Keeping Records Organized for FMLA


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The burden to accurately document and track records for FMLA lies solely with the employer; an HR Document Management system can help.

One of the biggest mistakes a company can make when it comes to FMLA administration is allowing the processes to be handled differently from case to case

Businesses that employ 50 or more workers, as well as all public agencies and schools regardless of how many people they employ, are likely aware of how critical it is to maintain a thorough and consistent absence management program. This is due to the requirements brought on by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as well as other overlapping statues such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The purpose of FMLA is to provide job protected, unpaid leave to employees for qualified family and medical circumstances. While this law has been in effect for over 25 years, the rules can still be confusing and cumbersome. On top of that, the burden of accurately documenting and tracking records lies solely with the employer. FMLA can be very costly to an organization when not handled correctly. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employees who win an FMLA related case receive between $90,000 to $450,000 in damages. Plus, defense can cost around $80,000. Since FMLA can be so complex and have such an impact on a company’s bottom line, it’s crucial that businesses understand FMLA and have policies and practices in place for compliance.

Recognizing and Tracking FMLA

A very important first step in leave management is training managers and HR staff how to recognize the need for FMLA. It is not the responsibility of the employee to determine when leave qualifies. A qualifying FMLA absence that leads to termination, but was not classified as such, can create a big issue for the employer. To qualify, the employee must have been employed with the company for 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to leave. It is very important that proper record keeping is in place to determine if and when FMLA applies.

FMLA Record Keeping Requirements

Once it is determined that a leave qualifies, the employer is obligated to maintain adequate and consistent records. Failure to do so can be costly. The following is a list of important records an organization should keep in order to comply with FMLA:

1. Payroll Records
Basic information such as employee name, address, phone, position, pay rate, and hours worked are necessary to determine if an employee qualifies for FMLA.

2. When FMLA was Taken
A record of the dates and/or hours taken for leave as well as the request for leave must be maintained. Because the employer is required to notify an employee when their leave qualifies for FMLA, a record of how the employer determined this qualification must also be documented.

3. Documented Communications
All records and correspondences regarding FMLA leave must be recorded and filed. These can include emails, voicemail messages, text messages and written documents.

4. FMLA Disputes
When a dispute occurs regarding FMLA leave, documentation should be kept to record the details of the dispute.

5. FMLA Medical Documents
Medical documents must be handled in compliance with HIPAA. This means medical information concerning employees and their family must remain confidential and stored separately from personnel files.

Consistency in FMLA Tracking is Key

One of the biggest mistakes a company can make when it comes to FMLA administration is allowing the processes to be handled differently from case to case. During an audit or litigation it is likely that the company’s entire FMLA practices and record keeping will be under scrutiny. It will not bode well for the organization if inconsistencies are shown. Therefore, all practices concerning FMLA should be clear to the managers and employees handling leave requests. Policies and procedures should be in place to help HR workers and managers understand the laws and know what is required for proper record-keeping and employee communication.

FMLA Document Management

The cost and effort involved in administering FMLA consistently and effectively can be overwhelming. Companies will often make use of FMLA tracking spreadsheets and other manual processes that are time consuming and ineffective. A centralized document management system eases this burden by streamlining and automating FMLA document tracking by providing a consistent auditable process to store and manage FMLA records. Below is a list of examples of how a robust HR document management system can help an organization manage leave.

1. Electronic FMLA Paperwork
Keeping track of FMLA paperwork is very demanding. All records must be easily retrieved if necessary. A great deal of time and money can be wasted just searching for and managing paper documents. With a paperless file management system in place, FMLA documents can be managed with greater consistency while eliminating the risk of losing critical files. Having documents and records available at your fingertips, whether you’re performing a complete audit or just trying to access a single file, can be a life saver when it comes to managing leave. This is especially true should a legal dispute occur.

2. FMLA Policies and Procedures
As stated earlier, one of the most important aspects of leave management is maintaining consistent practices. Company-wide FMLA administrative policies and procedures should be in place and HR staff and managers should have a thorough understanding of them. A centralized platform where you can manage and distribute these policies and procedures with the ability to send electronic “read and acknowledge” notices ensures that all employees are up to speed with the latest practices and requirements.

3. eForms and Templates
With a centralized document management system in place, FMLA-related forms and templates are easily accessible to managers and employees alike. Another effective way to ensure consistency is the ability to capture FMLA form data directly via electronic forms. Once form data is submitted into the system it is electronically captured and easy to search for and retrieve. Submissions can be routed for review and approval and managed according to records policies in order to comply with FMLA regulations.

4. Easy Importing and Meta Tags
Because FMLA requires such rigorous recording keeping, including the tracking of all forms of communication concerning leave, it is extremely helpful to have a system that lets an HR professional or manager quickly import a record of communication (such as an email or voicemail transcript) and quickly tag it with metadata to ensure that it is marked appropriately. When documents are easy to import into the system via drag and drop, there is a reduced likelihood that managers will put it off until later (potentially forgetting about it completely). Plus, the ability to quickly tag a document as FMLA related ensures that it will always be associated with the FMLA files for that particular employee.

5. Security and Access
It is in the best interest for leave administrators to request medical certifications in order to verify and determine the need for FMLA. However, under the FMLA guidelines, an employer may not reveal confidential medical information about the employee taking leave. Therefore it is critical that certain medical information is stored according to HIPAA guidelines and is only available to those with the authority to view this information. Only those who administer the leave should have access. That’s why a document management system with role-based security can ensure that only the appropriate people have access to sensitive medical information.

6. FMLA Records Retention
According to FMLA record keeping requirements, employers must keep and preserve records in accordance with the recordkeeping requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Records must be retained for no less than three years. Normally records must be reviewed manually to determine when retention periods have expired. However, with a robust HR document management system in place, HR administrators and managers can be notified when records are about to expire. It is important to purge documents from the system that have expired due to the fact that during an audit all files that are present can be scrutinized, regardless of how old they are.

FMLA Compliance is Manageable

For many organizations, it is not feasible for HR teams and managers to take on the entire burden of FMLA compliance without the right tools and procedures. Administering FMLA is all about mitigating risk. That’s why it’s so critical that companies understand the laws and apply them consistently throughout the organization (while at the same time not overwhelming employees and reducing productivity). With the right systems and practices in place, FMLA administration doesn’t have to be the burden it once was.

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