DOL Issues Guidance on Mental Health Conditions and the FMLA

Throughout May, organizations have been promoting the importance of mental and behavioral health as part of National Mental Health Awareness Month. Media attention on the issue has prompted questions about where mental health fits under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The FMLA covers an employee’s need for time off work due to their own or a family member’s serious health condition, among other reasons. But does the definition of a serious health condition include mental health conditions? The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued new guidance in the form of a Fact Sheet and FAQs addressing the ways mental health conditions are covered under the FMLA.

In defining a serious health condition, the FMLA does not identify conditions by diagnosis, but rather by circumstances of the employee’s or their family member’s serious health condition. Under the FMLA, this could mean any condition, including a mental health condition, that requires:

  • inpatient care that includes an overnight stay in a hospital or medical care facility; and/or
  • continuing treatment by a health care provider for a condition that:
    • incapacitates the person for more than three consecutive days and requires ongoing medical treatment (as that is further defined by the FMLA);
    • is chronic and causes occasional periods of incapacitation and requires treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year.

As we read about employee burnout and turnover, mental health care goes hand in glove with discussions on how to attract and retain employees. Employees are struggling with an overload of work, family, and personal care, and navigating the upheaval that has followed the COVID-19 pandemic and other events.  Accordingly, when assessing an employee’s request for time off that involves their or their family member’s mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, the DOL’s mental health guidance provides useful examples and a handy reminder that the evaluation is no different from assessing whether a physical condition is a serious health condition under the FMLA.

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