No diagnosis, no FMLA?

Be careful what you ask for

Posted January 18, 2018

Elsa sipped her coffee as she carefully reviewed a recently received FMLA certification from Hernando in support of his serious health condition. When she got to the part that provides for relevant medical facts, she noticed that it indicated that Hernando had some pretty severe symptoms, and a strong regimen of continuing care, but it did not include a diagnosis. Elsa felt that, without the diagnosis, she would be unable to designate Hernando’s leave as FMLA leave.

Eligible employees may take job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for a limited number of qualifying reasons, but it’s up to the employer to figure out when an employee’s absence is for one of those qualifying reasons. To help accomplish this, employers may request that an employee provide a certification in support of the leave.

Since the FMLA was revised in 2009, the certifications in support of leave for a serious health condition may include a diagnosis. This can help employers, but employers shouldn’t rely solely on a diagnosis. This is, in part, because employers generally cannot require that a certification include a diagnosis.

According to the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), which enforces the FMLA, the determination of what medical facts are appropriate will vary depending on the nature of the serious health condition at issue and is left to the discretion of the health care provider. Employers may not reject a certification because it lacks a diagnosis if the information provided is otherwise sufficient to verify that the condition is a qualifying serious health condition.

Elsa, in our opening story, should not mandate that a certification include a diagnosis. As long as there is enough medical information, it should be acceptable.

Some states, such as California, have laws that prohibit employers from requesting a diagnosis. Therefore, it helps to be aware of provisions outside of the federal FMLA.

At the end of the day, it helps to review the certification to ensure that it is complete and sufficient. Doing so can help circumvent an employee from obtaining FMLA leave under false pretenses. Don’t, however, ask for too much.


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