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Employees often take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for conditions that last many years. In such situations, employers might wonder if they may expect employees to take the initiative and ask for new FMLA forms (certifications) every year. Generally, no, and here’s a story to help illustrate.

Meet Charles and Nola

It was a new year and Charles, the company FMLA administrator, was expecting Nola, an employee with a chronic condition, to stop by any time and ask to renew her FMLA paperwork, since the company used the calendar year to calculate its 12-month leave year period. Since Charles had given Nola an eligibility/rights and responsibilities notice last year, which indicated the 12-month leave year period, he thought it would be clear that Nola should be the one to “renew” the paperwork as soon as the new year began. He didn’t want to have to chase employees to renew it.

Whose responsibility was it to “renew” FMLA paperwork?


If employers want employees to provide a new initial certification in a new leave year, employers must request them each leave year.

Chronic, intermittent FMLA leave has been challenging employers since the law was enacted. The paper trail can help keep tabs on the leave and support any action that might be taken in the future, but it can lead to questions.

At the heart of the matter, is that employees don’t really need to ask for any “paperwork.” They need only put an employer on notice of the need for leave — or to continue taking leave. When an employee’s condition lasts years, when an employee puts you on notice of the need for leave for the first time in a new leave year, you should generally treat it as a new leave request. When the old leave year ends, the new one generally represents a fresh, clean slate.

While you might want to be proactive in regard to requesting certifications for employees with long-term conditions, don’t ask for one before an employee has requested leave in the new leave year. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division also has a viewpoint on the topic:

“It is our opinion that an employer may reinitiate the medical certification process with the first absence in a new 12-month leave year.” FMLA2005-2-A opinion letter from September 14, 2005.

Therefore, when a new 12-month leave year begins, you don’t need to automatically send out FMLA paperwork (eligibility/rights & responsibilities notice and designation notice) to those employees who have not yet asked for leave, even if they have conditions that last years.

Employees also don’t need to request the paperwork. They need to put you on notice of the need for leave, and this might be done by requesting the paperwork, but there are other ways of putting you on notice of the need for leave, such as simply asking for more leave.

Consequently, Charles should wait until Nola actually needs leave and asks for it in the new leave year, and not expect her to ask for it before she needs it. He also should not expect her to specifically ask to renew the paperwork. Once Nola asks for leave, Charles would provide all the appropriate paperwork as if it were a new FMLA case altogether. At that point, he may recalculate the Nola’s eligibility to take FMLA leave, as well.