Under the FMLA, an employee requesting leave for a serious health condition must provide a medical certification for the leave upon request by the employer.
The employee has 15 days to return the requested certification, unless it is not practicable to do so under the particular circumstances. If an employee fails to provide certification, the employer may deny the FMLA leave.
What happens, however, if an employee returns the requested medical certification late—after the expiration of the 15-day time limit? According to the Northern District of Ohio, in Kinds v. Ohio Bell Telephone Co. (7/30/12) [pdf], an employer can lawfully deny FMLA benefits when an employee submits the medical certification beyond the 15-day deadline, even if the employee only misses it by a short amount of time.
Ohio Bell's decision to deny Kinds FMLA coverage due to untimely certification is justified …. In spite of ample notification by Ohio Bell, Kinds did not submit certification by the 13th …. Ohio Bell would have been justified in denying coverage for this failure alone, but the company nonetheless granted Kinds an extension. Kinds failed to submit certification by the January 27, 2010, deadline as well. Finally, on February 16, 2010, Kinds submitted the medical certification, but it failed to provide an explanation—a request made by FMLA Operations as a condition for giving Kinds a third extension—as to why she failed to submit certification earlier. As a matter of law, it cannot be said that Ohio Bell's refusal to accept Kinds's twice late and still inadequate certification—submitted one month past the FMLA required 15-day period—constituted interference with Kinds's FMLA rights.
To sum up:
- How late is too late for an employee to submit a medical certification to support a request for FMLA leave? One day.
- Can you extend the 15-day period and accept a late certification? Yes.
- Do you have to? No.