FMLA Allows Leave for Mental Health Treatment, DOL Reminds Employers

The Family and Medical Leave Act protects time off for mental health treatment, the U.S. Department of Labor reminded employers May 25. The agency released two guidance documents — Fact Sheet #280: Mental Health Conditions and the FMLA and Frequently Asked Questions on the FMLA’s mental health provisions — to help employers and workers understand how the law applies to mental health treatment.

FMLA-eligible employees can use the leave to address serious mental health conditions that require inpatient care or continuing treatment for themselves or their family, DOL noted in the fact sheet. The accompanying FAQ document explores a number of scenarios in which workers might seek to use the leave, including in cases of severe anxiety, regular treatment for anorexia and use of the leave to care for or attend counseling sessions with a family member with a mental health condition.

“While many people coping with mental illness may face barriers to treatment including social stigmas, a lack of available services or financial resources, the U.S. Department of Labor is determined to ensure that obtaining job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act is not another obstacle to overcome when workers seek the mental health support they need,” the agency stated in the release.

The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with 12 workweeks of unpaid leave annually to address their own or a family member’s health conditions.

While the law has been on the books since 1993, elements of its enforcement continue to cause employers consternation. The DOL has noted that employers cannot delay the designation of FMLA-qualifying leave to allow employees to first use their paid time off, for example. An agency representative also noted recently that the leave isn’t “always an easy 12 weeks,” with factors like holidays and overtime sometimes complicating things. The shift to remote work for many companies has also created confusion.

With employers shifting more attention to employee mental health over the past year — and with May being Mental Health Awareness Month — it follows that employers may have more questions about how FMLA use applies to mental health.

While DOL stated that mental health is generally covered by the law, employers and workers can note the conditions the agency has said as indicate a serious mental health condition; namely, the need for inpatient care, such as in a hospital or addiction recovery center, or the need for continuing treatment, such as routine appointments with a clinical psychologist or occasional appointments to treat acute flare-ups.

“An employer may require an employee to submit a certification from a health care provider to support the employee’s need for FMLA leave,” the agency further noted — although a diagnosis is not required.

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