FMLA entitles you to request proof worker’s parent has serious health condition

Do you routinely accept employees’ claims they need FMLA time off to care for an elderly parent? If so, consider a new policy.

While it may be easier to approve leave than to challenge it, blanket approvals may prove costly in the long run as more and more “sandwich generation” employees find themselves having to care for both their children and their elderly parents.

A better approach is to ask for medical certification to back up the request for time off. Employees are entitled to FMLA leave for a parent’s care only if, in fact, the parent has a serious health condition. Taking a parent to a doctor’s appointment or for routine testing often doesn’t qualify unless the parent has a chronic condition. If that’s the case, get a certification from the parent’s health care provider detailing the chronic condition and how often the parent is likely to need your employee’s help.

Recent case: Chandra Scott worked for Honda Manufacturing and claimed she was discharged in retaliation for needing FMLA leave to help her mother. Scott’s mother underwent a stress test after she complained of shortness of breath. More than a month later, the mother had an outpatient heart catheterization but went back to work after 48 hours. She didn’t need any further time off.

The court dismissed the FMLA retaliation case, reasoning that Scott wasn’t entitled to FMLA leave in the first place. Her mother didn’t have a chronic condition that required periodic medical treatment, nor did she have a serious health condition because she was not incapacitated. (Scott v. Honda Manufacturing, No. 07-14030, 11th Cir., 2008)

Final note:
Most routine testing doesn’t constitute a serious health condition. Nor do routine medical visits such as physicals, blood draws for cholesterol levels, immunizations or other diagnostic work. FMLA covers only medical visits intended to monitor a disease or medication levels. If in doubt, ask for certification.