Certification Harassment? 6th Circuit Rejects Claim Under FMLA

By Staff Report

Nov. 29, 2012

Have you ever heard of certification harassment? Me neither, until I read Smith v. City of Niles [pdf] last week.

According to Leddrew Smith, from 2002 to 2009, the city of Niles, Michigan, asked him to provide six separate medical certifications for his 2001 back injury. Those repeated requests, per Smith, exceeded the Family and Medical Leave Act’s limits, and therefore interfered with his right to medical leave.

Here is what the 6th Circuit said about Smith’s claim:

He is right about one thing: An unreasonable demand for recertification may interfere with FMLA rights. He is wrong about another: The City’s requests all fit comfortably within the regulatory boundaries.

The FMLA has a maze of regulations that define when an employer can ask for a recertification of a serious health condition. Critical to this case is the rule that permits an employer to require a recertification any time that the “circumstances described by the previous certification have changed significantly.”

In this case, the court relied upon Smith’s changed circumstances to conclude that the city had not harassed him with its recertification requests.

  • In one instance, Smith took six days of medical leave, instead of the two days estimated in his prior certification. Per the 6th Circuit, “If an employee desires more time off than described in the prior certification, the employer may require updated information from a physician. That is all that happened.”
  • In another instance, Smith sought to change his work restrictions to accommodate a new physical limitation. Per the 6th Circuit, “The City responded with a request for recertification because the new limitations were not listed on the previous certification. That is the epitome of a reasonable recertification request.”

In other words, following the rules does not equate to harassment. Now if we can all just figure out those annoying rules…

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or

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