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Minding the Absence Management Knowledge Gap
Episode 1617th November 2022 • Absence Management Perspectives • DMEC
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While compliance questions continue to top the list for integrated absence management professionals, DMEC education experts discuss trends they're seeing and what that says about an increasing knowledge gap that can put employers at risk.


DMEC: Welcome to Absence Management Perspectives: A DMEC Podcast. The Disability Management Employer Coalition or DMEC as were known by most people, provides focused education, knowledge and networking opportunities for absence and disability management professionals. DMEC has become a leading voice in the industry and represents more than 160 professionals from organizations of all sizes across the United States and Canada. This podcast series will focus on industry perspectives and provide the opportunity to delve more deeply into issues that affect DMEC members and the community as a whole. We're thrilled to have you with us and hope you will visit us at to get a full picture of what we have to offer, from webinars and publications to conferences, certifications and much more. Let's get started and meet the people behind the processes.

Heather Grimshaw: Hello, and welcome to Absence Management Perspectives: A DMEC Podcast. I'm Heather Grimshaw, communications manager for DMEC. And I'm here today with Kristen Jones, DMEC’s Director of Education Programs, and Jess Dudley, DMEC's Education Manager, to talk about education trends. DMEC is starting to wrap up its webinars for the year and most recently hosted experts on federal and regional compliance laws, as well as a series of webinars on paid family and medical leave and tips for how absence management professionals can differentiate between paid family leave, paid family and medical leave, and paid sick and safe leave, domestic violence leave and others. It seems like there's no end in sight to changes, new leave laws, and pending leave laws that affect the work of integrated absence managers. And while this isn't new, the pace seems to be increasing. Kristen and Jess facilitated these webinars and have worked in the world of integrated absence management, so we've asked them to share some insights to start us off here. It would be interesting to hear if there are any trends or themes you see in questions from webinar attendees and the folks who enroll in the courses and if so, what do those questions tell you about larger industry needs?

Kristin Jones: I can lead us off with that one. I think we have always seen the compliance questions stay kind of just at the top of the top rung of what we get asked about and that's just, you know, there is so much change. You talked about that long list of leave laws that we have specifically addressed in recent webinars and other trainings and education and that's always being added to. Those laws are being changed and modified. So obviously people want to make sure they're administering their programs properly and they have questions about the updates and the changes and what's coming or what has recently changed and then they're also looking for resources to train their teams to just make sure they're keeping up on the latest stuff. So compliance questions, just as a general theme, always kind of tops the list of what we see. But I think I would also add in there that we do see a surprising number of foundational questions around leave laws specifically. I think it's surprising to me sometimes to see the number that we have around the Ada and the FMLA, just those kind of basic foundational questions. And those are laws that have been around that we have not seen significant change, but we do still get a lot of those basic questions around those key pieces.

Jess Dudley: Yeah, I'd agree with that. I think a lot of times people just get caught up in the details of that specific situation and they forget to take a step back and look, does this law apply? Is the employee eligible? They just look at the very basic details, and often your question can be answered, but you're wrapped up in this big picture for sure.

DMEC: Those are great points. And I would say after sitting through the webinar, the compliance series webinars, all of those nuances to the different pieces and parts of the laws, I can certainly understand how it would be so difficult to juggle. And I also wonder, in terms of the foundational questions that are coming through, do you think some of that is newer people who are newer to the industry or as Jess mentioned, might not be focusing on maybe the specific details of the case in front of them?

Kristin Jones: I think it's both. We definitely are seeing people newer in the industry, and they're coming to us, hey, we're hiring these new people. We need to get them trained up, or a person, an individual themselves, reaching out for the education, new to the industry and the space. But there's also people who I mean, they know the information. It's not that they just don't know the basics of, let's say, the Ada. It's those details that just mentioned. I think of you get this scenario in front of you, you get this person attached to it, and all the details that come in and you get kind of spun up on those details sometimes and forget, like, oh, wait a minute, they're asking for something because they have a disabled family member. Like the ADA doesn't apply. That's only if they're disabled. So they forget some of those foundational things when they're kind of spent up on how do I help this person? Or how can we do the right thing? Or oh my gosh, are we going to be compliant? And they kind of just lose track of some of those very basic kind of first questions that you should ask. I think that's easy to kind of lose sight of.

Kristin Jones: Jess, what do you think? Would you agree or have other insights?

Jess Dudley: Yeah, I would agree with that. I mean, we've got people that will be promoting up to new positions just because of the great resignation. I think all of that applies.

DMEC: That's a great point. Just too about the great resignation or all the different terms people are using to describe the turnover that employers are seeing. And so I would think especially with all of these changes. In a recent podcast, one of our guests referred to the changes as a tsunami of different laws coming through, adjustments to those laws and those kinds of things. So I would think as people change and move through either to different organizations or in different roles, that would be difficult to keep on top of all.

Heather Grimshaw: And so from an industry vantage point, what do those questions tell you? Is it that people need to revisit the basics, that they need maybe different types of tools to remind them of some of those questions to ask and different paths to take as they're assessing different requests?

Kristin Jones: I think tools are definitely needed, but there's also inherent challenges with creating tools just because of the evolution and change of laws. I mean, it would take so much time to put together a really robust, like if this, then this type of mapping, when that will change depending on, you know, different requirements change and for particularly at the state level and local levels. But I think just some of there are some tools that would be helpful though for people, just some basic checklist. And we're trying, we have tried and we continue to try to build out our resource library to include really practical things that employers can use when they are assessing leads that are coming in and what they might be eligible for. We've had conference sessions where presenters have had checklist or kind of like little charts that they can fill in of what laws might apply and then kind of guidelines of, okay, first you're going to look at the eligibility, next you're going to look at this, next you're going to look at that. I mean, kind of walking them through step by step. But those things also change a lot. That's hard to keep up with. I mean, that of itself could be a full-time responsibility. So I think tools and checklists, in my mind, would be some of the most helpful. It's hard to get them at a level that really feels practical. It always is. Going to take some customization, I think, on the part of the person using a tool.

Jess Dudley: I agree each program is going to be handled a little differently while the rules remain the same. Just the flow of the program and what department is handling it, which staff are handling it.

at are planned for release in:

Jess Dudley: I'll tell you a little bit about 2022. Since I was new, we really focused hard on the state leave laws in 2022. And there were so many of them that we were releasing and still there's more to come yet this year. New Jersey and New York and Connecticut are a few of them that we've got either in the works or have come out already, but really focusing in hard on those. What laws apply and how do they interact with the federal laws. And then in 2023, we've got a list of more states coming out, kind of determined by which states do we see that there's some changes coming in or have been very active in updating laws for the state. And then we're also going to do a return-to-work program that I think will be a really nice tool or a benefit to have for our learners. And then managing intermittently, which I can imagine there's a case manager out there that can say, I love intermittent leave. So I think it'll be a great tool to have out there.

Kristin Jones: Yeah, definitely. Those are areas that we have had we always get a lot of questions about or foundational to what we do, like the building, the return-to-work program. So like Jeff said, for the state leave laws, we've really focused in on the states that have the most leave laws or they have recent or upcoming implementation, particularly around PFML, because that's getting a lot of focus. And then our other topics are things that people ask us a lot about or you can tell, get hung up on things. We see so many webinar questions around intermittent leave and managing that accommodations and that process, specifically the interactive process and managing accommodations really kind of throws people for a loop. So those are some areas we focused on early on or are focusing on, as well as the FMLA certification process. That one came out at the beginning of this year. So that's really kind of where we focus those and how we chose them. Based on the questions we see, we can get a feel and we moderate questions in webinars almost every week throughout the year. We moderate questions in conference sessions both virtually and in person, and then we also get feedback from our learners and our attendees at those times of education. And so we look to those to see where do people want more? We specifically ask in follow-up surveys from webinars and conference sessions, what education would you like to see in the future? We also ask about that in our membership survey so our members have another opportunity to give us that feedback and we comb through that and get our ideas for all of our education for conference sessions, webinars, things of that nature. But definitely these micro credential courses as well. And we're also looking next year I think is kind of an exciting time too, as we have by the end of next year, we will have gone most the way through the first two phases of this microcredential project. So internally we kind of have it broken down into phases and grouped out some groupings of courses we're going to put out and we're going to start looking at what is in the next phases after that. So we're going to again be looking back to survey feedback and the questions that we get to determine our next focus areas to develop. And I think that's really exciting and gives more and more opportunity for our learners to provide us with that feedback and help steer the direction of this education. It's really driven by the consumers and what the people who consume our education are looking for and asking about. We're looking at other ways to kind of package and deliver the courses as well. Can we group some courses together and offer some package deals? Can courses kind of come together for other levels of kind of mastery, how they fit together? So I think kind of looking at what's on deck to be developed and then how they can be utilized and grouped I think is kind of some of our next phases. It'll be really exciting to see come through.

Jess Dudley: Yeah, I agree.

Heather Grimshaw: Hearing you use the term mastery makes me wonder about the different options that are available. I continue to hear a lot about the need for manager and supervisor training, and I think it was one of the last compliance update webinar speakers who noted, and I'm quoting here, your policy is only as good as the managers who are walking it out day in and day out, which really emphasizes how influential these managers and supervisors can be. And I was hoping that you would talk a little bit about this. How or if it has changed and what your recommendations are for ensuring that teams have what they need for success, whether it is some of the more basic information, as we talked about initially, the interim steps to make sure that everyone's kind of still on the same page. And then as you mentioned to Kristen, that mastery piece or that higher level.

Jess Dudley: I think it's important that training is just ongoing for supervisors. It's not a set and forget it training. Even if the rules of the game kind of stay the same, it's important to refresh on it. And we've had supervisors who have been really busy with extra things over the last couple of years where you're focusing on the issues that have been at hand. These are just kind of like it kind of goes back to the basics again. So, you know, we've got people moving into new roles. The new supervisors, they're shorthanded, they're struggling, they've got a lot on their plate and just having some annual training or refresher training for supervisors… I think it's a great benefit for them. What do you think Kristen?

Kristin Jones: Yes, I completely agree. I think everybody benefits from supervisors having a refresher. I don't think there's really a downside to that other than it does take time and effort. You have to pull people out of their normal what they're doing, but for a brief training on it. But it is really important. Like just said, it's kind of the extra from what they do. Their core job of what they're doing isn't managing leave of absence or accommodation. So it is important that they have that refresher training because it's not always right there in front of them. But it gets overlooked a lot, I think, because of that and there's so many other things that the business is managing. So we really geared the program to be an annual compliance training. Like you would do your anti-harassment training or your code of business conduct training to keep it fresh and in front of your supervisors, even though they don't necessarily address these things day in and day out.

Jess Dudley: Yeah, and I think it makes a great foundational piece for supervisors. This was one of the courses that I took first when I started here at the DMEC and it's given at a level that supervisors can identify with. They understand the language, it's not down in the weeds, it's at their level of what they need to know and I think it's a great training opportunity for them. And then if it's somebody that's in like a case manager role and they're going to promote into a supervisor, it makes a great foundation and ties right into our Ada training and our FMLA training. And ultimately all three of them would go very nicely together to have that CLM certification. So I like the way that they all tie together as well.

Kristin Jones: And I think going back to the quote to Heather that you had from the webinar about the policy being only as good as the managers, I think that's especially true since those managers and supervisors are the gatekeepers for us in leave of absence or accommodation events. They're the ones to hear directly from the employee and be the first to be put on notice. But they have to know what it means to be on notice. They have to recognize that for things to actually go right in the process and that knowledge gap can be really hard. So I mean, like anyone, they're going to manage and pay attention to things that they're measured on and for most of our supervisors, it's not going to be their absences or accommodations, things like that. So you have to find a way to get their attention on it and that can be tricky. I think that's why in the past presentation that was done at one of our conferences with the Department of labor, representative from the Department of labor, they recommended annual compliance training or annual training for supervisors as a best practice. Not a requirement, but a best practice. And so that's been what we have promoted at DMEC and how we have developed this course to be. And then, like Jess said, it does tie nicely for someone who might be a supervisor within our industry specifically to also dovetail in with some of our other training and education. It's just kind of different levels and different focuses or target audiences for that. But the supervisor training continues to serve a purpose and a need for sure in all industries.

Heather Grimshaw: That's a great point, Kristen, about the additional work for managers and supervisors who have a lot on their plates already. And listening to the compliance education and some of the different sessions at conferences makes you realize how valuable and necessary that training is, both to support employees as well as to protect employers. Can you talk a little bit about how education and training really should be viewed in terms of making sure that you're covering all bases?

Kristin Jones: It's so hard to make these things dynamic and interesting year over year. But I think we have all been sat in the conference room or been the one at the front of the conference room talking through the bullet points of anti-harassment and you're just trying to rip through as fast as you can. People are trying to take the quiz that they have memorized and get out of there and go do their thing. And that doesn't make someone feel like they're invested in I don't think it makes them feel like the company is checking a box, but I think you can present something to them. It doesn't mean it has to be fancy, it doesn't mean it has to be just a full day seminar or something. But I think you can approach it with an enthusiasm or kind of an approach that says this is important to us and it's important to our people, particularly when you are doing a training around this type of thing. These access to these benefits and these leaves are very important to our people and we want to make sure we are good stewards of these programs, these policies, and we're executing the laws properly. There's an approach to that that I think does feel like we're doing this because we care about the employees and we're investing in me as a leader and making sure I can do the best I can for my people and make them loyal to me and this organization and make them feel seen and valued. And that's important and I think that's a different approach to the exact same thing and that approach is very important.

Jess Dudley: Have you ever heard [the question], “What's your why?” We give them the why. I think that's a unique approach to it.

Heather Grimshaw: I think that's a great point. Kristen, you made the comment about the number of foundational questions that are coming in and also then Jess commented on the ways in which the different educational components that DMEC offers build that foundational knowledge and so to end it on that note of really investing in employees at every stage of their career is so nice. I appreciate both of your time and your expertise, and look forward to continuing this conversation in the future. Thank you.

Kristin Jones: Thank you; you too.

Jess Dudley: Thank you.



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