HR Management & Compliance

Risks of Improper Leave Administration

Administering different types of paid and unpaid leave can be tricky, especially because so many of them overlap. There are legal ramifications to getting it right in many cases, but there are also risks to employee morale and turnover if you get it wrong. This goes for paid time off (PTO), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and all other forms of leave an organization may offer. Many of the items discussed in this article focus on the FMLA, however, as this type of leave is quite easy to administer improperly.

Here are some of the many risks of improper leave administration:

  • The employer could face claims of discrimination if it appears as though some groups of employees are treated differently than others.
  • The employer could end up owing much more time off to employees due to inaccurate leave tracking.
  • Some types of improper leave administration may appear to be discouraging employees from taking FMLA, which could spell legal trouble.
  • When leave is administered inconsistently, employees can get frustrated, leading to problems with employee morale, motivation, and productivity. This can happen if an employee feels he or she is not being granted a similar leave request to others, for example. Or, an employee may feel someone who was granted leave should not have been entitled to it (which may or may not be true, but either way, the perception matters).
  • Being too strict on leave requests may also bring legal trouble. Laws like the FMLA and more have provisions that allow employees to take leave if all appropriate conditions are met. There are federal, state, and local laws that could come into play. Managers must be trained to be both legal and consistent.
  • Inconsistent treatment of employees for any leave, including vacation, can cause resentment among the entire team.
  • Productivity can suffer if leave policies do not take the big picture into account—for example, when too many vacations are approved at the same time or during overlapping times or vacation is approved when there are big projects due. (Of course, legally required leave requests like the FMLA often cannot take these things into account.)

How Does Improper Leave Administration Happen So Often?

Employers need to remember that these problems are not necessarily intended; problems can occur unintentionally and without malice. Here are a few examples of the many ways improper leave administration can occur:

  • Inconsistent training on how to handle FMLA leave requests can lead to inconsistent handling of such requests.
  • Managers, even if trained well, may offer exceptions to employees in an attempt to be mindful of individual circumstances without thinking that they may later appear to be discriminatory or unfair due to inconsistencies.
  • Absences, especially partial days, often aren’t closely tracked for salaried employees, making it easy to overlook situations when time off should have been counted toward FMLA leave but wasn’t.
  • Employees are not always clear that the absences they need to take are for an FMLA-related reason—even employees who have been approved for intermittent FMLA leave.
  • Managers and/or HR may be reluctant to grant leave requests during busy periods or when the team is already short staffed. But those circumstances shouldn’t always affect the decision. (In short, it can’t affect the decision when the leave is legally protected.)
  • Automated system problems may cause incorrect leave accruals.
  • Inadequate tracking mechanisms may cause leave to be tracked incorrectly. For example, manual tracking of requested absences may mean an absence is counted even if the employee ended up showing up (altering his or her plans) or vice versa.
  • Intermittent leave is difficult to track accurately. When is it FMLA versus PTO? When is it both?

What has your experience been with ensuring leave is always administered consistently and accurately? What have you learned along the way?

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.

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