Can You Use FMLA to Take Time Off for Stress? Here's What to Know

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Claire Crowley
Claire Crowley10
Stress is everywhere—it’s an omnipresent part of life. The amount of stress that we experience and our reaction to it varies greatly from person to person and depends heavily on our personalities, health, living conditions, job types, and family dynamics.
For some, the stress that accompanies the pressures of meeting demanding work deadlines or completing the tasks on ever growing to-do lists can be a helpful motivator. But for others, stress is an untamable beast that can quickly lead to debilitating physical and emotional conditions that make functioning at work nearly impossible. What do you do if you find yourself falling into the later category?
If your stress has left you feeling like a shell of your former go-getter self and is interfering with your ability to do your job, the Family and Medical Leave Act might offer a bit of temporary relief. Read on to learn about your eligibility to take FMLA leave from work for your stress or stress-related conditions.

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act, commonly referred to as the FMLA, is a complex federal labor law. It was enacted in 1993 for the purposes of protecting the work-life balance. The FMLA protects the rights of employees by ensuring that employees can return to their jobs after having taken time off from work because a serious health condition—or the need to care for a family member—has interfered with their ability to do their jobs.
The amount of time that you can take for FMLA leave is not unlimited. The FMLA allows for qualified employees to take up to twelve unpaid weeks off from work each year. Whether or not you qualify for the protections granted by the FMLA depends on a variety of factors. These factors include:
  • The size of your employer
  • The type of your employer
  • Your status as an employee
  • The severity of your stress or stress-related conditions

Am I Eligible for the FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act only protects a leave from work that is taken by eligible employees. Your eligibility for the FMLA is dependent upon the length of time that you have been employed by your employer and the number of hours that you have worked for your employer. In order to be an eligible employee under the FMLA, you must have worked for your employer for at least twelve months.
You also must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period that immediately precedes the start of your FMLA leave of absence. If you are unsure if you qualify for the FMLA, you should contact your human resources department to inquire about your eligibility.

Is Stress Covered by the FMLA?

The FMLA applies to leave from work that is taken because a serious health condition prevents you from performing the functions that your job requires. Stress can vary in intensity from being a minor inconvenience that can be alleviated by a long, relaxing bath to severely interfering your daily life, especially if your stress manifests itself in the extreme form of depression, insomnia, anxiety, or physical pain. The more intense and all-consuming that your stress is, and the more that it interferes with your ability to do your job, the more likely it is to be considered a serious health condition under the FMLA.
In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, you must have sought continuing medical treatment for the symptoms of your stress. Your employer can require that you or your doctor provide evidence of the severity of your stress or your stress-related conditions.

Is My Employer Required to Comply with the FMLA?

The FMLA does not apply to all employers. In general, employers that must comply with the FMLA laws are those that have employed fifty or more employees for each working day for 20 or more weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. Some states require that employers with fewer employees comply with the FMLA. Public agencies are also subject to the FMLA requirements.

How Do I Request FMLA?

The FMLA requires that you to give your employer advance notice that you will need to take FMLA leave for your stress. You can give your request for FMLA leave to your employer either verbally or in writing. If you give your employer notice in writing, make sure that you keep a copy for your FMLA request for your own records. You should be sure to notify your employer of the length of time that you plan to take for your and when you anticipate returning to work.

What if My Employer Denies My Request for FMLA?

FMLA leave should not be denied for eligible employees who have a qualifying medical condition. There are legal ramifications that employers can face if you are denied your request for FMLA leave. If you feel that your employer is interfering with your rights under the FMLA you should consult an employment law attorney. You may be eligible to collect damages in state or federal court which could include recovering lost wages.

What Happens When I Return to Work After Taking FMLA?

Hopefully you will return to work feeling healthy, refreshed and ready to perform the duties of your job. Typically, the FMLA guarantees that employees return to the same position that they held before they took leave. Employees should also be eligible for the same benefits that they were receiving prior to taking the leave.