Having surgery? How to get FMLA and other forms signed for your employer

July 05, 2016
If you are employed and preparing for surgery – or have just had surgery unexpectedly -- you likely will need your surgeon to complete some sort of medical form or letter for your employer and/or short-term disability carrier. For some patients and families, navigating this process can be confusing. To make matters worse, if the forms aren’t completed accurately or on time, it can seem downright painful! 

I’m a nurse in the Thoracic Surgery Clinic at Swedish, but this guide for getting forms completed is perfect for anyone who’s employed and facing surgery. 

In our surgical practice, we process between 20 and 30 requests for medical letters and forms each month, and they all land on my desk for review.  Most of the questions I answer for patients and family members fall into one of three categories:

  • How much time should a patient take off for surgery?
  • What paperwork does the employer need from the surgeon’s office?
  • How does a patient get paperwork filled out and signed by the surgeon?

Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years that may make the process a little less painful for you or a family member.  

First, ask your employer …

  • What kind of paperwork will I need my surgeon to complete so I can take time off from work?  Small companies may only require a medical letter stating the time off you will need.  Others may require a form called Medical Certification for Serious Health Conditions for FMLA. (Family and Medical Leave Act). If you are eligible for short-term disability, your surgeon may also need to complete an Attending Physician’s Statement for Disability.
  • What’s the deadline for forms to be completed?  You want to make sure you give your surgeon’s office enough time to complete, sign and return the forms.
  • Where do I send the paperwork when it’s done?  Your surgeon’s office may ask you to handle returning it to your employer once it’s completed.  
  • Can I return to work part time or have light-duty responsibilities while I’m recovering?  This  may allow you to return to work sooner if you anticipate having any physical limitations while recovering.
  • Do I need any forms or letters to return to work?  Some employers may want a specific form called Return to Work Certification or Fitness for Duty.  It’s very helpful to bring these forms, or request a letter, when you see your surgeon for a post-op visit. 

Next, ask your surgeon …

  • When do you recommend I return to work following surgery?  You will need to let your surgeon know what you do for a living, the physical requirements of your job and your preferred time frame for returning to work. It’s also helpful to ask what the earliest would be for a return to work and the maximum time you may need off to recover from your specific type of surgery. The dates written on the form or letter can be adjusted if your surgeon clears you to return to work sooner or recommends more time off.  You likely will be required to provide additional documentation from your surgeon if you extend your leave.
  • Will I have any physical restrictions and for how long?  As mentioned earlier, the kind of work you do may affect when you return.
  • Whom should I contact in your office about getting these forms completed, and what’s the best way to contact that person?  Ask the contact person the best way to get the forms or letters completed and signed. Every office has a different process.  In our practice, we recently started having patients complete a simple “Forms Request” form to help streamline the process for patients and surgeons alike.
  • When should I expect the forms/letter to be completed and ready?  I’ve had the personal experience of needing surgeons to complete FMLA forms on three different occasions for myself and family members.  One office took two weeks to complete the form because the surgeon was out of town, and the others returned the forms within 48 hours.  
  • Do I need to sign any consent forms for release of medical information?  Any documents containing your personal health information can only be released to you unless there is a signed consent giving permission to send this information to a third party.  

Finally, before you ask that a medical form or letter be completed …

• Make sure your name and birth date are on all forms, and complete any section that is for the “employee” or “insured” to fill out. 
• Sign any forms that require your signature. This usually applies to short-term disability forms.
• Make a copy of the forms for yourself before you give them to your surgeon’s office.
• Provide a cover letter for your request that includes:
  • Your name, date of birth and contact info (phone number, email address, fax number)
  • Your surgeon’s name and date of your surgery
  • The type of form or letter you are requesting and when you would like it completed if possible
  • A brief summary of your job duties and what you won’t be able to do while recovering from surgery.  This is especially helpful when completing FMLA or short-term disability forms.  
  • Your first day off work, the date of your anticipated return to work and any modified duties or work schedule you are requesting.  For example: Off work June 20, 2016, to July 10, 2016. Return to work July 11, 2016, 4 to 8 hours a day, 3 to 5 days a week for three weeks. 

Having surgery can be a stressful experience. Medical forms should not add to that stress. Asking questions, providing key information and a little planning can make obtaining medical forms manageable instead of maddening!

Save this guide and refer to it when you make appointments and see your doctor.

You can learn more about Swedish Thoracic Surgery here, and about all Swedish Surgical Services here.  Find a physician here.

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