The importance of case management in managing intermittent leave

Woman headache - intermittent leave

I, along with two other colleagues, gave a presentation on managing intermittent leaves at the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) annual conference last September. The session was packed, and many employers commented that this issue is becoming increasingly important for them to understand and address. Consider a recent Mercer survey that sheds light on why:

  • 33 percent of employers report an increase in intermittent leave
  • 45 percent report difficulty managing/tracking intermittent leave1

What is intermittent leave?

Intermittent leaves are employee absences taken in separate blocks of time due to a single qualifying medical reason (e.g., Aug. 4-6, Aug. 8 and Aug. 12-14). These leaves may be more problematic than continuous medical leaves taken in a single block (e.g., Aug. 1-31).

If you know “Fred” is going to be out for three weeks for a routine operation, you can plan for his absence either by hiring a temporary worker, scheduling other employees for overtime or even asking others to help with his duties. But it can be much more difficult if you never know from one day to the next if Fred is going to show up or not because of a health issue.

Why is managing intermittent leave important?

In addition to lost productivity from employees missing work, there are numerous compliance challenges that may arise from an employee’s intermittent absence: namely Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) protections. Employers could run the risk of being afoul of the job protections granted to employees under the FMLA. In addition, under the ADAAA, an employee with a disabling condition should be considered for reasonable workplace accommodations before being let go. If not properly addressed, an employee termination could result in an audit by the U.S. Department of Labor, or even a lawsuit.

How can I reduce instances of intermittent leave?

Intermittent leaves sometimes can be reduced by providing employees with simple accommodations to help them perform tasks more effectively. Let’s look at a common condition that can cause intermittent leave — migraines — and consider tips for accommodating employees who experience migraines.

Migraines are difficult to predict. However, there are different sensory triggers for migraines, and accommodations should be tailored to specific individuals and their triggers.

Consider how you can help employees from a case-management standpoint:

  • Address the condition early on. Connect with employees to discuss why they are missing work and how you can work together to help reduce their symptoms at work.
  • Create a plan and follow it. Migraines may be triggered by different sensory attributes. Work with your case manager or disability provider to determine reasonable accommodations, such as reducing fluorescent lighting, providing noise-cancelling headsets and/or designating fragrance-free areas at work.
  • Don’t give up. Even the best-laid plans can go awry. Keep in touch with employees to see how they’re faring and if there are additional or altered accommodations that could help.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In my next blog post, I’ll share some examples of how employers helped employees who were taking intermittent leaves. I’ll also explain what happened after the accommodations were made so the employees could be more productive and attend work regularly.

1Mercer. U.S. Survey on Absence and Disability Management 2013. Available at: Accessed on August 25, 2014.


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