According to the U.S. Department of Labor, which enforces workers’ rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act,
Employees may take FMLA leave intermittently—taking leave in separate blocks of time for a single qualifying reason or on a reduced leave schedule—reducing the employee’s usual weekly or daily work schedule. When leave is needed for planned medical treatment, the employee must make a reasonable effort to schedule treatment so as not to unduly disrupt the employer’s operation.
Leave to care for or bond with a newborn child or for a newly placed adopted or foster child may only be taken intermittently with the employer’s approval and must conclude within 12 months after the birth or placement.
These general guidelines leave plenty of room for interpretation by both employees and employers, which also means they create plenty of potential for misunderstandings. Employee handbooks can clarify quite a bit, but every organization’s policies regarding intermittent FMLA leave must comply with the following four principles.
First, it is important to note that companies and agencies generally cannot automatically deny FMLA leave to employees who qualify to receive it. An employer can ask for proof of medical or family care need, but they should never just tell a worker that they cannot take time off without pay unless it has a defensible reason for doing so.
Second, the right to take continued FMLA leave is the same as the right to take intermittent FMLA leave. That is, an employer cannot force a worker to use all 12 weeks of unpaid time off at once if the worker does not need that much time off. The second paragraph quoted above indicates that this, too, can become complicated when FMLA leave is used as maternity or paternity leave.
Third, intermittent FMLA leave may be planned or unplanned leave which will affect the amount of notice that the employees must provide to the employer. To the extent possible, a worker should submit requests for unpaid time off well in advance of the days on which they will take leave.
Fourth, intermittent FMLA guideline concerns how employers should treat a worker who uses unpaid leave in chunks. The employer should try to keep the employee in their regular position.
Coffman Legal welcomes questions about FMLA leave and other employee benefits. To schedule a confidential consultation, connect with us online or call us at (614) 949-1181.