We in ReedGroup’s Compliance Department are shameless leave of absence junkies. So as you can imagine, any time we are able to get together with other colleagues in the industry, we love to share experiences, brainstorm ideas, and look to the future of leave of absence management. In the past week, Reed Group drank from the firehose of leave of absence as we participated in 3 exciting events: sponsoring and attending the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) ADA & FMLA Compliance Conference in Pittsburgh, co-hosting the Voluntary Plan Advisory Group (VPAG) meeting with the Employment Development Department (EDD), and attending a meeting with EEOC commissions, which we reported on here.
DMEC Compliance conference
Each year, DMEC hosts the FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference, sponsored by a host of disability management vendors that includes ReedGroup. The conference kicked off with a review of the year’s most significant changes in compliance, and was ultimately topped off with the unveiling of the DOL’s FMLA Employer Guide (blogged here).
ReedGroup’s Director of Compliance, Megan Holstein, moderated a panel discussion between representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, (DOL), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC) that focused on how to apply the FMLA and ADA to tricky leave of absence situations. Both panelists stressed the importance of evaluating an employee’s absence separately, but simultaneously, under both the FMLA and the ADA. In line with that, they urged employers and TPA’s to engage and communicate with the employee, and to document all communications with employees about their job protection and accommodations.
Other sessions focused on handling accommodation requests under ADA, presenteeism, discipline avoidance tactics, intermittent leaves, and pregnancy related employment issues. For all of us in the industry, the interplay of FMLA and ADA remains thorny, but the regulating agencies do give us some guidance. “The interactive process is an employer’s best friend,” said Sharon Rennert, Senior Attorney Advisor, EEOC. This theme carried through Rachel Shaw’s interactive presentation titled ‘Unraveling the Chaos’ in which she provided employers and TPA’s hands-on tools to navigate the confusion of the ADA process.
As ReedGroup’s Kevin Curry aptly stated in his presentation, “The only thing that is constant is change.” The leave of absence landscape is in flux, as the variety of conference topics clearly conveyed. Curry’s presentation focused on the future of Paid Family Leave, analyzing the costs and benefits under the presidential candidates’ federal proposals, as well as under current pending state legislation. In the heat of an election year, this is a hot topic that the industry will be keeping its eyes on.
California EDD Voluntary Plan Advisory Group
On Tuesday, ReedGroup hosted the bi-annual Voluntary Plan Advisory Group (VPAG) meeting in San Jose with California’s Employment Development Department (EDD). The group, small but mighty, consists of employers, consultants, and TPA’s who administer voluntary plans in compliance with the state’s Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave programs.
This spring’s VPAG meeting centered on the most notable changes in legislation. Specifically, the EDD discussed the recently passed Assembly Bill 908, which increases benefit amounts for both the DI and PFL programs, and eliminates the 7 day waiting period for PFL benefits. The bill also requires EDD to monitor the benefits and detriments of the elimination in waiting period to determine if the change will also be applied to DI benefits. The Department made it very clear that it does not anticipate a significant increase in claims administration based on these changes due to the large amount of research done in the bill’s preparation. We anticipate the EDD will further communicate regarding action steps to implement these upcoming changes to the employer and voluntary plans.
The EDD also reminded attendees of Senate Bill 667, which becomes effective on July 1, 2016, and will expand the ‘relapse’ period from 14 to 60 days for employees who are requesting benefits for a same or related condition. Voluntary Plan employers in the State of California should be following these bills and making changes to their voluntary plan text and administration in order to remain compliant.
The conversation heated up when the EDD presented tips on tax audit navigation for employers who operate a voluntary plan, or on annual tax reporting. Attendees provided feedback to the EDD as there are often struggles meeting reporting deadlines when the prior year’s tax data is not yet available. The EDD committed to taking these concerns and issues back to the appropriate decision makers in an effort to continually improve the administration of the Voluntary Plan program for DI and PFL benefits.
It was a very eventful week in the life of leave of absence compliance junkies, but also one full of complex ideas and ‘between a rock and a hard place’ situations. Don’t get caught up in the stress of understanding leave management; hand it over to those of us drinking from the Leave of Absence firehose. Concerned about navigating your way through complex leave administration? Reed Group has options. We offer both out-sourced and software solutions for clients with complex and/or multi-state employee populations. Take a cruise through our website for more information.