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You can rely on ‘negative’ FMLA certification

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Sometimes, employees think they’re sick enough to qualify for FMLA leave, but their doctors don’t. Other times, medical staff filling out the medical forms makes mistakes.

Either way, if you get a certification or doctor’s note explaining that the employee can work, you are under no obligation to get more information. Instead, you can rely on that “negative” FMLA certification and deny leave.

Recent case: Shelby Allen, who worked for Progress Energy, began missing work and used up all her vacation and sick time. Then she became pregnant, suffering bouts of nausea and vomiting. She called in sick, and her employer asked for medical documentation to show she couldn’t work.

Allen was then hospitalized and released to bed rest. However, someone at her doctor’s office checked the wrong box on her medical forms, which indicated that she could return to work full time. The employer got the note and denied Allen FMLA leave. She was then terminated.

Allen sued, alleging interference with her right to FMLA leave.

The court dismissed her case even though it agreed she was technically eligible for the leave due to her condition. The court said the employer was entitled to rely on the employee’s medical note, which clearly stated she could work, even if that turned out to be a mistake. (Allen v. Progress Energy, No. 6:07-CV-1588, MD FL, 2009)

Caution: If you get conflicting medical notes—one stating that the employee can work and another stating that the employee has a serious health condition that requires time off—you cannot choose which form to accept. In such a case, you must ask for more information before denying FMLA leave. This situation could arise if the employee is seeing several doctors.

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