The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows workers to take time off from their jobs if they have suffered from a serious illness, or they need to take care of an immediate family member who has. But in order to use these benefits, employers require that these absences be certified with a note from the doctor.
Family Medical Leave Doctor’s Note Requirement
FMLA helps workers take the time they need to deal with health issues without fear of losing their job. Under this law, a worker may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they, or an immediate family member, is suffering from a serious medical condition and needs care. While workers are taking this time off, employers are required to maintain their existing health insurance coverage and guarantee that when they’re ready to return, their current job, or its equivalent, will be available to them.
Workers are also allowed to take intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, so they can use their 12 weeks of time in separate blocks. This gives workers the flexibility they need to go to doctor’s appointments, receive treatments, and take time off to recuperate. In addition, FMLA gives employees the right to work reduced hours if their doctor believes it would be in their best interest.
But the catch is, workers may be required to supply a doctor’s note to their employer—a measure that’s designed to prevent someone from abusing FMLA. However, the law provides the following limitations on the medical note requirement.
• Employers are not allowed to ask workers for a new doctor’s note more often than every 30 days. In addition, if an employee has a note that says he or she will need intermittent medical leave, employers should not ask for additional certification as long as the note includes the expected amount of time the employee will need off from work and the approximate dates the time should be taken.
• Organizations may require a doctor’s note as part of its attendance policy, but the policy must be enforced in the same way for all workers. Employers cannot target certain employees for enforcement of their attendance rules.
• An employer may not ask personal questions about the nature of the illness an employee needs time off to address. An employee is only required to get a doctor’s note certifying the need to take FMLA time off and is not obligated to discuss personal details about the illness.
Family Medical Leave Doctor’s Notes in Court
In order to discourage abuse of FMLA benefits, particularly around weekends and holidays, Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Inc. had a policy that required documentation every time an employee requested to take intermittent medical leave. This requirement culminated in one employee being suspended, and another getting terminated, for violating the company’s attendance policy. The organization looked to the court to determine if its policy was within FMLA guidelines, and it was recently decided that the rule did in fact infringe on employees’ rights. The court stated that requiring so many doctor notes was too rigid and went against the spirit of FMLA.