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Turning the calendar to a new year can inspire many to clean out some cobwebs and dust off a project that’s been on hold. For those in HR, looking at a company’s time off policies as it pertains to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) might be a good place to begin.

If the FMLA has posed some challenges, an internal self audit in particular could help shore up practices and help eliminate or reduce issues that could lead to a claim. If you have in-house or other employment counsel available, you might want to ask them for their input on the self-audit.

Otherwise, here are some steps you might take in an internal FMLA audit:

Review FMLA documentation

  • Review any related policies to see if they reflect the latest regulations (federal and state) as well as practices. If, for example, you require employees to use accrued paid time off for unpaid FMLA leave, include that information in your FMLA policy. Review other leave policies that affect FMLA leave as well.
  • Make sure the FMLA poster is prominently displayed where employees and applicants can see it. If you have applicants apply online, check to see that you have a prominent notice on the website where the job postings are listed stating that “Applicants have rights under Federal Employment Laws” and link to the poster.
  • Review your FMLA records to see that they are complete, accurate, and kept for at least three years.
  • Double check that employee (and applicant) medical information is kept confidential and separate from the general personnel files.

How to audit FMLA leave procedures and practices

  • Consider the procedures managers and supervisors use when an employee has an absence that might be covered by the FMLA.
  • Be sure managers and supervisors are asking the right questions when employees call off work to help determine whether the FMLA applies. If they’re not, train managers and supervisors on how to recognize FMLA leave notices and to avoid potential claims.
  • Evaluate if employee leave requests reached the appropriate leave administrator in a timely fashion, even if an employee did not use the term “FMLA.”
  • Assess whether the company’s chosen 12-month leave year period still fits your company and its goals.
  • Review your intermittent cases to ensure you are calculating increments of intermittent leave properly and not requiring too much FMLA leave.
  • Analyze the FMLA timetable to make sure your certification approval/denial determination practices allow employees to cure incomplete or insufficient certifications.
  • Be sure there is a process in place to request clarification or authentication of a certification only after receiving a complete and sufficient certification.
  • Investigate if employees timely receive eligibility/rights & responsibilities notices and designation notices.
  • Ensure that recertifications are requested only as allowed.
  • Look at your toughest FMLA cases and review what steps were taken to help curb real or potential leave abuse, and their effectiveness.
  • Follow up on employees who returned from FMLA leave to confirm they returned to their positions or equivalent (not similar) ones after leave.

Key to remember: An internal audit might not find every weak link in your FMLA chain, but it can help reveal some areas worthy of improvement.