Can an employer ask for proof of a family emergency?
Any leave of absence for family emergencies may be at the discretion of your employer. An employer request for proof may be asked for paid time off (e.g, sick days or vacation time), unpaid time off, and for leave covered under Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Failure to provide additional information related to your leave may result in termination.
Laws such as FMLA are instituted for job-protected leave. Your employer has the right to a valid reason to ensure employees are adequately using time off from work.
Fortunately, I’ll show you the best practice for taking time off work for an emergency situation. As long as you have good reasons and don’t try to leave on short notice, you should be ok.
- A family or personal emergency may consist of any serious medical condition, mental health issues, undue hardship, or other legitimate reason which affects the well being of an immediate family member.
- Most employers will provide reasonable accommodation, such as allowing you to miss work using accrued vacation or sick time.
- An employer will generally have the right to request proof, such as a doctor’s note or FMLA certification, to validate leaves of absence.
- Failure to provide proof may result in disciplinary action, such as being fired.
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Can an employer ask for proof of a family emergency?
Employers have the right to ask for proof in the event of an employee’s family emergency. They also have the right to prevent you from leaving work unless an employment contract or union agreement already states otherwise.
Unfortunately, employees have no legal right to leave work due to a family emergency. An employer can not only ask for proof, but it is up to their discretion if the employee can leave, when, and for how long. They can also warn an employee not to leave for a family emergency if it happens again.
Unauthorized leave is a fireable offense
Suppose an employer does not allow their employee to leave for a family emergency, and the employee does anyway. In that case, it is in the employer’s right to terminate them immediately, effectively making employees choose between their family and their job.
You could also be terminated if you’re asked for proof of a family emergency and do not provide it before the deadline set by your employer.
Paid Time Off
Most employers offer two types of paid time off that could be used for a family emergency:
- Sick leave
Some companies offer paid personal leave that you can use for anything other than illness or vacation. Most companies also provide bereavement leave depending on the employee’s relationship with the deceased, which may require proof.
In most of these cases, it is up to the employer to decide how and when paid time off can be used. In some cases, vacation days must be scheduled months in advance and cannot occur during peak operating times.
By law, employees can take paid sick leave if their family emergency requires them to care for sick children, spouses, parents, grandparents, or grandchildren.
On the federal level, this includes companies with certain types of federal contracts with the government, including:
- The Service Contract Act
- Davis-Bacon Act
- Concessions contracts
- Service contracts on Federal property
Sick leave varies on the state level. However, paid sick leave laws generally apply to employers with 15 or more workers. Workers can usually accrue paid sick leave based on hours worked. A typical sick leave policy is one hour of leave for every 30 to 40 hours worked.
These laws provide employees “job protection,” which means they cannot be fired, discriminated against, or retaliated against for using this leave, but proof of sickness will most likely be required. Proof usually consists of a doctor’s note or medical certificate.
These laws are set in place for short-term illness, injury, or preventive care. It also allows for a “safe time” for emergencies like sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking.
With paid time off and paid sick leave laws, it is best to check your municipal, country, or state government website. Also, look through your company’s employee handbook and company policy, and speak with your company’s human resources department.
Unpaid Time Off
Unpaid time off will differ from company to company. Generally, companies require workers to use all accrued paid time off before granting unpaid time off. Unpaid time off is completely at the employer’s discretion, who will most likely ask for proof of your family emergency.
Generally, employers may be more lenient if someone has been a longtime employee, is in good standing with their company, and has never taken advantage of the time off before. They may not ask for proof of a family emergency and be more flexible about how much time an employee can take off and when.
Leave Covered Under Family Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers leave for certain employees with certain family and medical reasons for up to 12 weeks of unpaid work per year. This act protects employees’ jobs and requires employers to maintain their group health benefits.
Eligible employees must apply for FMLA coverage through their employers with proper notice and medical certification.
There are various requirements to be eligible for FMLA coverage based on the company, employee, and reason for the leave. Employees can generally use up to 12 work weeks of leave within 12 months. For service members, the leave can be up to 26 work weeks in a single 12-month period.
FMLA Eligibility for Companies
Not all employers have to comply with this law, and employees requesting this coverage must work for an eligible company. FMLA covers public and private elementary and secondary schools, no matter the number of employees.
It also covers private sector companies with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius and public agencies, including federal, state, or local government agencies, no matter the number of employees.
If your company is not covered under FMLA, you may still have rights under state, local, or municipal law and within your company’s policy or employee handbook.
FMLA Eligibility for Employees
If your employer falls under FMLA coverage, you can apply if you have worked for your employer for at least 12 months. During this time, you should have accrued at least 1,250 work hours. The minimum hours worked must align with FLSA principles.
Eligible Reasons to Request FMLA Coverage
Permissible reasons include leave related to bonding with a child after pregnancy, birth, adoption, or fostering. Reasons can also include caring for yourself if you have a serious condition or a qualifying family member, such as a spouse, parent, or child with a serious health condition.
FMLA also covers service members and their families, including taking care of a service member who is seriously ill or injured and who is a parent, spouse, or child.
Applying for FMLA
To apply for FMLA leave, you must first notify your employer of the date you need to leave. It is best to provide a 30-day notice. The employer must notify you within five business days if you are eligible for FMLA leave.
Your employer should share your FMLA responsibilities and rights if you are eligible. Your employer will likely ask for a medical certification, which you must provide within 15 days.
Once the certificate has been provided to your employer, they’ll notify you within a week if your leave has been designated as FMLA. If your leave is protected, you can receive unpaid time off while keeping all your health benefits.
When you return to work, you must be given the same or nearly identical job. Employer and employee communication is key throughout the entire process and leave to allow for the best transition.
Most employers will request a medical certificate to approve FMLA leave. The medical certification must be certified by a health care provider and include their contact details and details about the medical condition. The doctor will note when it started, how long it is expected to last, and facts about the condition, including symptoms, doctor visits, hospitalizations, and treatment referrals.
The medical certification should also tell employers whether you cannot work and whether your leave needs to be intermittent or continuous. Employers can decide that certain information is missing and request more in writing. You must provide this information within seven calendar days.
You are responsible for paying for the first medical certification. If the employer requests more certifications, payment is their responsibility. Employers can request updated medical certifications at a later date throughout the employee’s leave, including an annual certification if the leave lasts more than a year.
How often can employers require FMLA certification?
Employers should not request recertification more often than every 30 days. If a certificate states the employee’s minimum duration of their health condition is more than 30 days, employers usually wait to request recertification after that time passes. Employers can request recertification every six months if the health duration is indefinite.
The employer can only ask for recertification in less than 30 days if the employee receives information that causes them to doubt the validity of their employee’s serious health condition. They may also do this if the employee requests a leave extension or there are many significant changes in the original certification.
Employees must pay for the first one for valid recertification requests and provide the information to their employer within 15 calendar days. The employer should pay for a second or third opinion for recertification.
There is not one standard certification form that employers have to accept. FMLA offers a few, but employers may have their own as well.
For military family leave, there are three other available forms. If your spouse, child, or parent is sent on foreign deployment, you can request leave here. Use this form if your family member is a current service member with a serious injury or illness. To care for a veteran with a serious injury or illness, refer to this document.
Summary: Employer asking for proof of family emergency
As you can see, your employer may ask for proof of your family emergency. Failure to provide proof may result in termination.
Typically, family emergencies cover a close family member, such as a child, parent, sibling, etc.
Examples of family emergencies may include:
- Car accident
- Parental leave (e.g., maternity, adoption, pregnancy leave, etc.)
- A sick child
- A medical emergency
- Birth of a new child
Consider reading our guide on family emergency excuses to call in sick or for missing work. You’ll find a complete list of excuses for missing work, how to request time off, and several resources.
You should first attempt to use your vacation pay or sick leave when an emergency arises. You can consult your HR department to see if unpaid leave is an option.
As part of federal law, your leave may be covered under FMLA. FMLA is meant to protect worker rights, giving you reasonable time off for personal emergency leave while protecting your job.
If you’re just trying to leave work early or miss work, consider checking out our guide for finding a good excuse to leave work early. I discuss over 40 different reasons that can help get you out of work.