Since 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act has provided 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees with a serious health condition or who have a spouse or immediate family member with a serious health condition. So, what is considered “serious”? According to the Department of Labor, a serious condition is defined as a condition that would require an employee to be absent from work for 3 consecutive days, see a health care provider within those 3 days, have to go back to the doc within 7 days for additional follow-up, and then have either ongoing treatment beyond that or have to go back to the doc within 30 days. However, here is where it gets tricky… The “ongoing” treatment part. For many employees, the use (or abuse) of Family and Medical Leave (FML) has become commonplace. As an example, many employees call in “FMLA” if they’re going to be late for work, which might indicate that something involving their serious health condition is causing them to be late for work… In actuality, it isn’t the serious health condition that’s causing the tardiness, but rather too many hits to the snooze button… Instead of receiving a disciplinary warning, these types of employees have learned how to play the system so they can come/go as they please without repercussions. For many managers, they fear challenging the employee on the tardiness or absences for fear of stepping on legal landmines. Not good…
Right now we’re in one of the toughest economic climates the U.S. has ever seen, short of The Great Depression. For many businesses, particularly smaller employers, the need for increased productivity and efficiency is critical. Yet, when employers are experiencing rampant abuse of family and medical leave–and not holding employees accountable–it’s the same as being overcharged by suppliers. So, why don’t more employers clamp down on the abuse? The answer: because they don’t know how.
Here are a few tips to get you started on curbing FMLA Abuse:
1. Perform an audit on all FML granted within the past year, or whatever is an appropriate time-frame for your business.
2. Identify patterns. When do employees call in? Are they giving adequate notice before the start of their shifts? Are there patterns with “FMLA days”??? Mondays and Fridays or in conjunction with off days?
3. Review your FMLA company policy regarding using paid time off. If you do not require employees to use their sick/vac/PTO concurrently with FMLA–change your policy. This one change, alone, will improve your productivity.
4. Change your policy to prohibit moonlighting. For some employers, FMLA abuse happens when employees wish to take time off from the primary employer in order to secure other employment, temporarily. In one instance, an employee with an accounting/tax background took about 8 weeks of FMLA during tax season… She used the company’s salary continuation benefits to receive full pay for the first 4 weeks, then took a week of paid vacation, and then 3 weeks unpaid. However she earned far more $$ doing taxes, so she made out like a bandit. So, prohibit moonlighting in your policy and if you catch employees moonlighting, terminate them immediately.
5. After auditing your FMLA cases you find some abuses, confront the employees to let them know you will be closely monitoring all FML, going forward. And, indicate that you will be doing a lot more follow-up with physicians, etc. and hold employees accountable. In the event fraud is detected, indicate that you will terminate or even prosecute for fraud. When employees know there will be consequences for committing fraud, the behavior will change immediately.
If you would like more information about curbing FMLA abuse, just drop me a line or give me a call.
Natalie Ivey, MBA, SPHR is the principal with Results Performance Consulting, Inc. a firm based in Boca Raton, Florida that provides HR management consulting and professional development training.