Mapping out the ever-changing employee leave environment

Q&A with Steve McGonagle, AVP of Voya Leave Management

Black millennial boss wearing a suit coat leads a group meeting of employees in a corporate boardroom.

Steve McGonagle joined Voya Employee Benefits in 2020 as the AVP of Leave Management. He brings more than 20 years of experience working for several top carriers in the Group Insurance industry. He most recently led the strategic development of The Standard’s Absence Management offering. Here are Steve’s thoughts on why organizations can benefit from outsourcing leave:

Q: What do you think are the challenges today’s employers are facing when it comes to employee leave?

A: For the most part, the biggest challenge comes from the complexity around constantly changing regulatory and legislative issues. When I first got into the absence space it was just FLMA (Family and Medical Leave Act) administration and I thought it was so complex, but now, I look back and realize how easy those days were!

Employers can struggle to understand the leave laws, while also making sure that supervisors have the training that they need to comply with FLMA and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations and the myriad of other regulations that are present when you have employees. Just keeping abreast of the leave laws and how they apply to their company, as well as appropriately tracking leave laws, is a major job.

Q: How has COVID-19 made leave even more complex?

A: It’s added a whole new element. There have been changes to the federal FMLA policies for companies with fewer than 500 employees, but also new regulatory challenges for larger companies. There’s a whole new flight of questions that employers are asking:

  • What changes when employees are working from home?
  • How can you deal with the challenge of running your organization on a smaller employee population if many are out sick?
  • What about self-quarantine?
  • Do people still work during that time?

Work from home, remote work and new technology have also made leave even more complex. With these new elements, it’s changed how employers are looking at FMLA as a whole, even beyond COVID-19.

Q: What are the benefits of outsourcing leave?

A: The number of employers outsourcing FMLA leave has grown annually by 5% since 2014 – with 46% of large employers (1,000+) outsourcing in 2021 vs. 35% in 2014, and 30% of small employers (50+) outsourcing in 2021 vs. 21% in 2014.1

According to the 2021 DMEC Employer Leave Management Survey, nearly half of companies that outsource leave management measure program performance on compliance.1 In fact, 88% of jumbo employers (20,000+) track compliance as a success metric.1 Clearly, companies want to decrease risk – a lot of the problems employers have come from not having an adequately trained staff.

Are supervisors asking the right questions when it comes to leave? When you outsource, you bring consistency to employee leave. That consistency pays off – when employees are held accountable for their absences, it can improve morale and motivation.

Outsourcing also helps reduce incidence rates and absence duration. The 2021 DMEC Survey also shows 56% of jumbo employers (20,000+) base leave program success on incidence rates and 63% on absence duration.1

Q: What makes an employer a good candidate for leave management services?

A: Any employer with more than 500 employees is a good candidate. If an organization has multiple locations in multiple work states, and if any of those states have mandated leave laws, management services might also be an optimal bet.

I would also guide employers towards outsourcing leave for operations that are going 24/7, like hospitals and production, groups with collective bargaining agreements, businesses that have experienced FMLA abuse and, finally, groups that have had lawsuits filed against them surrounding leave.

Q: Is there anything that would make them NOT a good candidate?

A: I always think there is opportunity within every organization. But organizations that have centralized their approach with specific detailed guidelines around absence, have an absence center of excellence, and are utilizing technology that can track leaves and can interact with the different state leave laws, may be fine, though the technology they use needs to be very advanced.

Q: Approximately how many leave cases can an employer expect to deal with per year?

A: Every year, nearly 15 million employees in the U.S. workforce take FMLA leaves.2 The 2021 DMEC Survey also indicates the average FMLA leave incidence rate is 12% – based on 301 respondents representing companies from 50-99 employees to 20,000+.1

We work with many employers that have 1,500 employees and above. So, if your organization of, say 5,000 employees, has an average amount of leaves, you’re looking at more than 500 leaves a year. Depending on how they are set up, that many leaves of absence can become very complex for an organization to administer on their own.

Q: What should an employer look for when choosing a leave management provider?

A: They should look for a provider that can offer effective tracking and reporting. Integration with other programs like EAP (Employee Assistance Programs), ADA or ADAAA (Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act) is crucial.

Additionally, they should look for as much integration as possible with their health management programs. A company should be offered a detailed assessment surrounding their current management of leave laws and their company’s handbook regarding leave.

Q: What else do employers need to know about leave management?

A: Innovations in the leave space matter. Voya has been at the forefront of offering a leave manager that acts as the single point of contact for the entire leave. We also know the importance of real time notifications, the latest in ADA support, having subject matter experts in all aspects of leave administration, and offering vocational and clinical resources for each organization.

The laws and regulations concerning leave are constantly changing. Voya not only stays on top of these changes but is constantly moving ahead in fully managing the absence space for employers.

To learn more about Leave Management services offered by Voya Employee Benefits, contact your Voya Employee Benefits representative.

This material is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Employers should consult their own employment or benefits counsel for advice concerning their specific obligations under state-mandated disability and paid family and medical leave laws.

Related Items

  1. English, Karen and Rhodes, Terri L. “2021 DMEC Employer Leave Management Survey White Paper.” Spring Consulting Group (An Alera Group Company, LLC) and Disability Management Employer Coalitions (DMEC)., pp. 5 and 19, published April 15, 2022.
  2. “Key Facts: The Family and Medical Leave Act.” National Partnership for Women and Families, January 2022.

Voya Leave Management services are provided in part by Disability Reinsurance Management Services, Inc.

Disability Income Insurance is issued and underwritten by ReliaStar Life Insurance Company (Minneapolis, MN) and ReliaStar Life Insurance Company of New York (Woodbury, NY). Within the State of New York, only ReliaStar Life Insurance Company of New York is admitted, and its products issued. Both are members of the Voya® family of companies. Voya Employee Benefits is a division of both companies. Product availability and specific provisions may vary by state.