The Family Medical Leave Act: A Resource for those in Mental Health Crisis

July 27, 2018


*These posts are presented for entertainment purposes and are not intended to provide legal advice. Consult with a lawyer for legal advice.


It seems with the recent spate of news report about school shootings and celebrity suicides that the issue of mental illness has become the topic du jour. If you follow social media, the tremendous outpouring of support in the wave of such crises may seem to indicate a shift in collective thinking about how we normally react to mental illness.


The issue of mental illness really hit home for me recently because of a conversation with a beloved friend during which I raised the idea that she might need to take a break from work. I was surprised by the tremendous guilt she expressed at the very idea of taking time away from her job. No stranger myself to the idea of the role between work and identity and work and self-worth, the thought of “taking a break” caused as much anxiety for her as the



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anxiety she felt having to show up for her job.  Indeed, I had been the recipient of many morning phone calls from her as  she sat in her car trying to motivate herself to get out of the car and go into the office. Yet, curiously, even though she had been battling mental illness for many years, like a trooper she had pushed forward.


It is my role as a career coach that made me immediately hone in on the fact that it was her job was making her ill. The passionate and energetic woman I had known hadn’t been around for many years and it hadn’t occurred to her that her job might actually be the problem. She had changed jobs over the years but nothing had quite moved her in the way those around her seemed to be moved by their jobs.


I couldn’t simply just encourage her to take the time off. In order for me to be a better friend, I needed to know that she could do so with the least amount of additional stress.


This is when the former lawyer in me put on my research cap. My research brought me to this mighty, little law called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)---which has actually been on the books since 1993. Though not limited to those experiencing a mental health crisis, the FMLA ensures job security for eligible employees of covered employers who take unpaid leave for family and medical reasons.  


In a nutshell, covered employees include those working for private-sector employers with fifty (50) or more employees, public agencies regardless of the number of employees and even public or private elementary or secondary schools, also regardless of number of employees.


If the employer is covered by FMLA, an eligible employee is defined as someone working for the covered employer for at least twelve (12)  months and has at least 1,250 hours of service within that time. The covered employee may take up to twelve (12) workweeks of leave in a twelve (12) month period for a variety of family and medical reasons. For a medical reason, including mental health and well-being, the employee may be granted FMLA leave if the employee becomes unable to perform the essential functions of the job. In applicable circumstances, employees may choose or the employer may require the substitution of some or all of the FMLA period by accrued paid leave, or sick or vacation leave.  


Of course, notice is required both by the employer and the employee. In the case of a foreseeable need by the employee, thirty (30) days advance notice is required. Not all need is foreseeable, however, in which case, notice is to be provided as soon as possible. Additionally, for a mental health leave for the employee, the employer may require certification and periodic recertification from a health care provider in support of the FMLA request.


Some other great elements of the FMLA is that the employee must be restored to his original job or an equivalent with equivalent pay, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment, including continued coverage of group health insurance. Finally, the employee’s use of FMLA leave does not count against the employee under a no-fault attendance policy.


The FMLA is there to protect your rights so take advantage of it when you need it. Find out more about your rights under the FMLA on the website of the United States Department of Labor.


*These posts are presented for entertainment purposes and are not intended to provide legal advice. Consult with a lawyer for legal advice.




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