Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Do you know? FMLA fitness-for-duty certifications

In a previous post, I detailed the new FMLA regulation’s eligibility notice and designation notice requirements. The FMLA also has specific requirements for how an employer must go about obtaining a fitness-for-duty certification from an employee on an FMLA leave for his or her own serious health condition.

1. Mandatory written notice. Before an employer can require an employee to provide a fitness-for-duty certification, it must expressly be provided for in a written FMLA policy or in the designation statement given to the employee at the outset of the leave. Additionally, if the employer wants the certification to address the essential functions of the employee’s job, a list of such functions must be provided to the employee with the designation notice.

2. Uniformity. The employer must have a uniformly-applied policy or practice that requires all similarly-situated employees (i.e., same occupation, job function, or serious health condition) who take leave for such conditions to obtain and present the certification.

3. Limited to the specific health condition. An employer may only seek a fitness-for-duty certification with regard to the particular health condition that caused the employee’s need for FMLA leave.

4. Cost. The employee must pay for the cost of the certification, and the employee is not entitled to be paid for the time or travel costs spent acquiring the certification.

5. Clarification. While an employer can seek clarification of a fitness-for-duty certification with an employee’s health care provider under the same rules applicable to other communications with an employee’s health care provider, the employer cannot delay the employee’s return to work pending the clarification. Unlike the initial leave certification, an employer cannot seek a second or third opinion of a fitness-for-duty.

6. Denial of job restoration. An employer can deny restoration, however, if a properly requested fitness-for-duty certification is not returned by the employee.

7. Intermittent or reduced work schedule leave. An employer is not entitled to a certification for each absence taken on an intermittent or reduced leave schedule. An employer is entitled, though, to a certification for such absences up to once every 30 days if reasonable safety concerns exist regarding the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties, based on the serious health condition for which the employee took such leave. An employer may not terminate the employment of an employee while awaiting such a certification for an intermittent or reduced schedule leave absence.

8. Interplay with the ADA. After an employee returns from FMLA leave, the ADA requires any medical examination at an employer’s expense by the employer’s health care provider be job-related and consistent with business necessity. If an employee’s serious health condition may also qualify as a disability under the ADA, the FMLA does not prevent the employer from following the procedures for requesting medical information under the ADA.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com.