Vigilant Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law, HR, safety & workers' comp

Jul 16, 2010

FMLA: Second opinion needed to question leave due to psychological condition


An employer has the right to challenge an employees FMLA medical certification, but in certain situations, the employer must obtain a second or even third opinion before denying FMLA leave. A recent federal district court decision offers a useful example of the wrong way to challenge an FMLA medical certification.

Mary-Jo Hyldahl, an employee of AT&T, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression and was certified to take intermittent FMLA for her conditions. When AT&T became concerned that Hyldahl was misusing her leave, it sent her medical certification to be reviewed by its own doctor. AT&Ts doctor concluded, without examining Hyldahl, that on any day that she was on leave, she should be home in bed. When AT&T learned that Hyldahl had gone to the dentist, gone out to lunch and dinner, gone to a holiday party and had drinks with friends on a day that she had taken as FMLA leave, they terminated her for FMLA fraud. Hyldahl sued and the court ruled that before disregarding Hyldahls medical certification, the employer must obtain a second opinion from an independent health care provider regarding her condition and whether her activities on her day off were inconsistent with her claimed need for leave. Without that second opinion, and potentially even a third opinion, the employer could not disregard her certification, even if it had a reasonable belief that she abused her right to take leave (Hyldahl v. AT&T, ED Mich, June 2010).

The court in this case noted that if the employees condition was something physical and observable to a lay person it might be possible to reject the employees certification without the need to obtain a formal second opinion. For example, if the employee had a broken leg, a lay person would be qualified to determine whether the employee was observing the doctors restrictions while on leave. Contact your Vigilant staff representative for help if you suspect an employee is misusing FMLA leave.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.