FMLA Certification timelines and Human Resources Administration
“Do you have that FMLA form for me?” HR manager Brock Gustafson asked Wendell Harper.
“I put it on your desk last week,” Wendell said.
“I’ve told you in the past to put anything in my hand that you consider important,” Brock said. “I did not find any FMLA forms from you on my desk.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Wendell said. “I’ll go home and pick up a copy.”
“You’re obliged to get a doctor’s certification within 15 days if you have an unexpected illness and take FMLA medical leave without prior notice,” Brock said. “As of 8:45 a.m.” – he checked his watch – “it’s been exactly 15 days, and we are entitled to consider your absence as unexcused since you haven’t provided documentation.”
“No,” Wendell said. “I’ll get the doctor to fax it if you don’t want me going home.”
“I do want you to go home,” Brock said. “Here’s a letter confirming your unexcused absence, which is a violation of attendance policy and your third disciplinary strike this year. That’s punishable by termination, and so here’s another letter, your termination.”
“What?!” Wendell squawked. “I had bronchitis, and my doctor confirmed it. You can’t fire me for being sick.”
“The law and our company policy are very clear,” Brock said. “We don’t have to approve your leave without FMLA certification and the FMLA form. Time’s up.”
“First, I’m getting my doctor to fax the damn form. Then, I’m suing,” Wendell warned, pocketing the letters.
“Be my guest,” Brock replied.
Wendell did sue, claiming that the company interfered with his FMLA certification. Did he win?
Yes, Wendell did win, by getting a court to agree that Brock acted too rashly. The court refused to throw out Wendell’s case.
The court said that under the Family and Medical Leave Act, a worker has 15 calendar days to turn in the required FMLA forms. That meant Wendell had the full day in question to produce the form. He did get the doctor to fax a copy to Brock’s office just past 5 p.m.
Beyond the time-of-day dispute, the court said Wendell’s claim that he put the completed FMLA form on Brock’s desk days earlier was enough to get the case to trial, with all the expense that entailed. Brock swore he never found the form on his desk, but the court said a jury should sort out that issue.
Don’t jump the gun with FMLA certification
Employers are justified in holding employees’ feet to the fire over FMLA forms and documentation. Sometimes it’s the only way to ensure that staff doesn’t take the FMLA as a ticket to goof off.
It’s great to be as prepared as Brock was in this case. It’s the way to go if you want to play hardball with a truant. But it’s important not to jump the gun, spoiling your preparation and putting yourself in the wrong.
Our recommendation: Give them an extra day or two to hand in the FMLA form, then act.
Cite: Kauffman v. Federal Express Corp. v. No. 04-2433, 7th Cir., 10/18/05.
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