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The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for qualifying reasons. Those reasons include an employee’s serious health condition, or that of an employee’s family member. Mental health conditions are included.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, so your chance of dealing with an employee who needs time off because of such an illness is pretty good. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, PTSD — the list of such conditions is long.

Don’t, however, go by the name of a condition. The FMLA has its own unique definition of a serious health condition. Also, don’t look at other definitions, such as those for your leave policies or short- or long-term disability plans.

Mental and physical health conditions are considered FMLA serious health conditions if they require:

  • Inpatient care, or
  • Continuing treatment by a health care provider.

A serious mental health condition that requires inpatient care involves an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility, such as, for example, a treatment center for addiction or eating disorders.

A serious mental health condition that requires continuing treatment by a health care provider includes:

  • Conditions that incapacitate an individual for more than three consecutive full calendar days and require ongoing medical treatment, either:
    • Multiple appointments with a health care provider, including a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or clinical social worker; or
    • A single appointment and follow-up care (e.g., prescription medication, outpatient rehabilitation counseling, or behavioral therapy); and
  • Chronic conditions (e.g., anxiety, depression, or dissociative disorders) that cause occasional periods when an individual is incapacitated and requires treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year.

Take Ellie Employee, for example. She is occasionally unable to work due to severe anxiety. She sees a doctor monthly to manage her symptoms. Ellie may take unforeseeable intermittent FMLA leave when she is unable to work unexpectedly due to her condition. She may also take intermittent FMLA leave for regularly scheduled doctor appointments. For planned medical treatment, Ellie is to schedule it so as not to disrupt unduly your company’s operations.

You may require employees to provide a certification from a health care provider to support the need for FMLA leave. The information provided on the certification must be sufficient to support the need for leave, but a diagnosis is not required, and you may not mandate that one is included.

Employees may also take FMLA leave to provide care for the serious mental health condition of a spouse, parent, or child. This care can include providing psychological comfort and reassurance that would be beneficial to a family member who is receiving inpatient or home care.

Family members include adult children if those children are incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability — think the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ellie Employee, for example, could use FMLA leave to care for her daughter, Amber. Amber is 24 years old and was recently released from several days of inpatient treatment for a mental health condition. Amber is unable to work or go to school and needs help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, and other daily activities as a result of the condition.

The World Health Organization reports an increase in mental health illness, so don’t be surprised if one of your employees asks for related leave. Treat it as you would any request for potential FMLA leave.

Key to remember: More people are suffering from mental health conditions, so don’t be surprised if employees ask for related leave. Those employees may well be entitled to FMLA leave for such conditions.