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Doubt medical certification’s accuracy? You’re allowed to seek a second opinion

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees who want FMLA leave for their own illness need a certification from a health care provider. It should document a serious condition, briefly explaining the diagnosis and treatment.

Employers that doubt the certification is accurate or want to challenge whether the condition really is serious have a remedy: Seeking a second opinion from another health care provider, paid for by the company. If the two certifications don’t agree, the employer can request (and pay for) a third, tiebreaking exam and certification.

Recent case: Rodney Harrell, who worked for Jacobs Field Services, has suffered from allergies since his teen years. He claimed his allergies periodically make it impossible to work and asked for FMLA leave when the condition flared up.

His employer sent him an FMLA application and a certification form for his doctor to fill out. The doctor indeed certified that Harrell suffered from a chronic serious health condition, requiring occasional leave. The certification also said that Harrell had been seen by the doctor and that he got a shot and a prescription for Claritin, an over-the-counter allergy medication.

Harrell took leave, but claimed that when he was better, Jacobs Field Services wouldn’t let him return. He sued, alleging interference with his FMLA rights.

The company challenged Harrell’s right to FMLA leave, arguing that his allergies weren’t serious. But the court said it should have done that earlier, by requesting another medical opinion. (Harrell v. Jacobs Field Serv­ices, No. 09-CV-03230, CD IL, 2011)

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