A little bit of history...
The Family Medical Leave Act was written into law nearly 25 years ago, and has been a labor law staple in the United States ever since its inception in 1993. Yet, a large portion of the workforce has little to no knowledge about what FMLA does and who qualifies for it - and even less employees know about Intermittent FMLA leave. Like the FMLA law itself, the intermittent leave clauses were created with good intentions, and for the most part it is utilized appropriately. However, intermittent leave does leave the door open for the possibility of exploitation. In this post we’ll examine the intermittent leave process and what employers can do limit the likelihood of intermittent leave abuse.
There's another type of "Family Medical Leave"...
Why is a good leave approval system so important?
In theory, it makes complete sense. A lot medical conditions don’t necessarily need to disable someone from work for more than 3 days for them to be considered a serious medical condition. Some conditions might require frequent doctor visits, exhibit periodical flare-ups, or in the case of mental illnesses, make work unexpectedly intolerable on a day to day basis. In those cases, intermittent leave offers job protection that goes beyond ones paid sick time or PTO. Although to expect a company or the employee to go through the leave approval process every time a day of work is missed on intermittent basis is unrealistic. Which is why the initial intermittent leave of absence approval process is crucial.
Separate Your Approval Process.
That’s why it’s important for the medical certification form designates a section that asks the medical provider to give an educated guess, given the medical condition, on about how much time that employee might need to miss. For example, one to three absences every two months, or 10 absences annually, or whatever the case may be. The intermittent leave can then be approved within the confines of the provider’s recommendation. If the employee does start missing more time then what they were approved for, the employer can then request an updated medical certification validating the increase of absences.
To that end, managers need to be educated on the intermittent leave process and more importantly they need to learn to keep good records and report all absences to either their HR department or third party admin. Proper leave tracking is essential in combating intermittent leave abuse. After all, making the effort to designate the appropriate intermittent leave can prove futile if accurate absence records aren’t kept and reported. Time allowed on intermittent leave is the same as it is for normal continuous leave - 12 weeks within a rolling calendar - which on an intermittent basis is a lot of time and can wreak havoc on a work schedule if it’s not properly administered and tracked.
Another misconception that occurs when employers aren’t well versed on FMLA is they make the assumption that a person who approved on intermittent leave can therefore miss 3 or more consecutive days and have those days simply count against their approved intermittent leave. That is not the case. For someone who is on approved intermittent leave, if they miss 3 or more consecutive days, even if it’s for the same medical condition they were approved intermittently for, that would still be considered a separate continuous leave where the full FMLA process must be administered for approval. Another related misconception is absences occurring immediately before and after unscheduled days off and those not being recognized as continuous leaves – but they are. For example, an intermittent approved employee who has the weekends off, if they miss Friday citing intermittent LOA and then they also miss Monday citing the same, while technically they only missed two days of work, that is still considered a continuous leave and a new medical certification is needed for approval.