When employees take medical leave under theAct ( ), you can require them to give you a doctor's certification that confirms the medical problem. You must give employees at least 15 days to submit the paperwork.
But what if an employee ignores your request for certification? Must you keep extending the deadline? No. As the following case shows, it's not your responsibility to keep nagging employees until they submit. You can set a deadline and stick to it.
Still, if an employee submits a certification form that has some missing or incomplete information, you must give him or her a reasonable time to fix the mistakes.
Recent case: Debbie Urban soughtfrom her Dollar General job after her carpal tunnel surgery. Her employer told her to provide a doctor's medical certification by a certain date and explained the consequences if she provided incomplete information. When that date passed, Urban asked for and was granted a 15-day extension. But even after that, the company didn't receive her medical certification.
As a result, Dollar General fired her for unauthorized absences. Urban sued, saying the company violatedthat allow her a reasonable time to fix certification deficiencies. She said her doctor misplaced the certification form and never sent it to the company.
A federal appeals court sided with Dollar General, saying a certification that is never submitted can't be considered "in-complete." The court said that if it went along with Urban's argument, "an employer could never set a real deadline for the return of a medical certification." Instead, it would be obligated to let employees keep extending the certification, "a scenario that could repeat itself ad infinitum." (Urban v. Dolgencorp of Texas Inc., 5th Cir., No. 03-11276, 2004)
- If you have doubts about FMLA eligibility, don't hesitate to seek a second medical opinion
- Don't sweat a little confusion when worker returns from FMLA
- Denying FMLA leave: What's a 'key' employee?
- Work with your attorney to preserve evidence
- Suspect FMLA mischief? Use certification rights before taking drastic action