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Give employees fair shot to verify leave

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Alex Jiminez frequently missed work due to flare-ups of Crohn's disease. His employer's absentee policy required progressive warnings and eventual management review after 80 hours of absences.

The company reminded Jiminez at least five times that he needed to get a certification from his doctor to support his claim for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The certification would have released him from the absentee policy.

But Jiminez continued missing work and didn't hand in a certification form until he had 80 hours of absences. The form didn't excuse any of the previous absences. Citing the absentee policy, the company fired him. He sued, alleging violations of the FMLA.

The court sided with Jiminez and let the case go to trial. It said the company failed to advise Jiminez of the problems with his certification form and didn't give him a reasonable opportunity to correct them. (Jiminez v. Velcro U.S.A., Inc., No. 01-001-JD, D.N.H., 2002)

Advice: Whenever you find that a certification form lacks justification for an employee's request for leave, let the worker know, and give him at least one chance to fix it. This goes for after-the-fact situations, too, even when the leave has already been taken.

You can satisfy your obligation by notifying employees of the problem and giving them specific instructions on what you need to correct it. Then give them a reasonable amount of time to return it to you. What's reasonable? Consider how hard or easy it is for the employee to get in to see the doctor and to have the form corrected.

For example, if the health care provider is a general practitioner in a rural community, a shorter time (say a week) is reasonable. But a week might be unreasonable if you're in a medically underserved area. Likewise, give a longer time frame, perhaps 14 days, if you're awaiting certification from a specialist.

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