FMLA Certifications

The FMLA allows employers to require documentation of an employee's need for leave.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives employers an important tool to make sure employees qualify for FMLA leave: the certification. A certification is a document that verifies the employee’s need to take leave for a serious health condition or military family leave. Usually, the certification is completed by the employee and a health care provider. It provides information on the employee’s need for leave, which the employer can use to determine whether the employee is covered by the FMLA.

Types of Certifications

There are four types of certifications under the FMLA:

  • Certification of the employee’s own serious health condition. This form requires the employee and his or her health care provider to give information about the employee’s health condition, including the date when it began, how long it is expected to last, and information about the employee’s ability to work.
  • Certification of a family member’s serious health condition. This form is similar to the form for an employee’s health condition, to be completed by the employee and the family member’s health care provider. In addition to information on the family member’s ailment, the form must provide information on the family member’s need for care.
  • Certification for military caregiver leave. The FMLA gives employees the right to take time off to care for a family member who suffers or exacerbates a serious injury while on active military duty. This form is also to be completed by the employee and the family member’s health care provider, who must provide information regarding the connection between the family member’s military service and the injury, among other things.
  • Certification for qualifying exigency leave. This form is to be used when an employee needs time off to handle certain practical matters arising from a family member’s call to active duty or deployment. The employee completes this form, providing facts about the family member’s service, why the employee needs leave, and contact information for any third parties with whom the employee will be meeting (such as teachers or counselors).
The Department of Labor publishes standard FMLA certification forms that can be used for each of these purposes.

Certification Procedures and Deadlines

If you want an employee to provide a certification, you must request it, in writing, within five business days after you learn of an employee’s need for FMLA leave. The employee must return the completed certification within 15 calendar days, unless you give the employee more time or it is not practicable for the employee to meet this time limit under the circumstances, despite the employee’s diligent, good faith efforts.

If the certification form you receive is insufficient or incomplete, you must let the employee know, in writing, and give the employee at least seven calendar days to correct the problem and provide a proper certification. Your company may take steps to clarify or authenticate a certification for a serious health condition or for military caregiver leave, but this is a limited right. You may not request more information than the form requires. The employee’s direct supervisor may not contact the employee’s health care provider. And, you may clarify or authenticate a certification only after giving the employee an opportunity to cure any problems.

Second and Third Opinions

Once the employee returns a completed certification, you may request a second opinion: another certification, provided by a health care provider of your choosing. Your company must pay the costs of the second opinion, including the employee’s or family member’s reasonable travel expenses.

If the first and second certifications contradict each other, you may ask the employee to get a third opinion, which will be binding on everyone. The provider who gives the third opinion must be mutually agreeable to the company and the employee.


In some circumstances, your company may ask an employee to provide a recertification of a serious health condition. The general rule is that you may request recertification only in connection with an employee absence, and no more often than every 30 days. If the original certification indicates that the serious health condition will last more than 30 days, you must wait until the duration indicated on the certification expires before you request recertification. However, no matter how long the condition is expected to last, you may request recertification every six months, in connection with an absence.

Employers may request recertifications more frequently if the employee requests an extension of leave, the circumstances described in the previous certification have changed, or you receive information that casts doubt on the employee’s stated reason for the absence or the continuing validity of the certification.

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