Benefits and Compensation, HR Management & Compliance

FMLA Absences Up, Some Industries Hit Harder Than Others

While leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act can be troublesome for any employer, it is particularly disruptive for manufacturers, call centers and health care organizations whose operations depend on fixed schedules, according to a recent ComPsych Corporation white paper.

FMLA absences are on the rise, says FMLA Source, a ComPsych company, and some sectors — call centers, hotels, government entities, manufacturers and health care organizations — far surpass others in terms of absenteeism rates. Almost half of hospitality employees and roughly 40 percent of health care employees have an open FMLA leave at any time, the report found.

FMLA Leave: Disproportionate Findings by Industry

Casinos have the largest percentage of employees on FMLA leave in a year (49 percent of employee population), as well as intermittent FMLA leave (58 percent of FMLA cases).

Casino employees also have the lengthiest FMLA absences overall, averaging 29 days per employee, which is 2.4 times more than professional services employees who average fewer than 13 days off.

Health care employers had the second highest rate of FMLA absences, with 39 percent of their workforce having an open FMLA leave at any given time. By contrast, just 7 percent of professional services employees have an open FMLA leave at any given time, according to the annual report.

Manufacturers had the highest rate of continuous FMLA leave at 76 percent and also have the longest duration of continuous FMLA leave (average of 31 days), while the average length of continuous leave for health care employees is 28 days.

Possible Explanations for Differences in FMLA Use

An informal, anonymous survey among members of Thompson’s editorial advisory boards — composed of employment law attorneys and human resources executives — yielded interesting anecdotal insights and observations about conclusions that may be drawn from the report’s results. The following comments are organized by industry and sector.

Manufacturing and health care

HR director: “Our hospital had about 2,000 employees, and at one time there were 60 female employees on maternity leave at the same time. My guess is that because nursing staff tend to be mostly female (as well as licensed practical nurses and nursing assistants), and since many of them are probably young, you might be seeing that FMLA leave is indeed for maternity. Working in a hospital with rotating shifts providing care is probably predominantly for the younger, female employee.”

Attorney A: “Manufacturing and health care are probably related to injury rates. If you look at some Occupational Safety and Health Administration data, you might find that these industries have more and more significant injuries than the others.”

Attorney B: “Health care workers, while maybe not low-paid, are more likely to either get sick or are a little more sophisticated when it comes to obtaining benefits and dealing with health care practitioners who would be certifying the need for leave.”

Public sector

HR director: “It might be that in the public sector we have generous leave programs and policies and we also tend to have an older workforce where the illnesses or personal injuries are more significant and require more time to recover. Gall bladders, torn rotator cuffs, knee and hip replacements, hysterectomies, various cancers, etc. seem to require more recovery time.

In addition, certain governmental units have jobs that are still very physical (police, fire, public works with street maintenance, sewer and water systems maintenance), so this can be a factor in why there are more leaves of absence. A second factor would be that governmental employees, as well as healthcare employees, are predominantly unionized and many union contracts have built in more paid leave time in lieu of wages over the years.”

Attorney A: “This is very cynical… but government employees tend to be a little more versed in their rights than other employees.”

Call centers

Attorney B: “Call centers typically do not provide much FMLA leave because the employees don’t work there long enough to be eligible for it. I would agree that these employers do not offer as much paid leave/vacation, etc., as other employers do.

In another client call center, where the employees do not engage in consumer cold-calls and the workplace is stable, and fairly well-paid, I see some abuse of leave, but do not observe a particularly high use rate.

Perhaps the lower-paid positions in call centers, with few paid days off, are more inclined to use FMLA. Of course, that would be ironic because FMLA leave is unpaid.”

General Observations

Because the FMLA Source report is based on companies with which ComPsych works, one employment law attorney questioned whether the findings would be the same with a broader sample. Another wondered if more frequent FMLA use could be linked to higher rates of substance abuse.

Attorney A: “Sometimes having an outside vendor [help with FMLA program administration] may lead to higher rates just because they have better procedures and are more likely to reach out to absent employees.”

Attorney B: “If you can correlate the known instances of substance abuse by industry with the industries with high use of FMLA, the two groups might match up.”

For the complete article, visit Thompson’s HR Compliance Expert site.