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What to Do When Family Medical Leave Affects Your Agency’s Bottom Line

Jun 18, 2018
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Grandparents with a young boy

Managing people isn’t easy, especially in transit which has a high employee turnover rate (the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists transportation jobs as having year-over-year growth for turnover).

You want your employees to take pride in the work they do and keep your riders happy.

You don’t want to have to worry about people taking advantage of the employee programs and services you have in place. One example that’s come to the forefront of late is family medical leave, which falls under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The federally-mandated act was designed to protect employees from retaliation from management if they need time off to take care of a medical issue in their family. An employee can take unpaid, job-protected leave with the continuation of group health insurance coverage for 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period.

When you have a baby, you get the time needed to care for your infant. Or if you have a child with cancer, you are entitled to take time off for cancer treatments. Sounds fair and reasonable, right? We’re all for balancing work and family responsibilities.

Where Medical Leave Can Get Messy (and Costly)

FMLA can be complicated because employees also can be certified that the time off they need is periodic: they periodically have to take their mother to the doctor because she doesn’t have a way to get there, for example. This is where the program can get spotty for employers.

The problem is some people abuse the system. An employee could end up essentially working part-time hours because of their ongoing periodic absences while receiving full-time insurance benefits.

In other cases, people are getting different family members certified through FMLA to assist the family member with a medical concern, while actually using the time to be away from work.

FMLA certification has a number of hours allotted for a specific period, whether that’s per month or year.

Without a dedicated way to track these cases for compliance, how will you know if everything is above board? How do you keep your agency on schedule, if you’ve scheduled 100 operators for the day and 10 are away that day on unexpected FMLA? And how does this impact your agency’s bottom line?

The Solution for Attendance Tracking

Like many businesses, a transit agency relies upon attendance. If you have a shortage of operators, things go south quickly. If operators aren’t coming in, it affects the entire transit operation. A Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey found that the lost productivity because of absenteeism costs the U.S. transportation industry $3.5-billion annually.

So, how do you manage the attendance and schedule work assignments for hundreds or thousands of employees? You have to ensure you’re abiding by union rules, and covering vacation requests, unexpected shifts, and last-minute changes. Add to this, you have to track sick leave to manage your workforce best. A CareerBuilder annual survey found that 40% of workers, in general, have called in sick in the last 12 months when they weren’t.

You have only so many people budgeted to work as bus operators. If you have budget for 1,400 operators, what happens when 10% don’t come in for work because of FMLA? The industry average for employees off work, without vacation and FMLA, is normally 15-18%. Add in FMLA, and you could be dealing with up 22-28% off - that’s substantial.

You can’t replace those people because they’re still part of your budget. But if you know the number of operators on FMLA and are tracking their hours taken, you can better budget where operators need to go and plan for overtime.

Which brings tracking methods into the equation. If you’re using manual forms and spreadsheets to track your employees’ work, there’s a tremendous amount of time and effort required by many people. I’ve spoken to transit agencies that have three full-time people just managing FMLA!

This is where workforce management technology comes into play. It juggles attendance, work schedules, and overtime for you while reducing the risk of human error and saving you hours of data input. It also lets you know who can work and when. If your employees cancel their shifts, others can auto-bid for the shift which eliminates their need to call and find a replacement. When integrated with payroll data, you also save even more time.

Today’s leading workforce management tools allow you to monitor and apply your policies to employee activities including accidents and absences. This auto-timekeeping provides you with computerized payroll data. An FMLA tracker can be part of the system and configured to require the user to show the certification. You can ask for doctors’ notes and other documentation to confirm that FMLA absence is legitimate, and be sent alerts if hours go over the time approved.

The end result? Instead of being surprised that 10% of operators haven’t shown up, you know in advance the absences to expect, so you can properly plan your scheduling process and avoid service delays. And, you can monitor any abuses from people who have exceeded their FMLA limit.

As you increase your ridership, yesterday’s pen and paper tools and Excel spreadsheets just don’t cut it. Having sophisticated workforce management tools in place gives you the analytics to help improve your scheduling processes and determine your routes.

That’s a game-changer.

Dave’s 30 years of experience in building, designing, and implementing Planning, Scheduling and Operations Management solutions for the Public Transit Industry have afforded him a rich and diverse industry, solutions, and technical background. Dave has served in leadership roles at Trapeze Group for nearly 19 years, and has managed many aspects of the Software for Transit business.
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