Can I use FMLA for mental health?

FMLA is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. It’s a law that is supposed to help protect your job when you need to take time off for medical needs. These can be your own needs, or the needs of a qualifying family member (like a spouse or a child). The short answer is that yes, FMLA does apply to mental health—but there are some things you should keep in mind. The following information comes from the Department of Labor website.

What does FMLA do for me?

  • FMLA says you can have up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Your company also needs to maintain your group health benefits during this time. But whether they pay wages during this time is up to them.
  • When the 12 weeks are up, the company must put you back in the same job or an equivalent one (similar pay, similar job duties). In other words, they can’t fire you for using your FMLA, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have the exact same job you had before.

What are the limitations of FMLA?

  • Your employer may ask for documentation of your mental illness. Our mental health screens are a great starting point, but they don’t count as a diagnosis. Only a qualified professional (usually a doctor or a therapist) can provide you with the documentation you need.
  • You usually can’t use FMLA until you’ve worked for the company for at least 12 months. This time doesn’t need to be consecutive.
  • You need to give a 30-day advanced notice if possible. 
  • Not every employer has to follow FMLA. FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees. If you work for a small business, they may voluntarily follow FMLA, but they don’t have to.

Will my boss discriminate against me for taking FMLA?

Employers aren’t legally allowed to discriminate against you because of your health status, and many won’t… but some do. It’s even possible that telling your boss about your mental illness causes them to discriminate against you subconsciously. You should absolutely feel entitled to take leave, but you may need to be prepared to defend yourself or take legal action. Document everything you can to protect yourself in case something happens.

References

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