Skip to content

FMLA Tracking Best Practices: An Employer’s Guide

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to employers in all 50 states, and it’s up to your human resources team to ensure that you comply with all of its requirements. But if an employee is eligible for leave under multiple state and federal leave laws, or wants to take intermittent FMLA leave, keeping track of it can be complicated.

By digitizing your leave of absence processes and using HR automation software for FMLA tracking, you can eliminate manual tasks and reduce human error.

Here’s what you need to know about FMLA tracking, including why it matters, how to get it right, and how to use automation for FMLA leave management.

What Is FMLA Tracking?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that entitles employees to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for qualifying medical or personal reasons. FMLA tracking is the process of determining how much leave an employee has taken, and how much remaining leave they’re eligible for under FMLA regulations.

In some cases, an employee may request intermittent leave, or may qualify for more than one leave of absence in the same 12-month period. It’s important to track FMLA leave to comply with federal employment law and prevent FMLA leave abuse.

Who Can Take FMLA Leave?

The first step in tracking FMLA leave is to determine eligibility. Not all employees will meet the criteria to take FMLA leave, even if they have a qualifying reason to do so. Employees need to meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Have worked for a covered employer for at least one year
  • Have performed at least 1,250 hours of work in the previous year
  • Work at a location with at least 50 other employees in a 75-mile radius

Both part-time and full-time employees are eligible for FMLA leave, and work hours are calculated per 12-month period, not the calendar year.

A “covered employer” is any federal, state, or local government agency; any primary or secondary school; and any private employer with at least 50 employees.

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from FMLA, but may still be required to provide leave under state leave law, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What Circumstances Require FMLA Tracking?

Employers need to track FMLA leave any time an employee is eligible for leave under FMLA. Employees can take FMLA leave for any of the following reasons:

  • To bond with a child (by birth, adoption, or foster care)
  • To care for a seriously ill or injured family member
  • To treat their own physical or mental health condition
  • For a qualifying exigency related to military service

In most cases, employees can take a maximum of 12 weeks of leave in any 12-month period. However, military caregivers can take up to 26 weeks of leave. 

Proper FMLA leave tracking allows you to monitor how many hours of FMLA leave an employee has used and how many hours are left in their leave balance.

Who Needs to Track FMLA Leave?

FMLA tracking: manager shaking hands with an employee

It’s the employer’s responsibility to track FMLA leave and ensure FMLA compliance. In fact, an employee can request leave without even realizing they’re eligible for FMLA. If an employee needs to take time off to care for a sick family member or address their own health condition, the employer should treat it as a FMLA leave request.

Employers aren’t allowed to ask invasive or unreasonable medical questions, but they can request documentation that an employee has a qualifying health condition.

Each FMLA request should be assessed separately, but the hours used should count towards the employee’s total FMLA entitlement. If an employee has a chronic health condition that requires ongoing doctor’s visits, they can work with their employer to request intermittent leave or a reduced work schedule.

FMLA tracking ensures that employees don’t exceed their FMLA entitlements, and that employers have appropriate documentation of FMLA compliance.

FMLA Leave Tracking Best Practices

To simplify compliance and reduce the complexity of FMLA leave tracking, follow these best practices to manage employee FMLA leave:

1. Use a digital leave management system.

FMLA compliance involves filling out multiple FMLA forms, including separate forms for employee health conditions, family health conditions, and military family leave. Instead of using paper FMLA tracking forms, reduce the paperwork by using digital forms and storing them in a centralized leave management system.

HR platforms like Pulpstream offer self-service functionality, so employees can submit their own leave requests and check their leave balances independently.

2. Calculate weeks of leave correctly.

Employees are entitled to 12 weeks of leave, but that’s based on their usual work hours and isn’t a fixed amount for everyone. For example, if an employee only works two days per week in an ordinary pay period, they would be entitled to 24 days of leave in all. An employee who works five days per week would get up to 60 days of leave.

The calculation can get even more complicated if you factor in intermittent leave or a reduced work schedule, so use an FMLA tracking system to get it right.

3. Record the start and end dates.

Each leave period needs a start date and an end date. If an employee requests leave for multiple reasons — such as one week for medical leave during pregnancy, and the remaining 11 weeks for parental leave — treat them as separate leave events.

If an employee requests intermittent leave, it shouldn’t be for an open-ended period. Record an end date when they no longer need to take leave for the same medical condition, and record a new start date if the condition returns.

4. Use the smallest possible leave increments.

Referring to FMLA leave in terms of weeks and days can be helpful, but it isn’t how you should be recording it in your FMLA leave tracking system. FMLA allows employees to take leave in the “smallest increment of time the employer allows for the use of other forms of leave, as long as it is no more than one hour.”

If an employee needs to leave work 15 minutes early to attend a medical appointment, and your company tracks sick time in 15-minute increments, those 15 minutes should count toward their total leave balance.

5. Honor other leave entitlements.

FMLA isn’t the only type of employee leave you need to track. Some states have their own leave laws, including paid leave laws in New York and California. Your company may also have its own paid leave policies or accrued sick leave entitlements.

If multiple leave laws apply, FMLA typically applies concurrently. However, there are some key differences between FMLA and other types of leave, so be sure to do your due diligence to ensure that you’re tracking each type of leave appropriately.

Digitize FMLA Tracking to Streamline Compliance

Soldier hugging her kids

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family and medical reasons, and up to 26 weeks for military caregiver leave. Your leave management system needs to be able to account for all types of employee leave and track FMLA leave balances accordingly.

By using a cloud-based leave management system like Pulpstream, your employees can submit their own leave requests and view their FMLA leave balance at any time, reducing the risk of compliance issues, FMLA leave abuse, and human error.

Contact us today to request a demo and learn more.