Managing Absence in Education: Outsourcing Can Benefit Your HR Team

Education, Employee Benefits, War For Talent

District leaders face many challenges today – from leading on standard benefits & compensation work and talent attraction to building morale among staff. Absence management is one such challenge that can not only be a logistical headache for your business and HR team, but also a potential risk management red flag.

While many districts still manage absence internally, outsourcing this task to a third-party organization could actually free up your human resources team to complete strategic initiatives while transferring compliance risk.

What is absence or leave management?

When we talk about absence management, we are often referencing managing FMLA leave among your employees. However, absence management (or leave management) can also refer to ADAA, state leave, parental leave, company leaves, short term disability and long term disability.

Knowing the ins and outs of each of these leaves can be a monumental task for your HR team. Each type of leave has intricate rules that govern who can take what kind of leave and when, how much leave they can take, and what that leave entails for the employer.

This leaves the door open when an HR team is overworked and overwhelmed – and potentially subject to miss a detail that results in either abuse of a leave policy or a lack of compliance.

Why absence management matters in education

Education is currently facing a staffing crisis, with educators leaving the industry in droves. Managing the absences of educators who remain on staff is integral to ensuring that you can accurately retain talent while supporting student achievement in your district.

Depending on the size of your district, the team managing your staff’s absences could be a team of 5 or a team of one. Whether you have that full team or it’s a one person show, absence management tracking techniques can range from utilizing a Leave Software Program to the good old excel spreadsheet method. If the absence claim is not handled properly, the compliance issues can begin.

Questions to consider

  1. How is your team determining the return to work date?
  2. Is the certification fulfilled enough to qualify for FMLA?
  3. Is the recertification done to extend if necessary?
  4. Did you supply the designation letter?

Risks of poor absence management

As you can tell, leave management has become very complex and is constantly changing, therefore the need for a compliant process is also changing. Keeping up with the latest in absence management can be very costly to an employee and employer.

Financial risks

In 2019, 51.64% of investigations were initiated independently by the DOL, resulting in over $334 million in back wages for more than 313,941 workers.

In 2019, an employee brought action against his former employer for violation of the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and a state law discrimination statute arising from his termination for vacationing in Mexico while on leave. The court awarded the employee over $1.3 million in liquidated damages and $605,690 in attorney fees and costs. (DaPrato v. Mass. Water Res. Auth., 482 Mass. 375, 377, 123 N.E.3d 754 (2019))

Outsourcing absence management takes the pressure off your district to manage the compliance and tracking process, meaning your team can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they don’t need to understand every detail of the various federal and state leaves available to employees.

Leave abuse risks

There is one other key element that has not been mentioned: the abuse of these leaves. Intermittent leave can easily be abused by employees as a reason for tardiness or “being late”.

Overwhelmed or understaffed HR teams can easily be taken advantage of in the context of FMLA intermittent leave. Many employees seek to abuse the protections afforded by the FMLA, and employers will have little recourse without keeping adequate records.

Employers should remain in-the-know about what their employees are experiencing, including by asking employees about their treatments or how their family member is feeling. Employers can go a long way in preventing abuse of the FMLA leave by showing employees that the employer takes the administration of FMLA leave seriously.

Consider outsourcing absence management

With everything that your HR department has to be involved in today, outsourcing the absence management process for short term disability, state leave, and FMLA allows your district to take advantage of more strategic initiatives.

  • Offloading some tasks can mean a reduced administrative burden on human resources
  • A neutral party acts as an added buffer between employees and management regarding sensitive information about their leave requests
  • FMLA outsourcing can mean an added layer of privacy for employees and their medical information when taking sick leave
  • Having a specialized provider can ensure that all processes are compliant and up-to-date with the most recent guidelines

Key takeaways

District HR departments are tasked with wearing many hats, and are put in a precarious compliance situation when they are required to thoroughly understand and manage every type of leave within your district. The administrative burden of managing this leave internally is not only a stressor for your team, but a potential risk to the district.

Districts may consider outsourcing absence management in order to alleviate workload and risk. Reach out to your M3 account executive to discuss whether outsourcing makes sense for your district, what options you have at your disposal, and what risks you may avoid by outsourcing.

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