Employees Must Comply with Employer Leave Policies Even When Leave is Protected by the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a Federal court overseeing the Federal trial courts in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, confirmed a trial court’s decision that threw out an employee’s claim that the employer violated her FMLA rights when it terminated her employment when she was on leave for a serious health condition. See Brown v. Automotive Compenents Holdings LLC, 7th Cir., Sept. 8, 2010. The employer terminated her employment because she did not comply with the employer’s leave policies which required her to submit a particular medical form within a specific period of time. The employee was actually on medical leave that expired, and she needed to extend the leave to cover additional time. The employee did not respond to the employer’s requests, and in fact did not pick up certified letters the employer sent her that requested her to comply with its policies. The Federal court found that the employer’s policies did not conflict with the FMLA, so the employer could terminate the employee for not complying with these policies. Moral of the story for employees is that you must be aware of your employer’s policies and comply with them if they do not contradict the FMLA. Also, don’t ignore certified mail from your employer when you are on leave. By complying with the employer’s request for a medical certification, which it appeared the employee could have done, she would likely have saved her job at least at this juncture. Perhaps in this case, the employee who suffered from depression at the time may have found it difficult to respond at all due to the depression, but that issue did not seem to be a factor in the arguments.

When an Employer Can Require a Medical Certification to Return to Work After FMLA Leave

When an employee takes leave for his or her own serious health condition, and the employer and employee are covered by the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, an employer may require a certificate from the employee that says the employee can return to work. However, the employer generally may only require a certificate that says the employee is able to work and not require additional certifications unless the employer has a reasonable, objective belief that the employee’s health condition will not permit the employee to peform the essential job requirements or that the employee can’t do so without posing a substantial risk of harm to the safety or welfare of the employee or others. Any such inquiry must be related to the particular job and for a legitimate business necessity. The employer must also generally require this of all employees returning to work after medical leave. And the employer may not require such a certification if the reason for the FMLA leave was to care for another. State law and collective bargaining agreement may modify the requirements and protections.

Employer’s Demand for Doctor’s Excuses Violates Family Medical Leave Act

An employer’s demand of an employee to provide a doctor’s medical excuse for every time the employee was absent due to a serious health condition for which the employee already provided medical certification under the Family Medical Leave Act violated that employee’s rights because it was an act that would discourage one from taking FMLA leave. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois came to this decision on January 6, 2010, in the case of Jackson v. Jernberg Industries, Inc. This decision affirms that employees taking FMLA qualifying leave on an intermitant basis (not a consecutive block of time) generally cannot be required to go to the doctor everytime the employee needs to take a day off work because of the limiting effects of the serious health condition just to get a doctor’s excuse so long as the employee has provided medical certification of the need for FMLA leave on an intermitant basis. The court noted that an exception may apply where there is evidence that an employee may be abusing FMLA leave, but that was not an issue in this case.