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  • Writer's pictureKirstin Kennedy

FMLA May Cover Leave for Stress, Anxiety, or Depression

Updated: May 27, 2020

The experience of extreme stress, anxiety, and depression can impact many facets of life – including employment. In order to be a productive and well-rounded employee, individuals must prioritize their own mental health so that they can stay motivated and ready to work. But when does extreme anxiety and depression constitute a need to take an extended period of time off – and will that time be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993?

The short answer is yes, if your mental health-related issue qualifies as a "serious health condition."

First of all – the Family and Medical Leave allows workers in the United States to take unpaid leave from their employment for the purpose of attending to personal or familial needs. The act, commonly referred to as FMLA, protects an individual’s job while he or she takes leave for a designated period of time. Additionally, FMLA ensures that eligible employees are able to retain the same terms and conditions of their employer-provided health insurance for the duration of their leave.

In order to qualify for FMLA for the purpose of care for your physical or mental health, you must show that you have a “serious health condition.” Often, this might include a condition which requires hospitalization or in-patient care for at least one night, treatments which require ongoing care and follow-up appointments, chronic conditions, and pregnancy. Issues related to mental health, including anxiety and depression may fall under several of these categories. For example, if your mental health-related issue results in hospitalization or in-patient care, it will likely be covered under FMLA. This could include treatment for substance abuse, extended stay in a treatment facility related to a mental health crisis, or surgeries and treatment.

Further, if your anxiety and depression are categorized as a chronic condition, you will likely qualify to take FMLA while you access treatment and rest in order to address that with which you struggle. A chronic condition is one which requires periods of treatment on a basis of at least twice per year. If you are unsure if your mental health-related issue constitutes a chronic condition, you should discuss your diagnosis with your physician. Additionally, if you feel that you would benefit for time off related to stress, anxiety, or depression, consider asking your physician for guidance as to whether or not FMLA would assist in your recovery and management of the issue. Your physician will be a critical resource in your decision to apply for the protected leave program.

It is important to always notify your employer of your use of FMLA. Qualifying individuals can submit their intention to take leave directly to the employer. In some cases, this may require a certification in the form of a doctor’s note. If the leave is foreseeable, employees are generally required to provide thirty days’ worth of notice to the employer. If not, the employee must provide notice to the employer within a reasonable period of time.

Also note that there are several requirements that must be met in order for a worker to be found eligible for FMLA-protected leave. To start, the employee must work for a covered employer, which includes all government agencies at the local, state, and federal level, as well as all private employers who maintain at least fifty employees for at least twenty weeks in the year of application. The employee must also have worked 1,250 hours during the year leading up to the requested leave. As a result, FMLA only applies to employees who have worked for the employer for at least one year on a part-time basis or more.


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