When you or your loved one is seriously ill or injured, work justifiably takes a backseat. Naturally, your focus is on recovering or helping your sick family member recover. The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) recognizes and respects employees’ need for such leave. Under the FMLA, an employee may be entitled to take unpaid leave when the employee or a covered family member suffers from a serious health condition. An employee who qualifies for FMLA leave is entitled by law to take the necessary leave without fear of losing his or her job, or facing other consequences. In fact, the FMLA expressly prohibits an employer from retaliating against employees who request or take FMLA-covered leave.
However, although the FMLA primarily protects employees, it’s important to remember that your employer has rights too. Not respecting those rights can result in the loss of FMLA protection for the employee, and can lead to termination without you having any recourse.
Case-in-point, an employer can require that an employee provide a certification from a healthcare provider verifying the employee’s need for FMLA leave. In most cases, once requested, the employee must provide the certification within 15 calendar days – not work days. An employer can provide an employee with more time, but it’s not required. If an employee fails to return the certification with 15 days, the employer can deny the leave request and even terminate the employee for what is effectively an unauthorized absence. It’s a pretty harsh consequence for failing to turn in a piece of paper, but that is the law.
The FMLA also requires that employers inform employees of the consequences of failure to provide adequate certification. Therefore, even if the employer requests the certificate, the employee may have a wrongful discharge or retaliation claim if the employer did not explain the consequence of failing to provide the certificate. To that end, a “hey, get a doctor’s note” from the employer may not be enough to block a medical leave request.
Additionally, an employee who fails to provide the certification within 15 calendar days could still be entitled to FMLA leave if the employee shows that it was not feasible to provide the certification within that time frame, despite diligent, good faith efforts. However, “diligent” is a key word there. In order to prove such diligence, the employee requesting the medical leave should keep the employer informed of the efforts being made to get the certificate, and preferably do so in writing with a way to confirm receipt, such as email or fax.
Whether it is yourself or your loved one, dealing with a serious health condition can be overwhelming. The task of providing a certification might seem trivial. Employees sometimes think, “I requested the leave, I’m taking the leave, and now all they want is the certification… I’ll get to it.” However, even though paperwork might not seem so important in the face of the other things you are dealing, the FMLA requires that employees respect an employer’s right to receive a timely medical certification supporting the request for leave.
If you are going through this right now, and are still unsure of your FMLA medical leave rights, the best advice is to ask questions directly to our employment attorneys today.
If you feel that you are being denied leave rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you should call the right attorney as quickly as possible to schedule a free and confidential consultation. The phone number for FMLA help is 866-797-6040. While you focus on your family medical needs, let our FLMA attorneys focus on your medical leave rights.
The materials available at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Your best option is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to FMLA questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm or any individual attorney.