Need for Paid Leave Is Here to Stay: Navigating the Complexity

Need for Paid Leave Is Here to Stay: Navigating the Complexity

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, employers found creative ways to offer flexibility and support to their employees. Many of these new programs are likely here to stay.
Katie Dunnington
Katie Dunnington, Head of Absence Management, Group Benefits, The Hartford
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, employers found new and creative ways to take care of business, and even more importantly, their workers. Many of those changes, like more paid time off programs and flexibility, are likely here to stay.
“Employers deserve a lot of credit,” says Katie Dunnington, head of absence management for Group Benefits at The Hartford. “They’ve worked very hard to respond to their employees' needs and these unique situations that none of us have ever seen before.”
It became clear that some employees needed time off to care for themselves or their families. Monthly workplace absenteeism in the U.S. was 1.2 million in the decade leading up to the pandemic. In 2020, that surged to 2.5 million.1
Many employers stepped up to meet this need. According to The Hartford’s 2021 Future of Benefits Study, 75% of employers expanded or added new paid time off programs that went beyond state or federal requirements. These additions included:
  • Medical leave
  • Sick time
  • Family leave
  • Parental leave 
  • Paid time off (PTO)
  • Vacation time
“I don’t think the programs will go away. Even before the pandemic, we were seeing an expansion of paid leave. The pandemic accelerated this trend and solidified the need.”
– Katie Dunnington, head of absence management for Group Benefits at The Hartford

Layers Upon Layers of Leave

The pandemic stirred up a leave landscape that was already rocky for employers to navigate. The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act created emergency paid sick and family leaves. Dozens of states and many cities created new emergency leave programs, too.
Add those to the traditional leaves under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), as well as state paid family and medical leave programs, workers’ compensation, short- and long-term disability, parental leave, sick days and vacation time. Managing all of these programs can be very challenging. In fact, The Hartford’s research found that 54% of employers say there is no easy way for them to track and manage all the different types of leaves.
“While all these programs are great, they are layering on top of each other. An employee can be out on a few different leaves at the same time to maximize their time off,” Dunnington explains. “The complexity of that is exponential to what we saw even 10 years ago. Employers are looking for help.”

Integration: Bringing Ease and Order to Absence

Imagine taking time off means leaving the building through a door built just for one particular absence. Everyone is walking out of a different exit. The same goes for the return trip back to work. That’s a lot of doors to watch. Integrating leave and disability administration creates a centralized doorway that can make it easier for the employer and employee to manage absence.
A single leave intake that automatically triggers all the benefits an employee may be eligible for reduces administrative complexity and makes it easier for employees to use their benefits. Many of these leaves occur at very stressful times. From start to finish, the employee experience should be one of ease and empathy. By working with an integrated absence management partner, employers can:
  • Seamlessly coordinate FMLA, PFML, workers’ compensation, short- and long-term disability and other company leaves – paid and unpaid.
  • Help streamline much of the administrative work for frontline managers, risk managers and HR staff who are busy with various other duties.
  • Stay in step with the many leave laws. The more tightly all the leaves are coordinated, the stronger the regulatory compliance.
Many leaves overlap or run concurrently. For example, a new mother who is out on short-term disability to recover from childbirth can be out on FMLA at the same time for job protection. An integrated leave management system will automatically set up an FMLA leave when she submits the disability claim. The same is true for an individual who is off work due to an on-the-job injury and is collecting benefits through the employer’s workers’ compensation policy. That employee can also take concurrent job-protected FMLA.
With a single intake, once an employee reports a leave claim, the integrated system looks at all of the eligible leave benefits for that employee.

The Big Picture: Leave Data Supports Employee Well-Being

Coordinating leaves also gives employers the ability to see the real-time leave status of their workforce, which can help them plan accordingly. Employers would know how much time off remains for a worker or the date another may be returning from a disability leave.
Employers can use these data-driven insights to paint an overall picture of absence for the company and to help improve employee well-being and productivity. This can translate into shorter absences, less severe injuries and a safer workforce. When employers have a holistic view of the claims made on their workers’ compensation, group benefits disability insurance and other workplace leaves, they can then focus on prevention and effective return-to-work strategies. With insights into the overall impact of absence on a company, an employer can add relevant workforce support programs such as wellness, fitness and behavioral health services.
In the post COVID-19 world, there will still be layers of leave and a need for each of them. But with an integrated approach, sorting it all out doesn’t have to be as complex.
Para más información, visite nuestro Absence Management resources. Learn more about integrating your workers’ compensation with disability and other leaves at The Hartford Productivity Advantage.
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