Medical Leave of Absence

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What is a “medical leave of absence”? 

A medical leave of absence refers to a type of leave that employees can take if they have a medical condition that affects their physical or mental health which hinders them from performing their work duties and tasks. Keep in mind that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has set specific guidelines for medical leave qualifications. Also, just like other leave categories, a medical leave of absence warrants guidance and monitoring by employers for its effect on overall workflow, compliance, and employee engagement. 

What qualifies as a medical condition according to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) defines a serious health condition as any illness or impairment affecting an individual’s physical or mental capacity that requires the person to receive inpatient care at a medical facility. Because of such illness or impairment, the person is unable to perform their job responsibilities. 

An individual facing a serious health condition and who wants to take a medical leave of absence must coordinate with their healthcare provider in case the employer requires certification in support of the medical leave. 

Keep in mind that not all employers have to follow the FMLA. The FMLA only applies to employers who have 50 or more employees. 

How long can a medical leave of absence last?

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employee can take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave in a year for medical conditions. Note that the FMLA does not require employers to treat this as a paid leave. If the employer provides employees with paid leaves in their company leaves policy such as sick days, they may ask the employee to use their accrued leave as part of the 12-week medical leave. 

Can an employee take a medical leave of absence for mental health conditions? 

Yes, employees can take a medical leave of absence for mental health conditions if it renders them unable to do their work duties. Some examples of mental health conditions are anxiety, PTSD, depression, and bipolar disorder. Of course, these are just a few examples. There can be more mental health concerns that an employee may be facing. 

When it comes to navigating and addressing the mental health conditions of employees, employers need to be professional, sensitive, and compassionate. There is no uniform reaction or experience of mental health issues. Each experience is unique for each person. In line with this, it is best to let go of assumptions and preconceived notions for how a mental health concern affects individuals. 

If you are an employer, be mindful of employees who may be experiencing mental health issues. Identify situations where an employee’s actions or behavior may be causing concerns at work. Engage with the employee and ask how you can help them. Let them voice their concerns and be an active listener. Discuss how you can assist them to perform their job responsibilities well without mentioning “mental health.” Lastly, you must remain consistent in the way you approach and conduct these conversations. 

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