Want to Shorten FMLA Leaves? Tap your EAP.

by Terry Cahill

Family Silhouette

While there is plenty of information available about the abuses of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the remedies thereto, there is less discussion about how offering even further assistance can shorten the average length of FMLA cases.

Wait! Offer more assistance? When a person is already on FMLA?  Seems counterintuitive.  Unless you think about a resource that is a benefit of the vast majority of U.S. employers –  an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

EAPs provide employees and their family members with counseling and resources for a myriad of issues – mental health, substance abuse, stress, grief, work life balance, financial, legal, child care, eldercare and more. And most employers have an EAP.  According to the American Psychiatric Association’s July 22, 2016 blog titled “Employee Assistance Programs: An Often Overlooked Resource”:

  • 97% of U.S. employers with more than 5,000 employees provide an EAP to their employees
  • 80% of U.S. employers with from 1,000 – 5,000 employees provide an EAP to their employees
  • 75% of U.S. employers with from 251 – 1,000 employees provide an EAP to those employees

In other words, most employers already have this resource at their fingertips.

So, can an EAP reduce the time an employee might need to be out on FMLA? Absolutely.  Here’s one typical example.  With life expectancies lengthening, many baby boomers have found themselves becoming caretakers for their parents.  According to Emanuella Grinberg, this is the “new normal” for 43.5 million Americans.  And according to a 2011 AARP Public Policy Institute study, the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who has a job outside the home and spends nearly 20 hours per week providing unpaid care to her mother.  Truly, this eldercare issue can pull employees away from work.  However, with an EAPs assistance, the employee can get emotional support and resources for the actual care which can mitigate the need for time off.

An EAP is best utilized in an early intervention role. Employers that promote their EAP well are more likely to have employees reach out to the EAP prior to an FMLA request to explore EAP resources and services which can include:

  • Counseling for adult siblings to determine what is the best course of action for an elderly parent. For instance, for a parent encountering some difficulty living alone, will some home safety and home health measures be enough or will it be necessary to consider moving the parent into assisted living or a nursing home.? Counseling for this issue can be an invaluable resource when siblings are not aligned about what to do next.
  • Once the proper support and care are determined for an elderly parent, the EAP can provide the adult child(ren) with both local vetted resources for the appropriate level of care and also coaching about how to approach elder care providers. This can entail how best to interview home health care workers or what criteria should be used in choosing an assisted living facility.

These counseling, resource identification and coaching services can save the employee hours of research time that is often spent absent from work or at work but occupied on non-work-related activities.  Of course, some employees might not think of their EAP ahead of time so why not provide every employee who requests FMLA with material reminding them of the resources available through EAP.  EAPs also provide consultation and referrals to experts about how to best protect a parent’s assets, as well as how to negotiate government programs like Medicare and social security.   Again, these are valuable resources that can point employees more quickly in the right direction as they assume these new and often unfamiliar caretaker roles.  Getting a little more assistance for these employees   can not only help shorten the time they need to be off on FMLA, but also strengthen the employee’s engagement with the employer.


Image by Tunaolger / Pixabay

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