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Trenton Metro Area Local

American Postal Workers Union

AFL-CIO

President Bill Lewis

 

Recommendations for Family Medical Leave Documentation: 

By 

Sandy Schleher, Clerk Craft Director

Family Leave Coordinator

 Trenton Metro Area Local

 

Family Medical Leave is not a leave category as defined in the Employee and Labor Relations Manual and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  (The) Family Medical Leave (Act) is the law that provides you protection from discipline for serious health conditions for you and your “family”.  There are still only three (3) leave categories recognized by the parties that fall under the umbrella of protection.    Annual Leave, Sick Leave, Leave Without Pay 

To be eligible for the protections the law provides, the first thing you need to establish is that you have worked at least 1250 work hours in the proceeding year for which you are requesting protection.  This information is tracked by the Postal Service every pay period, and failure to have the required work hours is an automatic forfeiture of the protections of the law.  

We highly recommend that you utilize the APWU Forms to certify your serious health condition instead of the Department of Labor Forms provided to you by the Postal Service.  When your physician properly fills out the APWU Forms, they provide the FMLA Coordinator with all the necessary and pertinent information needed to approve your request for protection.  In other words, they are “user friendly”, as opposed to the DOL forms. 

One of the most important elements that you must adhere to in applying for FMLA protection is the timely submission of your forms to Management in accordance with the law.  If you fail to meet the deadlines that you have been notified to adhere to, you will automatically forfeit your entitlement to the protections from discipline.  If for some reason you are unable to meet the time lines imposed, you MUST notify the appropriate management official and request an extension.  The more rights we gain, (FMLA) the more responsibilities we have, and meeting timely compliance is one of the most important.  The serious nature of your illness will mean nothing if you blow the time limits without proof that you made a diligent effort to get an extension. 

 Another major problem employee’s have been experiencing is when physicians fail to fully answer all the questions on the form relative to you or your family member’s medical condition, especially as it relates to the frequency and duration for intermittent leave.  We suggest you take a pro-active approach with your physician, and do not be afraid to explain to your doctor what your employer requires.  Physicians are not generally versed in the law, and rely on their administrative staff to process most medical forms.  Before submitting your forms to the FMLA Coordinator, you should thoroughly check and make sure every portion of the form is completed, leaving no question unanswered.  If a particular question does not apply in your case, then the doctor must notate that.  Leaving any lines blank, or any question not sufficiently answered will be grounds for the FMLA Coordinator to question the propriety of your documentation. 

In those instances where your doctor has not adequately answered questions, we have found that the FMLA Coordinator has been sending employees a medical authorization release form to fill out, and we strongly recommend that you DO NOT sign that form.  The form is too open-ended and vague, and is not a requirement for FMLA protection.  However, you still have an obligation to provide the FMLA Coordinator with the additional information they are seeking as it relates to your medical condition.  If the FMLA Coordinator has asked you a non-medical question, you still must respond and answer any questions within the time frame indicated.  Your supervisor has access to the FMLA Coordinator’s e-mail address for purposes of communication, so don’t hesitate to involve your supervisor, even though they  “feign” ignorance and a lack of authority.     

Also keep in mind that when the FMLA Coordinator or Medical Unit Physician has reason to believe your medical condition does not fit the frequency and duration of your intermittent leave request, the Postal Service has a right to schedule you for a second medical opinion at their expense.  If you fail to attend, you forfeit your rights to the protections of the law.  However, if you go and the second medical opinion differs from your treating physician, Management may order a final and binding third medical opinion.    

At the end of this article you will find a few examples of FMLA form(s) and how they should be completed to avoid the Postal Service making you jump thru additional hoops, and possibly avoid 2nd and 3rd medical opinions.

 Please note that the DOL has recently ruled that terms such as “life-long” or “indefinite” to certify the duration of an illness is not acceptable.  Using those terms would be equivalent to not answering the question, and can potentially have your medical documentation rejected.  This is another example where you must take a pro-active approach and instruct your physician that your employer can only certify the duration of your illness for one year (at a time).   

Also note that the new leave year does not automatically provide the Postal Service with grounds to require re-certification.  For example, if your physician filled out the FMLA Form in October, and certified that the duration of your condition is for one (1) year, then you will not have to re-certify your documentation until October of the following year.  

However, the USPS will re-calculate the 1250 work hour requirement at the start of the calendar year, along with the new count period towards the 480 hours of FMLA you are entitled to.  Please contact your Union if your medical documentation is up to date and you are being asked to re-certify just because it is the new calendar year. 

Also be aware that you cannot certify a serious health condition, or re-certify a serious health condition in advance of taking leave for that condition.  The American Postal Workers Union is challenging that rule at the National Level, but for now you must wait until you require time off for your serious health condition to submit your medical documentation for certification. 

Last but not least, the DOL has issued revised guidelines recognizing the employer’s right to have FMLA Coordinators, who are now permitted to review and retain restricted medical records relating to their administration of the law.  However, if your physician fills out the FMLA Forms properly, and provides sufficient information to make a determination that you have a serious health condition, the FMLA Coordinator will not be in receipt of any restricted medical information. 

Sample Forms

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Questions and Answers [pdf]

How to Apply Your Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) [pdf]

 

FMLA FORMS

FMLA # 1

Employee Certification of Own Serious Illness

FMLA # 2

Certification by Employee's Health Care Provider for Employee's Serious Illness

FMLA # 3

Health Care Provider Certification of Employee's Family Member Illness

FMLA # 4

Notice of Need for Intermittent Leave or for a Reduced Work Schedule

FMLA # 5

Desired or Needed Absence for Birth or placement of Son or Daughter

FMLA # 6

USPS Verification of Veteran's Treatment

FMLA # 7

Management Request for Clarification of Medical Certification