Q: An employee seeking FMLA leave just turned in a medical certification form with handwriting that looks suspiciously like her own. If the employee filled out this form, do we have to accept it?
A: If it was authorized by the health care provider who signed it, then yes.
In our most recent podcast, we talked about the rules for contacting an employee's doctor to authenticate or clarify a medical certification. If you receive a medical certification that you think may be forged, your first step should be to contact the health care provider, provide a copy of the certification, and ask the health care provider to confirm that he or she completed or authorized the form.
If the answer is yes, that is the end of the story, at least with respect to whether the certification is genuine. Under the rules, there is no requirement that a health care provider fill out the certification form him or herself, and no restriction on who may fill out the information with the health care provider's authorization. That means that a certification is valid even if filled out by the employee, so long as the doctor authorizes the employee to do so and signs the form.
The rules do provide one other recourse in this situation: if you doubt the validity of the certification, consider asking for a second opinion. While the employer must pay for this evaluation, it gets to choose the healthcare provider, dramatically reducing the odds that the provider will sign off on a bogus certification at the employee's request.