One of your employees, Sydney, is having a baby and plans to take medical leave to recover and bond with her newborn under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  You’ve determined that she qualifies for protected FMLA.  It will be considered continuous leave, as she will be absent from work for more than 3 consecutive days and will be treated by a doctor.   How do you track her time off against the 12-weeks to which she is entitled?   In this case, you will track this time in whole-week increments.  Each week missed will be counted as 1/12th of her total entitlement.

Conversely, let’s say you have an employee, Bill, who is undergoing radiation treatment for cancer.  Bill meets all of the qualifications for FMLA, but at this point he does not plan to be out of the office continuously.  In this case, Bill needs intermittent leave, or reduced hours, so you’ll need to determine how many total hours he is entitled to and record the time he misses on an hour-by-hour basis.

To determine the amount of protected FMLA hours to which Bill is entitled, you would take the number of hours he regularly works in a week and multiply it by 12.  In this example, Bill is a full-time employee who is regularly scheduled to work 40 hours per week, so his 12-week FMLA entitlement would be 40 x 12 = 480 hours.  If Bill only worked 30 hours per week, his 12-week FMLA entitlement would be 30 x 12 or 360 hours.  If Bill works irregular hours, you would go back twelve months from the start of his leave and calculate his weekly average hours, then multiply that number by 12 to come up with his FMLA-entitled hours.

Also note that FMLA leave can be taken in periods of weeks, days, hours and, in some cases, less than an hour.  You need to allow employees to use FMLA leave in the smallest increment of time that you allow for other types of leave, as long as it is no more than one hour.

Instead of regular radiation treatments, let’s assume that Bill has chronic back pain for which he has visited a doctor multiple times.  The condition occasionally flares up and Bill misses work on an intermittent basis that cannot be planned for ahead of time.  In this case, Bill needs to notify you as soon as possible that he is taking time off for an FMLA-qualifying reason.  This is necessary so that you can track that time accurately (a benefit to you) and treat it as protected (a benefit to your employee).

Additionally, if an employee says that they need to miss more time than is indicated on their current doctor’s certification, you should request updated paperwork to cover additional missed time.  Note that even if you believe this employee is honest and needs the extra time, the next person who requests more time may not be as trustworthy.  To save yourself from possible discrimination claims given that a potential disability is already “in play,” you should apply the same standards to all employees.

For more information on FMLA compliance, you can check out the Department of Labor’s Employer’s Guide to The Family and Medical Leave Act.  If you have specific questions for your business, the HR Pros at our HR Support Center can help.