The Challenge of FMLA Leave in Call Centers … and What Experts Say Employers Can Do About It

The Issue Many employers with customer service call center operations report high rates of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) use in those units. Few, however, have been able to identify contributing factors or develop targeted leave management strategies for this group of employees. IBI worked with the Silicon Valley Employers Forum (SVEF) to compile de-identified employee and FMLA leave data from Intuit and another employer with substantial call center operations to provide initial insights into these issues.

Evidence The results from an analysis of about 20,000 employees corroborate many employers’ intuitions about FMLA use among customer service call center workers. They also shed light on what drives high rates of leave in call centers and point to potential leave management strategies.

In particular, we find:

  • Customer service call center employees have significantly higher continuous and intermittent FMLA rates than other employees.
  • Differences in FMLA leave rates are more pronounced for intermittent leaves than for continuous leaves.
  • Demographic differences explained much – but not all – of the difference in FMLA leave rates. Differences in health status likely contribute to differences in FMLA leave-taking.
  • Intermittent FMLA leave rates differed across locations with substantial call center operations.

Implications for Employers To maximize the usefulness of this report’s findings, IBI researchers consulted absence management experts from among its members for actionable recommendations. Our panel of experts included professionals from Aetna Insurance, Allergan, Aon Hewitt, Buck Consultants, CIGNA, The Hartford, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Mercer-Trion, Prudential Financial, Reliance Standard/Matrix Absence Management, Standard Insurance, Sedgwick Claims Management Services and Towers Watson. We then summarized their advice into a set of basic principles employers should consider when developing strategies for reducing disruptions from FMLA absences:

  • Everything flows from the work environment.
  • Cause or effect, health plays a role.
  • See things from the employees’ perspective – and communicate yours.
  • Be vigilant about misuse and abuse – but recognize bigger issues.
  • Take a holistic approach to managing leaves.

Author Details

Brian Gifford, Ph.D.
Director, Research & Measurement, Integrated Benefits Institute

Assets