On May 25th, 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) released updated guidance on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), covering employees who take leave under the FMLA for mental health reasons. Individuals coping with mental illness may often face certain barriers to treatment for a variety of reasons. For this reason, the DOL is ensuring that these individuals can easily access their entitled job-protected leave under the FMLA. The DOL continues to provide information and support for millions of U.S. workers, including those that are, historically, marginalized or underserved. Earlier, the DOL issued an Equity Action Plan to support these vulnerable communities

Brief Overview of the FMLA

The FMLA covers private sector employers with 50 or more employees, as well as public agencies. Public agencies include state, local, and federal employers, and public schools. Under the FMLA, employees may take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. This includes taking leave under the FMLA for mental health care. Qualified individuals may even request FMLA leave as a reasonable accommodation. Specifically, covered employees may receive:

  • Twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for qualifying reasons.
  • Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the servicemember’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).

FMLA for Mental Health Conditions

According to the National Institute of Health, about one in five adults in the U.S. live with a mental illness (52.9 million in 2020). However, only about half of those adults receive necessary treatment. These individuals often deal with social stigmas or a lack of services and financial resources. In honor of May being National Mental Health Awareness month, the WHD provided additional guidance for workers taking job-protected leave under FMLA for mental health. In brief, the guidance outlines an employee’s right to take leave for serious mental illnesses. Additionally, it helps employers understand how to comply with the FMLA. The WHD’s Fact Sheet #280 Mental Health Conditions and the FMLA provides information on covered employees who take FMLA leave for mental health reasons. Indeed, serious health conditions under the FMLA can include mental health conditions if they require: 

  • inpatient care, including an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility; or
  • continuing treatment by a health care provider.

An employer may require an employee to submit a certification from their health care provider to support their need for leave under the FMLA for mental health reasons. The information provided by the certification must be sufficient to support the need for leave. However, a diagnosis is not required.

Additional Information

In addition to the WHD’s fact sheet, the agency released a list of frequently asked questions regarding using job-protected leave under FMLA for mental health conditions. The WHD also provides an FMLA Compliance Assistance Toolkit. The toolkit includes various resources that inform eligible employees of their rights under the FMLA. It also helps employers comply with their responsibilities under the law.