FMLA intermittent leave: Why bosses must be observant

by on January 27, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

Of course, no good boss would begrudge a worker who has to take FMLA intermittent leave to care for a sick child or an aging parent. And no good employee would game the system for the sake of a few extra days off (especially if those days are unpaid).

That said, intermittent FMLA leave continues to be a challenge in the workplace. A handful of employees will try to cheat. And many more will simply be confused about what they are and aren’t entitled to. They may take leave they’re not entitled to, or assume that it won’t count against their sick leave or vacation time, or think they can use it for the wrong purposes. Later, these misunderstandings can blossom into serious disciplinary and morale problems.

That’s why it’s critically important for managers to stay on top of FMLA leave requests. And that’s really hard to do with intermittent leave. Unlike normal FMLA leave – where, for example, a worker is out for three full weeks for surgery – intermittent leave is taken in small increments. A guy hurt his back and needs therapy three times a week between 9 a.m. and noon. A woman has to leave two hours early twice a week to take her elderly father to the doctor.

Once employees get approved for intermittent leave, it’s tempting to for bosses to accept it as status quo. And it’s tempting for employees to abuse it — intentionally or not. If the guy with the back problem starts feeling better, he might just decide, “Heck, I’ve gotten used to having this time off, and I’ve got a lot of chores around the house to catch up on.”

Solution: Show employees you take FMLA intermittent leave seriously. Ask how the treatments are going or how the loved one is doing. Ask people regularly whether they continue to need the leave. Most employees are honest. They won’t go out of their way to game the system. But they might be lax about giving up those days off if their boss seems to be comfortable with the status quo and isn’t paying attention. And then later, they’ll wonder why they’re in trouble for something that seemed like “no big deal” at the time. You can head off those problems by being clear about your expectations and by following up regularly.

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