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You have an employee with a less-than-stellar attendance record. The employee requests and is approved to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

You receive a certification supposedly from the employee’s health care provider, but when you look up the doctor’s credentials, they’re nowhere to be found. You dig a bit deeper, and still no information on this provider. In fact, the signature on the form looks suspiciously similar to the employee’s own handwriting, otherwise the certification is complete and sufficient.

Feeling dismayed, you try to contact the medical office to ensure the health care provider is the person who actually signed the form. Instead, you get a recording indicating that it’s an auto body shop.

Time to ask for a second opinion, you decide.


You don’t want to wait too long to request a second opinion. Hoping that more clues will come along before questioning the employee’s need for leave might waste precious time.

Although the FMLA does not specify a timeframe in which you may request a second opinion, if you wait too long, the employee might be better able to argue the validity of the original certification. Given too much time, an employee might challenge how objective your suspicions are.

Finding a provider

Now that you’ve decided to go for a second opinion, you get to choose the provider. Finding one could be tricky. For instance, don’t send the employee to a doctor in a town 50 miles away when there is a qualified one in the local area. You also don’t want to send the employee to a provider who knows little about the type of condition the employee has. A podiatrist might not be the best choice for an employee with migraines.

When scheduling the appointment with the second opinion doctor, be sure to:

  • Consider the employee’s schedule, and
  • Give the employee appropriate information to be prepared for the appointment.

If the employee doesn’t attend the appointment and gives no reasonable justification for not attending, the employee’s actions might indicate:

  • FMLA abuse might be involved, and
  • The employee really doesn’t have an FMLA serious health condition.

While you are waiting for the second opinion, however, the employee has FMLA protections. Remember, employers must pay for the second opinion.

Third opinion

If the second opinion differs from the first, your job might not be done. You may ask for a third opinion, and it would be the tiebreaker. Again, employers pay for the third opinion. If the first and second opinions agree, then you may proceed with the information on the medical certifications and designate the FMLA leave accordingly.

For the third opinion, you and the employee must agree on a doctor. Again, the employee has FMLA protections while waiting for the third opinion. By this time, however, the employee’s leave could have already ended.

Key to remember: Most employers do not pursue second (or third) opinions often, as they need to pay for them, and these steps take time and effort. For situations that call for them, however, they are tools you can keep safely in your FMLA toolbox. Asking for them can send a message that you take FMLA leave, and its potential abuse, seriously, and so should employees.