Compliance Makeover: Surveillance

DMEC Staff@Work

How to Use Surveillance to Combat Leave Abuse

SurveillanceBy Alyssa Coleman, CPDM

Account Manager
Pacific Resources

One of the greatest concerns employers still face with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is abuse. But while most leave professionals know about the administrative tools written into the FMLA to curb leave abuse, it’s still an ongoing, significant concern for employers.

After a leave is approved, the administrative tools are sometimes inadequate to address abuse. Worse, the number of state and local paid leaves are growing, and most are designed around the FMLA; so as they grow, so will concerns of abuse and the need for new ways to curb it.

Many employers initially are averse to the idea of surveillance. They perceive it to be high-cost, high-risk, and difficult to manage, and in most cases, leaves are unpaid, so the cost is hard to justify. But in my experience, surveillance can be a valuable option for a small number of difficult, strategic cases. If planned carefully and strategically, surveillance can put you in a better position to gather critical evidence when adverse employment action is appropriate.

What Is Meant by Surveillance?

Surveillance is the process of hiring  a private investigator service to validate that time missed from work is indeed for the reason of the leave. The emphasis here is that the investigation is intended to validate the time — not necessarily the health condition itself. While surveillance is often an excellent way to validate the health condition itself, I found that in the vast majority of leaves, the health condition was not an issue but rather whether the employee was using the time appropriately. 

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