Do Not Be Afraid To File For FMLA Protection

by Vanessa Collins Patient Expert

Stressing about missing a lot of work due to pain and fatigue is not productive. We have a limited amount of energy, and we need to direct that energy toward healing and embracing the joy in our lives.

I was worried about missing so much work the first three months of this year, so I looked into FMLA, and I am happy that I did The process is not as daunting as it may first appear.

The first thing I did was call Human Resources and ask how to go about filling FMLA paperwork. My HR representative explained she would email the forms to me.

I want you to know that I did explain some things about my medical condition to my HR contact. That, of course, is not required. You do not have to explain anything to your HR representative about your health condition.

There are two parts to the FMLA form. The employee fills out one part, and the physician fills out the rest of the form. The part of the paperwork I was required to fill in was just my first, middle and last name. That was it! No long, drawn out essay of any type was required! Ah, so unlike college. :)

The physician part of the paperwork asks the "Approximate date condition commenced". My doctor filled in 04-08-11. The next line says, "Probable duration of condition". My doctor filled in 04-08-12.

I was asking for intermittent leave as needed over the next year for Physical Therapy, doctors' appointments, testing and those days I hurt too much to work. I believe that is the reason my orthopedic doctor filled out the form the way he did.

My doctor said that I was unable to perform any of my job duties due to my medical condition during a flare. My doctor went on to say that intermittent leave was needed, but I could also need a continuous series of days off during the next twelve months due to extended periods of pain and fatigue.

I picked up the completed paperwork from my doctor, scanned it, and emailed it to HR at our home office. Within a few days I received the "Designation Notice Family and Medical Leave Act (Form WH-382). It said I was approved for intermittent leave up to twelve weeks! FMLA leave is unpaid, but it keeps one out of trouble for missing more days of work than you normally have available.

The only additional documentation I must provide is a statement from the doctor every eight weeks saying that I am continuing to get treatment, and that intermittent leave is still needed. I was told this does not have to be a formal statement. It can be as simple as a few hand-written lines on the physician's prescription pad that can be scanned and sent to HR for my file.

That is the process. Here are the helpful things I learned along the way.

  1. Do not assume your supervisor understands FMLA leave.

My supervisor was understanding in general, but totally unfamiliar with the nuts and bolts of how FMLA works. Because of this, I decided to ask for a conference call between myself, my HR contact, and my boss. This worked out very well.

We all asked a lot of questions and we received good information from each other. For instance, I was told how to fill out the "absent" forms. We were also told that as long as I work 32 hours a week, health care payments through payroll deductions will not be an issue. If for some reason health care deductions cannot be made through payroll, we will "revisit the issue to discuss options". This is directly related to the number of hours you are able to work each week.

  1. I was open and honest with my coworkers.

Supervisors are not permitted to talk about an employee's health information. This is to protect the employee, and it is a good thing. Realistically, coworkers are going to start wondering what is going on when someone is gone from the department sporadically for a number of days and/or months. In my case, I chose to be open and honest with the other members of my department. I didn't give them boring details, but I explained enough that the tension in the department disappeared. They all now know that I don't want to be absent from work. They know I have some medical issues at the moment, and that I am trying to get well. That approach worked well for me, but everyone is different.

  1. If I am uncertain about anything, I email my HR representative, and she responds via email.

Even in the best of circumstances, it is wise to have your questions answered in writing. That way you can refer back to the information as the need arises, and you have the answer you were given in black and white. This should alleviate any confusion that might occur otherwise. I intend to comply with whatever requirements my company needs. I am not trying to take advantage of my employer. That being said, I want something in writing to protect myself.

I hope none of you ever need to apply for FMLA leave, but I want you to know it is not as difficult as I imagined. It is actually pretty straight forward, and it gave me a peace in my heart and mind that is worth its weight in gold.

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Vanessa Collins
Meet Our Writer
Vanessa Collins

Vanessa wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).