Third Circuit Expands FMLA Requirements for Employers: Employee Must Have Opportunity to Cure Invalid Medical Leave Certification


By: Barry Brownstein
A recent decision from the Third Circuit expands FMLA requirements, by declaring that employers who receive a medical leave certification from an employee that is vague, ambiguous, and non-responsive, are required to:
(1) inform the employee that the certification is insufficient;
(2) state in writing what additional information is required; and
(3) provide the employee the opportunity to cure the certification within seven (7) days.
Employers who neglect these requirements may be liable for interference under the FMLA.

In Hansler v. Lehigh Valley Hosp. Network[1], plaintiff, Deborah Hansler was hired by Lehigh Valley in 2011 to work as a technical partner.  In early March 2013, Hansler began experiencing shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting.  On March 13, Hansler’s physician completed a medical certification form requesting intermittent leave for two days a week starting on March 1, 2013 and lasting for approximately one month.   A few weeks later, after Hansler had taken several days off of work, Lehigh Valley terminated her employment without seeking any clarification about her medical certification.  Lehigh Valley cited excessive absences and informed her that the request for leave had been denied because her condition did not qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA.

Prior to taking leave under the FMLA, an employee must give her employer notice of the request for leave, “stat[ing] a qualifying reason for the needed leave.”  29 C.F.R. § 825.102.  An employer may then require the employee to support the request with a certification issued by a health care provider.  29 U.S.C. § 2601(a).  A “sufficient” medical certification must state:

(1) the date on which the serious health condition began;
(2) the probable duration of the condition;
(3) relevant medical facts;
(4) a statement that the employee is unable to perform the functions of the position;
(5) the dates and duration of any planned medical treatment; and
(6) the expected duration of intermittent leave.
Id. § 2612(b).
In dismissing Hansler’s suit against Lehigh Valley, the District Court held that Hansler was not entitled to leave or a cure period because her certification was “invalid.”  Hansler appealed to the Third Circuit which reversed and remanded.
In reversing, the Third Circuit held that “[r]eceipt of an insufficient or incomplete certification triggers certain regulatory obligations on an employer that are unrelated to its understanding of the employee’s health condition.”  Id. at *4.  After receiving Hansler’s invalid certification, Lehigh Valley was required to:
(1) advise Hansler that her certification was insufficient;
(2) state in writing what additional information was necessary to make it sufficient; and
(3) provide her with an opportunity to cure before denying her request for leave.
The Court declared that Hansler is permitted to premise her interference claim on those alleged regulatory violations.
[1] Hansler v. Lehigh Valley Hosp. Network, No. 14-1772, 2015 WL 3825049, at *1 (3d Cir. June 22, 2015).