Medical Certification for Family Leave: Stay in Touch with Employee

Our employee went on family leave on March 1 (for which she was qualified). Our outside leave administration company disallowed the claim due to the fact she didn’t get a medical certification in 15 days. She is still out, but her status is now unclear because we didn’t find out until much later about the denial of leave. What should we do?

While it is true that an employee must provide the medical certification within 15 calendar days of the employer’s request to provide it, the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR 825.305) states specifically that the certification is required “unless it is not practicable to do so despite the employee’s diligent, good faith efforts or the employer provides more than 15 calendar days to return the requested certification.”

It is not uncommon for employees to have difficulties getting the certification from their doctor. A number of factors come into play: The employee’s unsettled health status, the doctor’s busy schedule, or the cost the doctor might charge for completing the medical certification.

Open a Dialogue

It’s best, for these reasons and others, not to have a knee-jerk reaction to denying the leave for not getting the certification within the 15 days. The company (or outside administrator) should open a dialogue with the employee to ascertain why there is a delay. There could be a valid reason for the delay.

In this situation, it was an outside company handling the leave request. Large companies often outsource handling leaves of absence; however, this is what can happen with a disconnect.

Employer Responsibility

Further, even though employers may choose to outsource employment-related tasks such as leave administration, the employer is always the primary entity responsible for ensuring compliance with employment laws.

A discussion with the employee might reveal that they were trying to get the certification, and good faith efforts were not producing results.

To ensure compliance, employers should try to stay in touch with employees who need/are on a leave, and make any decisions regarding the leave after finding out all the related information.

Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred members and above. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at