Legal Briefing: One Doctor’s Note Will Do

By Mark Kobata

May. 8, 2014

When Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. concluded that its employees were using sick days disproportionately on Mondays and Fridays, it implemented a policy that required employees taking such leave to provide a doctor’s note within 15 days of the absence.

Two employees filed charges against the company with Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, which concluded that the policy violated the Family and Medical Leave Act and state law. Oak Harbor filed a complaint in the federal U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon seeking declaratory judgment that its policy of requiring a doctor’s note to justify absence for any medical reason was lawful, and that request was denied.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that FMLA limited employer rights to demand medical certification for intermittent leave to a reasonable basis and no more often than every 30 days. FMLA does not require employees to use their leave entitlement in a single, continuous 12-week block. When medically necessary, employees may take leave intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule to care for the serious health condition of the employee or the employee’s covered family member. The court held that the policy violated the law because it in effect treated each absence as a separate period of FMLA leave and required employees to re-establish eligibility for each absence. Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. v. Antti, 2014 BL 42323, D. Ore., No. 12-00488 (Feb. 19, 2014).

Impact: Employers cannot request recertification of approved FMLA leave of absence each time the employee requests such an absence.

James E. Hall, Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners in the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. To comment, email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

Mark Kobata and Marty Denis are partners at the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago.

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