If you are a covered employee under a business that meets the requirements for the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and you or your immediate family member has a “serious health condition” you should understand the procedures behind filing for FMLA leave. Of course, FMLA-Qualifying leave may also be available to you for leave related to adoption bonding with a newborn, and some other limited reasons, but we focus here on leave triggered by a serious health condition. Here’s what you need to know:
Steps to Filing for FMLA-Qualifying Leave
1. Know Whether You’re Eligible by Understanding the designation of a “Serious Health Condition”
The Family & Medical Leave Act does not stipulate which illnesses are considered a “serious health condition” but it does have strict definition of what must be established such that an illness or injury qualifies for coverage. A “serious health condition” is one that requires any of these:
- Overnight inpatient care
- Three days or more of incapacity causing absence from work, school, or other daily activities
- Incapacity due to pregnancy or prenatal care
- Incapacity due to a chronic condition or permanent long-term condition
- Absences required to treat an on-going condition that would otherwise result in incapacity
2. Fill out your employer’s paperwork
Assuming you are covered by FMLA, the next step is to speak with your employer’s HR department to find out what paperwork is required. In some instances, the leave is sudden and filing for FMLA leave can be done after the employee has left work. Federal regulations allow employers to require 30-days advance notice if the leave is anticipated, or notice “as soon as practicable” when it is not. “As soon as practicable” is often translated as one to two business days but that largely depends on the situation.
This paperwork can include the need for a certification of your “serious health condition.” You needn’t worry that you will have to disclose sensitive medical details to your employer. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects patients’ privacy so your employer cannot request details past the certification.
How to Get a Certification for Filing FMLA Leave
Your employer must give you 15 calendar days to get a certification form completed by the health care provider of your choosing. This also includes podiatrists, dentists, clinical psychologists, optometrists, nurse practitioners, chiropractors, and other medical professionals. The employer’s contact with the health care provider is limited to a request for authentication or clarification, absent your consent to share additional information.
It’s important while you’re out on leave to stay in contact with your employer. Leave does not have to be taken full time. It can be taken intermittently or on a reduced schedule. It’s important to note that an employer may require a fitness-for-duty certification once every 30 days if you’re taking intermittent or reduced schedule FMLA leave and if reasonable safety concerns exist regarding your ability to perform your job duties based on your “serious health condition.”
Filing for FMLA-qualifying leave, and the Family & Medical Leave Act in general, has a lot of nuances. If you’re thinking about applying for leave, know your rights. Download our free e-book, Guide to Understanding FMLA: Helping You, Your Job & Your Family. It contains valuable information on the act and what it means for covered employees.