Physician's Certification

When do you require a physician's certification of serious medical condition for FMLA? I've just started a new job as an HR Asst. I'm actually pretty familiar in the area of FMLA regulations and requirements. However, the company I work for has the past practice of ALWAYS requiring a physician's certification. I've been placed in charge of FMLA so I'm thinking we need to adjust some ways things are currently being done. I've already instituted an intermittent FMLA tracker (they had nothing to track with before and I currently have 2 employee's on Intermittent) as well as an FMLA Log. We're a company of appx 300 employees but only appx 25 work in our building. The others are at other centers throughout the area. (I'm in WV if that makes a difference)
Let me give a couple of examples and get your feedback:
-An employee's father is in Intensive Care and she informs us she'll be out for several days. Do I require the physician's certification or just require some type of doctor's note?
-An employee is in a car accident that causes them to miss a week of work. I don't get notified until they've missed their third day (grrr...working with supervisors now on making sure HR is notified of possible FMLA) - do I send her out the papers, knowing that if we require certification we have to allow 15 days for her to even return to them. She'll long be back at work before I even get the doctor's papers. Or can I just take the work excuse slip from the emergency room that put her off work for x amount of days?
I'm running into this a lot - that people are back to work by the time they even get the FMLA papers from me. Then if they don't bother to turn them in, because they're already back to work, I have to look at - do I count this against their attendance and as an unauthorized leave without pay?
Sorry this is so long. Something that's new to me but I think we can cut down our process some here because most people we have I think I could get by without the full certification paperwork!
Hope that all makes sense!
Thanks :)


  • 7 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • I require a certification even if the employee has returned to work, unless the documentation they give me when they return has enough information on it for me to determine that their absence does qualify for FMLA. A note simply stating the employee can return to work is not sufficient.

    The administrative burden of FMLA is very difficult. Right now I have someone who has been out for doctor visits and biopsies (says the employee) yet the doctor will not complete the certification until after they get the results from the biopsy. The only paperwork I'm getting now are letters from the doctor informing me that the employee has been seen for an office visit.

    Good luck with FMLA and be happy you only have a couple of employees on intermittent leave. We have several and it's the worst part of my job.
  • I agree with Irie. You need the paperwork to count leave as FMLA, even if the employee has returned to work by the time you recieve it. Otherwise the absence counts against them. The paperwork is better if it is on an approved form (to make sure nothing is missed and for consistancy), but as long as you have all the required information in writing, you should be ok.

    You may expect the employee who has been in an accident to return to work before the 15 days expires, but you can't really be certain that nothing will happen in between (like complications) so it is best to go ahead and ask for it. Just remember if the patient is unable to complete paperwork due to their illness you may be unable to hold them strictly to the 15 day time line.

    You also need the paperwork completed when the one with a serious illness is not the employee. As far as the patient with the biopsy is concerned, do your best to work with them, but let them know that you need the information for it to qualify for FMLA. If you can't get it, don't designate it as FMLA. You can always go back later and reverse yourself once the paperwork comes in. Let the employee know this. Even if the lack of designation ends up causing the employee to be termed; they can be reinstated later once all the facts are in.

    This is a long answer, but the short answer is to always require the paperwork. Without it, don't designate the leave as FMLA. Once employees understand this they will cooperate more.

    Good luck!

  • TM- In my opinion there is no reason for FMLA when someone is in the hospital, the hospital staff is taking care of the patient not the employee.

    -An employee's father is in Intensive Care and she informs us she'll be out for several days. Do I require the physician's certification or just require some type of doctor's note?
  • I disagree. There is also psychological comfort for the person in the hospital. I would require a certification from the family member's doctor and allow the FMLA if the certification warrants.
  • Marla - I disagree too. Hospitals are often understaffed. You really need someone there to sort of make sure everything is coordinated, that every worker knows where the patient is at progress-wise (not everything gets in the notes), and to be alert for patient changes before things become critical. Additionally, patients get better faster when someone they care about is helping them along.

    I can tell you from personal experience that this is all true. My sister's sytem turned toxic on her a few years ago. Part of the treatment was to give her medicine that washed it out of her system. I told the nurses and aids several times that my sister's diarrhea seemed really severe. They told me it was part of the treatment and what they wanted. I began to become alarmed at the extent of it and insisted the nurse listen and check the patient. I was right. It was over the top. In fact, the nurse was almost panicky. I believe that if I had not been there (almost 24 hours a day) my sister would have been dead by morning.

    Hospital staff work hard and are full of people who really care about their patients. But they work very hard, have many patients, and are only human. More importantly, they are not family.

    Just my 2 cents.
  • Always require the certification. You'll be surprised by how often the lack of formal certification comes back to haunt you.

    Concerning the discussion applying FMLA to the employee with the father in intensive care... The question is not really whether it's useful for the employee to be able to visit the hospitalized family member - it's whether it falls under the definitions included in FMLA. It's your right as an employer to be as generous as you want to be with your leave policy, but there's no legal obligation.