“Fitness for Duty” Certification after Medical Leave

Most employers require employees to provide a “fitness for duty” certification in order to return to work after medical leave.  However, unless an employer provides a list of essential functions of the employee’s job and requests that the certification address the employee’s ability to perform those essential functions, all the certification must state is that the employee can return to work.  And, pending any requested clarification from the employee’s doctor, the employer must allow the employee to return to work or face a claim for interference with the employee’s FMLA right to reinstatement.  In a recent case from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, an employee provided her employer with a doctor’s note that said she could return to work. The employee sought to return, but indicated that because of how her hand was splinted, she would only be able to type with 2 fingers on the injured hand and would be slower than usual. The employer refused to permit the employee to return to work unless the employee could do her job 100% and sent the employee back to her doctor for more information.  The Court found that the employee could go to trial on the issue of whether her employer interfered with her FMLA right to reinstatement when it refused to permit her to return to work based on the original certification.  Budhun v. Reading Hospital and Medical Center, Case No. 11-4625 (3rd Cir. 2014).

The lesson of this case for employers is to give an employee a detailed job description to give to their doctor when obtaining a “fitness for duty” certification after medical leave to enable the doctor to evaluate whether the employee can perform the job’s essential functions upon their return.  The case can be found here: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=15345350352760643538&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr


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