The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) allows eligible employees to take leave from work to care for family or personal medical situations. FMLA leave may be continuous or intermittent. In Hansen v. Fincantieri Marini Group, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided two important intermittent FMLA issues. First, the court held that the FMLA does not require an employee to present expert testimony to prove the employee was incapacitated on each day he or she requested intermittent FMLA leave. Second, the court decided an employer should not summarily deny intermittent FMLA leave when an employee exceeds the estimated length or duration of intermittent FMLA leave provided by a doctor in an FMLA medical certification form.
The Facts Of The Case
James Hansen, the plaintiff, was an employee at Fincantieri Marine Group (“Fincantieri”) and suffered from depression. Mr. Hansen requested intermittent FMLA leave to treat his depression and provided his employer with a medical certification from his physician. The medical certification stated: (1) Mr. Hansen’s depression was a serious health condition causing episodic flare-ups preventing him from working; (2) the duration of Mr. Hansen’s depression was “months”; (3) the frequency of Mr. Hansen’s flare-ups requiring intermittent FMLA leave was four episodes every six months; and (4) the duration of each episode was two to five days.
Ms. Hansen ended up having more episodes than his physician predicted. Fincantieri denied Mr. Hansen’s request for intermittent FMLA leave after he requested leave in connection with his eighth episode in two months. Over the ensuing weeks, Mr. Hansen was denied additional intermittent FMLA leave in connection with his episodes of depression. Fincantieri terminated Mr. Hansen for violating its attendance policy.
Mr. Hansen filed a complaint against Fincantieri with claims of FMLA interference and retaliation. Fincantieri argued that Mr. Hansen was not entitled to FMLA leave for his absences because he had exceeded the estimated frequency in his doctor’s medical certification.
The Seventh Circuit’s Decision
Fincantieri argued that Mr. Hansen’s termination was justified because his absences “significantly exceeded the estimated frequency set forth in the certification.” But the court rejected this argument and held that just because Mr. Hansen had exceeded his physician’s estimates did not mean he was not entitled to intermittent FMLA leave. Further, Mr. Hansen could not be terminated because of those absences because he provided notice of his need for leave whenever he had an episode.
The court also explained that because Mr. Hansen had a medical certification on file, Fincantieri’s only recourse was to seek recertification. Because Fincantieri had never sought re-certification, there was evidence that Fincantieri had interfered with Mr. Hansen’s FMLA rights.
The Impact Of Hansen v. Fincantieri
The ruling in Hansen sets forth the appropriate response for employers when an employee’s absences exceed the estimated frequency and duration of their serious medical condition listed on their medical certification forms. Hansen reinforces the need for employers to seek FMLA re-certification where conditions appear to have changed, rather than to take adverse action against an employee who has exceeded his or her certified leave.
If you have requested or are taking FMLA leave, it is important that you cooperate with your employer’s requests for certification and other information, and keep your employer informed about your expected absences. However, you and your doctor are not required to estimate with pinpoint accuracy the duration of the leave you will need. If you have questions about your FMLA rights, you should contact an FMLA lawyer who can advise you of your rights and the steps you must take to protect them.