The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees qualified workers the right to unpaid leave for health and familial issues. If you’re wondering if you can use FMLA for mental health reasons, we should start by taking a look at the differences between mental health and mental illnesses.
What’s the Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illnesses?
Everyone experiences mental health, both people with and without mental illnesses. Mental health generally refers to a person’s ability to self-actualize, understand their worth, cope with the stresses of daily life, and maintain their physical health. Mental health can be negatively impacted by factors such as:
- Traumatic events
- Poor physical health and physical illnesses
- Societal ills such as racism, poverty, discrimination, etc.
Mental health can be positively impacted by things like:
- Connection with others
Mental illnesses are disorders that have recognizable and diagnosable characteristics, just like a physical ailment such as diabetes or asthma. Mental illnesses often influence a person’s mental health as well as the way a person feels, the way they perceive the world, and the ways they act. Anxiety, clinical depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are examples of common mental illnesses.
What Does FMLA Cover?
FMLA covers four main situations:
- The adoption of a child
- Care for a seriously-ill family member
- Care for a serious personal illness – this is where mental illness might fall under FMLA.
A ‘serious’ illness is typically defined as making a person incapable of working.
At this point, you need to determine if you’re covered under FMLA, which actually doesn’t cover everyone. To be eligible for coverage under FMLA, you must:
- Have worked at your current company or employer for 12 months
- Have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the last year
- Be employed at a company or organization with more than 50 employees
Can You Use FMLA for Mental Health?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, FMLA can be used for mental health or mental illness. Despite a clinical difference, the law makes no distinction between the two so long as your mental health or illness can be considered a serious condition. This means that it:
- Requires inpatient care or an overnight stay at hospitals or other treatment facilities.
- Needs regular treatment. This can include recurring appointments with physicians, psychiatrists, or treatments like counseling and therapy.
Employers can request certification of the need for FMLA, although it’s important to understand that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need a diagnosis, prescription or other ‘proof.’ A medical professional simply needs to certify that the leave is justified by the employee’s mental health or mental illness.
Alternatives to FMLA
The ADA Most likely won’t get you time away from work, but if your work is contributing to your mental illness, you may be legally entitled to accommodations that can help alleviate the symptoms caused by your work.
An EAP is also unlikely to offer time away from work, but they may be able to connect you with useful resources like counseling for free or at a reduced rate.
Society Insurance Supports Employees
At Society Insurance, we understand that employees face many challenges both at work and outside of work. That is why we offer many different avenues to help support our employees when they need it. We have a leave program outside of FMLA for different situations that may arise, we offer flexible scheduling to help accommodate a work/life balance, we offer two mental health days a year, two different EAP programs, and more because we know that these small details can make a big difference in supporting our employees. It is important to listen to your staff and gain an understanding of their needs. In return you can provide them the resources they need to succeed personally and at work.
Because we take the extra time to care for our employees, we know they are taking the extra steps to protect your business so that you can spend more time on the things that build resilient and successful teams. To learn more about how Society Insurance can help your business, contact your local agent today.