An organization is a social group that is structured and managed to meet a need. According to Merriam-Webster, it is a company, business, club, etc. (“Organization”). More specifically, organizations are deliberately constructed to seek certain goals through the hierarchical, distinguished, and coordinated efforts of its components. Every organization has a management structure that determines interactions between its components, assigns roles, and delegates responsibilities, as well as, authority to reach their goals. It is pertinent to assess organizations because they are open systems that affect and are affected by their environments. For the purposes of this paper, an organization within Pasadena, California will be described, assessed, and analyzed in order to offer a proposal outlining the features of a revised family/parental leave policy for the agency.
The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is a public agency, which is a governmental bureaucracy. It is governed by civil service rules and its mission is co-defined by statue. The organization safeguards the integrity of health plans, pensions, and other employee benefits. The organization’s funding comes from public taxes directly in order to provide direct assistance to the public. This is done to raise the knowledge level of plan participants to ensure plan documents are accessible and available to them. This enables the participants to better understand and comply with the law, as well as, exercise their rights under it. It also helps participants to recover benefits that may have been entitled to them.
EBSA’s mission is to provide benefits and retirement security for all workers. According to their website, EBSA strives to accomplish their mission by “developing effective regulations; assisting and educating workers, plan sponsors, fiduciaries and service providers; and vigorously enforcing the law” (“Employee Benefits Security Administration”, 2014). EBSA has 141 million clients (e.g., workers, retirees, and their families) and requests a budget of $188,447,000 for 2015 to fund their aggressive outreach, education, research, and participant assistance program services. The organization employs approximately 250 people at their main office in Washington DC, as well as, 750 people nationwide. The organization has 9 program offices and 10 regional offices aggregated throughout the US (See Appendix). One regional office is located within the author’s community in Pasadena, California. This EBSA regional office serves 10,017,068 (US Census 2014) residents, in 88 incorporated cities and unincorporated areas within Los Angeles County.
According to Appelbaum, & Milkman (2011), in 1946, the State Disability Program was originally created as the Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) but pregnancy was excluded. TDI extended their services in 1973 to cover “abnormal pregnancies” and in 1976, normal pregnancies were also covered; however, they were only covered for three weeks before and after the birth of the child. Two years following, the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act was put in place to prohibit discrimination against pregnant women within the workplace. And, in 1979 the State Fair Employment Act was put into effect to provide up to four months of job-protected leave for disability related to pregnancy.
The Department of Labor (DOL) was created to deal with similar issues. The DOL is the parent agency to the EBSA, and it “administers a variety of federal labor laws to guarantee workers’ rights to fair, safe, and healthy working conditions, including minimum hourly wage and overtime pay, protection against employment discrimination, and unemployment insurance” (“USA.gov”). The EBSA was created by DOL in the mid 1970s and was first known as the Pension and Welfare Benefits program. The name was changed in 1986 to the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration (PWBA). But, the final name change to EBSA occurred in February 2003 (“Employee Benefits Security Administration”, 2014). EBSA was set up to manage the stipulations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which addressed public concern for the abuse and mismanagement of private pension plans.
The ERISA was a federal statue that established minimum standards to regulate employee benefit plans. But, there was an issue with overlapping responsibility for the administration of the IRS, DOL, and ERISA. So, after some reorganization, DOL established EBSA and deemed it responsible for the administration, enforcement, and regulation of the provisions for the ERISA. Also, EBSA was upgraded to a sub-cabinet position because of the reorganization (e.g., Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary positions were created). EBSA now oversees the laws and auditing of participant plans.
The EBSA has a plethora of programs and initiatives. To improve their delivery of participant assistance and outreach, EBSA established an Office of Outreach, Education, and Assistance (See Appendix). This branch of EBSA employs 100 benefits advisors, located at each office throughout the US. At the regional office in Pasadena, there are 15 benefits advisors on staff. Their participant assistance and outreach program aims to educate participants about their obligations and rights under specfic laws. The program also assists participants in obtaining retirement and health benefits that were wrongly denied to them.
In some instances, the employer ceases to exist by means of bankruptcy, jailing, death, or fleeing the country. In this case the employer may also abandon its pension plan. The EBSA has created the “Abandoned Plan Program” to tackle this problem. It helps inform participants whether their benefits plan is in the process of being, or has already been terminated by their sponsoring employer. The EBSA’s abandoned plan program also helps the participants “wind-up” their termination and get access to their benefits (e.g., 401k plan).
EBSA has a Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP), which was created in response to the community’s request for a formal program that would allow for self-correction of law violations, involving trust. This program makes it easier for plan officials to identify and fully correct specific transactions with their participants. It also reduces the risk of enforcement action by the EBSA (e.g., negotiation). According to DOL’s website, this program encourages the correction of various violations such as prohibited purchases, improper loans, delinquent participant contributions to pensions plans, and improper plan expenses. EBSA now offers an online component for this as well, which makes it easier for plan officials to calculate online the amount of money that needs to be paid back to the plan.
All of the EBSA programs are evaluated for effectiveness using a form of SWOTT analysis. The organizational leaders, program staff, and partners convene together to analyze specific factors (e.g., strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and trends). For instance, the online calculator was added to the EBSA website after the Internet trend was spotted. To further determine and document the effectiveness of their services, EBSA leaders have collaborative discussions about their desired outcomes for each program. During these meetings they formally evaluate their programs achievements, track their progress, and discuss how they plan to accomplish their future goals for the programs within a certain time frame (e.g., quarter).
The EBSA allocates between 3 to 5 hours to achieve a consensus at meetings, but it is not an easy process and many people need more time for discussion. Nevertheless, when a relative consensus has been reached then it is recorded in the form of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is kept on file to later be modified as needed and sent to other offices. Managers at the regional offices must also submit program evaluation forms that are completed regarding the line staff’s performance. And, EBSA request their customer’s to complete questionnaires regarding EBSA’s services via phone or email, but this is optional.
Structure and Culture
The leaders of EBSA are the Assistant Secretary, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Program Operations, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary (See Appendix). The regional office in Pasadena is one of EBSA’s lowest performing regions. The office is comprised of an office supervisor, a secretary, data entry clerks, an account manager, benefit advisors, lawyers, investigators, and student trainee interns. This office of EBSA is concerned with the operational plans of the organization (e.g., day-to-day operations, routine tasks/duties). The decision makers are not easily accessible to front-line workers in the Pasadena office, because the Los Angeles regional director has an office is in another building altogether. The supervisor level staff also micromanages the ground level staff (e.g., benefit advisors) and some of the workers complained it was a negative “unity of command” type environment to work in (e.g., management demeaned and insulted them). Some lower level staff spoke of high turnover rates among their investigators (e.g., most people leave after a year or two).
Other turnover rates at this regional office are from the entry-level lawyers who get promoted or the senior level lawyers who are hired and remain at EBSA for only a short period of time. This is a concern because the agency is spending more money to hire new people (e.g., background checks, training) rather than vetting for more reliable candidates and addressing the covert issues in the office. Also, and this regional office some line staff were too comfortable or had bad morale. And, some workers complained that there was too much paperwork for them to handle because their assignments were frequently being rotated. This is bad for staff productivity and adds extra pressure on the managers to meet case closure targets. Nevertheless, most of the front-line staff used a courteous voice over the phone with customers.
Policy Change: Always Better Children Determine Effective Families (ABCDEF) proposal
The “Family and Medical Leave Act” (FMLA) of 1993 covers the EBSA. FMLA provides unpaid, job protected leave to workers in California. The act also requires group health benefits be maintained during worker’s leave as if the employee resumed working. Government agencies are covered by the FMLA regardless of their number of employees. But, all employees must meet additional criteria to be eligible for leave. The EBSA workers must have worked for the agency for at least 12 months consecutively for at least 1250 hours before they can take family leave. Since the EBSA leave policy is under the FMLA, it is an entitlement by Federal Law.
In the case of leave required by a serious health condition (e.g., illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition) the leave may be taken at a reduced level (e.g., when medically necessary) for 12 weeks. The EBSA requests medical certification from the workers and they are responsible for the cost of obtaining their health care information from their provider. Some issues have come up regarding validity of the worker’s certification. So, EBSA sometimes requests second and even third opinions if deficiencies are detected. The FMLA also provides certain military leave entitlements (e.g., 26 weeks of leave covered to care for an injured service member over a single 12 month period).
The EBSA gives workers the right to unpaid leave for other scenarios: birth, adoption, or foster care placement to bond with the child. This is done under the “Fair Employment and Housing Act” (FEHA). This leave is also unpaid and must be taken within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or placement and must be taken in a continuous block of time. At EBSA, biological and non-biological mothers and fathers have the same right to take leave under FEHA but mothers have extra incentive for leave. This is because they can also use their time-off for prenatal care, ineffectiveness related to pregnancy, and for personal health issues following the birth of her child. On the other hand, fathers utilize their time to care for their spouses, who are incapacitated after childbirth. But, this is not heavily used within the Los Angeles regional office because of their high turnover rates. However, some of the staff is planning to use it in the future, if they are still employed with the agency.
If a worker decides to use their leave they must follow a specific procedure. The EBSA workers must notify their employer of when they need to leave. Supervisor level staff must respond to this notification within five business days with the worker’s eligibility for the leave. Their response must provide the worker with their rights and responsibilities, as well as, a request for certification. From there, the worker has 15 business days to provide the completed certification and submit it to a supervisor level employee. After another 5 business days, the EBSA must notify the worker whether their leave has been selected as FMLA. If the worker is protected by FMLA then EBSA must give the worker unpaid time off and the same position when they return.
The State of California also offers the “Paid Family Leave” (PFL) program, which provides income replacement but does not guarantee job protection. PFL is also known as the Family Temporary Disability Insurance program, which is administered by the State Disability Insurance program (SDI) and funded by worker contributions (e.g., withholdings) to the program. Over 13 million California workers are covered by the SDI program and PFL financial benefits. According to the State of California Employment Development website (2014), PFL only provides six weeks of benefits to workers who need time off to care for an ill child, spouse, parent, or registered domestic partner. The worker can also use the time off to bond with their newborn but PFL is not widely offered by employers in California.
There are interesting trends surfacing among employers in terms of family leave policies though. These trends include: giving more time off or giving less time off to non-biological parents. Google has a stronger policy for biological mothers than for those who don't physically give birth to newborns. According to Shontell (2013), “biological mothers are given between 18 and 22 weeks of paid maternity leave; fathers, gay couples and other parents who adopt are given seven weeks of leave”. Google also gives extra "baby cash" to all parents to help offset their childcare expenses. And, Google helps their employees with the process of adoption.
The author seeks to have the agency adopt a family leave policy similar to Google’s that offers more time off for family leave (e.g., 15 weeks), especially for biological mothers (e.g., 18 weeks). More family leave matters because more time off leads to better productivity (Stansberry, 2010). This proposal would help the agency because it has more women working in the office and some have experienced high stress related to the office’s agitating subculture. The extra time off will allow workers to truly take care of their health and return more rejuvenated. The time off will allow the workers to put their efforts into perspective (e.g., more family time will remind them why they work diligently throughout the year and entice them to work harder to possibly get more time off). If EBSA would give employees more time for leave they might also have to pay less in expenses for terminations and rehires, which is quite costly to their organization.
The EBSA office in Pasadena generally operates using a Theory X type management style, which is stifling to the workers so, some tactical planning is needed amongst the supervisor level staff to improve their office’s functionality. They could benefit from implementing a Theory Y management style instead, which is an evidenced-based rationale that would require less micromanagement from the supervisor level staff. Perhaps the fulltime employees that need to utilize family leave merely on occasion can be entrusted with carrying out some work related tasks from home on a part time basis (e.g., telecommuting). This could increase productivity for the office, help maintain their caseloads, and provide more money for the agency (e.g., less energy being used within the office an no need to hire a new fulltime worker). Early bonding with parents is important also because it sets children up for long-term health and well-being therefore, more family leave time should be granted to new parents; however, the biological mothers should receive additional family leave time for recovery because of the added toll the pregnancy takes on their bodies.
Allies to the proposal may specifically include the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS). This public agency, which also has a branch in Pasadena, CA, offers a broad range of social services to low income residents in the community. The agency administers programs designed to promote self-efficacy, as well as, independence. The DPSS branch in Pasadena administers a variety of programs to community members such as, CalWORKs, CalFresh, General Relief, Medi-Cal, and GROW. The EBSA workers could utilize these programs from DPSS, especially the new parents on staff.
In terms of innovation, DOL and DPSS could partner together and have DPSS implement a new requirement for their clients to be drug tested monthly to qualify for continued use of their services. This could help to vet the DPSS program of unfit recipients and lighten their caseloads. The extra tax funds generated for vetting the DPSS programs would be reallocated to a state Maternity Leave Pension Initiative (MLPI) designed specifically for all pregnant mothers in California who need paid family leave time off from work that is not offered by their employer. This would affect not only EBSA, but also all new mothers statewide because the employer would no longer need to negotiate. The worker would be paid and their position would be held for a longer amount of time to help facilitate their bonding at home. This would be effective because the bond between parent and child is detrimental to shaping the child’s developing brain and the time off will hopefully restore the worker back to optimal functioning.
The author imagines that the undeserving recipients of DPSS services might be opposed to this proposal. But, if DPSS also found issues with this proposal then the author would advocate for the agency to examine and adopt this policy because it would ultimately put tax dollars to better use. The proposal would streamline productivity and provide services to people who truly need the service while weeding out those who do not and referring them to treatment services. EBSA’s office of Policy and Research is in charge of setting the agency’s benefits policy. And, the author imagines the policy would be considered by them but not seriously, given the historical undertone of devaluing the experiences of female workers in this country.
The EBSA is an agency within the DOL that administers and enforces the provisions ERISA. An Assistant Secretary, who is appointed by the President of EBSA and reports directly to the agency’s Secretary of Labor, directs this agency. EBSA’s headquarters is located in Washington, D.C. and one of its regional offices is in Pasadena, California. This office is performing poorest out of their offices. A proposal has been made in this paper to help increase the Los Angeles regional office of EBSA to tackle their productivity and provide a more effective and efficient family leave plan for their agency. The author hopes the innovation will be seriously considered but understands the anchor of history and tradition in the US; therefore, the likelihood is high that the proposal may not be considered.
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