While many employers fear the threat of their first review by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Clark County, Nevada, has been blessed with more than one. To avoid litigation or compliance challenges, the county was intentionally overly generous with Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) leave requests.
The county, which includes Las Vegas, is the 14th largest municipality in the nation. The county’s 7,500 employees serve approximately 2.2 million residents and 46 million visitors a year. The county insources its leave administration program through its risk management team, with one workers’ compensation (WC) coordinator and three other claim technicians tasked with managing all other leave administration programs. Aside from FMLA leave, the county offers a very generous nonoccupational leave package, providing employees with parental leave, catastrophic leave, and unpaid leave, among other leaves.
Clark County was manually tracking all these leaves, making absence management exceptionally difficult.
With the county’s diverse workforce spanning 35 departments, including firefighters, police officers, and city officials, it was a challenge for the risk team to account for all employees. Making the task especially daunting is that the majority of employees had varying work schedules that could span any 24-hour period. Clark County required each supervisor in each individual department to submit their WC and nonoccupational absence data to the claim technicians. Absence and FMLA reporting came in multiple formats: phone calls, paper slips, or email, overwhelming the team and creating inconsistencies in the process. Often employees’ provider certifications were valid for longer than might otherwise have been appropriate due to recertification insecurities.
“We were sure that we were providing people with more than 12 weeks of FMLA leave … and we were sure that there were people out on leave that we didn’t even know about,” said Les Lee Shell, Chief Administrative Officer for the county.
When the need for change was identified, the risk team determined that the county would seek a software solution to assist with tracking leaves. The county soon realized that the software solution didn’t address major underlying process issues that could still derail absence reporting.
Approximately 700 supervisors were responsible for creating their employees’ FMLA claims and reporting all other leaves, with these employees working any portion of the 24-hour period. How could supervisors ensure that they were notified every time someone was late or not going to show up at all? In fact, the risk team was confident that in many cases, supervisors simply were not notified. Employees seldom faced penalties for failure to report. If supervisors didn’t have the information, the central risk team most certainly did not. What was their solution? Should they staff a 24/7 call line? Or was there another option?
“We didn’t initially decide to go with a portal approach,” said Shell. “It was an evolutionary process that came about through discussions during our implementation. We just had to find a better way.”
Employees Go Hands-On
When Clark County decided to take reporting responsibility away from supervisors and put it on the employees, it needed to provide the capability for 24-hour absence and tardy reporting. The only efficient process was to literally put the solution in the palm of employees’ hands.
The county enacted a revolutionary portal-only approach to absence tracking. It understood this would not be an easy task and would demand stellar communication, education, and culture change. It took several months to train all supervisors and employees, educating them on the new processes and expectations, but it paid dividends. All employees now own the responsibility to create their own FMLA claims and report their leaves of absence via the portal, which can be accessed on their smartphones or any device with a browser. For employees unable or unwilling to utilize the portal, their direct supervisor can submit the claim for them.
The risk team receives all new claim notifications on a desktop application, except for rare cases where the risk team is needed to help create a claim. All absence reporting for existing claims is added via the portal, attached to the appropriate claim, and systematically approved based on the healthcare provider’s recommendation of the frequency of absences. If absences are reported that fall outside of the recommendation, the system immediately notifies the employee and the risk team so that they can follow through with the appropriate actions. Additionally, absence notifications are automatically sent through to the county’s payroll system, eliminating another manual process.
Employees receive their eligibility letters and recertification notices in real time via the portal, eliminating the need to wait for the mail. Employees can also send notes to the risk team via the portal and attach documentation, including medical certifications, that immediately becomes part of the claim.
This new system has eliminated a large majority of reasons to even pick up a telephone and maintains focus on ensuring compliance with the DOL regulations.
“At first, we saw our absenteeism go up,” said Shell. “We had been prepared for that due to the probability of underreporting in the past, but now we are seeing that trend back down.
We are confident that we are doing a good job and all of our employees are accounted for. Worth noting though, most of the supervisors using the system love it because they have relatively real-time access to claims and leave data and can better monitor and more confidentially communicate with employees about their FMLA leave. It’s good for everyone.”
The most recent DOL review of the county supports Shell’s assessment. “We had a number of employee-driven complaints that were investigated and their files and our overall processes reviewed by the DOL. We were not cited,” said Shell. “As a result of those investigations, we did have some findings/recommendations for improvements outside our new system. So I won’t say they told us to keep doing what we are doing; however, they did appreciate our use of the system and the tracking it provided us.”
For a complex organization such as Clark County, the decision to select, design, and implement a solution — and the organizational changes surrounding that — required a process of evolution and culture change. Employees were willing to accept a much higher level of responsibility for reporting their leaves if they could also get improved convenience, control, and timeliness. Technology facilitated a new level of partnership.