As employers receive more and more requests for Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) leave, they will want to ensure requests are legitimate. Approving an employee request for FFCRA leave without validating the need can be costly and allow abuse of leave.
Employers require employees to provide medical certification or documentation to justify the need for most leave, as well as their ability to return to work. These requirements may also apply to FFCRA leave. As employees return to the workplace, requests for FFCRA have increased and some employees may submit multiple leave requests. Remember, Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) is limited to a total of 10 days between April 1 and December 31, 2020, and the amount of Expanded Family Medical Leave (EFML) depends on an employee’s prior use of family and medical leave (FML).
Certifying the need for FFCRA leave
The Department of Labor FFCRA FAQ (Q16) details the documentation an employer can require, including date of leave, reason, and a statement that the person in unable to work because of a COVID-19-related reason. An FFCRA leave request form with required information is available in the HR Library.
Documents related to COVID-19 (e.g., quarantine or isolation orders and the name of the government entity issuing the orders) can be requested by the district to certify the leave. Documents to establish family relationship (e.g., birth certificates and foster placement/adoption certificates) may also be required. For EPSL and EFML, the employee should provide the name and age of the child, the name of the school or childcare, or a statement that care is unavailable due to COVID-19.
When the individual is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking medical diagnosis, you may require the employee to identify his or her symptoms and a date for a test or doctor’s appointment. You may not, however, require the employee to provide further documentation or similar certification that he or she sought a diagnosis or treatment from a health care provider in order for the employee to use EPSL for COVID-19 related symptoms. The minimal documentation required to take this leave is intentional so that employees with COVID-19 symptoms may take leave and slow the spread of COVID-19.
An employee excluded from work because of exposure to COVID-19 is only able to access EPSL if advised to self-quarantine by a health care provider. Written notice of the provider’s advice to quarantine can be required. Employers should be flexible in the type of documentation provided (e.g., email or written statement from health care provider). If the employee has exhausted EPSL or accrued leave, the district is not required to provide additional paid leave.
When an employee has a need for leave beyond the 10 days of EPSL because their own or a family member’s COVID-19-related illness rises to the level of a serious health condition, standard FML may apply. All existing eligibility and certification requirements under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) remain in effect.
Once an employee submits documentation for leave, the district has the right to ensure the documentation is authentic, particularly if the documentation is incomplete or there is suspicion it is fraudulent.
Under the FMLA, if an employee submits a complete and sufficient certification signed by a health care provider, the employer may not request additional information. The employer may contact the health care provider to clarify and authenticate the information provided.
It is also reasonable for the district to confirm school or childcare closures. Acquiring proof that a caretaker is not available may be more difficult. In this situation, the district will most likely have to rely on the employee’s statement confirming care is unavailable.
Using a consistent process for verifying employee requests for leave will ensure the district is appropriately providing leave to employees who truly need the leave for COVID-19 reasons while preventing abuse of the leave program.
Additional information for FFCRA leave and COVID-19 is available in the Epidemic Response section of the HR Library.
Cheryl Hoover is an HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Cheryl an email at email@example.com.
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