As countless FMLA policies find their way to the floor of federal and local government chambers, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to keep up. How can Benefits and HR teams manage the constant onslaught of intermittent and standard FMLA requests, while also reducing exposure by ensuring their organizations remain compliant with ever changing regulations?

Let’s take a closer look at six ways to clearly improve your regulatory leave process and make your work-life easier.

1. Keep up with the Laws

It’s not a “hot-take” to state Benefit Teams have to keep up with federal laws as well as state and local laws. This becomes increasingly difficult when a company operates in more than one state. It’s critical to know the rules for different situations.

If your company operates in Emeryville, California you may need to consider “Pawternity” leave to allow for pet bonding. In New York state, you can expect to pay for 12 weeks of FML by 2021.

These state-to-state and city-to-city differences cause a pulling out of hair in 1 out of 3 Benefits Managers.

If your company is located in a single state, consider making one team member responsible for keeping up with your state and local laws and updating your team monthly. If your company operates in multiple states, outsourcing regulatory leave management to a TPA or implementing regulatory leave software such as Presagia, allows you to leverage their resources and on-staff attorneys to decrease your exposure and ensure you’re up to date on any changes.

2. Certify and Recertify

Implementing a Certification and Recertification process decreases liability by ensuring compliance. It’s also a great tool against FMLA abuse (more on that shortly). Unfortunately, many employers fail to obtain the medical information necessary from their employees to make decisions on whether the employee suffers from a serious health condition or is even entitled to FMLA leave! Due to this fact, many employees are successful in abusing a broken (or non-existent) system. Staying on top of the required medical documents and requesting recertifications at the earliest opportunity will discourage abuse and protect the company from exposure.

3. Educate Management

Educating your management teams on how to respond when an employee advises they’ll need leave for an upcoming pregnancy, should include more than asking to touch their stomach. On second thought…let’s just never ask to touch an expectant mother’s stomach.

With that being said, managers should be trained so they can advise employees of their rights and responsibilities when presented with potential FMLA qualified circumstances. With the proper training company managers can be an effective liaison for your Benefits team and should be able to provide employees with the relevant documentation (or means for submitting the documentation) and explain the process to them. This can save the Benefits and HR team a significant amount of time.

4. Communication Improvement

“The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw*
The ability to relay information from employees, managers, and back to the Benefits/HR department is essential to removing stress from the FMLA management process.

Benefit and HR teams often struggle to reach employees through email or phone. Often requests for additional information or updates for certifications go unanswered. Implementing absence management software solutions that provide additional communication options, such as text or video conferencing, may encourage an increase in employee communication.

*Much to my spouse’s frustration, this quote remains true

5. Review Leave Policy Regularly

As discussed earlier in this article, state and local laws will undoubtedly force company policy updates. In addition to these changes, Benefit and HR teams should also suggest updates to the company policy as new (unprecedented) employee situations arise, especially when these incidents expose gaps in your policy’s compliance with federal, state and local laws. Quick adjustments and semi-annual reviews of your policy will go a long way towards keep your company from experiencing liability concerns.

6. Use Technology to Cure Intermittent FMLA pains

Each year Intermittent FMLA polls as the number one pain point for Benefits and HR teams, regardless of industry or size. This is because Intermittent FMLA is incredibly difficult to track and record. Unlike continuous leave, Intermittent FMLA is often taken in as little as 15-minute intervals. HR and Benefit companies are often tracking this information manually or in a different software solution than their non-regulatory time off (vacation and sick time). This pain is further amplified when companies run FMLA concurrent with the employee’s paid vacation. This juggling act is enough to make any carnival entertainer happy to be working with chainsaws instead of FMLA requirements.

It’s a challenge to find the regulatory leave sweet spot between what’s required by law and what’s good for employee morale. It’s not uncommon for a company to be overly generous when granting FMLA or other regulatory leave, but that approach can hurt the company’s operations. Other companies take a stricter approach to granting regulatory leave and can find themselves in trouble with regulators if they’re not careful.

Using TPAs to find this balance is decreasing in popularity, as many companies opt for an in-house solution combining absence management software with ongoing management training and education.

Absence management software that tracks regulatory and non-regulatory leave allows you to run FMLA leave concurrent with paid vacation. It also keeps organizations from requiring another communication process to manage the TPA or upload data to their payroll HRIS from a system outside of their organization. This ensures the most accurate and current information, which is crucial when managing regulatory leave.

As more progressive FMLA and other regulatory leave policies continue to expand across the country, taking steps to ease the burden is incredibly valuable to HR and Benefit professionals. While managing regulatory leave is inherently complex, it doesn’t have to be difficult. With the right internal processes and software to automate Intermittent FMLA and other regulatory leave types, managing leave can be as easy as approving a vacation day.