Third Circuit Says Employers Must Allow Employees to Fix Certifications

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that employers must advise employees of deficiencies in medical certifications and provide them with the opportunity to correct the deficiencies. Employers should be cautious while determining an employee’s qualifications for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave based on the medical certification given to them.

Employees are required to provide sufficient medical certification of the need for FMLA leave, including:

  1. The date on which the serious health condition began
  2. The probable duration of the condition
  3. Relevant medical facts
  4. A statement that the employee is unable to perform the functions of her position
  5. The dates and duration of planned medical treatment
  6. The expected duration of the intermittent leave

Deborah Hansler was hired by Lehigh Valley Health Network to work as a technical partner in 2011. In early March 2013, she began experiencing shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting. Hansler requested intermittent leave from Lehigh Valley under FMLA. At the time the cause of the symptoms was unknown.

Hansler submitted a medical certification requesting leave for two days a week for approximately one month. The medical certification referred to the length of her requested leave but not the nature or duration of her condition. A few weeks later, after she took several days off work, Lehigh Valley fired Hansler without finding out information about her medical certification. Lehigh Valley cited excessive absences and informed her that the request for leave had been denied.

Hansler sued Lehigh Valley for violations of FMLA. In April 2013, she received a diagnosis of diabetes and high blood pressure. In her complaint in court she stated that this was the reason for her March absences. Hansler alleged that she had chronic serious health conditions and argued that Lehigh Valley improperly denied her request without providing her an opportunity to fix her medical certification.

The Federal district court dismissed the complaint on the basis that the medical certification supporting Hansler’s request for leave was “invalid” because the certification showed that Hansler was not entitled to leave, the court held that Lehigh Valley was not required to afford Hansler the seven day period to fix the deficiencies, as required under the regulations.

The Third Circuit reversed the decision made by the district court and held that just as employers must advise employees of their rights under the Act, they also must advise employees of deficiencies in medical certifications and provide them with the opportunity to correct the deficiencies. If an employer determines that a certification is incomplete or insufficient, it may deny the requested leave on that basis, but only if it has provided an employee with seven calendar days to cure the deficiency.

This case should serve as a reminder to employers of the requirement to allow employees at least seven calendar days to fix any problems with FMLA certifications.


About John Garner

John Garner has over thirty five years of experience in employee benefits. He specializes in compliance, health care reform, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). He helps clients with life, health, and disability benefits, cost containment, flexible benefits, and claim consulting.

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