In the wake of the COVID pandemic and difficult social justice issues, many employers have pledged to increase support and wellness programs for employees dealing with mental health issues. One way for employers to keep those promises (and comply with the law) is to recognize the application of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to situations where leave is necessary for a mental health reason.
The FMLA allows eligible employees to use available FMLA time off when needed due to a serious physical condition. or mental medical condition which renders the employee unable to perform the essential duties of the job or the employee’s covered family member unable to perform regular daily activities, and which requires either hospital care or continued treatment by a health care provider. Severe anxiety, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder are all examples of mental health problems. serious mental illness that may be covered by the FMLA. Psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, and mental health therapists can all meet the FMLA definition of health care provider.
The federal Department of Labor recently reminded employers and employees of the potential application of the FMLA when mental health issues arise, through a new fact sheet and updated FAQ. This guide discusses the following non-exhaustive examples of situations that may qualify for FMLA leave:
- Leave required on a continuous (such as for hospital care) or intermittent (such as for partial hospitalization or outpatient care) basis when an employee is unable to work due to a serious mental health condition.
- Time off required for medical appointments or behavioral therapy appointments to manage medications and symptoms.
- Leave to attend psychotherapy sessions.
- Leave to care for a spouse or child (potentially including an adult child) who is unable to work or attend school and requires assistance with medical, hygienic, nutritional needs or basic security, or for cooking, cleaning, shopping and other daily activities.
- Leave to participate in a covered family member’s treatment program or attend a care conference or follow-up meeting with their healthcare providers.
Recommended next steps: Employers should ensure that human resources and benefits personnel, as well as managers, are aware of the potential application of the FMLA when an employee is dealing with their own mental health issue or that of a member of his family. Providing protected FMLA leave to eligible employees facing the many challenges created by mental health issues is one way to demonstrate support for employee mental health and well-being.