Can I use FMLA for mental health?

Jessica Kennedy, Mental Health America

FMLA is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. It’s a law that is supposed to help protect individual’s jobs when they need to take leave for medical needs for themselves or a qualifying family member like a spouse or dependent.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • FMLA applies to serious health conditions or adoption/childbirth. Serious health conditions involve inpatient care or continuing treatment for a chronic illness. Your work may ask for a certification from a health care provider like a doctor to make sure you’re eligible.
  • FMLA doesn’t entitle you to pay. FMLA says you can have 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Whether your company pays you is up to the employer
  • There are other strings attached. You may have to work for a certain amount of time before it kicks in. You also need to give a 30-day advanced notice if possible. The DOL has a great FAQ here.
  • Not every employer has to follow FMLA. FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees. If you work for a small business, they may voluntarily follow FMLA, but they don’t have to.
  • You won’t necessarily get your own job back. FMLA means your employer is required to give you a comparable position with similar benefits.
  • You are putting yourself at risk for discrimination. Employers aren’t legally allowed to discriminate against you because of your health status…but some do. Not all of them. For example, you may start getting low ratings after you come back from FMLA when you were always a stellar employee before you left. It’s even possible that disclosing your mental illness to your boss causes them to discriminate against you subconsciously instead of on purpose. You should absolutely feel entitled to take leave, but you may need to be prepared to defend yourself or take legal action. Document everything you can to protect yourself in case something happens.

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