Tracking FMLA leave can be a complicated process, even when an employee requests leave in a single continuous period. But it can be especially tricky if an employee needs to take leave in multiple blocks — what’s known as FMLA intermittent leave.
If an employee has an ill or injured family member, or has a serious health condition of their own, then they may be entitled to intermittent FMLA leave.
Here’s what you need to know about this type of leave, including who’s eligible, how to track it, and how automation can help streamline your leave management system.
What Is FMLA Intermittent Leave?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that entitles employees to a certain amount unpaid leave every year for several qualifying reasons, such as:
- The adoption or birth of a child
- The placement of a child in foster care
- To care for an immediate family member
- To treat the employee’s own serious health condition
- For military caregiver leave or a qualifying exigency
In most cases, eligible employees are limited to 12 weeks of FMLA leave in a 12-month period (26 weeks for military caregiver leave). FMLA intermittent leave doesn’t change the total amount of leave that’s available, but it allows the employee to take time off in smaller increments over a longer period of time, rather than all at once.
Who Is Eligible for FMLA Intermittent Leave?
Anyone who is eligible for FMLA leave may be allowed to take leave intermittently. For some types of leave, such as parental leave, they’ll need approval from their employer. If they request intermittent leave out of medical necessity, then they’re automatically eligible for intermittent leave and don’t need their employer’s approval.
But remember, in order to take FMLA intermittent leave, they’ll still need to be eligible for FMLA in the first place. That means meeting the following conditions:
- Working for a covered employer for at least 12 months
- Performing at least 1,250 hours of work in the past year
- Working at a location with at least 50 other employees in a 75-mile radius
According to the U.S. Department of Labor at DOL.gov, a covered employer is:
- A private-sector company with at least 50 employees
- A public or private school at the elementary or secondary level
- A government agency of any size (state, local, or federal)
Before deciding whether an employee is eligible for FMLA intermittent leave, be sure to work through this FMLA eligibility checklist to see if they meet the requirements.
What Documentation Is Required for FMLA Intermittent Leave?
In order to meet FMLA requirements, your human resources team will need to stay on top of FMLA documentation. These include the follow types of paperwork:
There are different forms for each type of FMLA leave, including forms to document a family member’s health condition or a service member’s health condition. Some forms need to be filled out by a medical provider, and others by the employer.
You can reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the paperwork — as well as the risk of human error — by digitizing the leave of absence process and making it easy for employees to submit an FMLA leave request online.
Employers can request additional information from the employee’s health care provider in order to determine their eligibility for FMLA intermittent leave. For example, if an employee needs multiple rounds of medical treatment, they should be allowed to take leave in multiple blocks of time for the same medical condition.
If subsequent doctor’s appointments are for a different medical condition, however, then it should be treated as a separate leave period with its own set of paperwork.
In some cases, an employer may even need to designate FMLA leave retroactively. If an employee gets sick or injured on vacation, their vacation time may turn out to have been an FMLA-qualifying event that entitles them to FMLA protection.
Employees are expected to give 30 days’ advance notice of leave whenever possible, but this isn’t required if the leave is unforeseen and medically necessary.
FMLA Leave Tracking
Another important thing to document is the employee’s existing work schedule and their remaining FMLA leave balance. That’s because the amount of leave an employee can take is based on how many hours they work in an ordinary workweek.
An employee who works a full five-day workweek will be eligible for 60 days of leave (5 days x 12 weeks). An employee who only works two days per week will be eligible for 24 days of leave during the same 12-month period.
It’s best to track FMLA in hours instead of days, because the DOL requires employers to provide FMLA leave using “the smallest increment of time the employer allows for the use of other forms of leave,” such as sick leave or vacation leave. This could be as little as 15 minutes if that’s what’s provided for in the employer’s leave policy.
Alternatives to FMLA Intermittent Leave
Under FMLA regulations, an employer isn’t allowed to deny a valid leave request, but if an intermittent leave of absence would present an undue hardship, they can work with the employee to come up with an alternative solution.
In other cases, the employee isn’t eligible for FMLA leave, but they may qualify for leave under state leave laws or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Here are three things to consider in lieu of FMLA intermittent leave:
FMLA Intermittent Leave vs. Reduced Leave Schedule
An extended leave of absence isn’t the only way for employees to exercise their leave entitlements and FMLA rights. An alternative solution is a reduced leave schedule, in which the employee’s FMLA leave is spread out over an even longer period.
Let’s suppose the employee has a flare-up of a chronic condition that requires them to attend weekly medical appointments. Under a reduced leave schedule, they take one half-day off per week to attend a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon.
This is less of a hardship on their employer than intermittent leave, because it provides the employer with more certainty over the employee’s schedule, while still honoring the employee’s right to take such leave.
FMLA Intermittent Leave vs. State Leave Laws
State leave laws may provide employees with additional protections that aren’t available under federal law. Although many state leave laws apply alongside FMLA, others have a different set of eligibility requirements or entitlements.
Some states, like California, extend the definition of family members to include domestic partners, which means employees could be eligible for state leave but not FMLA.
If an employee is eligible for paid family leave under a state leave law, they may need to go through an additional process to collect benefits intermittently.
FMLA Intermittent Leave vs. ADA Interactive Process
Finally, FMLA intermittent leave is intended for situations in which an employee has a short-term illness or injury that prevents them from performing their ordinary duties. If their incapacity is related to a disability, then they may be eligible for leave under the ADA instead, which has a different set of certification requirements.
The ADA interactive process is used to determine what type of accommodation the employee is eligible for, which may include some type of intermittent leave.
Take the Stress Out of FMLA Intermittent Leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles employees to job-protected leave, which means they can’t be terminated or penalized for taking a leave of absence. But tracking FMLA leave can be complicated if employees are entitled to multiple types of leave, or request leave in small increments over an extended period of time.
Pulpstream makes it easy to track FMLA leave with a cloud-based leave of absence management system. Your human resources team can easily assess leave eligibility and streamline the return to work process. Employees can look up their own leave balance and upload their medical certifications or recertifications online.
Request a demo today to learn more!