CASE: Instead of curing a certification, employee resigned


Employer won summary judgement

After working for the company for a few years, Karen requested seven days of vacation from July 30 to August 7, with no other explanation. Her request was denied as others had already requested vacation around that time, and the department needed to be adequately staffed. In response, Karen went Kim, her boss, and said she needed time off to take care of family personal medical treatment. Kim told her to apply for FMLA leave.  Kim also told Karen that she could have off on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, but had to be in the office on Thursday and Friday.

The next day, July 15, Karen went to her doctor to get an FMLA certification completed. The certification identified the family member as Karen’s husband, but her husband hadn’t seen the doctor for the last two years. The doctor’s portion of the form stated only that Karen needed “8 days to help family member who is sick.” It went on to say that the husband would be incapacitated on the relevant dates, but he would not be hospitalized, was not given a prescription, didn’t need treatment more than once per year, didn’t need follow up treatments or time for recovery, would not need care on an intermittent or reduced schedule and would not have flare ups. Generally, the husband’s condition did not appear to be an FMLA serious health condition.

The space for the doctor to explain the care Karen needed to provide and why it was medically necessary, was blank.

In a somewhat strange response, the company’s president called the doctor who, in turn, called Karen and informed of the president’s call. The doctor’s office told Karen they would “take care of what needs to be done.” The doctor subsequently provided another certification, which was identical to the first one, except that it added a line stating that Karen’s husband had a “workup pending” for depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

Only July 21, Karen had a meeting with the company HR director and an advisor to the CEO, where Karen was told that if she wanted her FMLA request to be approved, she needed to provide information. Karen did not want to provide more information and instead, shortly after this meeting, she resigned effective immediately. She also sued.

In court, Karen argued that her husband had been referred for testing and was required to attend medical appointments in connection with a heart condition and psychiatric issues. At the relevant time, however, her husband had not actually had an appointment.

In finding for the employer, the court indicated that the certifications did not support that Karen’s husband had an FMLA serious health condition. The employer said it needed more information, giving Karen an opportunity to cure the certification. Instead, however, Karen resigned. In doing so with an immediate effective date, Karen basically gave up her right to a cure period.

Key to Remember: Employees have the right to cure insufficient certifications, but resigning instead of doing so generally ends the FMLA trail. Interpreting FMLA certifications can be challenging, but this case highlights a tool employers have when a certification is insufficient.

Newman v. Harc, Inc. District Court of Connecticut, No. 3:20-cv-01257, September 16, 2022

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.


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