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How to loop a doctor into your FMLA process

What if we told you there was an invaluable resource that can help streamline the FMLA process? A resource who can answer your questions and help to eliminate confusion?

Now what if we told you that that invaluable resource was actually a physician? Yes, it’s undeniable that doctors have busy schedules and even traditional appointments can run well behind schedule or feel rushed, which more than likely would give you the impression that they don’t have the time – or energy – to listen to employer concerns or help answer questions. However, many physicians are more than willing to talk when it comes to their own involvement in an FMLA case.

Who should consult a physician? According to a surgeon from Kalamazoo, things tend to work best when both sides are heard from and when there is open communication between all parties. He notes that the worst case scenario is when discussions have already turned hostile and the physician finds himself wedged in the middle. With that in mind, the surgeon notes that it is hugely helpful if the employer and employee have laid some groundwork for the employee’s leave before the situation reaches his doctor’s office.

What information should be provided to the physician? In order to get the most out of a consultation with a physician, an employer should communicate with the employee that it’s willing to grant leave, what the process will look like and what the requirements are for the employee to be able to take leave. At the same time, the doctor should be provided an employees’ job description or duties so that they can make more accurate determinations about the certification process. HR Morning News notes that in providing this information, it can help doctors make more accurate determinations about employees’ needs.

What should be done in the run up to the certification process? When it comes to the FMLA certification process, physicians said that they appreciate spending some time on the phone with an employer early in the certification process in order to reduce requests for clarification later down the line. However, this can sometimes get tricky under HIPPA rules.

To work around this, HR Morning notes that certain HIPAA privacy conditions must be met, including:

  • The worker must provide written authorization
  • Only another healthcare provider, HR official, leave administrator or manager who is not the person’s direct supervisor can obtain info from the person’s doctor, regardless of the HIPAA release.
  • You can’t ask for info beyond what’s on the FMLA certification form.

What can you expect from the physician? Doctors interviewed for this piece said that they wanted employers to know that healthcare providers are only human, and can only be so precise in the predictions they use to develop FMLA certifications. As a result, remember that they’re recommendations are made based on their own educated guesses based on individuals’ symptoms, but even then, the worker in question will heal at their own pace, which can of course be quicker or slower than the so-called ‘norm.’

Therefore, should you suspect employee absences start to wavier from those timelines, employers should resist the urge to label it abuse until they can speak with the physician and check that the absences are consistent with the employees’ medical condition, course of treatment and healing to date.

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