Navigating the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and its intermittent leave usage requirements may feel like the ultimate balancing act. With all the regulations around this type of leave, coupled with the desire to be respectful of an employee’s need to seek medical care, you may feel uncertain about approving leave — or even if your employee is entitled to take leave altogether.
The truth is, while FMLA was established to help protect an employee’s right to take a leave for family or medical leave reasons, there also are provisions that help an employer ensures proper use. Rely on these six best practices to help you evaluate an employee’s intermittent leave request:
1. Adopt FMLA-mandated employee notice requirements. FMLA dictates an employee must provide at least 30 days’ notice for planned leaves unless not possible to do so (e.g., such as a scheduled surgery) and notice as soon as possible/practical for unforeseen absences (e.g., emergency surgery or treatment for a severe illness or accident).
2. Enforce call-in procedures and require an employee to provide enough information to determine if his/her absence qualifies for FMLA protection. This includes asking an employee to provide information, including the following, as appropriate:
- The specific reason for the absence
- If the employee plans to see their physician
- If the employee has taken leave previously for the same condition
- When the employee first learned he/she would not be able to work
- When the employee expects to return to work
3. Request completed medical certification. FMLA states an employee must provide a completed medical certification within 15 days of the employer’s request (barring special circumstances). A completed medical certification will include medical facts, the job functions an employee is unable to perform and amount of leave needed. The certification will be signed and dated by the healthcare provider.
4. Follow up if you need to verify the certification. Upon receiving an employee’s certification, HR managers should ensure it is complete and provides sufficient information to understand the employee’s leave requirements. If it is not complete, responses are vague or unresponsive, or there are questions as to whether the form was completed by the healthcare provider, you can ask the employee to have his/her healthcare provider address the issue. If the employee does not respond within the time provided, a healthcare provider, HR professional, leave administrator or management official (but not the employee’s direct supervisor) can reach out to the employee’s medical provider to verify the form was properly completed and/or authorized by the employee’s provider and/or ensure proper context and that the employee’s certification is understood correctly.
5. Get a second opinion when warranted. You may require the employee seek a second opinion if you doubt the validity of the certification; however, that means you, the employer, must cover associated costs. If the first and second opinion are not aligned, the employer may require a third opinion. The employer and employee must mutually agree on a third provider, who will render the tie-breaker opinion that will be final and binding.
6. Request an employee to provide recertification as needed. Typically, an employer cannot request an updated certification more often than every 30 days, but can request one more frequently if certain conditions apply, such as:
- The employee requested their leave be extended
- Circumstances have changed significantly (for instance, if an absence increased from two days per month to 10 days per month)
- You learn of information that casts doubt on the employee’s reason for the leave
Of course, one of the best ways to manage an intermittent leave is to avoid them as often as possible. Many times an employee and employer can both avoid the inconvenience of a medical leave by arranging for simple accommodations that allow an employee to address his or her condition while staying on the job. Your disability carrier can often be a good starting point when looking for assistance with employee accommodations.
While you may feel like you’re navigating a tightrope act when considering your employees’ intermittent leave requests, focusing on what you can do when it comes to FMLA leaves and taking advantage of those opportunities can help you manage them more effectively.
|About guest blogger Lincoln Dirks
Lincoln Dirks, a senior compliance analyst for absence management, has been with Standard Insurance Company since November of 2001. Lincoln obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Portland State University, and his Juris Doctor degree from the University Of Oregon School Of Law. He also holds the following professional designations: Certified Employee Benefit Specialist; Fellow, Life Management Institute; Fellow, Life and Health Claims.