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FMLA for Mental Health: What Employers Need to Know

More and more businesses are recognizing how important it is to foster mental health in the workplace. Generous health and wellness policies can improve employees’ work-life balance and reduce burnout. But can employees take a leave of absence under FMLA for mental health issues like stress, depression, or anxiety?

In some cases, yes: Serious mental health conditions may be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, but they have to meet certain eligibility requirements, such as being chronic conditions or requiring inpatient care.

Here’s what employees should know about using FMLA for mental health conditions, and how employers can streamline the leave of absence management process.

What Is FMLA for Mental Health?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain qualifying situations, such as to treat a serious health condition of their own or that of a family member. It also covers parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child, and military caregiver leave.

There isn’t a separate law governing FMLA for mental health, but serious mental health conditions may fall under these guidelines. The U.S. Department of Labor has released a fact sheet at that outlines how FMLA leave applies to mental health.

To be covered, a mental health condition must fall into one of these two categories:

  • Requires inpatient care
  • Requires ongoing treatment

The qualifying condition could be an employee’s own mental health issue, but it could also be that of a family member who needs ongoing care or medical attention.

Who Is Eligible for FMLA for Mental Health?

FMLA is a federal law that applies in all 50 states, but not all employees are covered. To be eligible for FMLA, they must work for a “covered employer,” which includes:

  • Private employers with at least 50 employees
  • Public and private schools (elementary and secondary)
  • Public agencies (state, local, or federal) of any size

Employees must also meet several other conditions to qualify. They must:

  • Have worked for their employer for at least a year
  • Have performed 1,250 hours of work within the past year
  • Work at a location with 50 or more co-workers within 75 miles

If an employee isn’t eligible for FMLA leave, they may still qualify for leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or state employment laws.

What Are the Benefits of FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act provides employees with several rights. The first is that FMLA leave is job-protected, which means their employer can’t terminate them or retaliate against them for using FMLA for mental health issues. They have the right to return to work in the same job or a substantially equivalent position.

Second, they must be allowed to keep their health benefits while on leave. This means they can continue to see the same health care provider for medical treatments.

Third, they can request to take intermittent leave or a reduced work schedule if it better aligns with their medical condition. For example, an employee could request two days off per week to seek medical treatment, rather than 12 workweeks all at once.

What Mental Health Issues Are Covered?

FMLA for mental health: woman talking to a psychologist

Nearly any type of mental illness can qualify for FMLA, as long as it meets the condition of requiring inpatient care or being a chronic condition. This might include:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Schizophrenia

The DOL defines a chronic condition as one in which the employee is incapacitated or needs medical treatment for “occasional periods … at least twice a year.” Other mental health conditions that might trigger FMLA include cases in which the employee needs recurring appointments with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

FMLA also covers inpatient care for substance abuse issues and eating disorders as long as it includes an overnight stay in a medical care facility.

Navigating FMLA for Mental Health Conditions

If an employee anticipates a need to use FMLA for mental health or any other medical condition, they’re required to give 30 days’ notice of their intent to take leave. In cases where that isn’t possible, they should give as much notice as they can.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to make sure that each leave request is handled appropriately. An employee may not know that their condition is covered under FMLA, and may not use the words “FMLA” or “mental health” in their leave request.

For example, if an employee requests a day off for “self-care,” their employer might ask questions to determine if the situation falls under FMLA for mental health issues.

An employer can request documentation of an employee’s mental health condition, but they must keep the details confidential and store medical records separately from other documents in their personnel files.

FMLA is enforced by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the DOL, and employees can file a complaint if they believe their request hasn’t been handled properly.

FMLA for Mental Health Examples

Determining whether a situation falls under FMLA can be complicated, so let’s take a look at a few examples in which FMLA for mental health might apply.

These cases are summarized from the DOL’s fact sheet on FMLA for mental health. 

Treating employee’s own health condition

An employee has an ongoing case of severe depression and anxiety. They qualify for FMLA because they see a psychiatrist every other week, and they also need to take time off to address occasional flare-ups of their condition.

Both their regularly scheduled appointments and the occasional absences fall within FMLA guidelines, so they count toward the total of 12 weeks of leave.

Caring for a family member

An employee’s teenage child is staying at an inpatient facility for several months to treat an eating disorder. The employee requests time off to visit them once per week. Since the employee is providing care to a child under 18, this qualifies for FMLA.

When using FMLA for mental health, this type of care can take many forms, including help with major life activities or providing “psychological comfort and reassurance.”

Caring for an adult child

An employee’s adult child has recently been diagnosed with a mental health condition that meets the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) definition of a “substantially limiting” disability. Since the child can no longer shop or cook on their own, the employee requests 12 weeks of FMLA leave to care for them.

Although caring for an adult child doesn’t usually qualify for FMLA, it can if they are unable to perform self-care due to a disability or serious health condition. This can include cases of bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and PTSD.

Providing care to a military servicemember

An employee’s spouse is diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) received in the line of duty. Because they are an active duty servicemember, the employee is eligible for up to 26 weeks of military caregiver leave under FMLA regulations.

This type of leave applies to both current servicemembers and veterans, and their mental health condition can be verified by Veterans Affairs, TRICARE, or a private medical professional.

Use Pulpstream to Handle FMLA Leave Requests

Employee talking to a psychologist

Knowing your rights and obligations around FMLA for mental health is about more than legal compliance; it’s also about reducing stigma in the workplace when it comes to the health and well-being of your employees.

Pulpstream makes it easy to handle FMLA for mental health with our leave of absence management system. By digitizing the LoA process, you can empower your employees to request FMLA leave, while keeping their medical records secure and confidential.

Plus, you can track their accumulated leave balance and automate the return to work process without having to write a single line of code.

Contact us today to request a demo and learn more.