Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave is a more complex topic than it may seem. Basically, for any eligible employee at a covered employer, up to 12 weeks of leave must be provided each year for a qualifying event or events. This may seem fairly straightforward, but administering FMLA leave can be fairly complicated.
One problem is that there are often multiple levels of the organization involved. First, there’s the employee who needs to take the leave and who may or may not use the term “FMLA” or something related when requesting time off. Also, a large percentage of employees will request leave from their direct supervisor, not from an HR FMLA expert, which means there are many more people who have to understand at least FMLA basics. Next, the direct supervisor isn’t necessarily going to be responsible for administering and tracking FMLA leave, especially when taken intermittently. These issues create ample opportunities for missteps.
Helping Managers Do Better with FMLA Leave Administration
This issue of complexity demonstrates why FMLA leave compliance can be tricky even for employers with the best of intentions. Surveys have found that a large percentage of managers don’t even fully understand FMLA basics—even managers who have had training on the topic.
This likely means employers need to reexamine their FMLA training practices for managers. Beyond that, here are some other tips for employers:
- Conduct periodic knowledge checks to ensure all managers who handle any absences understand who qualifies for FMLA leave and when to escalate the query to HR. Anyone who will be handling an employee absence for an organization subject to FMLA regulations needs to understand when that request for time off may qualify for FMLA leave and what to do when it does.
- Audit the organization’s training and refresher schedule, and determine whether you should increase the training’s frequency.
- Ensure all supervisors know whom in HR to turn to with leave questions so they have someone to ask if they’re unsure.
- Consider implementing audits of absences to see if any should have been tracked under the FMLA. These can help uncover where additional training is needed.
- Ensure the organization is meeting its obligations for posting about FMLA rights (which can help encourage employees to use these terms more often when they apply).
- Audit the organizational departments to ensure FMLA leave is being managed consistently by different individuals. For example, if one individual strictly tracks and monitors intermittent FMLA leave and another one does not, that can cause problems.
- Remind those in supervisory or leadership roles that retaliation against someone for requesting or taking FMLA leave is illegal.
- Audit the actual FMLA training provided to managers, and see if it needs to be updated or redone.
- Ensure FMLA training is part of any new supervisor’s required training.
- Consistently communicate with all organizational leaders about the importance of understanding and consistently administering FMLA leave. FMLA leave isn’t something that is only given out when convenient—it’s a legal requirement when someone qualifies.
This list is not exhaustive, but it can help you assess where your organization can be more proactive about ensuring everyone understands the FMLA requirements. For more on the FMLA, here are a few additional resources:
- “Understanding FMLA Basics”
- “FMLA Leave 101: What Qualifies as a Serious Health Condition?”
- “FMLA: Avoiding Mistakes”
- “Calculating Intermittent FMLA Time”
- “FMLA and ADA Overlap”
- “Risks of Improper Leave Administration”
- “FMLA: Don’t Wait for a Real Audit—Self-Audit”
- “Combating FMLA Abuse”
- “Do You Use a Fitness-for-Duty Certification After FMLA Leave?”
- “Can You Terminate an Employee on FMLA Leave?”