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Return to Work Under the FMLA: Fitness for Duty Certification

An employee's return to work after taking Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave may involve a fitness-for-duty certification for those who have taken time off for their own health care issues. Just as the law allows employees to take time off when their serious health condition affects their ability to perform their job duties, the law also allows an employer to have the assurance that the employee is ready to safely handle all their job duties when they return to work.

This article provides a brief overview of returning to work after taking leave under the FMLA.

Fitness-for-Duty Certifications: When They Are Required

For employees who take time off under the FMLA for their own serious medical condition, employers are allowed to have policies or standard procedures requiring those employees to get fitness-for-duty certifications before they return to work. Any employer may require them, but all certification requirements should be applied uniformly and even-handedly to all employees who are taking time off to deal with their serious health issues.

For their part, employers and/or appropriate Human Resources representatives are required to provide adequate notice to the employee that such a certification will be required before they can get back on the job. An employer can't simply wait for an employee to show up for work before letting them know of the certification requirement.

Fitness-for-Duty Certifications: What Is Required

A fitness-for-duty certification is, in a basic sense, just what it sounds like. It is a statement that an employee is fit to get back to their job and can handle all of that job's essential functions.

Here are some of the key things to note:

  • An employer's policy requiring fitness-for-duty certifications should be in writing
  • That policy should apply evenly to all employees in similar situations
  • If required as part of a certification, an employer should provide the employee with a written list of essential job functions that need to be cleared
  • Generally, an employer cannot ask for a second or third opinion as to fitness for duty
  • Repeat certifications may be required in cases involving intermittent (irregular) leave or reduced schedules on the job
  • The costs of fitness-for-duty certifications often are the employees' responsibility

Failure to Provide Certification

If the employer has provided the employee with proper notice and the information needed to obtain a fitness-for-duty certification, the employee should provide the certification before returning to work. If an employee on FMLA leave for a serious medical condition comes back to work without the certification, the employer has the right to refuse to allow the employee to resume their job until one is provided.

Get an Attorney to Review Your Claim

Going back to work after being out under the FMLA can be a liberating experience. But in order to return to work, you have to follow the proper procedures. If an employee has any questions or concerns about the appropriateness of their workplace's policy with regard to fitness-for-duty certifications, they may be able to get answers from an HR representative or, if necessary, an experienced employment law attorney.

If you need help navigating your return to work, speak to an experienced employment law attorney in your area today.

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