Thursday, December 22, 2011

FMLA Abuse and Transit Operations

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), while created with good intentions to protect employees who need it, has become a major expense for American companies as it is widely abused. 

FMLA especially is burdensome for Transit Operations.  In an office, if an employee is absent to due FMLA, the work is often put aside until the employee returns or possibly redistributed to other employees.  In transit operations, a driver absent on FMLA with short notice may translate to the driver's run not being covered, leaving service disrupted, hundreds of customers inconvenienced, loss of confidence in your agencies operation/reliability, and loss of morale of other drivers who now have to deal with the extra and likely angry late customers as a result.  If the run is covered, it is often covered on overtime, increasing operational costs.

Dealing FMLA abuse is like skating on thin ice.  Managers who aren't thoroughly familiar with the rules and take inappropriate action can be on the end of a lawsuit in a hurry.  Managers looking to increase availability via aggressively combating FMLA abuse and fraud should always consult with Labor Relations and HR staff to ensure their tactics are in-line with applicable laws and collective bargaining agreements.  While the government protects FMLA leave, it has recognized the problems of abuse.  Recent decisions have helped to curtail abuse such as upholding surveillance and terminations of suspected FMLA abusers. 

While not financially feasible, transit management can add "extra-board" operators to be on stand-by when they observe a cluster of FMLA drivers assigned in close proximity or observe a pattern of FMLA abuse on a particular day/time.  However, if the suspected abuser(s) don't call out FMLA on a day where an "extra-board" driver is standing by, the transit operator is now paying the extra-board person to basically sit around if no other work is available.

Dispatchers preparing next day assignments often do not have the luxury of knowing which employees have a high probability of calling out FMLA the next day. Software should be developed to automatically flag the likelihood of an FMLA absence based on available pattern/usage data and suggest the time of an extra-board assignment.

FMLA is also known as the "Friday-Monday Leave Act", due to employee abuse of linking their FMLA leave to their RDO's (Regular Days Off).

FMLA Poster from Department of Labor
FMLA Guidelines and Compliance information
Additional FMLA information
Code of Federal Regulations - Part 825 (FMLA)

Here are some useful links to help combat FMLA abuse.

12 Ways to curb FMLA Abuse
Minimizing FMLA Abuse
The FMLA and Pattern Abuse
FMLA Abuse: 4 Ways to fight back and not get sued
10 Ways to stop FMLA Abuse
Simple tactics arrest FMLA abuse during intermittent FMLA leave
5 ways to stop FMLA abuse dead in its tracks
Steps to combating FMLA abuse
How to combat FMLA abuse
As FMLA Abuse mounts, the employer must lay down the law
Reducing risk and abuse of FMLA leave

How do you or your agency attempt to curb FMLA abuse?  Share your story by responding/commenting to this post.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

How Do We Measure Friendly Transit Bus Customer Service?

Most transit agencies expect friendly customer service from their bus operators.  But what defines "friendly?"  How do we measure "friendly" customer service?

I've wondered about these issues in my current position at work.  I receive, as many transit agencies do, complaints of bus drivers behaving in a rude, non customer friendly manner.  Transit customer service bulletins dictate that employees provide customer friendly service. What are the minimum and expected behaviors that should be displayed.  Is discipline appropriate if an employee is not "friendly enough?"

While it is difficult to define and measure customer friendly service, unacceptable behavior is obvious.

Unacceptable Behaviors
  • Cursing and/or using profane vulgar language/gestures at customers, even if provoked.
  • Raising voice / screaming at customer
  • Ignoring reasonable requests from customers for directions/information
  • Failure to provide explanations for delays/disruptions if known
  • Failure to assist when required
  • Speaking to the customer in a dismissive fashion
  • Prejudging a customer based on past experiences
  • Treating customers differently based on sex/race/physical disabilities
  • Putting schedule before service

Customer Interaction

If a customer boards and says good morning to a bus driver and the driver ignores them, while clearly rude and unfriendly, is it an offense that justifies discipline? 
How a bus driver interacts with customers reflects on the operating agency as a whole.  A bus driver has the ability to make or break a persons day with a simple greeting at boarding or departure.  While the primary function of a bus driver is to operate the vehicle safely, it is not their ONLY function. 

Multiple complaints about a bus drivers behavior is usually an indication of an angry/aggressive employee.  When a complaint comes in, it is often the customers word against the drivers.  Managers need to be alert to angry customers who may have missed a connecting bus and are now displacing their anger on the bus driver with an exaggerated complaint.  In general, the bus drivers face is the face of the company and the only face the customer will see.

Bus drivers operate with very little supervision unique in comparison to an office or factory worker who generally have direct supervision a majority of the time.  When transit supervisors conduct "check rides", they are generally observing safety skills.  Customer service should also be evaluated at every chance.  Though difficult to measure consistently, obvious customer "un-friendly" service should not be tolerated and always addressed appropriately.  Perhaps first through retraining, then through discipline.

What is your experience with friendly customer service in bus operations?