Though the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are separate pieces of legislation, there is interplay between them. When an employee takes medical leave and exhausts their FMLA entitlement but returns to work with ongoing medical issues, the employer is expected to make adjustments to the job or to the workplace so the employee can continue with his or her job. Internally, the employer also has to document each and every action taken. There are two aspects to this issue. One aspect is companies should understand what is required of them and observe the laws. The second aspect of this is case management and documentation. The subject of this post is the latter.
The thing employers should know is companies that do not document an employee’s journey through the FMLA and ADA put themselves at risk should the employee initiate legal action. FMLA retaliation or interference claim lawsuits are notoriously expensive. What can employers do to protect themselves? We tell our clients the answer is simple. Everything must be documented. Keeping meticulous records of the entire FLMA and ADA process from the first filing to the last helps a company improve its chances of fighting a complaint if one occurs.
The reality is that managing and documenting an FMLA/ADA case is not easy. It is an interactive process and requires lots of oversight. There are many variables from leave to leave and it’s hard to quantify the number of hours spent on each case, but it could easily take close to 20 hours per week to properly manage, track and document all that goes into just one leave! Multiply that a few times over for a large company with many employees and the workload balloons. Normally, responsibility for these cases falls to the human resources department, but HR departments are responsible for so many other tasks they often lack time to properly manage FMLA and ADA cases. The errors that result can cost employers a bundle should litigation occur.
Another issue that hurts companies is the quality of the documentation. Some employers manually track FMLA and ADA issues through spreadsheets, payroll systems or simply through an email trail. This kind of spotty reporting can lead to gaps in documentation and additional risks in the event of legal action. At Creative Benefits, we leverage a web-based system that allows us to track absences through a single streamlined process. Our system houses employee absences and correspondence and has a very thorough audit trail. It is highly uncommon for employers to have an integrated, single streamlined process and audit trail for all the different FMLA/ADA intangibles like the web-based system that we have invested in.
There are no guarantees in FMLA and ADA management because every case is different, but one absolute truth is companies that can show what they have done in support of FMLA and ADA guidelines stand a much better chance in defending themselves than companies that don’t, if legal action is taken against them.
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.