How to handle vague FMLA certification

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Here’s good news for employers trying to manage FMLA leave and prevent abuse: If an employee’s FMLA certification form is incomplete or vague, you can deny leave as long as you gave him a chance to correct the deficiencies.

You don’t have to guess whether the employee is eligible for leave; he has to prove it.

Recent case: Brian claimed his mother was ill and needed his assistance. He applied for intermittent FMLA leave, but he wasn’t yet eligible so his request was turned down.

As soon as he hit the 1,250 hours and one-year mark for eligibility, he resubmitted the same form, but with a new date. The form had several questions unanswered, including the length of time he would need to help his mother or the number of days he would need to be absent.

After being asked to resubmit the form with clear answers, Brian turned in the same form—again redated—but with the statement “1-5 days weekly for medical treatments and personal needs/care.”

Other questions remained unanswered, so the employer rejected the request.

Brian sued, alleging interference with his right to take FMLA leave. The trial court dismissed Brian’s lawsuit, and he appealed.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the case. It ruled that, as long as the employee had a chance to redo the form, employers have the right to turn down FMLA leave requests when employees don’t provide the information necessary to evaluate the request. (Porter v. Donahoe, No. 10-1174, 2nd Cir., 2012)

Final tip: Have employees use the official FMLA leave form available from the U.S. Department of Labor. That way, there’s no question about what information you can request and the employee must provide.

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