Insufficient Medical Certification Means No FMLA Claim

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the U.S. Air Force’s denial of FMLA leave and termination of an employee who failed to provide adequate medical certification. Lewis v. U.S. Air Force (9th Cir. 2011).

Child care director Janet Lewis requested 120 days of FMLA leave for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She supplied a prescription, a letter, and a medical certification form in support of her request. The medical certification form did not, however, contain any medical facts explaining why Lewis was unable to perform her work duties. The USAF told Lewis why the form was insufficient and gave her the required seven days to cure the deficiency. When Lewis refused to give further information, USAF denied her leave request and counted the absences against her for attendance purposes. USAF eventually terminated her.

The Ninth Circuit rejected Lewis’s interference claim saying that FMLA regulations specifically entitled USAF to this information. Lewis’s medical certification did not meet the minimum statutory requirements. The court further found that none of Lewis’s documentation contained enough information for USAF to determine whether she had a serious health condition.

It can be difficult to tell whether a medical certification is sufficient. Consult an MSEC attorney before denying FMLA leave based on insufficient certification. California employers should not rely on this decision as state law prohibits them from asking for specific medical facts.