How to Manage Intermittent FMLA

January 12, 2023

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can present many challenges for leave managers and HR teams. From determining employee eligibility to accurately calculating pay, it all adds up to a lot of effort. When an employee takes intermittent FMLA, it becomes even more complex. When employees don’t take the time away all at once, it becomes more difficult to track and plan for their absence.

To help you understand the basics of intermittent FMLA, we’ll explore the how it works in this article. Then we’ll look at how it intersects with the ADA, and ways to make managing intermittent FMLA easier.

How does intermittent FMLA work?

The FMLA is a federal law that provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. They can use this leave for qualified family and medical circumstances.

However, all of that leave doesn’t need to taken all at once, or consecutively.

When FMLA is taken in smaller amounts of time, it is known as intermittent leave. For example, if an employee needs to manage a serious mental health condition or recover from an injury, they might take intermittent FMLA to attend weekly appointments.

Another example is an employee who needs to care for a sick child. The child may have flare-ups for a medical condition that happens unexpectedly and without warning. This could cause the parent to need time away from work without much advanced warning.

Another way that employees can take intermittent leave is with a reduced schedule. If an employee is recovering from an injury, they can use intermittent FMLA to work fewer hours each week. Then, they might work this reduced schedule over a longer period of time until they fully recover. Managing a reduced schedule can be easier because employees can  plan them in advance.

How do you determine eligibility for intermittent FMLA?

Eligibility is very similar for both intermittent and consecutive FMLA. Employees must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months, accumulating a minimum of 1,250 hours of service. Employees must also work at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

However, it must be medically necessary to take intermittent FMLA. Employees may take intermittent FMLA without advanced notice if they have an urgent medical reason. Employers are not required to give consent for an employee to take intermittent leave.

Because employees can legally take intermittent leave without employer approval or authorization, organizations should have policies in place to minimize disruptions. These policies should let employees know who they should contact if they have an unplanned absence as part of their intermittent FMLA. These policies should be easy to understand and follow, so that HR teams and supervisors can know exactly what to do if an employee is away without notice.

A leave management system like AbsenceSoft can help determine eligibility for intermittent FMLA, even with large, complex workforces. A leave management platform can automatically send the necessary paperwork to employees via email and text, and notify their supervisors as well.

Self-service portals can allow employees to request intermittent FMLA at any time, with any device, and see their eligibility right away. Managers and supervisors can login to see the details of their leave without contacting HR. This helps everyone plan and react more quickly when an employee is unexpectedly out.

What are the challenges of tracking intermittent leave?

One of the trickiest things about intermittent leave is tracking how much time an employee has taken and knowing how much they have left. HR managers need to be able to tell an employee exactly how much time they have used, and how much time they are still eligible for. This is critical not only for employee transparency, but for staying compliant with the law.

Employers must track of every hour or even minute of intermittent leave that an employee. Then, leave managers must also track this time over the course of 12 months. This can make understanding ongoing eligibility for future FMLA usage very difficult to know.

Tracking intermittent leave without technology can be incredibly challenging. Numerous emails, calendar reminders, and spreadsheets can be required just to track a single employee’s leave usage.

With a leave management solution, tracking intermittent leave becomes much easier. Employees are able to request time off directly from their phone, tablet, or computer. As soon as this request is approved by HR, the hours taken are deducted from their overall entitlement. The system gets automatically updated, and everyone knows exactly how much time is left for the employee to take under FMLA.

Can an employee request leave as an accommodation instead of intermittent FMLA?

In some cases, intermittent leave can be granted as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. This can be helpful when an employee isn’t qualified for FMLA or has exhausted their other leave options.

To determine eligibility for leave as an accommodation, the first thing you want to know is the medical reason for their leave request. Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety often qualify for accommodations under the ADA, and can be managed with intermittent leave. If an employee has a long-term disability that could be helped with an accommodation, you should talk about different options. You can go through the ADA interactive process to find the right solution for the employee.

Employers should also know that flexible scheduling can be a reasonable accommodation for disabilities covered by the ADA. If an employee needs flexible scheduling for more than 12 months, disability leave may be a good option.

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 equitable, efficient, and compliant as possible. To learn more about the steps of the interactive process, check out our Guide to Improving Your ADA Interactive Process. 

Best Practices

In order to keep your organization compliant and your employees happy, it is important that every intermittent FMLA request be tracked and managed efficiently. Leave solutions like AbsenceSoft can help you easily and quickly calculate eligibility, track time taken, and automate notifications to employees and supervisors. HR teams can store every document, form, and communication in a single location, making case management much easier.

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.