March 18, 2019
Authored by: Christy Phanthavong
It is not uncommon for employees to ask whether they can first use paid time off available under the employer’s leave policies and “save” their unpaid – and protected – Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave entitlement until later, in the event that they need additional leave. Some employers permit this approach, perhaps out of a desire to be “generous” to employees with respect to leave, or sometimes inadvertently due to not realizing that paid leave and unpaid FMLA leave can run concurrently, or even because of a failure to recognize at the beginning of an employee’s leave that the FMLA applies.
In an opinion letter issued on March 14, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) took a firm stand against this practice, stating unequivocally that “the employer may not delay designating leave as FMLA-qualifying, even if the employee would prefer that the employer delay the designation.” See FMLA2019-1-A.
In reaching this conclusion, the DOL relied heavily on the FMLA regulation precluding the waiver of FMLA rights, see 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(d), stating that, in light of the prohibition on such waivers, neither the employee nor the employer “may decline FMLA protection” for FMLA-qualifying leave. The DOL also noted that delaying FMLA leave until after paid leave is exhausted would run afoul of the regulation that requires employers to provide the FMLA designation notice within five business days of having sufficient information to determine that leave is for an FMLA-qualifying reason. See 29 C.F.R. § 825.300(d)(1).