You can require FMLA certification form directly from doctor

Are you concerned about possible FMLA abuse? The law and FMLA regulations allow employers to insist on receiving FMLA certification forms directly from a health care provider’s office—and not by way of the employee. That way, there’s little chance the employee can alter what the doctor has certified.

Recent case: Ronnie Taylor and his wife, Diedre Townsend-Taylor, both worked for Ameritech. According to their employer, both were problem employees who consistently delayed or neglected to get proper FMLA certifications for various absences.

The company outsourced its FMLA approval process to a Texas firm. It prepared certification forms embedded with the employee’s name and a coded and scrambled barcode representing the employee’s Social Security number. Ameritech required its employees to turn the form over to their doctors, who were to then fill out the forms and either fax or mail them directly to the outside FMLA administrators. The form was due back within 15 days. If there were extenuating circumstances, employees got additional time.

When Ronnie Taylor needed FMLA leave to care for a sick child, he gave the form to the child’s doctors. Unfortunately, it never made its way to the company. Ameritech fired him.

Shortly after, Diedre Townsend-Taylor also took FMLA leave. Her form reached the administrator one day late. Ameritech fired her, too.

They both sued, alleging that the process the company required them to follow was illegal interference with FMLA leave.

The court disagreed. Employees had 15 days to get the form in, and got additional time if there were extenuating circumstances. The court also said there was nothing wrong with requiring the form to come directly from a health care provider’s office. Such a practice is a legitimate fraud-prevention measure. (Taylor & Taylor v. Ameritech, No. 07-2166, 7th Cir., 2008)