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Intermittent Leave: Approach with Caution

Like Dislike MeterThe Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a reasonable and compassionate solution to the reality that sometimes, employees need time off from work to deal with important personal matters like illness, childbirth, or adoption.

There are many intricacies to effectively managing FMLA, but one form of leave that is challenging for employers is intermittent leave. It is one thing to manage a leave with defined time limits, such as leave taken for a serious illness/injury, an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or the birth of a baby and adoption of a child. But managing leave for an employee who needs time off intermittently due to a chronic and often unpredictable medical condition is another thing entirely.

Intermittent leave can be unpredictable, meaning an employee can take off from work with minimal notice if their condition or circumstances require it. When that happens, remaining staff must cover for the employee on leave and over time company productivity can suffer. With these costs in mind, it is understandable that employers want to make sure intermittent leave is only used for legitimate reasons.

Reasons for intermittent leave vary. An employee recovering from cancer may need chemotherapy or radiation. An employee with asthma may be cautioned to stay indoors on days when pollen counts are elevated.

No one would deny intermittent leave to an employee with a legitimate serious health condition. However, it has been widely noted, and we have observed, that intermittent leave is frequently abused.

Patterns of abuse of intermittent leave vary. Common tip-offs are when an employee’s leave always falls on a Friday or corresponds to long holiday weekends. Sometimes, abuse of leave increases during warm weather and aligns with children’s vacations. Abuse of leave can negatively impact a company’s productivity and profitability. It can also create a culture of slackness and weak accountability. For these reasons, we often work with employers to develop systems and procedures to guard against abuse.

One way to take action is to very carefully manage the medical certification process. Reviewing the medical certification form is step one in the leave process and it is critically important that employers review and evaluate closely, for once the certification is approved, the employer is legally responsible to designate these absences as FMLA qualifying events. An employer who suspects any employee’s claim is not legitimate should ask for second or even third medical opinions and even verify the credentials of the experts. If that sounds extreme, it’s not. A whole industry has cropped up to support people in defrauding employers by providing false documentation.

We recently had a case at a company where nearly half of the employees were on intermittent leave. We worked with management to determine which leaves we believed were legitimate and which were not. Ultimately, over time we reduced the number of intermittent leave cases by half, which vastly improved the company’s profitability and productivity. Our position is always that FMLA leave exists for a reason and we want to make sure those that need leave are using their time appropriately, and those who do not need leave, aren’t abusing it.

If intermittent leave is a concern at your company, Creative Benefits can help. We make sure false claims are rejected and eligible individuals get the leave to which they are entitled. With our expert guidance, leave policies are applied consistently and fairly. We monitor employees throughout the entire leave, to ensure fair treatment of employees. We also compile the documentation needed to reduce risk and defend against claims, should an employee file suit. If you are concerned about any aspect of FMLA administration, call us now at (866) 306-0200. We are happy to discuss how we can help with intermittent leave or any aspect of FMLA for your company.

About the author: Kelly Fitzgerald is an Account Manager and FMLA Specialist with Creative Benefits, Inc. She assists clients with Family and Medical Leave Administration and provides consultative services to employers and their employees.