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Document why you denied FMLA leave request

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

It may seem clear to you that an employee with a minor medical problem isn’t eligible for FMLA leave. But that doesn’t mean the em­ployee won’t sue if you turn down her leave request.

That’s why you must be prepared to explain your decision.

Note: It’s worth remembering that there is personal liability for FMLA violations, so don’t make the decision lightly, either. Know your responsibilities under the law—and insist that all the managers in your organization follow the law.

Recent case: Linda Satterwhite worked for a Walmart retail store until she was fired for poor attendance. The problem: She followed her doctor’s instructions to not go to work until a staph infection in her finger healed. Satterwhite has diabetes, which impairs healing, and her doctor was worried that if she returned to work too early, she might become infected again.

Satterwhite had requested FMLA leave, but her request was denied and she was fired. She sued.

The court said her case will go to trial. Walmart will have to show that she didn’t have a serious health condition, which may be difficult without a medical certification. (Satterwhite v. Wal-Mart, No. 5:11-CV-363, ED NC, 2012)

Final note: The safest approach is to always request a medical certification before denying an FMLA request, even if you are sure the employee doesn’t have a serious health condition. If the certification comes out as you suspect, then deny the request. If you don’t agree with the certification, you can request—and pay for—a second opinion. If the two opinions don’t agree, you can get a third, tie-breaking assessment.

The simple act of getting certifications protects you from later claims that you violated the FMLA by rejecting the request.

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