WCI, Inc
July 18, 2022

FMLA for Mental Health

As the world and its workforce attempts to reconcile the effects of COVID-19, mental health in the workplace has become a hot topic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a 25 percent increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. The WHO believes one explanation for this increase is the unprecedented stress caused by the social isolation resulting from the pandemic.

These increases appear to be linked to the constraints on an employee's ability to work, seek support from loved ones, and engage in their communities. While employees may not typically throw a trophy through a glass door like Jerry West in "Winning Time", employees may suffer from anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses. Now more than ever, employers must effectuate a winning strategy for addressing mental illness in the workplace. The first should be ensuring employees have access to their right to leave under the FMLA. [The Family and Medical Leave Act applies to employers of 50 or more.]

The FMLA provides employees with unpaid leave for serious health conditions without risking their employment. Under the FMLA, an employee is provided with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12 month period. Employees who use their FMLA leave also have a right to return to work after taking said leave. In short, an employee may take leave for a serious mental health condition requiring inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider.

For example; an employee diagnosed with an anxiety disorder may take time off to visit a doctor or when they are unable to work due to their condition. In rare circumstances, clear abnormalities in an employee's behavior may constitute constructive notice of a serious health condition, requiring an employer to notify the employee of their right to FMLA leave.

Employers have grown accustomed to managing the rights and protections granted to employees by the FMLA but only as they relate to physical illness. Now, as stress and anxiety in the workplace rises, employers must be diligent in providing employees suffering from mental illnesses the same protections under the FMLA as employees with a physical illness.

Key Takeaway

Mental and physical health conditions are considered serious health conditions under the FMLA if they require inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. Inpatient care requires an overnight stay in a hospital or another medical care facility.

And, chronic conditions such as anxiety and depression are considered mental health conditions requiring continuing treatment. If an employee meets one of these two standards, they are entitled to unpaid leave under the FMLA.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Roy Smith, II, Ford & Harrison (c) Mondaq Ltd, 2022 - Tel. +44 (0)20 8544 8300

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