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Managing Intermittent FMLA Leave
For most employers, the management of intermittent FMLA leave can be frustrating and difficult, but with some useful tools they can successfully and properly manage their employees’ absences while avoiding FMLA leave misuse.
Whether FMLA leave is chosen to be taken in one large piece, or if employees wish to take FMLA leave intermittently, as long as the need for a leave of absence is predictable, they must provide employers with a minimum of 30 days’ notice. If the need for the leave of absence is sudden and unexpected, employees must request the leave for “A.S.A.P.”
Employers can create a useful program to manage intermittent leave, targeted to elude FMLA misuse and fraud. There are five key ideas that should be implemented to the program to ensure its success and effectiveness:
- Acquire a medical certification.
To handle suspicious leave requests, employers can use the medical certification process, the prime defense they have in opposing FMLA abuse and misuse. This process gives employers the right to gather information about an employee from his or her physician about the current condition.
Employers are given, by the law, the right to mandate a medical certification from the employee’s doctor of his or her need for FMLA leave. Employers, therefore, should acquire one for every unique request for leave due to a health condition.
- Examine the certification.
Closely examining the certification to ensure it’s been properly and fully completed is important for employers to avoid fraud. Many doctors will rush to fill out the form, sometimes intentionally leaving some sections blank or incomplete in order to remain honest and truthful while simultaneously accommodating the requests of the patient for FMLA leave.
- Require a second opinion.
For certain requests, the law provides employers with the ability to request a second opinion if the circumstances provide reason for suspicion and doubt. Additionally, employers can request new medical certification from their employees at the beginning of each year.
- Question reasons for multiple absences.
When the certification is approved, employers should make a few inquiries each time the employee requests more leave, especially in the case of intermittent FMLA leave.
- Watch for patterns.
For those specific employees who have chronic conditions and certifications that request intermittent FMLA leave, employers should make an effort to draft schedules of leave as far in advance as possible. While it’s illegal for employers to deny FMLA-related absences, it is legal to try to schedule those definite absences, and to also inquire about the estimated frequency of the necessary absences.
Over time, the schedule of leave can help employers determine if a suspicious pattern of absences develops during the course of an employee’s intermittent absences. If a pattern is found, it could suggest a variation in the employee’s condition, and the employer would then be entitled to request a recertification.