The CEO’s Desk: A People-First Approach to Compliance

Jai Hooker@Work

Taking a People-First Approach to Employer Compliance

By Bryon Bass, CLMS, CEO, DMEC

Do absence and disability managers have the superpower to sprinkle compassion into the compliance mix? In an industry governed by an intricate web of laws shaping our every move, the ability to forge meaningful connections with employees emerges as a pivotal factor with significant implications.

To be successful in absence and disability management, we must understand an increasing number of nuanced laws, know how agencies interpret and enforce these laws, and consider every accommodation request through an unbiased lens. While these elements are vital to employer compliance, they are only part of the picture. Incorporating a compassionate approach to our work can make an important difference to employees during challenging periods. I liken this to the art and science of medicine since providers who connect with their patients are often more successful than those who take a cookie-cutter approach to cases. Why? Because details and relationships matter.

While most of us do not work in the medical field, our work can save lives, as a DMEC speaker said recently.1 The comment resonated deeply with me because it illustrates that what we do matters, and the more we embrace a people-first philosophy, the greater impact we can collectively make.

Drawing Outside the Lines

Ensuring a compassionate approach requires a willingness to acknowledge different needs among diverse employee populations, seek out and test accommodations, and incorporate grace into the work we do. For example, remind an employee about an impending deadline and consider extending it if that would help everyone come out whole. Despite the rigidity of the laws we must follow, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to our work. As a result, a willingness to be flexible might not only improve compliance, but it could also avoid unnecessary litigation.

The truth is it makes sense to be generous in these roles — to take time to listen and understand employee situations, and to foster collaboration for mutually beneficial outcomes. That is not easy to do when we’re strapped for time and complicating factors like performance issues must be considered. As a result, it’s easy to become jaded, which is one reason the DMEC community is invaluable. It serves as a reminder that we are not alone, that shared challenges have solutions, and that those attempting to game the system are the exception, not the rule.

Most of the people we interact with have a genuine need for help. By approaching accommodation requests with compassion, we have a better chance of designing successful solutions that allow employees to stay at work or return to work more quickly.2 It also demonstrates a culture of caring that many describe but few get to experience. We will unpack this concept during the 2024 DMEC FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference, March 25-28,3 in educational sessions and the keynote session that focuses on the power of corporate culture, and in the magazine,4 DMEC podcast,5 and webinars.6 The concept is not new, but the term “compassionate compliance” might be to some.

Reframing the Discussion

Embracing new concepts will be increasingly important for ongoing success, as I outline in the new DMEC trends overview.7 While the new year encourages some people to create resolutions and others to clean out closets, it also presents an ideal opportunity to reevaluate absence and disability management policies and incorporate some compassionate compliance.

Without a full grasp of the legal landscape in our field, absence and disability professionals may struggle to identify where it makes sense to integrate more compassion in our work. The complexity of leave laws makes ongoing education crucial to creating and implementing an inclusive, compliant approach. Managers must encourage a culture of lifelong learning, which empowers teams to question the status quo and draw outside the lines, when necessary.

Engaging with employees during vulnerable times requires strict compliance with an increasing number of laws. The true reward lies in combining this compliance with a compassionate approach that recognizes the human element in our endeavors.


  1. Emphasizing the Human Connection in Absence and Disability Management. Oct. 15, 2023. Retrieved from
  2. Can Restricted Duty Help Employees Return to Work Sooner? Oct. 25, 2023. Retrieved from
  3. DMEC. 2024 DMEC FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference. Retrieved from
  4. DMEC. Dig Beneath the Surface to Ensure Empathy When Assessing Accommodation Requests. May 12, 2023. Retrieved from
  5. Equalizing Mental and Physical Health in the Workplace. June 26, 2023. Retrieved from
  6. Webinar Recording: Balancing Compassion and Compliance When Entitlements Exhaust. Nov. 8, 2023. Retrieved from
  7. Navigating the Landscape of Workforce Well-Being: Trends and Strategies for 2024. Retrieved from reenvisioning-workforce-well-being-trends-and-strategies-for-2024