[US] Keeping Up With Employee Leave Law: A Sisyphean Task

[US] Keeping Up With Employee Leave Law: A Sisyphean Task

A Sisyphean Task

By Jeff Russell – GeniusHR

Synopsis: Employee leave laws and regulations are adding new entitlements at all levels of government, and the burden is on HR to avoid liability for violations.

Open up any HR blog or newsletter these days, and one constant lament is the Sisyphean task of managing leave in all its forms.  For Sisyphus, the job was simple: roll a giant rock to the top of the hill. But each time he got close to the summit the rock rolled down to the bottom again.  In HR, each time you think you have your patched-together leave management system under control, the rock slides back down the hill under the weight of yet another leave regulation, ordinance, or statute.

The blogs are abuzz this week about a new $1.2 million FMLA case in which an employee went to their supervisor and requested time off due to severe depression.  The supervisor short answers it with, “Your time here’s been great, but you’re fired.” That short answer cost the company $1.2 million in fines, back wages, attorney fees and court costs. Sadly, this story’s an oft-told one. The majority of FMLA and ADA cases nationwide result from a supervisor’s wrongful action or inaction.

The popular belief is that good supervisor training will solve the problem.  I agree that supervisors must be trained on their responsibility and the liability for their actions.  But this is not the silver bullet.  While supervisors are good at supervising employees they are ill-equipped to keep up with all the various changes in laws, regulations and court decisions.  Even those involved in a daily basis with employment law are hard-pressed to keep up with the various changes.

With governments at all levels – federal, state and local —  creating new types of mandated leave and benefits, companies operating in multiple jurisdictions are even more hard-pressed to keep that rock at the top of the hill.  Recently, Colorado passed a new version of family medical leave that effectively doubles the amount of leave that an employee may take during any 12 month period, if they are in a registered domestic partnership or civil union.  Portland granted employees who work 240 hours in that city additional sick leave privileges, regardless of whether they are stationed there permanently.

Much of the time in leave request situations, HR is the last to be consulted and even then, many HR professionals struggling with keeping up their daily tasks often fall behind in keeping up with the plethora of changes.  An HRIS system should allow an employee to initiate a leave request, automatically notify both the supervisor and HR, who can ensure the transaction is handled in a legally compliant way.  HR can rely on the system to provide both general and specific guidance that addresses any issues that may be involved with FMLA leave, ADA compliance, FLSA compliance, or statutes on the state and local level.

The bonus of such a system is that it documents the steps taken by all parties.  This is a key point: employers may be in the right, but if it’s not documented, it may not matter.  The only truly effective solution is an expert HRIS system with clear guidance on compliance.  In this regulatory insane world, it comes down to which check you would rather write: the smaller one for prevention or the larger one for legal claims that fix nothing, and leave you looking at that same rock at the bottom of the hill.

About the Author:

Jeff Russell is an entrepreneur with two successful past ventures under his belt before creating the company that became GeniusHR. Most notably, he served as Chief Technology Officer and Chief Operating Officer for OneTravel, one of the industry’s first consumer-focused online travel agencies. He is a longtime observer and tinkerer in the area of administrative efficiency, believing that a common sense approach works best every time. His current specialty is the HR function in small to mid-size enterprises. In 2010, Jeff began work on the technology platform that is the basis for GeniusHR and currently serves as its CEO and Chief Thinker.

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