FMLA & Stress

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Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees can take time off from work and not put their job status in jeopardy. Along with the adoption or birth of a child, a valid reason for taking FMLA time off is a serious health condition that affects either the employee or an immediate family member. Whether stress qualifies as a serious health condition in accordance with the law depends on various factors.


Merely feeling stressed out by work, family or other situations does not make an employee eligible to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor, which administers the FMLA, have established the specific definition for a serious health condition that qualifies employees for FMLA leave. The key issues in the determination are the extent to which the employee requires care or treatment from a professional and the amount of time for which the condition incapacitates the employee.


A serious health condition as it pertains to the Family and Medical Leave Act, can be a physical or mental illness, impairment or injury. It typically must involve one of two circumstances: inpatient care, specifically an overnight stay, in a hospital; residential medical care facility or hospice; or a period of incapacity exceeding three days and requiring continuing treatment by a health care provider. If an employee's stress triggers either of these situations, the employee can put in for FMLA leave.


Regulations in FMLA specifically define what constitutes continuing treatment by a health care provider, which is one of the circumstances that allow an employee's medical issue to meet the definition of a serious health condition. Continuing treatment, as it relates to a condition such as stress, could entail a period of incapacity exceeding three days that includes at least two treatment sessions with a health care professional. The first session should be within seven days of the initial day of incapacity, and the second should be within 30 days. Another possibility is a period of incapacity exceeding three days that involves one treatment session by a health care professional, within seven days of start of incapacity, along with an ongoing treatment regimen such as physical therapy or prescription medication.


Employers can require medical certification from employees who cite stress, or any other serious health condition, as the reason for their FMLA leave. Employers also can seek a second opinion from a health care provider of the employer's choosing, although the employer must pay for the consultation and the second provider cannot have any kind of regular association with the employer. Among the categories of health care professionals who can supply official certification are clinical psychologists, so employees whose stress requires mental or emotional therapy should be able to get the required documentation.