Two Important Things HR Forgets About Managing the FMLA

Disclaimer; this post is not about forms, or what is or isn’t a covered medical condition,  this is a post about treating the PEOPLE in our organizations right and navigating the tricky landscape of compassion and business.  

Two Important Things HR Forgets About Managing the FMLA

Also known as the “Friday Monday Leave Act,” the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gets a lot of hate spewed its way. And sometimes rightly so when HR professionals have to deal with questionable leave requests (anxiety & migraines are two definite eye-brow raisers).


But there are two components to dealing with the FMLA that HR pro’s overlook all the time. They are very simple but we forget them in the day-to-day:


1. Acknowledge your limitations or know enough to know when you are in over your head


There is never anything wrong with asking for more information, asking for assistance or saying “Let me research that and get back to you.” People are reluctant to do that because they fear losing face. This gets worse the higher up the corporate ladder you go.


The result is a busy HR manager, generalist or other title who inadvertently makes a mistake and approves or disapproves a FMLA leave that causes problems later down the road.


One example from my experience is state leave laws. California has a tough (probably the toughest) leave act of all the states. When I started my current job, I brushed up on California labor law. The first leave of absence case I had in California was open and shut. Text book.


But the second was much more complicated because it involved a number of factors: potential ADAA  implications and the interplay of other California labor laws.  I knew enough to know I might be in over my head and contacted peers in the employment law department at my company. Their intimate knowledge of California labor law was essential to helping me navigate a very tricky situation. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, most of us aren’t specialists in the FMLA and don’t have the time to know everything about it.


2. Perceived lack of compassion

This is one of the biggest complaints I hear about HR in general and this comes out frequently when it comes to FMLA cases. The problem lies in the fact that properly documenting FMLA leave requires paperwork:

– Notice of eligibility and rights

– Dr’s certification

– Notice of Approval/disapproval

– Other communications related to re-certifications/extensions


When an employee requests leave under FMLA it can be due to one of the most stressful circumstances in life: birth of a child,  their own medical condition, the illness of a parent, loved one or chld. The last thing they want to do is fill out reams of paperwork but HR has to get the paperwork filled out in order to comply with the law.


In other circumstances we have to deal with the family of an employee who is very sick. It’s  difficult to walk a family member through the maze of leave and insurance paperwork: they are struggling to cope with a difficult situation, they want answers quickly and succinctly and they may feel that all the paperwork we are pushing at them is an annoyance.


Unfortunately, we can’t get rid of all the required paperwork but we can approach the situation with compassion and understanding:

1. Put yourself in their shoes and you can start to understand how difficult their circumstances can be.

2. Cut out the paperwork where you can. Don’t make people fill out unnecessary forms. Remember that all you need to be put on notice for FMLA is an employee’s verbal request.

3. Communication is key. I always make an attempt to speak with the employee (or their family member) before I send over information on leave of absence. This cuts down on the confusion and establishes a connection.


What else would you add to my list? What else does HR forget in our quest to make sure we are compliant with various labor laws?


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Melissa Fairman

Melissa Fairman is the author of the blog HR Remix and has five years experience working in HR. She's super awesome and has an MBA with an HR concentration from Baldwin Wallace College and a PHR certification from the HRCI institute. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter at @HRRemix.


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