The challenge of sending Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) correspondence to employees is truly a case of being squeezed at both ends. A human resource manager not only has to stay on top of all of the documentation associated with FMLA, but must also ensure that the documentation is received by employees, lest they claim it got lost in the mail.
It used to be that such an employee claim didn’t hold much water, back when postmen carried the bulk of the nation’s communications on their routes each day. But recent court decisions have determined that standard mail has developed a “weak presumption” of being delivered, compared to more verifiable methods. So what’s a human resource manager to do?
The first thought of many is to use methods more easily verified, such as sending correspondence by certified or overnight mail, which requires a signature receipt. It’s pretty difficult for an employee to claim ignorance when his John Hancock is on file!
Unfortunately, the cost of such mailings can add up significantly through a prolonged FMLA leave, particularly for larger companies or third-party administrators that handle leave on a regular basis. But even small to medium-sized companies shouldn’t have to bear additional financial burden, especially when there are other, better alternatives.
At Creative Benefits, we believe in the power of regular contact. More than just a verification solution, this is a best practice that also helps satisfy the “interactive process” promoted by the ADA, covering the bases regardless of what kind of leave the employee qualifies for.
This process should start at the very beginning, when employees first say they need to take leave. At this point, it’s wise to have a policy that requires employees to sign off on a form certifying they’ve been notified of what the leave entails, and how and when documentation will be arriving.
Thereafter, correspondence can be sent through standard mail, but the human resources department should continue to follow up through all methods possible. And be timely: If a particular form requires response within 15 days of receipt, call on day seven to make sure it arrived. Exhaust all methods of confirmation, including email, and be sure to keep documentation at each step.
To keep track of all of this correspondence in house, it’s best to use an automated tracking system (as Creative Benefits does). This has the added benefit of automatically notifying the human resource manager when deadlines or milestones are approaching. But, if limited financially, an organized department can keep track by using standard computer software. As long as documentation is stored in an organized and thorough fashion, it will be extremely difficult for an employee to ever claim they were ignorant of the correspondence.
While regular communication may seem an arduous game of cat-and-mouse, it really is the most cost-effective method of FMLA correspondence verification, and provides the added benefit of ensuring compliance with all forms of leave. Companies without the means to maintain such contact, or who wish to relieve themselves of the burden entirely, should consider partnering with a third-party administrator such as Creative Benefits.
About the author: Kelly Fitzgerald is an Account Manager and FMLA Specialist with Creative Benefits, Inc. She assists clients with Family and Medical Leave Administration and provides consultative services to employers and their employees.