FMLA Best Practices: Managing Intermittent Leave

Emma Milek
January 12, 2023
Employee being handed paperwork at desk

As many leave teams know, administering an intermittent leave can be a bit more complex than a typical consecutive leave. Unlike consecutive leaves, intermittent leaves may be taken periodically throughout the year rather than all at once. Not only does this type of leave require a thorough eligibility process, but continuous attention to detail throughout the duration of the leave.

To take some heat off leave managers and ensure that your HR team stays fully compliant when receiving an intermittent leave request, we’ll explore the basics of intermittent leave, and ways to make your life easier when managing it.

How does FMLA intermittent leave work?

FMLA grants eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. But some employees have circumstances in which they need to take leave in smaller increments of time when medically necessary.

Intermittent leave is a leave taken in separate blocks of time. Employees can request intermittent leave sporadically without advanced notice. However, this does not mean that there is no rhyme or reason for when and why an employee might request leave.

A good example is an employee who needs to care for a sick child. The child may have flare-ups for a medical condition that happens erratically, causing the parent to need time off work without much-advanced warning.

Another way that employees can take intermittent leave is with a reduced schedule. This lowers the usual number of working hours per work week and is normally scheduled well in advance. A reduced leave schedule could be used for an employee who is recovering from a serious medical condition and is not strong enough to work their full shift. This can be implemented for as long as it takes that employee to fully recover, so long as it fits into the guidelines of eligibility.

How does eligibility for intermittent vs consecutive leave differ?

All intermittent leave is covered by FMLA, meaning that the paperwork and eligibility process is very similar to a consecutive leave. However, it must be medically necessary to take the leave intermittently rather than consecutively. It is also important to note that employer consent is not always required for an intermittent leave that is medically necessary, such as one due to a critical health condition, pregnancy, or serious illness.

Because employees can legally take intermittent leave without employer approval or authorization, organizations often have their own policies in place to minimize disruptions. These policies would specify who an employee should contact if they will have an unplanned absence as part of their intermittent leave. Making sure these policies are easy to understand and follow is critical, so that leave managers and supervisors are as prepared as possible for an absence.

Having a leave management system like AbsenceSoft can help to properly implement new policies. When someone requests an intermittent leave, specific policy paperwork and to-dos can be automatically set up through a workflow. This will automatically notify the employee of the exact guidelines they should follow, ensuring that supervisors, employees, and the HR team are all on the same page.

What are the challenges of tracking intermittent leave?

One of the trickiest things about intermittent leave is tracking leave time taken vs eligible leave time. Being able to tell an employee exactly how much time they have used and how much time they are still eligible to take is important not only for employee transparency but for staying compliant.

Keeping track of every hour or even minute that an employee is taking on an intermittent basis introduces a whole new challenge to leave managers. Add in trying to compare their time to the 12-month counting method and eligibility becomes very difficult to track.

Leave technology like AbsenceSoft is essential for tracking time accurately. With AbsenceSoft’s Employee Self-Service module, employees are able to request time off directly from their phone or computer. As soon as this time is approved, the hours taken are deducted from the employee’s case, and their eligibility is automatically updated. As a result, leave managers can focus on other things, such as taking care of employees, knowing that eligibility will always remain compliant.

Can a workplace accommodation be used in lieu of FMLA intermittent leave?

The answer: it totally depends.

When assessing if the employee could use ADA instead of FMLA, the first thing you want to address is the medical reason for their intermittent leave request. If the employee has a long-term disability that could be solved with an accommodation, you might want to consider going through the interactive process to see if it might be a better solution. Bear in mind that flexible scheduling is regarded as a reasonable accommodation, so if an employee is going to need flexible scheduling for over 12 months, this could be a great solution.

That being said, the interactive process is subjective, so it’s important to have a system in place to make sure your accommodation processes are as efficient and compliant as possible. To learn more about the interactive process and how to manage it more effectively check out our Guide to Improving Your ADA Interactive Process. 

Reporting for Intermittent Leave

Whether it’s tracking the leave and decrementing against a time bank or ensuring the proper documentation is in place, there are a lot of things to juggle when managing an intermittent leave. Without the proper technology in place, it can be almost impossible to keep all of these different pieces.

One of the best and quickest ways to check if your intermittent leave is being managed correctly is by running a report. Our favorite report to run for intermittent leave is the Intermittent Leave Usage Report. This report can help your HR team manage intermittent leaves with ease and predict how these absences will affect your team.

An Intermittent Leave Usage Report checks the need-to-know data points for intermittent leaves. This report easily shows your leave managers what employees are using intermittent leave and for how long, who needs to be recertified, and will point out any inconsistencies that might be occurring. Knowing the patterns of when an employee might be out can help supervisors better prepare for their absences. It will also detect anytime someone may need to be recertified so that you can ensure 100% compliance for all intermittent leaves.

AbsenceSoft supports not only the Intermittent Leave Usage Report but other reports that make leave management more straightforward, measurable, and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Best Practices

In order to keep your HR team fully compliant and your employees happy, it is imperative that intermittent leave is taken accurately and communicated properly. Without a centralized solution in place, it can be not only challenging to gather the proper information but ensure that that information is being communicated to the right people at the right time.

Tools like Employee Self-Service from AbsenceSoft can aid in the communication gap that often occurs with intermittent leave. The ESS tool allows employees the ability to enter their leave request dates as soon as they know them, through their computer or cellphone. The system will then notify anyone who needs to know, whether that be an HR manager, their supervisor, or both. This way all teams can be in the know of who they can expect to be absent and when.

Having all of the leave information accessible in one place, at any time is key to running a well-oiled HR machine. Running reports such as the Intermittent Leave Usage report regularly ensures that every leave that is being taken is fully compliant. Reports can aid in the dialogue between HR, supervisors, and company leaders, keeping the information following between teams.

Implementing leave management software is key to keeping your intermittent leaves – and every other kind of leave for that matter – fully compliant and easy to manage for your leave team and employees. To see leave management software in action, we invite you to schedule a demo of AbsenceSoft.

Want to learn more about FMLA?

We’ve helped over 200 customers streamline and optimize their leave management processes. To share what we’ve learned over the years, we collected our best practices for managing FMLA into an informative free guide for HR professionals: Best Practices for Modern FMLA Management. From the initial request all the way to the employee’s return to work, we show you step-by-step how to save time, avoid pitfalls, and improve compliance.