FMLA: Flare-ups every Friday? Check it out

While employees with chronic medical conditions are typically entitled to FMLA leave, such intermittent absences are fertile ground for abuse. After all, an employee on intermittent leave can simply call in and say his condition is acting up.

But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless if you suspect abuse.

If you notice odd or recurring patterns—such as employees using inter­­mittent FMLA leave around holidays or a Monday/Friday trend—the best approach is to carefully document your suspicions. List intermittent leave re­­quests and when they coincide with other time off. Then launch an investigation.

Remember, court rulings have given you the power to call and check on em­­ployees to make sure they’re resting at home during FMLA leave. Or you can require them to contact you if they leave the house during sick leave.

Give teeth to your FMLA policy by creating penalties for workers who violate the call-in rules. Make sure employees on FMLA know they don’t have an unqualified right to be “left alone” while enjoying time off.

Recent case: Ohio Bell Telephone employee Erik Tillman suffered from a chronic back condition, so his doctor certified intermittent leave when pain flared up.


After a few months, Tillman’s boss noticed that his FMLA requests always coincided with other days off. HR launched an investigation.

The next time Tillman used inter­­mittent leave—again coinciding with other days off—an investigator secretly filmed Tillman doing yard work, apparently not in pain.

When confronted with the evidence, Tillman claimed he had taken drugs that helped his mobility. Ohio Bell fired him anyway for dishonesty.

Tillman sued, alleging interference with FMLA leave. The court dismissed the case, saying Ohio Bell honestly believed it was discharging an employee for abusing leave. (Tillman v. Ohio Bell Telephone, No. 3:09-CV-2351, ND OH, 2011)

Absent minded

Employers say the first quarter is the prime time of year when employees call in sick:

January – March    34%
April – June    13%
July – September    30%
October – December    23%

Source: CareerBuilder survey

Checking on ‘sick’ staff

According to a CareerBuilder survey of 2,600 HR pros and managers, more than one-quarter (28%) say they’ve checked up on an allegedly sick employees, citing the following follow-up methods:

  • 69% required a doctor’s note
  • 52% called the employee
  • 19% had another employee call
  • 16% drove by the employee’s home

Note: Find a list of the weirdest sick day excuses in ‘Garage-sale overdose’ and 12 other outrageous reasons for missing work.