Navigating Mental Health Leave of Absence: A Guide
Written by: Rinaily Bonifacio
Last updated: 30 January 2024
Table of contents
What is a mental health leave of absence?
A mental health leave of absence is a type of health leave that employees take to address their mental health issues. This could involve seeking treatment for a severe health condition or simply taking a mental health break to restore their mental well-being.
Under federal law, notably the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. This leave can be used to care for a family member with a serious health condition, including mental illnesses, or to take care of one's health condition.
How to pursue a mental health leave of absence
Taking a leave of absence is not a decision to be made lightly. However, if your mental health impacts your work and daily life, it may be a necessary step toward healing.
Step 1: Speak with a mental health care provider
Embarking on a mental health leave of absence necessitates initiating a conversation with a qualified healthcare provider specializing in mental health, such as a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed social worker.
Seeking professional guidance is crucial as they possess the expertise to assess your situation, diagnose any mental health conditions, and determine the necessity of a leave of absence.
During your initial consultation, the mental health care provider will conduct a comprehensive evaluation, which may involve thoroughly examining your symptoms, medical history, and personal circumstances.
This evaluation aims to comprehensively understand your mental health concerns and identify underlying conditions requiring treatment or support.
Based on their assessment, the mental health care provider will determine the appropriateness of a mental health leave of absence.
They may recommend various treatment options tailored to your specific needs, including inpatient care, outpatient rehabilitation counseling, medication management, or a combination of these interventions.
Discussing each treatment option's potential benefits and risks is important to make an informed decision regarding your mental health journey.
Step 2: Determine your FMLA eligibility
When considering a leave of absence, it is crucial to determine your eligibility under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
FMLA is a federal law in the United States requiring certain employers to provide eligible employees with unpaid leave for medical and family reasons, including severe health conditions.
To determine your FMLA eligibility, you must consider several factors, including your employer's size, length of employment, and the number of hours you have worked.
FMLA applies to private-sector employers with 50 or more employees and certain public-sector employers. If your employer has fewer than 50 employees, they may be exempt from FMLA requirements, so verifying this with your HR department or reviewing your employee handbook is essential.
Furthermore, FMLA eligibility requires employees to meet specific criteria.
Firstly, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months. These 12 months of employment need not be consecutive but must have occurred within the past seven years.
Secondly, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the start of your leave.
This means you need to have worked an average of 24 hours per week over the 12 months.
Lastly, you must work at a location where your employer has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.
Reviewing your employer's policies and consulting with your HR department to understand how FMLA applies to your situation is essential.
They can provide the necessary information and guidance regarding your FMLA eligibility and the procedures for requesting and taking a mental health leave of absence under FMLA.
If you are eligible for FMLA, you may be entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for 12 months for your serious health condition, which can include mental health conditions.
However, it's important to note that FMLA leave is generally unpaid, meaning you will not receive your regular salary or wages during this period. Some employees may use accrued paid time off or sick leave, if available, to receive compensation during their leave.
Additionally, some employers may offer short-term disability benefits that can provide partial wage replacement during your leave. It is advisable to inquire about these options and review your employer's policies regarding pay during FMLA leave.
Understanding your FMLA eligibility and the provisions that apply to your situation will help you confidently navigate requesting a leave of absence. It ensures you know your rights and protections under the law and can make informed decisions regarding your leave and financial considerations.
Step 3: Meet with the human resources department
Once you have obtained the medical certification and determined your FMLA eligibility, scheduling a meeting with your HR department is crucial.
This meeting serves as a vital step in pursuing a mental health leave of absence, as it allows you to discuss your intention, understand the procedures and requirements, and ensure compliance with company policies and federal laws.
During your meeting with the HR department, be prepared to provide them with the necessary documentation, such as the medical certification from your healthcare provider.
This documentation serves as evidence of your need for a mental health leave and helps establish the legitimacy of your request.
The human resources professionals are trained to handle leave requests and can guide you through the entire process, ensuring that you clearly understand what is expected of you and what you can expect in return.
The HR department can inform you about the policies and procedures related to leaves of absence within your organization.
They can explain the duration of leave allowed, any paperwork or forms that need to be completed, and any specific deadlines that must be met. Additionally, they can provide information about continuing your health benefits during the leave and answer any questions you may have regarding job protection.
Step 4: Finalize plans with your healthcare provider
Once you have obtained the necessary medical certification and determined your eligibility for a mental health leave of absence, engaging in detailed discussions with your healthcare provider to finalize your plans for the leave is essential.
Duration of the Leave: Collaborate with your healthcare provider to determine the appropriate length of your mental health leave. This will depend on various factors, such as the severity of your mental health condition, the recommended treatment plan, and your circumstances.
Ongoing Medical Treatment: If your mental health condition requires ongoing medical treatment or therapy, work closely with your healthcare provider to create a plan for receiving this care during your leave.
Coping Strategies and Self-Care: Absence allows you to prioritize self-care and develop healthy coping strategies. Collaborate with your healthcare provider to explore self-care activities, stress management techniques, and strategies for maintaining a positive mindset.
Communication and Support Systems: Discuss with your healthcare provider the importance of maintaining open lines of communication during your leave. Explore ways to stay connected and provide updates on your progress.
Relapse Prevention Strategies: Work with your healthcare provider to develop a plan for preventing relapse and managing potential triggers during and after your mental health leave.
Remember that your healthcare provider is a valuable resource and partner in your mental health journey. Engage in open and honest communication, ask questions, and seek their guidance to ensure that your plans for the leave are comprehensive and aligned with your treatment goals.
Step 5: Return the appropriate paperwork to your employer
Fill out the paperwork your HR department provides, including your medical certification, and return it. Your employee medical records remain confidential under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and other federal laws.
Step 6: Develop a plan for taking care of your mental health leave of absence
While pursuing a leave of absence, you might encounter several questions about your rights, obligations, and the steps involved in the process.
You may wonder about the effect on your health benefits or if your job is protected during your absence. Consult with your employer's policies and relevant laws in your jurisdiction, as they may vary.
Whether you are dealing with a severe mental illness or overwhelmed by stress, know you are not alone. Resources include mental health services, employee assistance programs, and medical professionals who can guide your recovery journey. Striking a balance between work and mental health may not always be easy, but it is crucial for leading a fulfilling, productive life.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The entitlement to a leave of absence depends on various factors, including the laws and policies in your jurisdiction and your employer's specific procedures. In many countries, legal provisions protect employees' rights to take leaves for medical reasons, including mental health.
Start by reviewing your employer's policies and procedures regarding leaves of absence. You must formally request the leave in writing or through an official request process. Be prepared to provide documentation or evidence, such as a medical certificate or recommendation from a healthcare professional, outlining the need for the leave.
Useful read: Mental Health Leave of Absence Letter Example
In many jurisdictions, employees are entitled to job protection during a leave of absence. You should be reinstated to your previous or similar position when you return from your leave. However, it's essential to consult your employer's policies and applicable laws to understand your specific rights and protections.
Continuing health benefits during a mental health leave of absence will depend on your employer's policies and the applicable laws in your jurisdiction. Some employers may continue to provide health benefits, while others may require you to make arrangements to maintain coverage, such as paying for premiums. Review your employer's policies and consult with your HR department to understand how your health benefits will be affected.
The duration of a leave of absence can vary depending on individual circumstances, the severity of the mental health condition, and applicable laws or policies. Sometimes, it may be a few days or weeks; in others, it could be several months. Consult with your healthcare provider and review your employer's policies to determine the appropriate duration for your leave.
In most cases, you do not need to disclose the details of your mental health condition to your employer. However, you may be required to provide documentation from a healthcare professional stating the need for leave and the expected duration. The documentation should focus on the functional limitations and recommended accommodations rather than the specific diagnosis.
Employers generally cannot unreasonably deny a legitimate request for a leave of absence if you meet the eligibility criteria set by the employer or applicable laws. However, reviewing your employer's policies and consulting with your human resources department is essential to understand the requirements and processes for requesting a leave.
Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.
Please note that the information on our website is intended for general informational purposes and not as binding advice. The information on our website cannot be considered a substitute for legal and binding advice for any specific situation. While we strive to provide up-to-date and accurate information, we do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of the information on our website for any purpose. We are not liable for any damage or loss arising from the use of the information on our website.
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