Steps to approve or deny FMLA leaves

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Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides employees with opportunities to take time off from work for their own or family members’ medical emergencies or to bond with an adopted or newborn child. Covered employers must let the employees know about their rights and regulations pertaining to FMLA through notices. Click here to learn more about an employee’s rights and regulations while taking leave. This blog lays out the steps on how to approve or deny FMLA leaves. If you want to create a stress-free and seamless FMLA solution, let the Sterling Administration team do the heavy lifting for you! Our dedicated leave specialists will guide you through the ins and outs of FMLA.

Step 1: Educate your employees about FMLA

Educate your workforce by teaching them everything they need to know about FMLA. You can include FMLA information in your employees’ handbooks, procedural manuals, new-hire paperwork, display an FMLA poster, provide a general notice, or post about FMLA on your organization’s intranet. Furthermore, you can train your employees about FMLA, which includes essential information like when/how to apply for leaves and procedures for filing a complaint in case of a violation. Eligibility to apply for FMLA is based on the following criteria –
  • Worked for that employer for at least 12 months (does not have to be consecutive)
  • The employee has worked in the organization for at least 1250 hours in a 12- month period.
  • The employee is employed at a workplace with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of that workplace.
If the above criteria are not met, then the employee does not qualify for FMLA leaves. You can let the employee know that they are ineligible to avail of FMLA through Form WH-381.

Step 2: Request for leave received

Once your employee submits a leave request, make sure to respond to the leave request within five business days. If your employee submits a leave request on medical grounds, then it should be supported by a medical certificate from the patient’s physician. Sterling Administration’s team of experts will remove the burden and stress of FMLA paperwork by collecting, reviewing, and verifying your employees’ medical certifications for you.

Step 3: Determine the need for certification

If you have enough information regarding the authenticity of your employee’s leave, then there is no requirement for further certification. The Department of Labor (DOL) has published four different models of certification forms. You should select the appropriate form to include with the Notice of Eligibility and Rights & Responsibilities (Form WH-381). Allow your employees up to 15 calendar days to complete and return their certification form.

Step 4: Validation of the reason behind taking leaves

Sometimes your employees may submit incomplete certifications with insufficient information. If you feel that the information provided in the certification is incomplete, the employee has seven calendar days to rectify any deficiency. Also, inform them about the consequences if they can’t provide the certificate. You can contact the employee’s healthcare provider to clarify doubts if the employee does not submit a proper certification. If the deficiencies in the certification are not rectified while re-submitting the clarification, or if paperwork is never received, you may deny your employee leaves. Sterling Administration enables you to reduce time spent on FMLA paperwork and provide a dedicated specialist from beginning to end.

Step 5: If required, go for a second or third opinion

If you doubt the validity of the medical certification, then you can require an opinion from another healthcare provider at your own expense. If the second opinion does not approve the employee’s FMLA leave or the employee’s healthcare provider does not share relevant information with you, you can deny their FMLA leave request. If the opinions of both healthcare providers differ, then you can request a third opinion, but that would be also at your own expense. You and your employee must agree on a third healthcare provider. If you can decide on a third healthcare provider for a third opinion, then that provider’s decision would be considered final. If the third opinion does not approve the employee’s FMLA leave then you can deny their FMLA leave request.

Step 6: Approve or deny the leave

The Department of Labor (DOL) published a model Designation Notice (Form WH382) which lets the employees know whether their leaves have been denied or approved. If you have enough information from the initial request, you can issue Form WH-382 and Form WH-381. If you are requesting a medical certification form, then give your employees 15 calendar days to return the notice before approving or denying the leaves. Once your employee submits the medical certification form, you will have five business days to approve or deny the leave. If the employee fails to return the notice within the stipulated time, you can deny the leave through the Designation Notice or similar communication. It is important to note that an employer should work with an employee to obtain a medical certification as much as possible to avoid future litigation. This may mean allowing for extensions in the time allotted to return medical certifications.

Step 7: Once you miss a deadline, you retroactively designate leave

If you miss the deadline to respond to an employee’s leave request then you can retroactively designate the leaves as FMLA leaves. Even if you fail to designate FMLA in a timely manner, you must provide the same leave benefits and job guarantee to the employee. It is always advisable to make a retroactive designation with the consent of the employee. If you wish to make the designation retroactive despite their objection, then you should do so only with the advice of an attorney. Sterling Administration’s dedicated team of FMLA professionals will create the best solutions or action plans for you and your employees.

  In case of a medical emergency

As an employer, you can also offer FMLA leaves to your employee on their behalf if you feel they are in dire need. In situations such as a medical emergency or if any employee complains of constant pain or any medical issue, you can also offer FMLA to them and file paperwork on their behalf. Information gathered from your employee’s friends and family is also enough to warrant an FMLA case. If you refuse to offer FMLA in case of a medical ailment, you might be held responsible. Click here to learn more about how Sterling safeguards employers against FMLA abuse.