How to handle intermittent FMLA leave

by on February 2, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

A summary of FMLA guidelines on intermittent leave

Here’s a familiar scenario for many employers: A worker requests FMLA leave – say two weeks – to treat a medical condition. A few days after returning to work, he says he needs another week of leave, followed by intermittent FMLA time off for follow-up doctor visits.
How, exactly, are employees allowed to use up their allotted 12-week FMLA leave?
The following summary should help employers understand the concept of “intermittent leave” under FMLA.

Separate time blocks, one reason
Under FMLA regulations, intermittent FMLA leave means “leave taken in separate blocks of time due to a single qualifying reason.” Employers have the right to grant it differently than they grant single-block FMLA leave.
Here’s how to deal with two common leave situations.

    · Employees with a serious health problem -Intermittent FMLA leave must be granted when it is medically necessary, whether it is planned or unanticipated. For example, say an employee takes three weeks of FMLA leave for a back operation, and then returns to work. After that, the employee takes a half-day of FMLA leave once a week for physical therapy. In this kind of situation, FMLA time off may be for as little as one hour.

    · Employees with a new child at home. While all eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, federal law permits the employer to decide whether to permit intermittent FMLA leave in this situation. According to FMLA guidelines, employers who chose to grant leave for the arrival of a new child may limit the minimum duration. For example, an employer may grant intermittent leave for the arrival of a new child, but stipulate that the leave may be in one-week blocks only.

Managing intermittent FMLA leave
The law provides some guidance as to what employers can do to lessen the burden on business operations:
1. Check that the absences meet the legal standard. Employers may deny intermittent leave to care for a new child. As for a relative with a serious medical condition, the law says the employee seeking leave must show that intermittent leave is medically necessary. For example, accompanying a disabled parent or spouse to their medical treatment would qualify as medically necessary intermittent leave.

2. Request re-certification. An employer may do this when the employee requests an extension of FMLA leave, when the circumstances described by the previous condition have changed or if the employer receives information that casts doubt on the FMLA claim.

3. Contact medical providers indirectly. While employers may not directly contact medical providers, they may insert questions in the re-certification form under FMLA guidelines. For example, an employer suspicious about intermittent leaves occurring during trout fishing season may include the employee’s absences in the re-certification request and ask the health care provider to confirm the leave days.
Source: Fisher & Phillips, LLP.
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