Employee (not you) is responsible for filing FMLA certification on time

When employees take medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you can require them to give you a doctor's certification that confirms the medical problem. You must give employees at least 15 days to submit the paperwork.

But what if an employee ignores your request for certification? Must you keep extending the deadline? No. As the following case shows, it's not your responsibility to keep nagging employees until they submit FMLA certification. You can set a deadline and stick to it.

Still, if an employee submits a certification form that has some missing or incomplete information, you must give him or her a reasonable time to fix the mistakes.

Recent case: Debbie Urban sought FMLA leave from her Dollar General job after her carpal tunnel surgery. Her employer told her to provide a doctor's medical certification by a certain date and explained the consequences if she provided incomplete information. When that date passed, Urban asked for and was granted a 15-day extension. But even after that, the company didn't receive her medical certification.

As a result, Dollar General fired her for unauthorized absences. Urban sued, saying the company violated FMLA rules that allow her a reasonable time to fix certification deficiencies. She said her doctor misplaced the certification form and never sent it to the company.


A federal appeals court sided with Dollar General, saying a certification that is never submitted can't be considered "in-complete." The court said that if it went along with Urban's argument, "an employer could never set a real deadline for the return of a medical certification." Instead, it would be obligated to let employees keep extending the certification, "a scenario that could repeat itself ad infinitum." (Urban v. Dolgencorp of Texas Inc., 5th Cir., No. 03-11276, 2004)

The 4 ‘must haves’ of FMLA certification

Make sure any FMLA certification you request and receive includes:
  • The date on which the serious health condition began.
  • The likely duration of the condition.
  • The appropriate medical facts about the condition.
  • A statement that the employee is unable to perform the functions of his or her job (if the FMLA leave is for the employee's own serious medical condition).