Can You Be Fired for Incomplete FMLA Paperwork?
Court decision gives Pennsylvania workers more protection
Good news: A recent court ruling in Pennsylvania just made the process of applying for medical leave a little more “human.”
Let’s take a look at what happened and what it means to you.
Imagine that unexpected health issues have suddenly started affecting your quality of life. You seek medical treatment, but the doctor can’t diagnose your condition without running some tests. In the meantime, though, she wants you to take it easy.
You apply for intermittent time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Your doctor fills out her portion of the paperwork, but doesn’t specifically name a medical condition because the diagnosis hasn’t yet been made. You receive no feedback from your employer after you turn in the forms.
You feel ill on several days, so you call out of work — and at the end of the month you’re fired for excessive absenteeism.
Wait! What about those FMLA forms you filed? Don’t they protect you from termination?
Not so fast, says your employer. It turns out that your request for leave was denied because you didn’t show evidence of a serious health condition.
Fired for a technicality?
That’s what happened to Deborah Hansler. Not long after she was terminated from her job at the Lehigh Valley Health Network, she found out that she had diabetes and high blood pressure.
What happened next? Hansler spoke to an attorney. She then sued her former employer for interfering with her right to take FMLA leave. She claimed that the company should’ve given her an opportunity to correct her paperwork rather than firing her.
The company attempted to have the case thrown out. It stated that it rightfully denied Hansler’s leave based on the medical certification she provided, because her doctor did not indicate a serious medical condition. The employer also said that it didn’t have any way of anticipating Hansler’s future diagnosis.
In other words, the employer took no accountability for the fact that, indeed, Hansler actually was suffering from a chronic and serious medical condition.
The appeals court didn’t buy the company’s argument. In a precedential ruling, it found that the company had violated Hansler’s rights under the FMLA.
Furthermore, it laid out criteria that Pennsylvania employers must follow when evaluating employees’ FMLA requests. Let’s talk about those next.
(The case discussed here is Hansler v. Lehigh Valley Hospital Network.)
What employers must do
The court was very clear in its opinion that employers are not expected to predict employees’ future medical conditions.
Rather it focused on how companies should handle incomplete or insufficient FMLA paperwork.
In those instances, employers are required to notify the employee of the deficiency and then give him or her seven calendar days to correct the problem (unless that timeframe is not practical, given the person’s circumstances).
What it means to employees
Remember, not all conditions are covered by FMLA. However, serious medical conditions may qualify.
What is a serious medical condition under the FMLA? The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) defines it as one that involves inpatient care in a hospital or continuing treatment by a health care provider.
It’s also important to look at the DOL’s definition of “continuing treatment.” That may include:
serious health conditions that require periodic visits (at least twice a year) for treatment by a health care provider
treatments that continue over an extended period of time
conditions that may cause episodic rather than a continuing period of incapacity (e.g., asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, etc.)
Contact the Murphy Law Group Now for a Free Consultation
If you’ve been denied FMLA leave over a serious medical condition, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation to find out more about your rights.