Working During FMLA Leave

Whether or not you may work during an FMLA leave is often a cause for confusion.
Whether or not you may work during an FMLA leave is often a cause for confusion. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) was created to provide job protection to eligible American workers who must take time off from work due to their own illness or injury or to take care of a family member. To qualify for and take advantage of FMLA, there are rules and regulations for the worker.

The Facts

FMLA is administered by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the United States Department of Labor. FMLA law currently provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12 month period for a qualifying event. This leave may be taken either as a full leave, using a portion or all of the available leave consecutively with no return to work until the leave is over, or on an intermittent or reduced schedule basis. Employees typically wil not work during a full FMLA leave. Working during FMLA leave most commonly occurs when the worker takes either an intermittent or reduced schedule leave of absence.

Intermittent Leave

The intermittent FMLA leave is the most common form of leave during which an employee may choose to work. An intermittent FMLA leave is a leave of absence taken on a part-time basis. In such an instance, the worker takes time off in separate blocks of time but for one specific reason. For example, the worker may need to leave work on a regular basis to attend doctor appointments for himself or a qualifying family member suffering from an ongoing illness. It is essential to document all leave time associated with the FMLA leave as opposed to time taken off for sick days as FMLA leave offers job protection while regular sick leave taken for reasons such as the flu or the common cold does not.

Reduced Schedule

A reduced schedule leave is a type of intermittent leave during which the employee might work during an FMLA leave. This type of leave commonly occurs when the employee returns to work after a qualifying illness or injury but is not yet ready to work full time. For example, a worker returning from back surgery may not be able to sit at her desk or stand at a work bench for more than four hours at a time. In this case, her doctor may release her to return to work on a part-time basis and slowly ease herself back into a full-time schedule. In such a case, the employer has the right to temporarily reassign the employee or make an alternative position available during the leave to ensure the organizational mission can still be completed.

Checking In

Workers often wonder if they may occasionally work from home during an FMLA leave, checking in via e-mail or other means, to avoid falling too far behind in their duties. Employment attorney Alan L. Sklover says that while there is no specific regulation regarding checking in while on an FMLA leave, employers are commonly averse to allowing any such work activity that might be perceived as interfering with the employee’s FMLA leave.

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