Important Elements of Your FMLA Attendance Policy for Employees Calling Off Work

The regulations contained in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are complex. Unless you understand FMLA, you can find yourself in violation of the Act. 

Employer costs for FMLA violations can range from modest fines to crippling legal expenditures. The key is the quality of the documentation you keep for each and every absence to use if you need to mount a defense.

Let’s quickly review the basics of FMLA requirements and talk about some methods and tools to maintain compliance through sound documentation. Keep in mind that the content below addresses typical issues covered by federal law, but your requirements may differ depending on your state or industry.

FMLA Call-In Requirements You Can Enforce

As an employer, you are prohibited from denying an employee the right to access FMLA leave when appropriate, but you are entitled to set specific expectations from the employee.

Some employers have a “Call-In” procedure, some call it a “Call-Out” policy, and others refer to it as a “Call-off” process. Whatever you choose to call it, this process is in place for employees who must call into work to report that they will be absent.

No matter the details of your FMLA call-out policy, it must be clearly stated, compliant with the Act, posted conspicuously, and widely distributed. It should include instructions to employees for the following:

  • Who to notify if you must be absent from work 
  • How to make the notification; be specific – call supervisor, text, use the hotline, etc.
  • Include a request for FMLA leave and why you think it qualifies for FMLA protection
  • Date the leave will begin
  • Expected date of return to work
  • Specific dates and times of absence, if applicable
  • Your best contact information 
  • Call-in deadline (e.g. one hour before your shift begins), but please call as early as possible
  • If you are late reporting your absence, explain in detail why you could not meet the deadline
  • If your absences are foreseeable for something like open-heart surgery and an eight-week recovery, notify your supervisor as early as possible (ideally 30 days in advance) so they can plan coverage
  • Even if your absence qualifies as FMLA-protected and is lengthy, you are required to call the hotline every day that you would have been scheduled for work
  • The employer has five days from your initial call-in to notify you about FMLA eligibility

Read more about FMLA call-in regulations on the U.S. Department of Labor website.

Dual FMLA Call-In Procedure

If you use a call-off hotline service and/or FMLA processing solution such as a third-party administrator (TPA), you may need to require the employee to make two calls. One call to their supervisor or call-off hotline so coverage can be arranged, and one to the TPA so the details can be collected and included in your FMLA documentation. 

For customers using a call-off hotline, it’s common for the IVR system or live agent to give advisements specific to FMLA. For example, if an employee indicates they are reporting an FMLA absence, they may be advised that “All FMLA absences must be reported to [TPA] within 48 hours of the absence. You can report this absence to [TPA] by calling them at [TPA Phone Number].”

A hotline service that records the information from the employee and notifies the supervisor is ideal to reduce confusion and improve the quality of your documentation. At a minimum, this initial call will ensure that the absence is on record and that the appropriate parties within your company have been notified. 

Learn more: Employee Call-Off Hotline Solutions from CMS

Intermittent Leave Call-In Procedures

This is where it gets tricky. An example of intermittent FMLA call-in is when an employee will receive monthly chemotherapy treatments and need one week of recovery time for each chemo treatment. It gets trickier if they have more than one type of FMLA leave.

You can require the employee to state the type of leave they will be using when they call off work. They can also be required to call in immediately if there is a change in their scheduled absences.

The more information you get from the employee, the easier it is to determine if their absence qualifies as FMLA-protected. The better your system for collecting and documenting absences, the more complete your documentation will be in the event that your handling of their FMLA leave is called into question.

FMLA Excessive Absenteeism & Disciplinary Action

When it comes to FMLA attendance discipline, you may call an employee out for suspected abuse of their approved leave privileges. This includes situations like calling out on days that were not scheduled as FMLA leave, failing to call in as required, and failing to provide the required documentation in a timely manner.

We cannot stress too strongly the need for detailed documentation of every encounter with the employee regarding FMLA and all of the information they submit. It may be impossible to piece together the events surrounding their leave after the fact, so it is critical that you have a good documentation system in place to collect everything in real-time.

Further reading: Managing Employee Attendance and Reducing Absenteeism

Documentation – The Key to FMLA Compliance

Employee attendance records are only as good as the information you collect and store in them. You must gather information during the course of daily events rather than re-creating the details after the fact.

When it comes to collecting raw data into a file that accurately reflects the circumstances of an absence, here are some general questions to ask when the employee calls off from work:

  • Employee’s name
  • Name of caller (if other than the employee)
  • Callback phone number
  • Employee ID
  • Plant and clock numbers
  • Department name
  • Supervisor/shift supervisor’s name
  • Will the employee be absent from work or late starting?
  • Date of the absence or tardy
  • Date they expect to return to work
  • Detailed reason for the absence
  • Is the employee requesting FMLA leave for this absence?
  • If so, detailed reason they believe this absence qualifies as FMLA-protected and the essential job functions they cannot perform
  • When did they (or do they expect to) see a health provider for this injury/illness?
  • Have they taken leave in the past for the same condition? When?
  • If the call-in is not timely, what prevented the employee from calling on time?
  • The Other relevant information

Get more details on FMLA compliance from SHRM.org.

Conclusion – FMLA Call-In Procedure Best Practices

Identifying and addressing possible FMLA-protected absences from the moment the employee calls off work is critically important. 

The notable takeaway from this discussion – you must adopt an effective call-off and absence documentation system to protect your company from nuisance claims and lawsuits.  

You could require the completion of standardized forms that provide a written record of the initial call-off and subsequent statements. These should be carefully filed and maintained in a secure area, and periodically audited for completeness.

One of the best ways to start collecting the information you need is an employee absence reporting hotline. It should notify the appropriate individual(s) in your company immediately so staffing issues can be addressed, and provide you with documentation of all interactions on the hotline.

Standardize and Simplify Your Call-in Procedures With CMS

If you need more information on how a call-off hotline can help you streamline and simplify your employee call-in processes, reach out to CMS today. One of our experts can explain how our call-off hotline solution works and discuss your organization’s absence reporting needs.