How to Deal

Be Clear When Enforcing Leave Policies

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, February 14, 2008; 12:00 AM

I work as a human resources manager. I would like your advice on how to deal with employees who constantly take lengthy leaves?

There is leave -- and there is leave. As long as the employee's time away complies with your organization's policies and the law, there is not much you can do. In fact, pressuring an employee not to use leave that he or she is entitled to, could lead to legal trouble.

In my experience, it has been a rare occurrence for an employee to blatantly abuse leave laws and policies. Sure, we all have called in sick every now and then when what we really needed was a mental health break. Such abuses on a large scale, however, are less common.

The leave provision under which I have seen the most questionable cases is intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Intermittent leave under the FMLA is available to employees who can certify that they or an immediate family member are suffering from a serious health condition that will require the employee's occasional absence from work. What bothers most employers about this portion of the FMLA is that some employees consistently fail to provide adequate notice, which can complicate business planning. Many employers also find themselves seriously questioning the need for intermittent leave, but are without sufficient cause, under the law, to ask for a second medical opinion.

I feel for you. It can be frustrating when you know that someone is abusing protections meant for people with legitimate needs. Then again, it is easy to make the mistake of assuming that an employee is being disingenuous, when in reality he or she has completely defensible reasons for taking time off.

My advice to you is to make sure that your organization establishes and follows transparent and legally compliant leave policies. Ensure consistency in the administration of these policies, and keep scrupulous records of everything you do. By doing this, you will be better prepared to challenge opportunistic employees in the future. You will also be able to provide more efficient leave administration to those who truly need it.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail hradvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.


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