FMLA Articles

FMLA for mental health issues


Many of your employees have problems

Lately, quite a bit of attention has been given to mental health in the U.S., and for good reason. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), problems with mental health are very common in the U.S., with an estimated 50 percent of all Americans diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

It’s no wonder that the FMLA does not exclude mental conditions in its definition of a serious health condition:

“…an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care…or continuing treatment by a health care provider….” [29 CFR 825.113]

Sometimes, employers wonder how the FMLA differs in its treatment for mental conditions than it does for physical conditions. Generally, it does not. The same certification, for example, that you would use for a physical condition is used for a mental condition. The FMLA includes clinical psychologists and clinical social workers (among others) in their list of health care providers that might complete a certification.

The employee or family member’s condition would still need to meet the definition of a serious health condition, including, for example, an overnight stay in a health care facility, being incapacitated for more than three days, having a chronic condition, or having a condition that requires multiple treatments.

Employers, might benefit, however, from training managers to recognize the notice of the need for leave, particularly if the condition is not obvious, such as in the case of mental conditions. An employee might ask for time off due to the condition. Any such notice should put managers on alert that the employee might need FMLA leave.

Other signs that an employee might be struggling with a mental condition could include schedule or attendance issues or performance issues. Sleep disturbance is a common symptom of depression’s onset, and such disturbance can have lasting effects. Therefore, if a conversation about job performance leads to the employee to point to a mental health condition and the need for leave, the FMLA would generally be triggered.

In dealing with mental issues, employers might prefer to see a certification, particularly a fitness-for-duty certification at the end of leave, from a mental health professional, and not a general practitioner. Like many employment-law-related answers, mandating this will depend upon the specific facts involved. If Joe Employee, for example, provided a certification from his general practitioner that repeatedly indicated he was being seen by a specialist, and Joe’s condition was fairly severe, asking for information from the specialist might be acceptable.

Employers may also require that the fitness-for-duty certification specifically address the employee’s ability to perform the job’s essential function. Keep in mind, however, that if you’re going to require this, the employee needs to be informed of it with the designation notice.

Given the complexities of the FMLA, leave administrators might want to avail themselves of a beneficial mental health day.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.


The J. J. Keller LEAVE MANAGER service is your business resource for tracking employee leave and ensuring compliance with the latest Federal and State FMLA and leave requirements.