Certification Requirements for the FMLA

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A woman sitting on the sofa with her young child and senior mother.
A woman sitting on the sofa with her young child and senior mother. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

The Family Medical Leave Act allows employees up to 12 weeks unpaid leave annually due to illness or to care for a sick family member. In most cases, employees on FMLA leave are guaranteed their job or a comparable position when they return to work, and keep their health benefits as well. However, to have a FMLA leave request approved, an employee must furnish his employer certification of medical need.

FMLA Certification Process

An employer may require medical certification at its discretion before granting FMLA leave. If the employer does require certification, the employee must be notified in writing when the request is made and generally must be given at least 15 days to obtain it. Typically, this is a matter of getting a form from the employer and taking it to a health care provider, who certifies the employee cannot work due to illness or must be absent for treatment. However, health care providers may use their own form, as written certification in any format must be accepted if it is complete and sufficient. Employers may deny leave if certification isn't submitted in a timely manner or is incomplete, unclear, vague or doesn’t respond to questions.

Employer Follow-up

Once workers furnish complete and sufficient certifications, employers must accept them and permit the leave. Employers may have a representative other than the worker’s direct supervisor contact the health care provider, but only to authenticate the form or clarify information. No additional information can be requested. Employers may request second and third opinions, but must pay for added certification costs. Employers may ask for recertification at the worker’s expense if the worker requests an extension, the circumstances change or a question about the validity of the FMLA leave arises.

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