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Collect proof of FMLA medical leave the right way

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

To help you decide whether an ailment rises to the level of a "serious condition" that triggers FMLA leave, you can require employees to provide FMLA medical certification. Essentially, that's a doctor's note that lays out the facts of the ailment.

But what happens if employees use that initial FMLA certification to take intermittent leave in a noticeable pattern of Friday and Monday absences? You can seek recertification to verify the person's continuing need for the leave.

The law says you can request recertification "on a reasonable basis." If the certification form doesn't specify a time limit, you can typically request recertification no more than once every 30 days. (Find a sample certification form, Form WH-0380, at www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/whd/fmla/wh380.pdf.)

Key point: If you receive information that makes you suspect FMLA-leave abuse, you can ask for recertification more frequently. Fortunately, a recent Labor Department opinion letter says that a pattern of Friday/Monday absences counts as information that casts doubt on the employee's stated FMLA need.

That means you can seek recertification more frequently than every 30 days, as long as the request is made in connection with an absence.

4 certification tips

1. Ask about the specific condition. Medical certification must relate only to the serious health condition that's causing the leave. You can't ask about the employee's general health or other conditions. (See box below for what you can request.)

2. Give 15 days to respond. After you request certification, give employees at least 15 calendar days to submit the paperwork. Courts will frown on companies that deny leave simply because employees submit certification forms on the 16th day. So, if employees' certification is lacking, notify them and give them a reasonable time to correct it.

3. If you doubt the need for leave, investigate the certification. A health care provider representing your company can call the employee's physician to clarify the medical certification (if the employee gives you permission).

4. If you're still not convinced, require (and pay for) a second opinion. Use an independent doctor that you select, but not a doctor who works for your company. If the two opinions conflict, you can pay for a third and final binding medical opinion.

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