Staying compliant with HR, and absence and leave regulations is tough enough, without the regulators themselves not being able to make up their mind on whether a new law should be passed or not.

Take the paid overtime rule that was introduced by President Obama, which would have raised the salary threshold for exemption from $23,660 to $47,476. This rule —which was set to go into effect on 1 December 2016— was put on hold by the federal courts in November 2016, before being permanently blocked on 31st August 2017.

However, it seems likely that a rule to raise the exemption threshold is likely in the future, and several states already have overtime regulations in place, which companies will have to comply with. More on the federal versus state absence laws later in this article.

With this in mind, we decided to take a look at how HR professionals are managing absence and leave regulations, as well as get their thoughts on the current climate in terms of complexity and volume of laws.

We surveyed 200 HR professionals who manage leave within their organization, and the key findings were:

  • 57 percent feel that proposed and adopted government leave management regulations have become more complex over the past 12 months
  • 57.4 percent feel that there have been more government leave management regulations over the past 12 months
  • 76.2 percent of respondents find it easy is it to stay up-to-date on news about government regulation changes
  • 26.9 percent find that the best way to notify employees when government leave regulations change is via email

Increase in leave regulations in 2017

Early in 2017 the current administration promised, “to deregulate in favor of “unleashing jobs” and to repeal rulemaking that “impinges on liberty.” It has introduced a couple of new laws that affect HR, and absence and leave management this past year, including

  • Ending forced arbitration over sexual harassment claims
  • New smart Form I-9 introduced by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

However, more than half of the respondents to our survey believe that the amount of absence and leave regulations has increased over the past 12 months.

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One possible reason for this could be the back and forths on regulations, such as the paid overtime rule mentioned above, and the ongoing saga over the Affordable Care Act and its replacement, as well as having to be aware of repeals, delays, and blocking of many Obama-era rules (as this administration promised to do).

The future of many of these pieces of legislation remains unclear. It is this lack of clarity —such as with the case of an employer being judged to have rightly terminated an employee unable to return to work after the expiration of his 12-week Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, which contradicts other rulings— that is adding to the difficulty of staying compliant, and in an efficient way.

Absence management complexity

It’s not just the perception of number of regulations that is causing a headache, but the complexity.

More than half of HR professionals (57 percent) believe that leave regulations have got more complex over the past 12 months.

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One reason for the complexity can be attributed to state versus federal laws. More than half (53 percent) of respondents to an HR Dive survey see state and local laws as their top compliance concern headed into 2018. Related, the FMLA type of leave was their second biggest headache.

Take paid sick laws as an example. According to data from October 2017, seven states and Washington D.C have paid sick laws in place, although there is no federal law on the issue.

Then there is the issue of paid leave. California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island also currently provide for paid family leave, although New York’s law comes into force on January 1st 2018. Federal law, however, states that businesses with 50 or more employees must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but experts predict more paid family leave laws on a per state basis.

Underlying the complicated nature of dealing with laws on a per-state basis, the state of Washington passed a paid family leave law in 2007, but this has been indefinitely postponed until there is a funding mechanism in place.

The global picture

Outside of the US (but still with a potential effect on US companies), the complexity in absence and leave regulations can be tied back to political uncertainty.

Take Brexit in the UK, while many UK laws currently supercede EU regulations (for example, the UK’s minimum holiday entitlement is 28 days (inclusive of public holidays) per year for full time employees but the EU equivalent is for a minimum of 20 days), the continued uncertainty of what kind of deal the UK will get and what this will mean for local laws is taking its toll.

In a survey from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation in the UK, 36 percent of employers said that political uncertainty was the main challenge facing their business.

This is coupled with changes in leave management regulations, with the UK’s Statutory family-related pay and sick pay rates increasing in 2017.

Keeping up with absence and leave rules

With the back-and-forth of paid overtime leave regulation (as well as other absence related legislation such as the Affordable Care Act), you might think that HR professionals have a hard job keeping up with what is going on.

However, three quarters of our survey respondents find it either very or somewhat easy to stay up-to-date with news about government regulation changes that could affect or have affected the absence or leave policy at their company.

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One of the reasons for the ability to easily stay up-to-date with leave rules is the plethora of sources that HR professionals have to inform themselves.

Most HR professionals keep up to date by receiving newsletters from professional HR associations (think the wealth of information available from SHRM, for example), followed closely by reading industry publications (magazines, blogs, etc), or by meeting with colleagues.

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Notifying employees

While dealing with the evolving leave regulations, which are now ever more diverse at a state level, finding the right way to notify employees of these changes is another challenge for HR professionals.

According to our survey respondents, the best way to notify employees when government regulations change affecting leave policies at their company is via email (26.9 percent), followed by telling employees altogether in a group meeting with colleagues (21.7 percent).

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HR software is the least popular method to inform employees, with only six percent picking that answer in our survey.

How can HR software help?

In 2017, Irish budget airline Ryanair changed its vacation year, which previously ran from April to March, to run from January to December instead. While this would have been an extra headache for the company’s HR professionals, it’s still a fairly normal procedure in terms of absence and scheduling management.

Not if you are Ryanair, apparently, as the company had to cancel hundreds of flights as a result.

This problem could have been avoided with the help of a properly managed and run cloud-based absence management system.

Adrian Lewis, director of absence management software Activ Absence, said: “With modern cloud technology today available cost-effectively, there is no way that any company should have problems managing annual leave. Companies that use online holiday planning software can encourage staff to request their holidays year round, and these details can be accessed and seen by everyone. Employers can also use this software to set triggers so if an employee has only taken 50 percent of their annual leave by a certain date, they can flag this up.”

HR software can also help companies stay up to date with leave regulations, as well as other human resources compliance issues such as GDPR, Gender Pay Gay Reporting laws, and OSHA regulations on illness and injury.

How to choose HR software to help manage leave regulations

There are several features that you need to look for when choosing absence and leave management software to ensure that you stay compliant with these regulations. The first – and most obvious – would be “compliance management”. Here are some other features to consider:

  • Multiple leave type tracking (with custom fields)
  • Automated notifications
  • Online leave requests and approvals
  • Individual vacation allowance adjustments
  • Leave trackly for different types of contracts and salaries (yearly, hourly, etc)
  • Automatic residual leave calculations
  • Shared calendar with manager and employee view
  • Payroll integration

You can also find these features within a general HR solution. Using GetApp’s HR scorecard you can shortlist software with these features by marking them as a high priority (see the example below):

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Survey Methodology

This research is based on a survey of 200 full time HR professionals in North America. The survey was carried out in November 2017 using online survey tools.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch regarding use of the charts above, please contact karen@getapp.com.