Balancing work and family life is a tough nut to crack.
Especially in the ‘new normal’ where flexible working is encouraged but not always supported. But work and life balance has been a concern in the workplace for many years. It’s not new. And since its introduction in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has provided job-protected, unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons.
On the other hand, Paid Time Off (PTO) is a benefit many employers provide that allows employees to accrue time off from work, which they can use for various purposes such as vacation, personal days, or sick leave.
As employees navigate the complexities of managing their work and personal lives, a common question arises: Can FMLA and PTO run concurrently?
For employees and employers alike, this article provides valuable information on how FMLA and PTO interact and how to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
FMLA and PTO: Running Concurrently?
In an opinion letter dated March 14, 2019, the Department of Labor responded to a query regarding whether employers can allow employees to exhaust their paid leave before dipping into their FMLA leave.
According to the DOL, this practice is unacceptable, as the paid leave must run concurrently with the unpaid FMLA leave.
This means employees cannot tap into their paid vacation, sick, or family leave before using their unpaid FMLA leave, nor can they save up their unpaid FMLA leave time by taking paid leave first.
If the paid leave is being taken for an FMLA-qualifying reason, then the leave is protected under the FMLA and should be designated as such. You must designate the time off as FMLA leave within five days of determining that the leave is being taken for an FMLA-qualifying reason.
Benefits of Running FMLA and PTO Concurrently
When FMLA and PTO run concurrently, employees using their accrued PTO can receive pay during their unpaid FMLA leave. When employees face medical or family-related challenges, this income replacement can provide significant financial relief, reducing stress and allowing them to focus on their personal needs.
Employees can simultaneously take time off and maintain their benefits while using FMLA and PTO. Since FMLA provides job protection, employees can use their PTO without fear of losing their jobs or losing their benefits. Job security gives employees peace of mind during difficult times.
Lastly, combining PTO and FMLA leave allows employees to balance work and life better, resulting in improved mental health and job satisfaction. It fosters a supportive work environment when employees can access both types of leave concurrently, demonstrating the employer's commitment to their employees' well-being.
What You Need to Know
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you can generally require that employees use their accrued paid vacation, sick, or family leave to cover some or all of their FMLA leave period. Even if you do not mandate this substitution, the FMLA generally permits employees to make the election on their own.
However, there are some conditions and exceptions to consider.
State-Specific Laws and Regulations
Besides federal FMLA regulations, some states have their own family and medical leave laws that provide additional benefits and protections. State-specific laws may extend leave periods, expand eligibility criteria, or add additional reasons for qualifying for leave.
State laws may also impact the concurrent use of FMLA and PTO. Employers must ensure they comply with both federal and state regulations when implementing and enforcing leave policies. Employers and employees should familiarize themselves with applicable state laws to ensure they know their rights and responsibilities related to FMLA and PTO.
FMLA Notice of Eligibility and Rights & Responsibilities
When employees request FMLA leave, you must tell them — via the Notice of Eligibility and Rights & Responsibilities — whether they are eligible or ineligible for the time off. If they are eligible and will be required to use their paid vacation, sick, or family leave, you must state this in the notice.
Employees may feel confused or unfairly treated if your policy on concurrent FMLA and PTO usage is not clearly communicated or applied inconsistently.
Related Read: Does Your Employee Handbook Need an Upgrade?
Leave policies should be transparent and well-documented, and you should give employees ample opportunity to ask questions and receive clarification about FMLA and PTO. Communication failures can lead to employee dissatisfaction and decreased morale.
Applying Paid Time Off to FMLA leave
Regardless of whether you require that the employee uses PTO while on FMLA leave or whether the employee makes that choice, they should receive their paid leave based on your paid leave policy.
Further, the paid leave should be counted against the 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave the employee is entitled to for the year.
Exceptions to the Rule
Under the FMLA, you cannot require employees to use paid leave, nor can they make that election if they get benefits through a wage replacement program, such as workers’ compensation or disability insurance.
The rationale is that the substitution of paid leave pertains only to unpaid FMLA leave. Therefore, you cannot require that employees also take paid leave if they’re already receiving workers’ compensation or disability insurance while on unpaid FMLA leave.
Wage replacement programs typically cover only a portion of employees’ wages. However, if authorized by state law, you and the employee may agree to use paid leave to make up wage replacement shortages.
Does FMLA and PTO Run Concurrently? Put Your Mind at Ease
If you’re still unsure about running FMLA and PTO concurrently, let us put your mind at ease.
Whenever possible, FMLA and PTO can be used concurrently, allowing employees to maintain an income while on job-protected leave. Employers play a significant role in determining and implementing policies that govern the concurrent usage of FMLA and PTO.
Related Read: 3 Methods for Calculating Paid Time Off Accrual for Small Businesses
But it’s also essential for employees to understand their rights and their employer's policies regarding FMLA and PTO.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial to employee well-being and organizational success. You must develop clear, consistent policies regarding FMLA and PTO and communicate them effectively to your employees.
At ConnectPay, we connect you with experts in benefits plans who will guide you through the process so you can easily manage workers’ comp, FMLA, and PTO. Reach out today for a free payroll and tax compliance review. Alternatively, check out our free resource, The Connected Guide to Small Business Payroll.