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Return to Work Under the FMLA: Fitness for Duty Certification

An employee's return to work after taking FMLA leave may involve a fitness for duty certification for those who have taken time off for their own health care issues. Just as the law allows employees to take time off when their serious health condition affect their ability to perform their job duties, the law also allows for an employer to have assurance that the employee is ready to safely handle all their job duties when they return to work.

Fitness-for-duty Certifications: When are they Required

For employees who take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for their own serious medical condition, employers are allowed to have policies or standard procedures requiring those employees to get fitness for duty certifications before they return to work. Any employer may require them, but all certification requirements should be applied uniformly and even-handedly to all employees who are taking time off to deal with their serious health issues.

For their part, employers and/or appropriate Human Resources representatives are required to provide adequate notice to the employee that such a certification will be required before they can get back on the job. An employer can't simply wait for an employee to show up for work before letting them know of the certification requirement.

Fitness-for-duty Certifications: What is Required

A fitness-for-duty certification is, in a basic sense, just what it sounds like. It is a statement that an employee is fit to get back to his or her job and can handle all of that job's essential functions.

Here are some of the key things to note:

  • an employer's policy requiring fitness-for-duty certifications should be in writing
  • that policy should apply evenly to all employees in similar situations
  • if required as part of a certification, an employer should provide the employee with a written list of essential job functions that needs to be cleared
  • generally, an employer cannot ask for a second or third opinion as to fitness for duty
  • repeat certifications may be required in cases involving intermittent (irregular) leave or reduced schedules on the job
  • the costs of fitness-for-duty certifications often are employees' responsibility

If an employee has any questions or concerns about the appropriateness of their workplace's policy with regard to fitness for duty certifications, they may be able to get answers from an HR representative or, if necessary, an experienced local employment law attorney.

Failure to Provide Certification

Should an employee get appropriate notice and be provided with the required materials to obtain a fitness-for-duty certification, they should do so before returning to work. If an employee on FMLA leave for a serious medical condition comes back to work without it, the employer has the right to refuse to allow their employee to resume their job until one is provided.

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