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FMLA: How to Ask Your Doctor to Put You on a Leave of Absence

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The federal Family and Medical Leave Act entitles you to take unpaid leave if you're sick or you have to care for a family member who is ill. When you return to work, you're entitled to return to your old job or to an equivalent one. If you're covered by the law, you aren't required to ask a doctor for a written excuse before requesting time off. However your employer is within its rights to ask for a doctor's certification, which confirms that you have legitimate FMLA reasons for your absence.

Are You Covered?

You have to meet the following federal rules to qualify to take FMLA leave:

  • You work for a company that employs at least 50 people. If the company you work for employs more than 50, at least 50 staffers must be within 75 miles of your workplace, for you to be covered under the FMLA.
  • You must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, although the time you've worked doesn't need to be consecutive. 
  • In the year before you take your leave, you must have worked for your employer at least 1,250 hours. If you worked full time, that would be slightly over 31 weeks.

If you're covered, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period, provided that you, your spouse, your parent or your child has health issues that qualify:

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  • The problem is serious enough to require an overnight hospital stay.
  • The problem incapacitates you or your family member for more than three days, which results in being unable to work or attend school.
  • A chronic condition that incapacitates the sufferer at least twice a year, and that requires a health provider to treat the condition.
  • Pregnancy.

Telling Your Boss

You can't simply not show up to work and claim FMLA reasons afterward. If, say, you schedule your child's surgery for three months down the road, notify your employer ahead of time that you'll be taking leave. If you can't work because of an emergency, you must notify the company as soon as possible.

You don't have to claim FMLA coverage when you make your initial request, but you do need to provide enough information so that your employer knows that it is a possibility that you may claim FMLA benefits. It's not necessary to share the specifics. If, say, your doctor tells you to stay home for a week on antibiotics, you should relay that information to your boss, but you don't need to identify the condition or illness.

The easiest way to get FMLA is if the company hears your request and tells you to go ahead. The company may, however, determine that your down time isn't covered. For example, your place of work may not meet the "50 workers within 75 miles" standard. If you're not covered, you're entitled to an FMLA denial letter within five days of requesting leave.

Certifying Your Absence

Even if you're covered, your boss can ask you to provide a certification form from your doctor. The company can ask for certification up front or it can do so later during the leave period, if your company questions why you're staying out so long. The exception is if you're staying home to bond with a new baby or a child you've just adopted. You don't need certification for that.

If you get a certification request, you'll be given FMLA paperwork asking for a variety of information:

  • Contact information for your health care provider.
  • The date the health problem began and the expected duration.
  • Medical facts about the condition.
  • If you're the one with health problems, a statement that you're unable to work.

It's your responsibility to call your doctor and ask for certification. If there's a fee for completing the paperwork, you have to pay it. That's all it should take. This isn't an unusual request in the 21st century, and there shouldn't be any special hoops to jump through. Whether it's FMLA paperwork for anxiety, depression or a broken arm, the procedure's the same.

It's your responsibility to see that the doctor delivers the form to your employer within the 15-day deadline. If your boss isn't satisfied, he can ask you for more information, contact the doctor to confirm everything's accurate or send you to a second doctor. If your doctor chooses the second-opinion route, then she must pay for that option.

About the Author

Over the course of his career, Fraser Sherman has reported on local governments, written about how to start a business and profiled professionals in a variety of career fields.. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com

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