By ERIN GAZICA, a freelance writer from Pottstown, Pa.
Car trouble happens. So does the relentless stomach bug that gets passed around each and every child in a daycare facility. Life's little roadblocks cause big headaches for employers. Incidental absences affect between 3 percent and 5 percent of an employer's workforce, costing employers almost $40 billion each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Clear trends in the rate of incidental absences during this economic downturn have yet to materialize--one employer might experience a decrease in leave requests due to fear of job loss and the next might notice an increase due to more family and financial pressures--but what is clear is that it is the most challenging component of employee absence.
"When you look at these incidental absences on an individual basis, it seems pretty small, but when you add them all together, the costs are huge," said Nazneen Vimadalal, vice president for marketing and product at Liberty Mutual Group Benefits.
Vimadalal helped organize the 2009 Leadership Series--Best Practices in Tracking and Managing Incidental Absence, co-sponsored by Liberty Mutual and the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Results of the symposium were released July 21 at DMEC's annual international conference.
Joe Wozniak, vice president of administration for DMEC, said the joining together of Liberty Mutual and DMEC might seem strange because they don't necessarily deal with human resource issues per se. However, training HR, disability, healthcare and absence management personnel to manage and track incidental absences is crucial because many of the employees are job protected.
For instance, if an employee is late to work because his child has a serious health condition that is intermittent and ongoing, it would be dangerous to hold that employee accountable for that absence and potentially fire them. An employer must take into consideration the reason for the absences and be aware of the requirements of federal and state family medical leave laws that are in place.
TOP 5 BEST PRACTICES
"We felt it was important to identify all the best practices to help employees do the tracking the best they can to ensure they don't perhaps terminate someone who was job protected, which would save them a lot of money from a litigation perspective," said Wozniak.
The five best practices in managing incidental absence include defining what it means to you the employer, developing tracking tools, understanding the variables, weighing in-house versus third-party administration and engaging employees at every stage.
Employers are often challenged by creating their own definition of incidental absence, Wozniak said. Some companies wish to include in their tracking program everything from jury duty and vacations to workers' compensation and federal medical leave. Others focus their program more narrowly. Some employers only track union or hourly employees, while the recent trend is to apply incidental absence tracking to all employees, which helps avoid litigation risks and compliance issues with the Family and Medical Leave Act.
THE TOP CHALLENGE
Perhaps the most difficult challenge is engaging managers and employees of all levels in the process. Vimadalal said many employers that do track incidental absences don't do it well because they fail to document the reason for the absence.
Unfortunately, it is often solely up to the manager or supervisor to ensure the reason for an absence is correctly captured, and a lot of them either don't want to deal with the administrative burden or simply don't think it's their responsibility.
"The bottom line is that, no matter how good a tracking tool you have, if you have not engaged employees in the formation of this tool and in writing the policy, then this process is going to be a failure," said Vimadalal.
"That's why I strongly believe, out of all the best practices, the key is employee engagement. It is fundamental to the success of managing this process."
Results of the 2009 Leadership Series, including success stories from employers like Comcast, Textron, USAA and Pacific Gas & Electric Company are detailed in a Liberty Mutual white paper.
August 3, 2009
Copyright 2009© LRP Publications