Benefits & Compensation News

The top 8 ways to stop intermittent FMLA abuse

If you’ve had trouble dealing with intermittent FMLA leave abuse, you’re not alone. 

In fact, according to research by SHRM, 66% of HR pros have reported having issues from chronic abuse of intermittent leave.

Plus, 80% said tracking and administering this type of leave was their most difficult challenge.

What’s worse, because administering this type of leave is so tricky, many employers balk at going after workers who are blatantly abusing their leave.

But that’s a huge mistake. Intermittent leave abuse can wreak havoc on the entire company’s morale and productivity when employees are constantly having to cover for abusers.

The key is having a clear, FMLA-compliant strategy in place to ensure workers won’t be able to commit intermittent leave abuse. Here’s how:

From start to finish

1. Take action early. Employment attorney and FMLA expert Jeff Nowak says employers can generally improve how they administer leave in the early stages. When this is done correctly, employees don’t have the opportunity to misuse the leave once it’s granted. This all starts with having properly trained managers. Managers must be able to spot when an employee may need leave and whether that leave is covered by the FMLA.

That means managers should ask employees the reason for worker absences – and note any time a specific condition is mentioned. Remember, managers can ask about medical conditions without breaching HIPAA’s rules about asking specific questions.

2. Check for accommodations. Intermittent leave is often associated with medical conditions that are difficult to prove, such as migraines. Whenever possible, see if there are alternatives to missing work.

Take an employee who suffers from migraines. Accommodations such as fluorescent lighting, a noise-cancelling headset or designated fragrance-free areas could help to reduce or prevent the need for leave.

3. Use leave of absence request forms. This makes it easier for managers – as well as HR and benefits pros – to track the specifics of what is going on with the employee on leave.

4. Enforce company call-in policies and procedures. As long as they’re consistently applied and they gibe with the FMLA, you can require workers to follow your companywide call-in policies, which helps to limit abuse.

5. Use certifications/recertifications to your advantage. You can insist on medical certifications and annual recertifications – just be sure to apply this tactic consistently. You can also ask about specific reasons for leave, its duration and dates of treatment, from providers and staffers. Attach a job description to the certification form.

Another underused tactic: Request second and third opinions if you have doubts. This sends a strong message about your firm’s stance on abuse.

6. Act on your suspicions. If you have an “honest belief” an employee is abusing his or her leave, you can investigate and act on what you find – as long as you follow certain steps.

In Tillman v. Ohio Bell Telephone Company, a court essentially laid out a legal blueprint employers can use to terminate FMLA-abusers.

Extreme deterrents

7. Dock their pay. By law, FMLA leave is unpaid. But even for exempt employees, you can make deductions from wages for a few hours’ leave without automatically converting them to OT-eligible non-exempt.

8. Make ’em use paid time first. You can require paid leave first, so employees have to burn vacation before any unpaid FMLA leave begins.

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  • Tawni Van Slyke

    “What’s worse, because administering this type of leave is so tricky, many employers balk at going after workers who are blatantly abusing their leave.
    But that’s a huge mistake. Intermittent leave abuse can wreak havoc on the entire company’s morale and productivity when employees are constantly having to cover for abusers.”
    That is precisely the position I and several other employees are in. There are four people in our department who abuse FMLA, in addition to MLOA, and are constantly going out on Leave at any given moment. Our firm refuses to do anything about it, stating that their hands are tied. Morale is down because the additional work falls onto our desk. – – so they reap the rewards of having months of time off every year (and they are also accruing PTO during their absence, so they return with tons of PTO in the bank) – and the rest of us are left to cover their desk and told there is nothing that can be done…
    it sucks.