Determining that an employee qualifies for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may seem straightforward, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes you may need to ask for additional information, and in other cases, the employee may not qualify for FMLA leave after all. Providing the employee with an FMLA designation notice is just one part of the process of managing FMLA leave.

Let’s take a look at what information an FMLA designation notice contains, and what other factors to take into account when responding to an FMLA leave request.

What Is an FMLA Designation Notice?

An FMLA designation is a form that tells an employee whether or not they qualify for a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This federal law entitles eligible employees to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in order to:

  • Bond with a new child (by birth, adoption, or foster care)
  • Take care of an ill or injured family member
  • Treat their own serious health condition
  • Address a qualifying exigency related to military service

Eligible employees may also qualify for 26 weeks of military caregiver leave in order to care for a servicemember or a veteran with a serious injury or illness. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL.gov), employers must provide an FMLA designation notice “for each FMLA-qualifying reason per applicable 12-month period.”

What Information Does an FMLA Designation Notice Provide?

An FMLA designation notice provides the employee with information about their FMLA leave entitlement, including whether it’s been approved, whether it’s been denied, and whether you need more information to make a decision.

Let’s take a look at each of these outcomes one by one.

Their leave has been approved

If an employee’s FMLA leave has been approved, the FMLA notice provides them with information about how their leave will be counted and whether it will be paid or unpaid. Although FMLA leave is unpaid, the employee could be required to use up their paid leave, such as sick leave or vacation time, while on FMLA leave.

For scheduled leave, the employer should estimate the total amount of time — in hours, days, or weeks — that will count against the employee’s leave balance.

For unscheduled leave, such as intermittent FMLA leave, the employer isn’t required to estimate the amount of leave in advance, but the employee can request an update on their leave entitlement once in every 30-day period.

Their leave hasn't been approved

If the employee’s leave has been denied, the FMLA designation notice will explain why. This could be because FMLA doesn’t apply to the type of leave requested, or because the employee has already taken FMLA leave and used up their leave balance.

If the employee isn’t eligible for FMLA leave because they haven’t spent enough time working for a “covered employer” — at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months — this should have already been explained in their eligibility notice.

You need more information to make a decision

If you don’t have enough information to approve or deny the leave request, the FMLA designation notice will tell the employee what additional information is needed. This includes cases in which they’ve already submitted a medical certification from their health care provider, but the information provided is incomplete or insufficient.

The employee has seven calendar days to provide the information, and the employer has five business days to respond after that. The employer can request a second or third opinion, but they must pay for the cost of the certification.

FMLA Designation Notice Requirements

FMLA designation notice: employee putting his things in a box

The FMLA designation notice isn’t the only form you’ll need for designating leave. But one important thing to know is that using the official FMLA forms provided by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is optional. Employers are free to create their own forms, as long as they include all of the same information that’s on the official documents.

Here are the three main documents you’ll need to have handy.

FMLA general notice

The FMLA general notice requirements stipulate that covered employers must provide general information about FMLA leave to all new employees and must display it in the workplace. You can download a free poster from the DOL website, or create your own document that meets the criteria. You can also distribute the notice electronically.

FMLA eligibility notice

When an employee requests FMLA leave, the employer has five business days to give them an eligibility notice and a rights and responsibilities notice. This document should inform the employee that they're eligible for FMLA, or explain why they aren’t — for example, that they haven’t performed 1,250 hours of service.

Employers can use Form WH-381 or create their own. They can provide the eligibility notice verbally, but the rights and responsibility notice needs to be in writing.

FMLA designation notice

After assessing eligibility, the employer needs to confirm that the employee is taking leave for an FMLA-qualifying reason. In some cases, they may choose to request a medical certification from the employee’s health care provider.

The employer has to provide a FMLA designation notice within five business days of receiving enough information to make a decision.

Employers can use Form WH-382, or use their own FMLA designation notice.

5 Steps to Designating FMLA Leave

Designating FMLA leave is a multiple-step process that requires clear communication between your employee and your human resources team. Follow these five steps to streamline your leave of absence process and comply with federal law.

1. Identify the need for leave

First, be proactive about identifying employees who might need to take FMLA leave. Meet your FMLA general notice obligations by displaying a poster in your workplace and sharing it with new employees during the employee onboarding progress.

Be familiar with FMLA-qualifying reasons for leave, including parental leave, military caregiver leave, and FMLA for mental health.

2. Request additional information

The first time an employee requests FMLA leave, provide them with an eligibility notice and a rights and responsibilities notice. You’ll only need to do this once per applicable 12-month period, unless the employee’s eligibility status changes.

If necessary, ask the employee to verify their reason for leave with a certification form, such as Form WH-380-E for their own serious health condition, or Form WH-385 for military caregiver leave. They have 15 days to provide such certification.

3. Provide a FMLA designation notice

Next provide the employee with an FMLA designation notice approving or denying the leave request, or asking for more information. Remember to determine whether other types of leave, such as sick leave, personal leave, or short-term disability leave, will count toward unpaid FMLA leave.

4. Monitor FMLA leave

Employers shouldn’t ask employees to work while on a leave of absence, but they can stay in touch to ask how the recovery is going and when they plan to return to work. If an employee asks to extend their leave, you may need to ask for a recertification to confirm that the FMLA-qualifying reason still applies.

Be sure to track FMLA leave with absence management software to ensure that the employee doesn’t exceed their leave balance or abuse FMLA leave.

5. Begin the return-to-work process

Finally, adhere to FMLA return to work guidelines, which entitle employees to return to the same job or an equivalent role with the same pay, duties, benefits.

If the employee was on medical leave, you can request a fitness-for-duty certification before they’re allowed to return to work, but this should be explained in advance on your FMLA designation notice.

Manage Leave More Efficiently With Pulpstream

Injured person using a laptop

Designating FMLA leave involves assessing eligibility and confirming that the employee is taking leave for an FMLA-qualifying reason. An FMLA designation notice informs the employee whether or not their leave has been approved and how it will be calculated. Employers can download Form WH-382 or create their own equivalent document.

Pulpstream makes it easy to handle FMLA forms and designate FMLA leave with our cloud-based leave management system. Use a custom rules engine to automatically assess leave requests, and provide a self-service portal where employees can track their leave balance and upload supporting documents.

Request a demo today to see how Pulpstream can simplify leave management and transform your human resources department.