HR Tips to Manage Suspicious FMLA Leave

One most-challenging issues facing employers is the fishy use of leave by employees under protection of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The FMLA has been costly to businesses. It has led to productivity issues and disruptions in scheduling and expenses.

Widespread employee abuses have exacerbated employer challenges. Abuse of the FMLA is so rampant, management everywhere is naturally suspicious.

According to the Department of Labor’s web site, the FMLA permits 12 weeks of leave if an employee works a 12-month period.

However, the leave is unpaid. And it’s for the employer who has 50 or more workers within a 75-mile radius of the work site.

Employees can use accrued paid leave such as vacation and sick days. Employers may require workers to exhaust their paid leave before taking leave under FMLA.

Three reasons why employees can get leave under the FMLA:

  1. For a serious health issue of the employee or family member.
  2. Reasons pertaining to military employment or to care for a member in military service.
  3. The birth of a child, to bond with it or the placement of a youngster with your employee either for adoption or foster care.

The abuse is difficult to prove under the FMLA criteria. Even just for hinting at employee abuse, companies have been hit with employee claims of either FMLA obstruction or retaliation.

However, if employers can show the FMLA leave is used for fraudulent purposes, they can legally defend themselves against employee complaints.

But that’s not always the case.

Unpredictable courts

Courts have ruled adversely on technicalities.

For instance, when employers have terminated employees after taking FMLA leave but didn’t use it for that purpose, companies have lost in court.

In other words, courts have ruled that when a company has suspected and proved FMLA-leave abuse, the firing did not hinder the employee’s rights.

Even when employers have hired private investigators and obtained proof from the employee’s friends or social media in order to prove fraud, courts have ruled in favor of employees.


So, you should get legal counsel and demonstrate considerable care and respect before challenging employees on their claims.

Before approving leave or challenging abuse, you should also monitor submitted information using Department of Labor forms.

Be cautious before approving and scheduling an FMLA leave.

You are legally permitted to request a doctor’s certification about the need for a leave. You can also ask for new medical certification in advance of each FMLA year.

If you’re dissatisfied with an opinion, you can request second or third opinions.

For intermittent leave, some employees have chronic conditions and certifications. So, try to plan in advance for leave schedules.

You can’t refuse leaves, but you’re on sound legal ground if you attempt to plan in advance.

Do your best to anticipate the duration and frequency of intermittent FMLA leave. You can insist on a diagnostic prediction of when a leave will be justified. Until you get such doctor estimates, you can delay approval.

Certifying intermittent leave requests

Specificity matters. Inquire about the employee’s specific situation. A medical certification can only pertain to a serious medical situation. Note: Don’t inquire about the person’s general medical situation.

Adhere to time frames for employee responses to your request for certification. Allow the employees a minimum of 15 calendar days to respond with the documentation.

If the paperwork is not complete, inform your employee in-writing why it’s insufficient. Then, give the employee seven days to provide the necessary information.

If you suspect something is amiss with a certification and the need for a leave, then investigate.

You are allowed to contact the employee’s doctor for clarification. Note: Do not allow the employee’s direct supervisor to contact the physician.

Otherwise, it’s OK for people such as your HR representative, other top managers or third-party administrators.

If you’re not convinced about the veracity of a certification, you can insist on another opinion and compensate for it. Don’t use a physician with whom you work.

Choose a doctor who is totally independent. In the event of differing opinions, you can get a third opinion and make it a mandatory opinion.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are related sources:

Avoid EEOC Legal Hassles over Unpaid Leave Requirements — You might want to review your current human resource policies. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  has continued to push employers on unpaid leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

13 Management Tips to Solve Employee Absenteeism — Absenteeism causes migraines for a lot of bosses. Obviously, your company will make healthier profits, if you don’t have an absenteeism problem.

How to Smoothly Manage Your Employee Vacation Schedules — Depending on the size of your staff, managing around your employees’ vacation schedules can be a thorny issue. That’s especially true for a small operation. With just a few employees, it can be difficult to keep everyone happy and to cover the workload.

Why Companies Fall into the Management Lawsuit Trap — Small and many big companies are ripe for EEOC complaints. The majority of lawsuits targeting management usually stem from a half dozen poor practices. You’ll get into trouble using these six bad practices.

How to avoid EEOC Discrimination Suits — Here are six tips for micro-companies and 13 strategies for larger organizations to avoid EEOC migraines.


Nothing surprises me. I’m in management.


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.



Despite Failures, Yahoo’s Telecommuting Ban Was a Model for Struggling Companies

Now that Verizon owns Yahoo, what changes can we expect? There’s no doubt about it, Yahoo has had a history of troubled CEOs.

However, former CEO Marissa Mayer, who managed to alienate many of her employees because she lacked the necessary CEO credentials and instincts when she was hired away from Google, she did do at least one thing right.

Despite the initial hysteria over Ms. Mayer’s telecommuting ban, her decision was a positive example for other companies needing a turnaround.

Lest we forget, Yahoo has a storied reputation. But it slipped – badly. Ms. Mayer was hired to facilitate a turnaround.

In the U.S., Yahoo ranks third in search behind No. 2 Bing and No.1 Google, which owns about a 66 percent market share.

You might recall Yahoo was forced to align with Bing in search and advertising – to no avail.

The latter two combined only have about a 30 percent share and advertising revenue hasn’t noticeably improved. Plus, Google powers many of the remaining search engines.

Worse for Yahoo, worldwide, Google has a 90 percent share. Google is particularly strong among business users.

Yahoo’s share price had been languishing for years.

After Ms. Mayer took over and made some positive changes, such as in e-mail and photo-sharing, Yahoo’s market capitalization has been $34.5 billion and the stock price increased considerably to the mid $30 range.

Compare that to Google – it’s broken the price barrier of $1,000.

However, employees and pundits outside of Yahoo condemned the decision affecting many of the tech giant’s 11,500 employees who were left from the formerly 18,000-person workforce.

Some point out that there’ve been countless studies on telecommuting. That’s true.

Not to oversimplify, for many businesses there are indeed benefits.

Telecommuting Pros

  1. Cost savings from not having to provide furnishings and workspaces. A telecommuting policy also aids in employing persons with disabilities. All of this ultimately might reduce office rent and utility expenses.
  2. Telecommuting employees say they’re more productive with fewer interruptions.
  3. Taking into account their internal clocks, such workers can work at their own schedule – some prefer to work early in the morning – some are night owls. They also like to balance their work duties with their families and running errands.
  4. Telecommuting workers say they save money and time by not having to commute to the office, and don’t have to unwind from driving in traffic. They don’t take sick leave when they need to run errands or take care of family matters.
  5. Telecommuting is a tool for employee recruitment and retention. Such employees prefer what they feel is a benefit for them. Sometimes, employees have spouses who are forced to relocate, but telecommuting means the company can retain its employee via telecommuting.
  6. During inclement weather, telecommuting workers continue to function.
  7. It aids in the slowing down of global warming, and lessens the use of petroleum.

However, especially in communication, there are disadvantages.

Telecommuting Cons

  1. A telecommuter must heavily rely on technology, but if problems or security issues arise, work goes undone until repairs are made. If a company has large telecommuting staff, repairs are a more costly ordeal.
  2. Many telecommuters need social interaction and their individual work suffers because of their alienation from being solitary and not having contact with the outside world.
  3. Teamwork and collaboration is practically non-existent.
  4. Misinterpretation, especially in sensitive matters, becomes more problematic with a lack of personal interfacing. In-person communication allays the potential for communication problems. Telephoning in such occurrences is an insufficient option.
  5. Distractions become a problem for workers with families. There is little or no separation from work and life.
  6. Telecommuting easily leads to longer hours and possible burnout. Family interruptions and worry over missing office developments leads to checking e-mails more frequently.
  7. Visibility is a problem for both the employer and employee. Face time suffers when a company has employees who are out of sight and out of mind. Employers can’t properly evaluate workers. Conversely, workers lose the advantage of meeting face-to-face with managers and coworkers.

Yahoo’s reasoning

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” explained Yahoo Human Resources Manager Jackie Reses in a memo to employees. “That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

What’s the company’s justification?

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” she explained. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”


Critics failed to see the big picture, which is typical in turnaround situations.

Google is known for its continued innovation. Yahoo isn’t. It needs a new tone to become a Ninja innovator by practicing what I call “The Principle of Contrary Action” – doing things differently – even the little things – in order to keep an open mind for innovation.

That can be accelerated where the tire meets the road – the employees communicating among themselves. More ideas are generated when people interact with each other.

In my experience, it leads to partnering with employees to create profits. Collegial communication generates powerful synergy – something Yahoo has been lacking.

Hence, Yahoo’s CEO implemented the ban on telecommuting. If employees continue to bicker, it will become more obvious that they’re too complacent about Yahoo as an employer. Otherwise, Ms. Mayer will have had to take six steps to implement a cultural change for profits.

Meantime, my assumption is that Ms. Mayer employws the proper step-by-step solutions for a company turnaround.

From the Coach’s Corner, related articles on Yahoo:

Memo to Yahoo employees: Unemployment is not working.


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.