Sometimes an employee needs to take a leave of absence unexpectedly or in small increments, while in other cases they need to take it all at once. Although the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may apply in both scenarios, a continuous leave of absence comes with specific challenges that employers need to be aware of.

Here’s how to distinguish an intermittent vs. continuous leave of absence, and how to track a continuous leave of absence using leave management software.

What Is a Continuous Leave of Absence?

Continuous leave refers to a period of time away from work that an employee takes in one unbroken stretch. A continuous leave of absence isn’t the same as an extended leave of absence, which is usually longer than what’s covered by an ordinary leave policy. In fact, a continuous leave of absence could be as short as just a few days, assuming the employee doesn’t come in to work in the meantime.

A continuous leave of absence could fall under an employer’s company leave policy, such as in the case of personal leave or a sabbatical. It may also be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), as in the case of parental leave.

What Is FMLA Leave?

FMLA is a federal law that entitles eligible employees to up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for qualifying reasons such as:

  • An employee’s own serious health condition
  • The injury or illness of a family member
  • The adoption or birth of a child
  • The placement of a child into foster care
  • A qualifying exigency related to active duty military service

Some types of leave may be covered by more than one policy or regulation, including federal law, state law, and a company’s own personal leave policy.

Intermittent FMLA Leave Vs. Continuous Leave

If an employee qualifies for FMLA leave or another type of leave, how do you know whether they’re eligible for intermittent leave or a continuous leave of absence? In general, there are three ways to structure an employee’s leave time.

Continuous leave

Continuous leave works best when the employee has a clearly defined reason for leave and an anticipated return date. For example, if an employee is having a baby, they may choose to take 12 weeks of FMLA leave in one continuous stretch.

Ideally, the employee will provide 30 days’ advance notice of their need for continuous leave. However, this isn’t always possible: If an employee needs two weeks of leave to recover from an injury, they would still be eligible for continuous leave.

Intermittent leave

Intermittent leave applies when an employee needs to take irregular leave for the same qualifying reason. This might be because they need to attend medical appointments, or because they experience occasional flare-ups of a particular medical condition.

Under FMLA, intermittent leave can be tracked in increments as small as 15 minutes, giving the employee more flexibility to seek medical treatment.

Reduced schedule

A reduced schedule comes into play when an employee wants to spread out their total leave entitlement, but over a regular schedule rather than an irregular one. This could be because an employee has a medical appointment on the same day each week, or because they want to spread out their parental leave over a longer period.

For example, a new parent could ask for Mondays and Fridays off so they can spend more time with their newborn child or foster child over the weekend.

Pros and Cons of Continuous Leave

Continuous leave of absence: employee waving goodbye to her colleague

A continuous leave of absence comes with its own set of challenges and advantages when compared to intermittent leave. Although employees are eligible for the same amount of leave regardless, the impact on your business can be very different.

It’s easier to track FMLA leave when it’s taken continuously, since you can simply keep track of the total number of consecutive days the employee is out of work. With FMLA intermittent leave, you’ll need to account for irregular hours and partial workdays.

On the other hand, since the employee will be absent for a continuous period, you may need to spend more time finding a replacement for them. When an employee submits a continuous leave request 30 calendar days in advance, employers have more time to plan ahead and accommodate the employee’s leave schedule.

Ultimately, though, it’s not up to the employer: under FMLA eligibility guidelines, an employee can choose the type of leave that’s the best fit for their condition, so you should be prepared to accommodate all types of leave requests.

How to Manage a Continuous Leave of Absence

Approving a continuous leave of absence is usually a matter for the human resources team — but some types of leave may require managerial oversight too. Follow these five steps to streamline your leave of absence management process.

1. Assess the reason for leave

First, determine what type of leave is available for the situation. For job-protected leave like FMLA, follow the criteria outlined by the Department of Labor at DOL.gov. For sick leave, consider your obligations under both state and federal law.

Employees may also be eligible for paid time off (PTO) under your company’s own paid leave policies, in which case you may have more room for discretion.

2. Request documentation if required

Most types of leave involve some kind of paperwork. For example, you’ll need to fill out FMLA Form WH-385 for Military Caregiver Leave if an employee needs to take time off to care for an ill or injured service member.

Other types of leave may require medical certification from the employee’s health care provider to verify their condition and expected return date.

Use a leave management platform like Pulpstream to allow employees to upload their own documents and store them safely and securely in the cloud.

3. Track the amount of leave taken

Leave of absence tracking means keeping track of multiple data points, including how much leave an employee has accrued and how much leave they have remaining.

Although continuous leave is easier to track than intermittent leave, you may still end up with complex scenarios, such as an employee who takes three days of continuous leave for one condition, followed by two weeks for another. Use a leave tracking system that can account for these variables and calculate an employee’s total leave balance.

4. Consider other entitlements

FMLA isn’t the only recourse for employees who need to take time off work. Employees who were injured on the job may qualify for short-term or long-term disability leave, or for a leave of absence under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Employees with a mental health or medical condition that meets the definition of a disability may also qualify for workplace accommodations under the ADA.

5. Offer a return-to-work program

Finally, be prepared to welcome your employees back from leave with a return-to-work program. Although employees returning from continuous parental leave or a sabbatical won’t require a fitness-for-duty certification, other employees might.

Your return-to-work program will determine whether there are any restrictions on what duties they can perform, and what accommodations they might require.

Manage Leave of Absence Requests With Pulpstream

Pregnant employee putting her things in a box

A continuous leave of absence is a period of time off work taken in a single consecutive timeframe. This often falls under the guidelines of the Family and Medical Leave Act, but could also take the form of personal leave or a sabbatical. Alternatives to a continuous leave of absence include intermittent leave and a reduced schedule.

Pulpstream helps human resources departments manage leave of absence requests with our no-code leave management platform. Determine eligibility with a built-in rule engine, track leave balances, manage ADA accommodations, and more.

Plus, our self-service portal allows employees to upload their own leave requests and medical documentation promptly so you can plan for leaves well in advance.

Request a demo today to see how Pulpstream can empower your HR team!