Changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act during the pandemic, and the increase in state-specific paid leave programs, can leave HR departments struggling to keep up. In one case, an employee took his employer to court over their refusal to honor an FMLA leave request submitted via Facebook Messenger!

Even in straightforward cases, an employee’s leave request may need to be assessed under FMLA, state leave laws, and a company’s own paid or unpaid leave policies. By tracking employee leave requests in a leave management system, your HR team can streamline your leave management process and avoid compliance issues.

What Is FMLA Leave Management?

As a quick refresher, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that guarantees employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year in certain situations, such as the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a seriously ill family member. It also entitles them to reinstatement in the same job or a materially similar position.

Although FMLA leave is just one type of leave that your employees might be eligible for, it differs from other types of sick leave or vacation leave in that it’s federally mandated and requires a significant amount of paperwork to ensure compliance.

By processing these time-off requests in a central leave management system, your HR department can streamline their workflow and reduce the risk of human error.

7 Trends Shaping FMLA Management

With that in mind, here are seven trends shaping FMLA leave management in 2022 that every human resources team should know.

1. Outsourcing is not a panacea

For some companies, the solution to FMLA leave management is to outsource the job to someone else. FMLA outsourcing can provide certain benefits, such as specialized insights into more complex cases and a reduced administrative burden internally.

Small businesses that haven’t invested in leave management software may consider this a more cost-effective option. However, companies are realizing that even if they outsource their leave management process, it can still be a hassle.

Employees will have questions that external teams aren’t equipped to answer, due to knowledge gaps or a lack of familiarity with your internal systems. Your HR team may still be tasked with communicating relevant information to employees, serving as a go-between during the leave approval process.

And ultimately, FMLA outsourcing doesn’t eliminate legal risks: Your HR management team may still be held liable for compliance violations, and have less control over the outcome due the number of parties involved in the case.

2. Labor laws are increasing in complexity

It’s no exaggeration to say that leave of absence regulations are changing every month. While the Family and Medical Leave Act itself has stayed reasonably consistent since it was first enacted in 1993, the world around it is changing rapidly.

States like Washington and California have made changes to their medical leave and parental leave laws that provide more benefits to employees than FMLA does.

And even when the laws themselves haven’t changed, working conditions have: FMLA applies to employees with at least 50 colleagues working in a 75-mile radius, making it trickier to calculate FMLA eligibility for employees who work remotely.

Keeping up with the changing landscape is a time-consuming process, and relying on spreadsheets and other manual systems can expose companies to legal risk.

3. Determining eligibility is a multi-point process

Leave management: pregnant manager talking to HR about her leave

When determining an employee’s eligibility for a leave of absence, there are at least 15 parameters that need to be addressed. Alongside FMLA leave, employees may request to use their paid time off (PTO) and other leave balances concurrently.

Tracking leave accrual manually and going through the eligibility checklist by hand can be a time-consuming process, so companies are increasingly turning to automation to streamline the leave approval workflow.

By digitizing your leave of absence management processes, you can reduce the time spent on eligibility determination and replace human decision-making with automated rules. Employees can even self-service their leave requests by uploading supporting documents into your cloud-based HR software.

4. Documentation takes effort

No matter where you are in the leave of absence process, maintaining a thorough paper trail is a must. Every protected leave requires documentation, with language that clearly outlines the parameters of the leave that’s being approved.

These documents could include a medical certificate from a health care professional when an employee first requests leave, as well as a fitness for duty or modified duty certificate when they’re ready to return to work.

This process can take up to two hours at the beginning of each leave and then several more during the return to work process.

By maintaining templates of key documents in your time-off management system, and storing completed FMLA forms in one place, you’ll be able to process employee leave requests more easily and access stored documents in real-time.

5. Employee satisfaction matters

When it comes to leave management policies, employee expectations can differ widely across generations. Younger employees in particular expect a streamlined experience from their interactions with banks, healthcare providers — and HR departments.

According to the Harvard Business Review, Gen Z employees expect their employers to support their mental health and wellness, which includes increased access to “paid time off and expanded family leave policies, childcare subsidies and services, elder care support and parent support groups.”

Making it easy to navigate employee time-off programs with a digitized LoA process can mitigate the risk of burnout and reduce absenteeism. If today’s employees aren’t getting a streamlined experience from the moment they apply for leave until the day they return to work, they may not be as happy with the outcome.

6. Digitization keeps everyone on the same page

When an employee goes on leave, applies for leave, or returns to work, several different departments and managers may need to be notified. Doing this manually takes time and effort, and increases the risk of key information getting lost in the process. Remember, we don’t want to be using Facebook Messenger to keep people in the loop!

Automated notifications, reports, and dashboards can help keep everyone on the same page, and make it easy to maintain appropriate staffing levels and timesheets.

With a leave management system, you’ll be able to view everything in one place — and you won’t have to worry about sensitive data being shared in an insecure format.

7. Automation returns money within one year

Automation can eliminate up to 90% of the time spent on manual tasks during the leave of absence process. With the right system in place, you can run the entire LOA process on autopilot, while facilitating communication between your HR department, employee benefits administration, and other departments as needed.

Every LOA milestone can be automated, saving 10-12 hours on each leave request and returning the investment in leave management software within one year.

By setting up a workflow like this one, you’ll be well on your way to a more streamlined leave of absence management process and happier, less frustrated employees:

LOA milestone diagramAutomate Your Leave Management Process With Pulpstream

Former employee carrying his belongings

Tracking time-off requests under FMLA and other paid or unpaid leave programs can be a hassle — but Pulpstream can help you every step of the way. Our no-code tools make it easy to set up customized LoA workflows even if you don’t know a line of code.

You can empower your employees to self-service their own leave requests, and reward your HR department with a reduced administrative burden and compliance risk.

Pulpstream can also help you streamline claims management, incident management, audits and inspections, and more. Contact us today to request a demo!