Accept FMLA proof from foreign doctors

Q. Many of my employees request FMLA leave to return to their native countries to care for sick relatives, or they request personal medical leave due to a “sudden illness” that occurs while visiting those countries. In some cases, these countries don’t have regulated physicians. Documents can be easily obtained from any street vendor. Are U.S. employers required to accept these documents? —L.W.

A. FMLA regulations say that when a family member with a serious health condition lives in another country, employers must accept a medical certification from a health care provider who practices in that country. However, if you have reason to doubt the validity of that doctor’s certification, you have some recourse.

First, after obtaining authorization from your employee, you can have a physician selected by your company contact the original physician to obtain clarification. Alternatively, you can require the employee to obtain a second opinion from a physician selected by your company (at the company’s expense). If the two assessments don’t agree, you can demand (and pay for) a third, tiebreaking opinion. Of course, when you’re dealing with a family member in another country, the entire process can become considerably more difficult and time consuming.