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A certification of health care provider form submitted after an employee was terminated from employment may provide the basis for a claim of interference with protected leave rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), according to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Regina White first injured her knee in April of 2010, but did not require surgery. She worked through Dec. 23, 2010, after which she was absent from work at Beltram Edge Tool Supply Inc. for a variety of unrelated health issues. On approximately Jan. 27, while she was still off from work, White reinjured her knee. She asked for FMLA paperwork the next day. Xiomara Polewaski, Beltram’s vice president of operations, provided White with a FMLA certification of health care provider form, and told White that the completed form had to be returned to Beltram by Feb. 12.
On Feb. 11, White asked Polewaski for an extension of time to submit the form because her physician was on leave. Polewaski gave White a “couple of extra days,” but did not provide a specific due date. Polewaski also told White to submit doctor’s notes explaining her absences. White subsequently provided two doctor’s notes, the last of which indicated that she would be able to return to work on Jan. 31. On Feb. 17, shortly after receiving the notes, Beltram terminated White’s employment for failure to return to work on Jan. 31, and for failure to submit FMLA paperwork.
After terminating White’s employment, Beltram received a completed certification of health care provider form indicating that White had been unable to perform her job duties, due to her knee injury, since Jan. 28, 2011. White’s doctor estimated she would need 13 weeks of leave.
White sued Beltram for interference with her rights under the FMLA. The district court considered only the medical information that was submitted to Beltram prior to White’s termination and granted summary judgment because White did not suffer from a serious health condition under the FMLA. The district court also found that White did not give proper notice of her need for leave, and that she was not entitled to reinstatement because she had requested more than 12 weeks of leave. White appealed.
The 11th Circuit held that the district court should have considered the information contained in the certification of health care provider form even though it was submitted after White’s termination date. Because the information on the form clearly indicated that White suffered from a serious health condition, summary judgment was inappropriate. The 11th Circuit also overturned summary judgment rulings on the notice and reinstatement issues because the district court failed to view the evidence in a light most favorable to White.
White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply Inc., 11th Cir., No. 14-11750 (June 12, 2015).
Professional Pointer: An employer may need to re-evaluate a termination decision if it receives important information after the termination takes place. To minimize this possibility, an employer should always put a clear deadline on any extension of time for the submission of FMLA paperwork and should not take adverse employment action until that deadline has been reached.
John T. Ellis is an attorney with Ufberg & Associates LLP, the Worklaw® Network member firm in Scranton, Penn.
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