Five Best Practices For Managing FMLA Leave

Contrary to some opinions, The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not stand for Friday Monday Leave Act. Although employers often deal with abuse of leave issues, useful management tools are available to assist employers in effectively managing FMLA leave.

  • Designate one person as the FMLA specialist in your organization. Require all FMLA leave requests and inquiries be directed to this person. Allowing individual managers and supervisors to administer FMLA matters within a department is asking for trouble. Train someone in the human resources, payroll or legal department to become an expert. Create a procedure and communicate the process to employees.
  • Designate the “leave year” and communicate the decision to employees. State the leave year clearly in the FMLA policy. The “rolling year” is the most advantageous of the four alternatives available to employers. Using a “rolling look-back” method prohibits employees from using more than 12 weeks of leave in any 12-month period. Use of any of the other leave year choices will allow an employee to “stack” leave and take as much as 24 weeks consecutively. Failing to designate a leave year raises questions of interpretation and confusion that can be easily avoided.
  • Thoughtful use of second opinions can significantly reduce the number of dubious requests for medical leave. Particularly when abuse is suspected, a request for a second medical opinion may be beneficial. This practice is considered aggressive, but it may send a signal to employees that the company will take the necessary steps to minimize the potential for abuse of FMLA. Also, don’t accept a doctor’s note; insist on the certification of the health care provider form, completed by the physician.
  • Track intermittent leave diligently. Intermittent leave causes the most employer and supervisor headaches, usually because no one is keeping tract of the time off. Advise employees that they may be transferred to a different position while taking intermittent leave. Remember that intermittent leave is not required for the birth or adoption of a child. Require medical certification for the intermittent leave.
  • Use the Employer Response to Employee Form. The Department of Labor provides a form (WH-381) that provides a detailed notice to an employee who has requested FMLA leave. The form should be given to the employee within 1-2 days of the leave request. It is used to tell an employee if leave will not be granted, and the reason for that decision, as well as to advise the employee that FMLA leave has been granted. The notice clearly explains the employee’s obligations for providing additional information and for returning to work, etc.