You or a family member has a serious medical condition that requires you to take substantial time off of work, time that the law allows you take as long as you follow the rules. But what happens when, despite your compliance with the law, the information your doctor provides puts your medical leave and your employment at risk?

Under the federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees can claim up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for certain medical reasons. To claim coverage, employees must give their employers prior notice. Additionally, many employers require their workers to submit medical certification – essentially a doctor’s note – to substantiate their requests. To be valid, however, the medical certification must be “complete” and “sufficient,” but when a doctor’s note contains too little information or the information is too vague, it can jeopardize an employee’s entire FMLA claim.

FMLA request forms must be complete and sufficient

Because of doctors’ workloads and the inability in many situations to render a precise prognosis about the frequency and duration of a condition, it can be a challenge when they have to complete patients’ FMLA request forms.

In Hansler v. Lehigh Valley Hospital Network, the Third Circuit Court explained that a sufficient FMLA request form must include:

  1. The date on which the condition began,
  2. The probable duration,
  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 any planned medical treatment, and
  6. The expected duration of intermittent leave.

If one or more applicable entries have not been completed, then the medical certification is incomplete.

An employer, however, can still deny a complete certification for insufficiency, that is, if it is too vague or not responsive. In Hansler, for example, the Third Circuit found that the medical certification was not sufficient because the doctor requested that the employee take “an intermittent leave… lasting for a probable duration of one month.” Because the note did not make clear whether “one month” referred to the employee’s medical condition or her leave of absence, the court found the certification too vague, and therefore, not sufficient.

Employees have a seven-day right to cure

An insufficient or incomplete medical certification does not warrant an immediate denial of an employee’s FMLA request. The employer must give the employee written notice of the denial and the right to cure within a reasonable time. Even though the court in the Hansler case found the certification to be insufficient, the judges ruled that under U.S. Department of Labor regulations the employer should have notified the employee of the insufficiency, and given her the opportunity to correct it within seven days.

Protect your right to a medical leave

If you or a loved one has a qualifying medical condition and you believe that your employer has wrongfully refused your right to a leave under the FMLA, you need to speak with an experienced lawyer immediately. The attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Employment Litigation Group can assess your options, whether that means negotiating with your employer on your behalf, seeking relief through an administrative agency, or initiating a lawsuit.  Please contact us today – we’re here to help.