Termination over Failure to Provide FMLA Recertification Upheld

Last month, the Third Circuit upheld Drexel University’s decision to terminate an employee after she took an unapproved extended leave of absence for her medical condition.  In Watson v. Drexel University, Drexel University (“the University”) granted an initial leave of absence under the federal Family Leave Leave Act (“FMLA”) to an employee diagnosed with leiomyoma – a condition that causes painful fibroids.  After that initial period, the employee sought an extended leave period, but failed to provide any recertification to the University.  The University terminated the employee as she took the leave anyway without approval.

Under the FMLA, employees requesting medical leave must provide certification from their health provider within 15 days of their employer’s request.  Employers are entitled to request recertification if an extended leave of absence is requested.  If an employee fails to provide this recertification, their employer does not have to grant them FMLA leave.

The employee filed suit for interference with her FMLA rights, failure to reinstate her under the FMLA, and for failure to accommodate and disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”).

The University moved for summary judgment, asking the District Court to find in its favor because it never received the recertification from the employee.  The District Court granted the University’s motion, finding that such action did not interfere with the employee’s FMLA rights.  Further, the Court held that the University made a good faith effort by engaging in the interactive process which precluded her ADA and PHRA claims.  The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling in favor of the University.

To make a claim of interference under the FMLA, the plaintiff must establish, among other factors, that they were denied benefits to which they were entitled to – entitlement requires a showing that the employee submitted certification or recertification forms for their requested leave.  Without such recertification, the employee is ineligible for FMLA leave and therefore, not entitled to any FMLA benefits.

To establish a claim of failure to accommodate, a plaintiff must show that the employer did not make a good faith effort to assist her disability and engage in the interactive process.  When an employer grants a request for FMLA leave, that qualifies as providing a reasonable accommodation.

It is important for employers to remember that they have rights as well under the FMLA, including to request recertifications from employees.  Employers should lay out their family leave policies in writing for their employees.  If you have questions about the rights and requirements of employers under the Family Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act or would like your policies reviewed for compliance with these laws, please contact Peter L. FrattarelliAshley M. LeBrun, or any member of Archer’s Labor and Employment Group.