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Return to Work Under the FMLA: Fitness for Duty Certification

You may need to provide a fitness-for-duty certification after taking leave granted under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This certification requirement applies to those who took time off to attend to their health care issues.

The FMLA allows a worker to take unpaid leave to care for the employee's own serious health condition. The law also allows an employer to seek assurance that the employee is ready to safely handle all their job duties when they return to work. So, under both the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a return-to-work examination can be done as long as the medical examination is “job-related and consistent with business necessity."

This article overviews return to work requirements after taking leave under the FMLA.

Returning From Medical Leave

The FMLA guarantees job reinstatement for workers whose leave has ended. Your employer can have policies or standard procedures requiring you to get a fitness-for-duty certification before you return to work if you take time off to treat your serious medical condition. Your employer must let you know if you need to provide medical certification to return to work. The notice must be adequate. Your employer can't wait for you to show up for work and then inform you of the certification requirement.

Certification Requirements

A fitness-for-duty certification is a statement from an employee's healthcare provider. It confirms the employee is fit to return to work. The certification also verifies that the employee can perform the essential functions of their job.

Here are some of the key things to note:

  • An employer's policy requiring fitness-for-duty certifications should be in writing
  • The employer must include the fitness-for-duty certification requirement with the designation notice
  • The requirement must be a uniformly applied policy to all similarly situated employees
  • Your employer should provide you with a written list of essential job functions to be cleared
  • Generally, your employer cannot ask for a second or third opinion on the employee's ability to do the job
  • In cases of intermittent (irregular) leave, repeat certifications may be needed (Repeat certifications may also be required for reduced job schedules)
  • In general, your employer must pay the cost of the fitness-for-duty certification

The certification form asks for certain information. Employers cannot request additional information beyond that needed in the form.

An employer cannot delay job reinstatement while seeking clarification or authentication.

Failure To Provide Certification

You should provide the certification before you return to work. If you return from FMLA leave for a serious medical condition without the certification, your employer can refuse to allow you to resume your job until you provide certification.

State or Local Laws and an Employee's Return to Work

A collective bargaining agreement or state or local law may address your return from such leave. If so, those terms take control, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

An Attorney Can Help Review Your FMLA Claim

The FMLA guarantees job reinstatement. But to return to work, you must follow certain procedures. If you have concerns about whether your employer's fitness-for-duty certifications procedures are lawful, an attorney can help. If you need help navigating your return to work, speak to an experienced employment law attorney today.

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