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What’s the best way to calculate the 12-month FMLA leave period?

by | Jul 18, 2018 | FMLA


If you’re an employer covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, you probably know that employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a single 12-month period (16 weeks when caring for a military family member). The way you calculate that 12-month period can affect how much continuous leave the employee can receive, along with the cost of administration.

There are four calculation methods to choose from. All of them are legal, although you must be consistent. The FMLA year can be calculated based upon:

The calendar year. This is the easiest to administer, but it does allow two years’ worth of leave to be stacked so that they run continuously. The employee would be within policy to take the final 12 weeks of one calendar year and the first 12 weeks of the next, resulting in 24 weeks of continuous leave.

Another fixed-date period. This could be based on the fiscal year or an individual date such as the employee’s service anniversary. Choosing an individual date adds to the cost of administration, but otherwise the calculation is done the same way as with the calendar year. You simply subtract any leave taken from the balance otherwise used within the fixed 12-month period. The same stacking possibility exists.

Counting forward from the first date of leave. One you have verified that the employee is entitled to the leave, you start with 12 (or 16) weeks and begin counting down as the leave is taken.

This eliminates the stacking problem that arises with fixed-date calculations. It also serves to ensure that employees receive no more than the statutory amount of leave during any rolling 12-month period. The downside is that the calculations are individual, and additional effort is needed to take factors into account such as whether the leave was taken on a continuous or intermittent basis.

Counting backward from each leave date. This is the inversion of the “counting forward” method. When you receive a request for leave, you look backward from the date that leave begins and see how much FMLA leave has already been used in the previous 12 months. If the employee has already taken their maximum amount of leave in the prior 12 months, you deny the request.

This method has the same advantages as the “counting forward” method, but administration requires the employer to keep detailed records of any FMLA leave taken, even when it is taken in small increments, so that the rolling total is updated and can be accurately calculated at any time.

Finally, you can change methods with at least 60 days’ notice to employees, as long as they do not lose out on any leave eligibility due to the change.

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