HR Management & Compliance

3 Ways Problems Arise With Employee Leave Tracking

Why is employee leave tracking so difficult? FMLA rules “are fairly complicated and they can be confusing. It’s hard sometimes to clarify what you have to do, versus those areas where you have some flexibility.” Kristi McKinzey explained in a recent BLR webinar.

One way employers can begin to better understand the rules is to look both at the regulations themselves and at real-life behaviors that make implementing the FMLA more difficult. Here we’ll look at 3 ways that problems arise with employee leave tracking—each comes down to behavioral issues that can be addressed.

1) Knowingly Not Tracking Some Types of Leave

Many employers knowingly decline to track certain categories of leave. This often arises from a desire to be benevolent or accommodating. Many employers find themselves in tough situations. No one wants to risk offending a loyal and/or high-ranking employee.

For example, an employer may feel they are simply being accommodating by intentionally not tracking:

  • Ordinary pregnancy-related absences. Pre-natal visits could be FMLA, for example.
  • Adoption related absences, such as pre-adoption appointments, meetings with counselors. home visits and interviews. These all could be FMLA.
  • Pre-surgery appointments.
  • Intermittent leave by exempt employees. The choice to not track these absences can be as simple as ease of administration, but it can cause problems later.

You have to walk the fine line between being benevolent and protecting both the employee and employer, McKinsey explained: “By not tracking this type of leave, an employee could get labeled as an ‘attendance problem,’ when actually it’s an FMLA-protected event. It’s risky to ignore whether an absence is FMLA-related because the employee can end up with attendance issues and disciplinary action as a result. This type of policy isn’t always as benevolent as it intends to be. ”

2) Waiting on the Attendance Issue to Become “Serious”

Some employers wait until a certain level of seriousness is reached before acting on any attendance concern. This can happen in a few different ways. One example is when an employer misunderstands the FMLA’s “3-day” rule. Employers often say they don’t track time until an employee has missed 3 days of work. In actuality, this rule refers to 3 days of incapacitation.

If someone is incapacitated for 3 or more days, it could qualify as a serious health condition that qualifies for FMLA leave. If this starts on a weekend, for example, then one absence (on Monday) might still be enough. Of course the employee has the obligation to let you know of the situation before you can act. The key here is to remember to not rely on a simplistic rule that could result in missing FMLA designations.

Another situation where employers often wait to designate FMLA until the situation has become more serious is when they simply overlook repeated absences that are due to chronic conditions. This could include migraines, fibromyalgia, asthma, etc. These should be counted toward FMLA for the benefit of both the employer and employee. Failing to pursue FMLA until employee uses up other types of leave/benefits can be problematic.

“The danger, again, in this situation is: a manager who doesn’t recognize this as a potential FMLA situation, and might even deliver corrective actions to the employee or even terminate the employee, only to discover later that it’s an FMLA situation.” McKinzey explained.

3) HR Doesn’t Know in Time

One more way that employee leave tracking can be problematic is when HR doesn’t learn about an employee’s need for leave until it becomes a problem.

For example, let’s look at a hypothetical company that has employees in multiple locations. Dave, who works at a satellite location, is repeatedly absent due to neck pain. He has surgery in December and again in February. His manager finally comes to HR, fed up with the constant absences and ready to fire Dave. This is the first HR has heard of it, and they have to start FMLA process from the beginning.

Obviously this is problematic on multiple levels. The manager is frustrated. The employee is about to be disciplined or even fired. And the employee has had absences counted against the attendance policy that should not have been. On top of all of that, the employer still owes the employee the full 12 weeks of properly-designated FMLA leave.

This is usually an issue of training supervisors and managers.

Combating Tricky Employee Leave Issues

“As an HR person in your organization, it’s really important to have great relationships in order to effectively navigate FMLA . . . the more connected you are to your employee base, the more approachable you are in assisting employees, quite frankly, the more likely you are to be successful in dealing with some trickier FMLA situations. FMLA can be very sensitive; it can be very delicate. It requires some genuine respect for employees.” McKinzey told us.

For more information on problems that arise with employee leave tracking, order the webinar recording of “Leave Tracking for HR Pros: In-the-Trench Strategies for Conquering Complex FMLA Challenges.” To register for a future webinar, visit

Kristi McKinzey, PHR, is the director of HR for the consulting division at the Robert E. Miller Group. In this role, she directs the projects, sales, and client engagement activities of the HR consulting and organizational performance team.

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