FMLA Leave and Medical Certifications

June 17, 2011, 1:19 PM

Employers covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) should establish procedures for obtaining proper medical certifications. The FMLA permits employers to require employees to provide medical certification to support the need for leave due to a serious health condition of the employee or of certain members of the employee's family.

The FMLA also allows employers to require periodic recertification of the need for such leave. The general rule is that an employer may require recertification of a serious health condition no more frequently than the duration of the prior certification or every 30 days, whichever period is longer. For example, if an employee begins leave for a serious health condition with a certification that states that leave is necessary for 45 days, the employer may not seek recertification until the 45 days have passed. Regardless of the duration of the original certification, the employer may require recertification every six months in connection with an absence.

There are several exceptions that allow an employer to obtain recertification more frequently than every 30 days. More frequent recertification may be required if:

  1. The employee requests an extension of the leave;
  2. The circumstances described by the previous certification have changed significantly; and
  3. The employer receives information that casts doubt upon the employee's stated reason for the absence or the continuing validity of the certification.
In any such scenario, the employer must allow the employee 15 calendar days to produce the recertification. The employer may ask for the same information when obtaining recertification that was permitted for the original certification. Interestingly, as part of the request for recertification in connection with leave due to a serious health condition, the employer may provide the health care provider with a record of the employee's absence pattern and ask the health care provider specifically to comment as to whether the serious health condition and the need for leave are consistent with such pattern. This is one option that employers may use to address concerns over abuse of leave.

Medical certifications can be an effective tool for managing FMLA leave and curbing abuse of such leave. Therefore, employers are encouraged to review their FMLA policies, forms, and practices, to ensure compliance with regulations related to medical certifications. --David J. Sullivan