6 common leave administration mistakes to avoid

Leave administration is complex. It is regulated by laws that can differ significantly by state, industry, and company size. In addition, the various types of leave each have their own unique requirements, making it easy for leave administrators to make errors. Here are some of the most common leave management mistakes to avoid:

1. Inconsistent leave measurement

Many employers fail to measure leave consistently from one employee leave to the next. The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) sets the job-protected leave period at 12 months. However, there are several options on how those 12 months are defined. Employers must select one method and use it uniformly for all employee leaves:

    • The calendar year (January 1-December 31)
    • Any fixed 12-month period set by the employer as standard policy
    • 12-month period beginning with the first date of employee’s first leave
    • A “rolling” 12-month period retroactively beginning with the commencement of any leave time taken in the prior 12 months

2. Failing to comply with state-level protections

Several states have their own leave laws that differ from the FMLA; be sure to understand and comply with these additional regulations. As of January 1, 2023, 13 states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have enacted state-level family leave laws.

States also may have their own sick leave programs or require other types of leave (examples include a death in the family or domestic abuse). In some cases, these leaves are not concurrent with the state’s protected leave program and must go through a separate process under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

3. Miscalculating consecutive versus concurrent leaves

Some leave regulations may contain provisions that must be calculated concurrently with intersecting leave laws, while others must be calculated consecutively. It is essential for employers to be aware of these differences and to handle leave accounting properly. When an employee exhausts all available leave, they may have to wait until additional leave becomes available, initiate the ADA interactive process for reasonable accommodation, or request a personal leave of absence.

4. Failing to comply with specific recordkeeping requirements

A precise recordkeeping procedure is essential to the leave administration process. Employers may use an outside service provider, leverage leave management software in-house, or utilize spreadsheets and internal systems. Still, in all these cases, the method used should be easily comprehensible and recoverable if an employee, an attorney, or a government agency needs to review the information.

The method used should make it clear if the leave:

    • Is or is not concurrent
    • Falls under federal or state law or both
    • Is covered under FMLA or the ADA
    • Is a personal leave
    • Falls under workers’ compensation
    • Is or is not protected
    • Is continuous or intermittent

Employers may choose to use their timekeeping system to track leaves. When doing so, they should be sure the appropriate pay codes are built into the system.

5. Missing mandatory communication requirements

Maintaining open and regular communication with the employee taking leave is critical. Many leave administration compliance failures stem from communication and documentation errors. Under FMLA, for example, employers must provide the following documentation to the employee:

    • Notice of Rights and Responsibilities for taking leave
    • Formal designation of leave approval or denial
    • Release to return to work when leave is taken for a serious health condition

By maintaining this close and open contact, the employee and the employer build trust and confidence in each other and the organization’s leave process.

6. Making errors during recertifications and releases

An employee’s leave may need to be recertified at some point. Semi-annual recertifications are generally recommended, but if an employee appears to be taking leave outside of the frequency outlined in their physician’s certification, it might be time to request a recertification. Recertification clarifies the employee’s limitations and enables the employer to review opportunities for the employee to continue working in their position.

Under FMLA, leave can only be recertified every 30 days upon expiration of the time the certification form states the employee needs leave or every six months.

When an employee is ready to return to work after taking leave for a serious health condition, the employer should collect a release to return to work. The employee’s health and safety should always be the top priority.

Protected leave provides an important opportunity for employers to retain top workers while they cope with significant life events. While leave management can be a challenge for administrators, a well-established, thorough, and compliant process will help employers avoid common pitfalls and ensure success. To see how Stiira can help mitigate these risks, see our article, “Specialized solutions for preventing leave administration pitfalls.”