Did you know that employees can use FMLA when a serious health condition impacts their ability to work? It’s true.  Eligible workers may take job-protected leave according to the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when they require inpatient care or continuing clinical care, so organizations should understand how to apply compliant absence management practices when needed.

FMLA leave also applies to those who are caregiving for a covered family member. Parents may also use FMLA when adult children (18-plus) have a disability that falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and whose disability makes them incapable of self-care. Furthermore, employees who are military caregivers are entitled to leave to tend to military enrollees and veterans who sustained serious injuries or illness in the line of duty.

Managing absences for behavioral health related FMLA

HR professionals must parse specific considerations for managing absences for behavioral health-related FMLA, such as:

  • Employers should proactively offer FMLA leave to employees whose medical condition (including diagnosed and reported behavioral health concerns) affects their ability to work. Employees are not required to reference FMLA when applying for leave, and employers are responsible for determining if FMLA may apply.
  • Employees must submit medical certification of their health condition to their employer within 15 days of the employer’s acknowledgement of the leave or start of the leave. Since a behavioral health condition may cause a delay, HR professionals should be prepared to respond empathetically while prioritizing receipt of the necessary documentation.
  • Be circumspect of performance management for employees on FMLA. An employee could have a legal claim for retaliation if they are punished for job performance issues that stem from their behavioral health matter, or their absences are covered under their leave.

Employees need more support as they deal with unprecedented work and life stress. Robust mental health benefits are crucial for any workplace. Employers who empower their workforce demonstrate they value their team members through effective absence management for behavioral health.

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1 National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/mhstats, 2020

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