The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects jobs when employees need extended time off because of their own or a family member’s health problems.
Who Qualifies for FMLA Leave
Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if they worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during that time. The months do not have to be consecutive, but work periods before a break in service of seven years or longer don’t have to be counted unless:
1. The break is to fulfill a National Guard or Reserve military obligation, or
2. There is a written agreement stating the employer’s intention to rehire the employee after the break.
There are restrictions on family leave when spouses work for the same employer. Leave is limited to a combined total of 12 weeks for the birth and care of a newborn child, placement of a child for adoption or foster care, or to care for a parent. Leave for a birth or placement must end within 12 months.
To help prevent such abuses, the law allows you, as an employer, to insist that employees supply medical certifications verifying the seriousness of their conditions. The Labor Department regulates both the process you must follow and the information you can request when asking for certification.The law allows employees as many as 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave in any 12-month period to take care of qualifying medical conditions. While in most instances these leaves are legitimate, there are employees who try to take advantage of the system.
Generally speaking, a health care provider must attest that the employee or a qualifying family member has an illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that involves one of these two conditions:
A period of incapacity or treatment that requires overnight stays in a hospital or residential medical care facility, or
Continuing treatment that causes incapacity, such as:
- A treatment and recovery lasting more than three consecutive days. There must either be two or more treatments or one treatment followed by a regimen such as prescription medications or physical therapy.When there is more than one treatment, the first must occur within seven days of the day the employee becomes incapacitated. When there are two treatments, both must occur within 30 days of the incapacitation.
- Pregnancy or prenatal care (a visit to a health care provider is not necessary for each absence).
- A chronic health condition that continues over an extended period and requires at least two visits a year to a health care provider. This may include such episodic conditions as asthma or epilepsy and does not require a visit to a health care provider for each absence.
- Permanent or long-term conditions for which treatment may not work and that require supervision by a healthcare professional. This includes such conditions as terminal cancer, Alzheimer’s disease or a stroke.
- Restorative surgery after an accident or injury, or conditions that would likely result in incapacitation for more than three days if not treated, such as radiation or chemotherapy for cancer or dialysis for kidney disease.
The Certification Process
If you require certification, employees must provide it within 15 days. As an employer, you must:
- Use either the Labor Department’s WH 380 Certification of Health Care Provider forms or devise your own. If you use your own, you cannot ask for more information than the government forms require.
- Ask for certification within five business days after the leave request or after the start of the leave if it was unforeseen.
- Tell employees that you can deny FMLA leave if the certification is incomplete, insufficient or unclear.
- Give employees a written notice of the problems with the certification and allow seven calendar days to fix them.
In some cases, the employee’s medical condition may be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In such situations, information obtained through ADA procedures may be used in the FMLA leave determination.
You can directly contact the employee’s medical provider for clarification through a health care provider, human resources professional, leave administrator or management official. The employee’s direct supervisor, however, cannot contact the provider for clarification.
You may require annual certifications if an employee’s need for FMLA leave lasts longer than a year. And you may ask for certification at a later date if you doubt the appropriateness or duration of the leave.
FMLA leave is an entitlement, but it can be abused. Talk to a professional about these and other procedures that can help prevent misuse of the law and cut the unnecessary costs and workplace disruptions that can stem from illegal, lengthy absences.