Our parent company, Presagia, recently attended the 2019 Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) Annual Conference, where they gained a lot of insight on various topics related to absence and disability management! These topics ranged from the importance of employee well-being to what employers can expect from an audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and so much more. To keep things concise, we chose the top three topics we found most interesting to share with you!
1. Changes To The Workplace...Adaptations For A New Generation
One of the biggest themes from the conference was creating change in the workplace. Each generation has grown to know a unique workplace - whether it’s the environment, structure or even the culture. As new generations start and slowly become the majority of workers, there needs to be a shift in workplaces.
Seth Mattison’s general session, The War At Work: Building A Next-Generation Enterprise For A Next-Generation Workforce, addressed the need for organizations to reevaluate their structure and focus.
The focal point of the session was the battle between hierarchy and networks. Companies with older employees are structured as a hierarchy, whereas younger employees prefer more of a network style focus. Hierarchy focused workplaces were designed for predictability, stability and clarity. Unfortunately what these workplaces lack is freedom. While network-style workplaces provide freedom, they can be ambiguous and uncertain.
Why is freedom important? Studies have shown that there are five core elements of high performing teams, with the biggest factor being psychological safety. This translates into, “can I be my most authentic self?” Psychological safety is created by employers so that their employees can essentially “feel free.”
Mattison concluded with another important aspect employers should be thinking of, which is helping their employees feel that they belong. When it comes to people in business succeeding, employees feeling needed and like they belong should be a top priority. This also ties back to company culture and the importance of maintaining a strong organizational culture, which supports employee engagement, along with providing employees with a sense of purpose.
This year’s conference also touched upon the importance of supporting employees, especially by caring for their well-being and offering solutions. In another insightful session, How Advocacy Can Elevate the Employee Experience, Scott Daniels and Shawn Johnson discussed the importance of identifying employee needs and helping employees thrive in the workplace.
They explain that employers make the employee a priority by:
- Showing concern for their well-being
- Explaining available benefits
- Using technology to improve communication
- Offering access to additional resources
Having an “advocacy strategy is important for the success of your employees, which will help with the success of your company.'' Daniels and Johnson mention adding telehealth to employee assistance programs (EAP), along with educating employees and employers about short term disability (STD). They left attendees with four keys to success for employees: health and wellness, work/life balance, career development and financial wellness.
2. Your Employees’ Well-being Matters
Along with creating a shift in the workplace for new workers, it’s also important to care about the wellbeing of your employees. We learned so much on assessing suicide risk in the workplace and creating a healthy workplace from Katie Connell’s session, The Suicidal Employee: Managing Real Issues and Real Risk with Practical Solutions.
Connell reiterated that suicide is a serious concern; every 12 minutes someone in the U.S has committed suicide and the consequences are felt by many: family, friends, and co-workers. It’s the 10th leading cause of death for all ages, highest among men and even more shocking is that more individuals die from suicide than motor vehicle crashes.
In the workforce, these are the individuals who are most at risk:
- Men working in high skill and stakes positions (more than 1.5 times likely to die from suicide)
- Employees in occupations that require no education after high school
- For men, occupational groups with the highest rates of suicide include: construction, arts, design, entertainment, sports/media, installation and maintenance/repair
- For women, occupational groups with the highest rates of suicide include: arts, design, entertainment, sports/media, protective service, and health care support
As an employer, here are some potential risk factors that you can watch for in an employee:
- Suicidal statements/expressions
- Feelings of hopelessness, failure
- Mood/behavioral changes
- Social isolation
- Minimal/unresponsive to support
- Current mental health issues
Along with recognizing warning signs or even triggers (i.e. financial problems, recent loss or major life changes), employers can create and promote a healthy workplace. Connell offers some tips and tricks for employers in creating one:
- Create a workplace suicide prevention program
- Create policies and procedures for an employee at risk or in crisis
- Make the EAP or mental health contact information visible in the workplace
- Provide education or training on mental health and suicide prevention
- Provide a specialized suicide prevention training for HR, managers and EAP providers
- Create a “culture of caring”
A culture of caring is key, since this creates better communication, feelings of belonging (which we’ve previously established is important), connectedness and respect. Although there is still stigma around mental health issues, as an employer you have the power to assess suicide risk and create a safe space for your employees.
3. ABCs Of DOL Audits
As you may know, being knowledgeable about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other state and municipal laws is crucial. Not following these laws can result in serious consequences, including loss of resources, time, employees and finances. That brings us to the second major theme seen at this year’s conference: audits conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
In the session, DOL Audits: What Employers Need To Know, Alisa Huth Gilford and Jeff Nowak provided tools for employers on what to do when the DOL conducts an audit at their company.
There are two reasons why the DOL selects organizations for an audit:
- A current/former employee filed a complaint
- A compliance audit conducted by the DOL
The good news is that over the years, the number of complaint cases has decreased (from 1,246 in 2016 to 1,011 in 2018). The types of charges addressed in these cases include:
- Failure to maintain health benefits
- Refusal to restore employee to equivalent position
- Refusal to grant FMLA leave
The session then went on to share the top employer issues identified by the DOL:
- Not recognizing the need for FMLA, then disciplining an employee for absence that should be FMLA covered
- Not meeting established deadlines established by FMLA
- Poor or lack of documentation with employees
- Not properly administering medical certification and failing to train managers
Here’s what employers can expect if they get chosen for an audit:
- They will receive a letter from the DOL
- They may request an attorney
- They may negotiate an on-site visit
If an on-site visit is necessary, employers can prepare for it by having their paperwork, process and people in place (i.e. leave managers, managers, any employees chosen for interview). To avoid a DOL audit in the future, it was recommended that employers conduct self-audits. A self-audit includes thoroughly reviewing FMLA policy, ensuring FMLA forms are compliant, preparing legally compliant FMLA correspondence and cleaning up records.
Speaking of self-audits, we also loved the session by Teri Weber, Launching Your Organization’s Self Audit Checklist, in which she discussed the benefits and challenges of self-audits, as well as how to actually conduct one.
There are numerous benefits from conducting a self-audit, including:
- Identifying your areas of weakness
- Helping redefine and clarify roles and responsibilities
- Setting a baseline for continual improvement
- Educating everyone on audits, along with the importance of compliance
While self-audits take time and energy, Weber offered some tips for employers to start their own self-audit:
- Create a thorough plan
- Communicate your plan and break it down into phases
- Consider what your organization can do and what can be outsourced
Overall, it’s important to conduct self-audits to improve processes, find any errors and remain compliant. This helps to keep everyone accountable, compliant and out of hot water.
It's clear that employers have a lot to keep up with, from audits to new leave laws, and managing it all manually would be catastrophic! Luckily, with a leave law reference guide like Leave Genius, employers can remain up-to-date and compliant with current and new leave laws!