October 11, 2022

Leave Management Tools and Best Practices

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As companies embrace unlimited PTO and allow employees to take extended, unpaid leave in accordance with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), leave management can come with a host of personal, legal, and regulatory problems. 

Leave management encompasses a set of policies and practices to handle a range of different types of employee time-off requests:

  • Vacation time
  • Holidays
  • Sick time
  • Medical leave
  • Parental leave
  • Caregiver leave 

Employees need and are legally entitled to these various forms of time off from work. Depending on the reason for leave,  laws such as HIPAA that surround the employee’s data privacy also come into play. 

Companies have to strike a balance between granting time off legally while also getting company needs met through staffing. From the employee’s perspective, they want to remain employed yet also tend to personal health or that of a family member. Work and health should be mutually supportive, not mutually exclusive. Leave management supports employee and employer needs, as it encompasses the practices and tech needed to legally grant employees their entitled time off.

Thankfully, several HR software solutions can help empower employees to take the time off they need while also helping maintain compliance with important leave-related regulations.

It’s not entirely up to a company how it manages employees’ time off work. The U.S. government regulates leave management to clarify common and edge cases and ensure that companies protect employee rights. 

Companies must therefore act in accordance with the FMLA, as failure to do so could result in complicated and expensive legal troubles for both the company and the individual supervisors. 

For example, in the 2019 court case DaPrato vs. Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, the employer was found to have violated the FMLA by terminating the plaintiff for having vacationed in Mexico during unpaid medical leave following foot surgery. The court ruled in favor of the employee, awarding DaPrato $1,937,961 in damages and attorney fees. 

Even discouraging employees from taking FMLA leave, let alone retaliating against them for doing so, can land an employer in legal trouble, as the Ziccarelli v. Dart case in June 2022 demonstrated. The employer was found liable for violating the FMLA by discouraging the employee from taking unpaid leave that they were entitled to and threatening disciplinary action if the employee did so.

While regulations can complicate the leave process for employers, following best leave management practices —and using software tools that support those practices— ensure smooth transitions between leave and work for your entire team. 

Leave Management Best Practices

Best practices to ensure your company remains compliant with the FMLA include: 

  • Meticulous documentation
  • Policy creation and enforcement
  • Regular updates to policies when regulations change
  • Performance metrics

1. Organize and secure all documentation

Every interaction, email, phone call, and meeting related to leave should be documented to ensure compliance and reduce the risk of legal intervention. Intermittent leave days, reasons, and callouts should all be carefully tracked. HR software solutions such as Namely give employees the freedom to request time off at their leisure and keep track of requests, approvals, and denials. This information can be used later for compliance analytics and potential audits.

eFMLA is also a great resource to ensure compliant document management. eFMLA is an online workspace that gives employers access to all required forms and includes:

  • Tracking of employee leave time duration
  • Unlimited document management
  • Customizable FMLA forms
  • Electronic form and delivery notice
  • Expert advice and support for FMLA-related issues 

As a dedicated FMLA tool, this software does not include other HR features like time tracking and attendance management.

While supervisors should be involved in granting, denying, or monitoring employee leave, it’s important to have a single source of truth for all decisions and one centralized group that advises on leave-related matters.

For privacy reasons, documentation should remain secure and private, beyond the reach of unauthorized parties. If you can centralize your HR, time and attendance, and compliance management to a single system with granular user permission and access controls, even better. A software solution, such as GoCo and TriNet Zenefits, brings tighter security to the private data you store.

2. Make a policy and stick to it

All management should be briefed on your leave management policy, which needs to be followed precisely and consistently. Consider the following in your policy:

Employee notification requirements: Establish set timeframes by which employees must notify the employer about taking leave. These include 30-day notice and as soon as practically possible notices.

Official or certified documentation requests: If the employee doesn’t provide certified documentation from a doctor or medical provider within the 15-day window, the request can be denied. Ask for arbitrator or lawyer opinions to settle disputes.

3. Update often, share widely

FMLA stipulations can change, putting your company and individual employees in danger of lawsuits or audits. Software solutions, such as Gusto and Trinets Zenefits include built-in compliance tools to help your company stay current and update your policy accordingly. 

Have your policy readily available to all responsible parties, and use your company’s policy to define privacy standards based on current industry regulations.

4. Measure policy effectiveness, aka compliance

Your work as an employer is not done once you’ve established your leave policy. You must then measure the policy’s effectiveness — meaning compliance — by setting goals and KPIs and updating the policy as needed. KPIs might include the time at which leave is requested, the length of time to grant requests, or the return-to-work rate. 

Use a compliance analytics tool like the one intelliHR offers to monitor over time how compliant your company is with state and federal regulations. Having compliance analytics will also come in handy for audits. 

Is Your Company Compliant with Leave Management Regulation?

Employees are entitled to paid and unpaid time off due to a variety of circumstances. It’s up to employers to comply with the latest laws and regulations to provide support to employees. To remain compliant, HR professionals and managers need to carefully plan and enforce policies that are informed by the current regulatory environment. 

Thankfully, HR software has kept pace with regulatory changes and the increasing need for information privacy. A combination of internal policy and carefully-implemented software sets your company up for leave management success.

If none of the solutions presented here match your needs, check out our HR software category page to get a short, unbiased list of software recommendations customized for your company.

Top Human Resources Software Recommendations

1 Rippling

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Rippling is the first way for businesses to manage all of their HR, IT, and Finance — payroll, benefits, computers, apps, corporate cards, expenses, and more — in one unified workforce platform. By connecting every business system to one source of truth for employee data, businesses can automate all of the manual work they normally need to do to make employee changes.

Learn more about Rippling

2 BambooHR

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BambooHR is an award-winning HR platform that helps your growing organizations automate, centralize, and connect your people data all in one place. It gives you a one stop shop to manage data, hire talent, run payroll, and help employees grow.

Learn more about BambooHR

3 GoCo

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Elevate your HR with a modern, easy-to-use HRIS designed for small businesses. GoCo is a secure, compliant hub for sending, digitally signing, and organizing your sensitive HR documents and data. Manage records, performance, time off, onboarding, benefits, and more – all in one place. With the best support in the industry, every GoCo customer is assigned a dedicated Customer Success Team that is readily available to provide guidance and ensure a smooth and reliable HRIS experience.

Learn more about GoCo

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