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How to Minimize FMLA Abuse: ‘Trust, but Verify’

trust but verify phraseApproving and administering FMLA leaves is tricky business. On one hand, you want to do right by employees by allowing them the time they need (and are legally allowed) to recover from an illness or injury, and to help a family member do the same.

On the other hand, you also want to make sure your employee is doing right by your company. Given that FMLA often allows up to 12 weeks (and in certain cases, 26 weeks) of time off, abuse of the policy could end up costing tens of thousands of dollars. For this reason, companies are best to follow a policy of, “Trust, but verify.”

There is a plethora of resources on the Internet and elsewhere that detail the different ways a company can verify if an employee’s FMLA leave is legitimate. Some target preparations the company can make (having proper training and policies in place), others outline steps to take at the leave-request stage (ensuring events are applicable), and still others detail things to do during the leave itself (follow-ups and documentation).

For example, HR Morning touts these four verification methods among its suggestions:

  • Use written leave request forms.
  • Question employees.
  • Check-in periodically.
  • Update FMLA policy and procedures.

And HR.BLR.com recommends four more:

  • Watch for patterns.
  • Train frontline supervisors.
  • Ask the doctor.
  • Require adequate notice.

But what do all of these verification methods have in common? They all take time.

If there’s one challenge not mentioned on many FMLA advice sheets, it’s how many resources are needed to ensure that a leave remains legitimate from beginning to end. Another is how to make decisions with legal certainty: Even if a company believes it has discovered an employee abusing his or her FMLA leave, it’s going to want more than the assurance of a website before taking action

For this reason, Creative Benefits is proud to offer FMLA verification and tracking among its core services. Our company takes the burden off employers, ensuring compliance from beginning to end. We are able to offer in-house or online training for supervisors, review company policies, verify certification forms and return to work documentation with healthcare providers, and consult with our in-house legal staff when questions arise.

Using our web-based software systems, we’re also able to track an employee’s leave, checking in at milestone dates and identifying suspicious absence patterns. This alone can find one of the most common forms of abuse, when an employee takes a legitimate intermittent leave, but recovers early and slowly begins transitioning their leave days to Fridays and Mondays. This is easily missed by a resource-strapped HR department, but can be automatically identified by our system’s reporting capabilities.

In addition to providing these services to our clients, Creative Benefits also offers FMLA leave consultation on an independent basis. If your company is potentially interested in our absence and leave management services, we encourage you to reach out today.

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.