Understanding FMLA for Mental Health: A Huge Step In Overcoming the Negative Stigma Of Mental Health - Joshua York Legacy Foundation

Understanding FMLA for Mental Health: A Huge Step In Overcoming the Negative Stigma Of Mental Health

Apr 30, 2024 | Outreach | 0 comments

fmla for mental health

Did you know you may qualify for FMLA for Mental Health conditions?

In today’s fast-paced world, mental health has become a central focus of our conversations around well-being, both in and out of the workplace.

With the increasing awareness of mental health issues, it’s important for employees and employers to understand the protections and accommodations available under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for individuals dealing with mental health conditions.

This blog post aims to shed light on how FMLA applies to mental health, helping you navigate the complexities of taking leave for mental health reasons.

What is FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a U.S. federal law enacted in 1993 to help employees balance their work and family life through reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons.

It aims to protect employees’ jobs in times of personal or family medical crises, offering up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year.


Eligibility for FMLA Mental Health and Physical Health Conditions

Understanding the eligibility criteria for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is crucial for employees dealing with both physical and mental health conditions.

The fundamental eligibility requirements remain consistent whether an employee is facing a physical health crisis, such as surgery, serious illness, or recovery from an accident, or a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or severe stress.

To qualify for FMLA leave, individuals must be employed by a company covered by the FMLA, which typically means a private sector employer with 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of the workplace, a public agency, or a public or private elementary or secondary school. Additionally, employees must have:

  • Been employed with the company for at least 12 months (which do not need to be consecutive).

  • Worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period immediately preceding the leave.

  • Work in a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

The health condition necessitating FMLA leave must qualify as a “serious health condition,” requiring inpatient care or will require ongoing medical treatment.

This definition encompasses a wide range of conditions, allowing for the inclusion of chronic physical illnesses, surgeries, pregnancies, as well as mental health issues like major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, PTSD, and other significant mental health conditions.

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Common Mental Health Conditions Covered by FMLA

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) extends its coverage to a range of mental health conditions and mental illness, acknowledging the critical need for individuals to take time off for mental health care.

Some of the most common mental health conditions that FMLA typically covers depending on the employee’s mental health condition include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder: Characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, major depressive disorder can significantly impair an individual’s ability to function at work and in daily life.

  • Anxiety Disorders: This includes a spectrum of disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder, where excessive worry or fear impedes one’s daily activities.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Resulting from witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event, PTSD can lead to severe emotional distress and impair the ability to work effectively.

  • Bipolar Disorder: A condition that causes extreme mood swings, including emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression), affecting an individual’s performance and attendance at work.

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is characterized by unwanted, recurring thoughts and behaviors that drive an individual to perform certain actions repetitively, which can interfere with job responsibilities.

FMLA coverage ensures that individuals suffering from these and other serious mental health conditions can take the necessary time off for treatment and recovery without the fear of losing their jobs.

It is important for employees to consult their healthcare providers to obtain the required certification that outlines the nature of their condition and the need for leave under FMLA, thereby facilitating their request for time off from work for treatment.

Understanding these requirements is the first step for employees in recognizing their rights under FMLA and the protections it offers for both physical and mental health challenges. Remember, it’s okay to take a mental health leave if that’s what you need to handle major life activities.

Required Documentation

  • To utilize FMLA for mental health, you may need to provide certification from a healthcare provider that you have a serious mental health condition that either incapacitates you from performing your job functions or requires inpatient care or continuing treatment.

Usage of Leave

  • FMLA leave for mental health can be used intermittently or in a single block, depending on the nature of your condition and the treatment required. Intermittent leave can be particularly beneficial for ongoing treatment or therapy sessions.

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How to Apply for FMLA Leave for Mental Health

  1. Notify Your Employer: Inform your employer about your need for FMLA leave as soon as possible. While immediate notice is not always feasible, try to provide as much advance notice as you can.

  2. Provide Required Documentation: Submit any necessary documentation requested by your employer to certify your need for leave due to a serious mental health condition. This usually includes certification from your healthcare provider.

  3. Understand Your Rights and Responsibilities: Familiarize yourself with your rights under FMLA and your employer’s policies on FMLA leave. Your employer may also have requirements for using paid leave concurrently with FMLA leave.

  4. Stay in Communication: Keep an open line of communication with your employer about your leave and expected return date. If your situation changes, make sure to provide updates.

Navigating Workplace Stigma

Taking leave for mental health reasons can be daunting due to the stigma that unfortunately still exists around mental health issues in some workplaces.

Remember, FMLA is a legal protection designed to ensure you can take the time you need without fear of losing your job. Advocating for your health and well-being is of paramount importance.

Mental health is just as critical as physical health, and recognizing the importance of taking time off to address mental health conditions is vital for a healthy work-life balance.

FMLA provides a valuable safety net for employees going through tough times, ensuring they do not have to choose between their health and their job.

If you or someone you know is considering FMLA leave for mental health reasons, it’s important to understand your rights, the qualifying conditions, and the process for applying.

Remember, prioritizing your mental health is not only beneficial for you but also for your employer, as it leads to better overall performance and job satisfaction.

Mental Health Services

The Joshua York Legacy Foundation offers a compelling model for enhancing support for mental health in the workplace and educating.

Our foundation is dedicated to increasing awareness and prevention of suicide through outreach, education, and public awareness campaigns, highlighting the critical importance of addressing mental health stigma.

Applying for FMLA Leave for A Mental Health Condition

  1. Recognize the Need for Leave: The first step is acknowledging the need for leave, whether for treatment, recovery, or care of a family member with a serious mental health condition.

  2. Understand Your Rights and Responsibilities: Familiarize yourself with your employer’s specific FMLA policy and the rights and obligations under the FMLA.

  3. Notify Your Employer: Provide your employer with reasonable notice of your need for FMLA leave, ideally 30 days in advance if the need for leave is foreseeable.

  4. Submit Required Documentation: Your employer may require a certification from a healthcare provider to support your FMLA request. This documentation must confirm the serious health condition and the need for leave.

  5. Communicate About Your Leave: Stay in communication with your employer about your leave, any updates on your condition, and your expected return to work.

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Rights and Protections Under the FMLA

During FMLA leave, employees are entitled to:

  • Continue their group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if they had not taken leave.

  • Job restoration to the same or an equivalent job at the end of their FMLA leave.

  • Protection from discrimination or retaliation for exercising or attempting to exercise FMLA rights.


Tips for Employers Managing FMLA for Mental Health

Employers play a crucial role in supporting employees navigating FMLA leave for mental health reasons.

Here are some tips for handling these situations with care and compliance:

  • Foster an Open and Supportive Environment: Encourage open dialogues about mental health and the availability of FMLA leave.

  • Understand the FMLA Requirements: Stay informed about FMLA rules and ensure your policies are compliant.

  • Handle Documentation with Confidentiality: Respect the privacy of employees taking FMLA leave for mental health reasons, keeping all medical documentation confidential.

  • Provide Support and Resources: Offer resources such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) or flexible work arrangements to help employees manage their mental health.


For more information on FMLA and mental health, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s FMLA page or consult with your HR department. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength.

By understanding and utilizing the protections FMLA offers for mental health, employees can take meaningful steps towards managing their health and ensuring their rights are protected in the workplace.



Mental health is a critical component of overall wellbeing, deserving of the same attention and care as physical health in the workplace.

Through FMLA, employees dealing with mental health challenges can take the time they need to heal and return to work stronger.

Understanding the provisions of the FMLA for mental health, both from an employee and employer perspective, promotes a healthier, more supportive workplace environment.

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and the FMLA provides a path to balancing mental health needs with professional obligations.


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