Federal Appeals Court Finds Employee’s Failure to Recertify FMLA Leave Justifies Discharge

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Federal Appeals Court Finds Employee’s Failure to Recertify FMLA Leave Justifies Discharge

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit has recently ruled that an employee who failed to submit medical certification for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was ineligible for leave under the program as a result. In turn, this justified the employee’s dismissal the following year.

In this case, the plaintiff was a custodian at a university-based in Philadelphia. In May of 2016, the plaintiff was determined to be suffering from leiomyoma. As a result of the condition, the employee talked to her director and requested time off to care for her health. The director advised her to apply for FMLA leave and to talk to HR if she had any more questions.

The plaintiff hid her medical condition from everyone else and had no further contact with the director. She did, however, contact HR and request FMLA leave in June 2016. The plaintiff had a physician complete the medical certification and properly submit it to her employer’s designated insurance carrier. This FMLA request was granted in a letter dated August 11th, 2016. The employee then sought an extension through October 17th, which was also granted.

However, when the employee requested a further extension to November 3rd, the plaintiff failed to include further information or a letter of certification. The employee was informed that the request was denied but that she was still eligible. The employee was also sent a blank medical certification form to complete and submit. The employee failed to respond, and on November 9th, the employee was sent a letter informing her that her leave request was denied. Despite this, the employee continued taking leave.

The plaintiff later requested leave from December 1st, 2016, through May 31st, 2017, and was sent a form informing her that she was eligible for the period; however, the employer’s representative failed to include a blank medical recertification form. On January 31st, 2017, the plaintiff was informed that her leave request was denied.

Following this, on February 10th, the plaintiff’s medical provider sent in an incomplete medical certification form. This resulted in a letter from the employer’s representative advising the employee that the certification was not completed and included a blank certification form to resubmit, clearly indicating what data was missing from the previous form. The plaintiff was instructed to return the notice in seven days which she failed to do.

On May 18th, the plaintiff’s medical provider submitted a complete recertification form, and the employee was granted leave from May 18th to the 31st. However, in late 2017 the employee was notified that she was fired and, in response, filed a lawsuit against her employer alleging disability discrimination for failure to accommodate under both state and federal law as well as interference and failure to reinstate under the FMLA.

The district court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment on all counts, and the plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the Third Circuit found that though the employee may be entitled to FMLA leave, the Act permits employers to require regular recertification to determine eligibility which the plaintiff failed to do.

The Department of Labor does require employers to send a blank form and clear instructions of expectations with notices requesting recertification, which the employer failed to do on occasion from December 1st, 2016 to May 31st, 2017; however it remedied this on February 28th, 2017 by sending a form.

Lastly, the court considered the plaintiff’s claims of disability discrimination. The court found that the plaintiff could not show a failure to accommodate as a result of her hiding any disability from the employer. Thus, the court upheld the district court’s ruling of summary judgment for the employer.

Employer Takeaways

This case demonstrates well that with proper adherence to FMLA regulations, an employer can discipline employees up to termination for failure to follow its FMLA policies. This is true even when an employee follows procedures for subsequent requests.