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Seventh Circuit Rules Employer Cannot Deny FMLA Leave Based on “Estimates”

By September 29, 2014April 3rd, 2024News

In Hansen v. Fincantieri Marine Group, LLC,the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit determined that employers must not summarily deny intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when an eligible employee exceeds the estimated length or duration provided in his medical certification form.

In this case, plaintiff James Hansen suffered from depression with flare-ups that periodically prevented him from performing the functions of his job. Hansen was approved for intermittent FMLA leave based on certification from his doctor that he may experience “about four episodes every six months” that would incapacitate him for “two to five days per episode.”

After Hansen’s eighth episode in two months, his employer sent a letter to Hansen’s doctor asking him to confirm his initial medical certification. Based on the doctor’s confirmation, the employer concluded that Hansen’s absences had exceeded the doctor’s original estimate and denied Hansen’s requests for additional leave. Subsequently, Hansen was terminated for accumulating too many absences underthe employer’s attendance policy. Hansen then sued his employer under the FMLA alleging claims of interference and retaliation.

The Seventh Circuit rejected the employer’s argument that estimatesin certification forms act as limitations on the frequency and duration of episodes for which an employee may be entitled to intermittent leave under the FMLA. The court explained that “an estimate, by definition is not exact and cannot be treated as a certain and precise schedule.” When an employee’s absences exceed what is estimated in his FMLA certification, the employer should seek recertification rather than simply deny the requested leave.

The court also highlighted the importance of following the FMLA’s procedures for requesting recertification. In this case, the employer’s letter to Hansen’s doctor was not a proper request for recertification because it did not ask the doctor to certify whether the additional absences were FMLA qualifying. Instead, the letter merely asked the doctor to confirm his previous certification. Moreover, the employer contacted the doctor directly rather than communicating through Hansen and failed to even notify Hansen about the letter to his doctor.

If you have any questions about intermittent FMLA leave, please contact Jeff Goelitz or John DiJohn.