Nobody would dispute the fact that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is an important lifeline for many working individuals. Enacted in 1993, this Federal law guarantees employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave with no threat of job loss for a number of qualified reasons, such as pregnancy, adoption, personal or family illness, and military leave. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the law does not require time off to be taken consecutively, some employees abuse the system by taking a day off here and another one there, prompting many to refer to FMLA as the “Friday-Monday Leave Act.” The problem is particularly rampant during the summer months, when sunshine and warm temperatures tempt people outside even if they have no valid excuse.
Steps for Combatting FMLA Abuse
While there is no getting around the basics of the law, there are steps your HR department can take to limit this type of abuse and ensure your employees utilize the FMLA in ways that have less of an impact on your business. Try implementing the following strategies in order to prevent potential summertime abuse.
- Make written requests a policy. While you technically cannot deny FMLA leave if it is requested verbally, adopting a company-wide policy requiring written notice should help. Most employees will want to play by the rules, and asking that the request be in writing will cut down on last-minute “impulse” days off.
- Prepare a list of questions to use when time off is requested. It is your right to know why an employee cannot make it into work for their specified shift; having a list of questions at the ready can help you determine if FMLA is being used appropriately. Good questions to ask include:
- What is the reason for the absence?
- Which portions of your job are you unable to perform?
- Will you see a doctor for your medical condition?
- Have you previously taken time off for this condition?
- When will you be able to return to work?
- Institute a call-in policy. If you don’t already have a procedure in place, institute a call-in policy to be used by all employees when reporting an absence. Include a specific timeframe for the call (e.g., “a minimum of one hour before the start of your shift”) and let them know whom to contact (supervisor, HR, etc.).
- Use the medical certification form. Employees who utilize FMLA are required to fill out a medical certification form in order to verify their serious medical condition. Not all HR departments collect this form, but it is your right to do so – and to require the employee to seek recertification during every new FMLA year until their benefits are exhausted.
- Check in on your employees. While this may sound extreme, adopting a policy of checking in on employees using FMLA is perfectly legal. You are even allowed to ask them to stay within the immediate vicinity of their home for the duration of their recovery time. Employees who do not adhere to these requirements can face disciplinary action.
- Follow up on patterns of absence. If your employee takes a lot of Friday and/or Monday FMLA days, or schedules them around holidays, FMLA regulations state that you are allowed to reach out to their physician in order to confirm that the absences are related to their medical condition.