game
  • See a concert or movie at SKyline Park
  • Tour the Denver MInt
  • Visit the DeNver Zoo
  • Tour the Botanical Gardens

Is there any bigger headache for HR managers than the one brought on by intermittent FMLA? The laws, the chronic conditions, the snippets of time….. It will eventually drive even the most organized leave professional to head vs. wall madness.

Is there anything to do but take an Advil?

Yes.

By implementing a couple of strategic tips posted in a recent guideline to intermittent FMLA leave, you can start to ease the head pains that come with managing one of the biggest drains on employee productivity and HR’s time.

Tip #1: Tracking

Intermittent FMLA might seem like it can go on forever, but the good news is, it can’t. Careful tracking of time used under FMLA leave (down to the smallest increment possible) will add up and quickly exhaust the twelve-week protected period.

For a leave specialist, a cloud-based system that can accurately track the time that an employee takes under FMLA will alleviate the burden of manually consolidating days, hours, and minutes. It will also reduce the opportunity for an employee to go over the protected time allotted to them.

Tip #2: Certification

To cut down on potential leave abuse, an employer has the right to require a doctor’s certification for intermittent FMLA. Additionally, if the certification doesn’t include a time limit (as may be the case in chronic conditions), seeking recertification is a right that employers can exercise every 30 days (in most cases).

To stay on top of certifications, leave specialists need electronic access to doctors’ notes and other forms. Shuffling through paper-based employee files isn’t a sufficient system nor does it offer automatic reminders for recertification if, and when, necessary.

By implementing these two steps via a cloud-based system, leave managers will be able to remain compliant while maximizing their time (and may save a few heads from banging against the wall).

Since our announcement of OCI’s evolution to Optis, we’ve been talking a lot about ‘People Data.’ It’s not surprising that we’ve captured the ears of many HR managers with the term, as managing data is on the mind of every HR professional these days.

In our conversations with attendees at HR Tech and HR Southwest, it became apparent that many organizations have attempted to assemble their data into systems that support measurement and analysis. However, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Many questions surrounding people data continue to exist and HR professionals continue to be dissatisfied.

So, what is people data anyway? And how can you use it to effectively answer the questions that you, and your company’s executives, ask?

In our whitepaper, People Data In Your Business, Optis explains that people data is simply any information associated with your employees’ involvement in and interaction with the workplace. We give you the steps to become people data strategic and illustrate how utilizing people data properly can lead to company-changing and/or cost-saving decisions. (Spoiler Alert: Adaptation is the most crucial step!)

Download People Data in Your Business to understand how to make your disparate people data easy to understand, control and see. It’s with this knowledge and understanding that your company can create cost-saving employee benefits programs, reduce lost productivity, identify absence trends, and ultimately make better business decisions.

Earlier this week, Optis unveiled its new look at the 15th HR Technology Conference & Expo in Chicago, IL! Aside from buzzing with excitement over our new brand, we were able to speak with top HR Managers & Leave Specialists regarding the challenges and business issues they face each day.

A top concern for most Leave Managers continues to be understanding and remaining compliant with ever-changing federal and state FMLA laws. Regulations change so frequently and vary so greatly from state to state, it’s difficult for HR departments, and usually a sole Leave Specialist, to manage them all.

Additionally, managing data is a growing concern among the HR community. HR managers are looking for tools that allow them to report on and manage the ever-growing amounts of people data their businesses generate.

At Optis we’re in the unique position of offering an independent leave management solution as well as data services that focus specifically on people data. Optis LeaveXpert provides essential leave management in an affordable and easy-to-use cloud-based portal, reducing a company’s administrative burden and compliance risk. Additionally, Optis Data Services give companies full visibility across their people data to make better business decisions

We were lucky to be able to share multiple demos and a lot of information about our solutions at HR Tech and we’re looking forward to the 2013 event! Look for Optis at the HR Tech Conference next year!

It’s no secret that OCI has undergone an evolution this year. Our people data management expertise has brought about a transformation: OCI is now Optis.

Optis is launching with a new logo and website. The fresh look reflects the evolving technology and data services industry and Optis’ future in providing you with excellence in people data management services.

Please check out our press release highlighting our change to Optis and the services we bring to our industry, to our customers and to our business partners.

For many years Optis has delivered data and software services for human resources, employee benefits and risk management professionals. We specialize in making all the disparate people data across an organization easy to see, control and understand.

Our flexible data solutions and cloud software empower our customers to manage leave events, navigate regulatory compliance and integrate all data sources in one location. We’re pleased to continue to offer services that alleviate the burden of manual administration, reduce risks, and get the full picture of your people data to make better business decisions.

We’re very excited to share this announcement with you. Thank you for your continued business and your support!

~ Archie Anderson

The exercise of managing and tracking FMLA in today’s work environment requires training, dedication to excellence (aka compliance), and endurance.

Leave managers must be committed to obtaining the education necessary to understand the internal and external (state and federal) policies governing employee absence. They then must operate as efficiently as possible to ensure compliance with said leave policies (keeping the company away from potential legal issues) while managing the day-to-day tasks and events required to return employees to work quickly.

And, while leave types and durations vary, the complexities and length of some absences will carry on for weeks (or even months) and require ongoing management, documentation, and correspondence.

Today’s leave manager athlete trains themselves on leave types and policy, dedicates themselves to the most efficient and compliant processes, and has the endurance to keep up with a leave of absence – no matter how long or how complex.

We think you deserve a gold medal! Keep up the good work!

Going to DMEC? Learn more about managing FMLA in the session, Leveraging Technology to Track & Manage FMLA Effectively, with Rich Silva of FedEx Ground and Dave Spring of OCI. Also, stop by Booth 40 for more information on LeaveXpert and to register to win a Marc Jacobs handbag!

The Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) Annual International Conference took place this week in Denver. It was a great conference and OCI was honored to co-present with Rich Silva, Leave of Absence Specialist from FedEx Ground during the session Leveraging Technology, Track & Manage FMLA Efficiently. If you missed the session, here’s a recap -

FedEx Ground Business Need

Bring disparate employee leave tracking & management under one umbrella to improve consistency, compliance, and return employees to work more efficiently.

Employee Leave of Absence Chaos

Business Solution

Implement OCI’s LeaveXpert™ solution, which provides:

  • Online storage & electronic data entry accessible via the cloud
  • Automatic case creation
  • System generated alerts & reminders
  • Case details
  • Compliance features – intermittent leave tracking, eligibility calculations, accomodations & RTW
  • Tiered Reporting – Leave Specialist Reports, Program Management Reports, System Administrator Reports

Leave Specialist Work Flow

Business Results

  • Improved program performance and savings
  • Increased productivity among Leave Managers
  • Compliance issue avoidance

Leave Umbrella

Thanks again to Rich Silva for co-presenting with us, and thanks to Dave Spring for representing OCI. Also, thanks to everyone who stopped by the OCI booth and checked LeaveXpert™ and our Data Integration Services! For more information please email solutions@oci.com or visit our website at www.oci.com.

At the recent DMEC conference, we had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people we’ve met ‘virtually’ but never before in person. It was exciting to put a face to the Twitter handle and make off-line connections.

However, in one conversation, we met someone who we hadn’t met online. As we spoke, she shared that Twitter and other social media tools intimidated her but that she wanted to start using them.

As an organization whose software is designed to bring the most needed, useful information to the fingertips of our users, we couldn’t let her (or anyone intimidated by the little blue bird) continue without the advantages of Twitter.

So, for HR and Leave Managers specifically, here are a few quick steps to get started and some useful accounts and hashtags (what’s a hashtag?) to follow:

  1. Sign up for a free account on the Twitter homepage with name, email and password.
  2. Learn the lingo:

    • A ‘Tweet’ is a 140 character message that you can post to your profile.
    • To ‘Follow’ a person is to be able to see their Tweets in your feed. Their name is their ‘handle.’ For example, OCI’s handle is @OCIFastTrack.
    • ‘Retweeting’ (RT) is a feature in which you can copy and paste another users Tweet onto your profile while giving credit to the source.
    • ‘Hashtags’ are words preceded by a # sign that will link you to other users tweeting about the same subject. For example, #SHRM12.
    • Get the definitions for Trending Topics (TT), Lists, and Promoted Tweets here.
  3. Follow Other Users:

    • Use the ‘Find Friends’ link to connect with people whom you already know in the industry via your email.
    • Use the ‘Who to Follow’ recommendations from Twitter to follow those whose interests match yours.
    • Search for organizations that you’d like to follow such as @SHRM, @CO_DMEC, and @StarrConspiracy.
    • Search for users tweeting about the subjects you’d like to get more information on. For example, search #FMLA, #HR, and #SHRM.
    • Search for blogs or publications that you’re already familiar with such as @HRFishbowl, @HRMagazine, @HRHero, or @womenofhr.
    • And last, search for events such as #SHRM12, and @HRTechConf.

As you start to follow users, your ‘Who to Follow’ suggestions will become more relevant to your interests. Additionally, you’ll see RT’s from people you follow of people they follow that you can add to your lists. And, as you run across websites and articles online, you’ll be able to start following those that capture your interest via their Twitter icon.

To grow your own following (of people who follow your Tweets) is an entirely different post but if you’d like tips on how to get started, click here.

Managing absence effectively has become an HR professional’s top concern. With ever-changing leave laws, multiple employee leave types andskyrocketing costs, all while trying to offer competitive benefits to employees, HR has a lot of pieces of a difficult puzzle to manage.

To better understand the puzzle of leave management that HR professionals are facing today, we went directly to the source. YOU: the HR professional. OCI conducted a survey of 179 attendees at the annual SHRM conference in Atlanta, GA. We asked employers what their top concerns were, how they received information, and the big question ….how much does employee absence cost their organization?

To get a copy of the results of our Leave Management Survey, Solving the Puzzle of Leave Management, sign up here today! Results will be distributed in the coming weeks.

Here at OCI, we keep our ears to the ground on industry news, FMLA updates and the general marketplace. We came across two great HR resource articles this week that we’d like to share with our readers.

The first article is from HR.BLR.com, entitled, Caregivers and Kin: Studies Show Rising Numbers. This article references the 2012 study of caregivers conducted by the Pew Research Center, which states that 30% of United States adults help a loved one with personal needs. The article also goes on to explain guidelines surrounding kinship families (when a child is raised by a family member or close family friend) and how these family structures play out under FMLA entitlements.

The second article is from FMLA Insights, entitled When Has an Employee Provided Sufficient Notice of the Need for FMLA Leave? This article outlines the case of Lichtenstein vs. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and details that it’s the responsibility of the employer to ask questions, keep the communication lines open and recognize if the employee is eligible for FMLA leave.

Although these two articles provide different topics of information, the message is clear. FMLA tracking is difficult. When HR Specialists manage leave tracking of a large number of employees (or even a few…) across different states with different regulations, and supervisors with different knowledge levels of leave benefits it can be especially challenging. How do you manage?

Our advice is a leave management system that operates in the cloud. For more information about cloud-based leave management software, click here.

Interested in our leave management survey results? Click here to sign up.

OCI has an exciting fall ahead of us with a lot of HR events on our calendar. We'll be traveling to several states to discuss leave management, FMLA tracking, RTW practices, and absence reporting with HR professionals across the U.S.!

Please stop by our booth at one of the conferences below and ask about LeaveXpert - the essential leave management system.

NAPEO October 1-3, 2012 Scottdale, AZ Booth #92

HR Tech October 7-9, 2012 Chicago, IL Booth #100

MI SHRM State Conference October 10-12, 2012 Novi, MI

HR Southwest Fort Worth, TX October 14-16, 2012 Booth #400

Sign up today to schedule a meeting or LeaveXpert demo!