Don’t automatically grant FMLA leave for stress

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees often claim their jobs stress them out. And for some, it’s so bad they feel they need to take off work for a week or so to cope.

That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re automatically entitled to use FMLA leave. Even if they get a doctor to write a note “prescribing” rest, they don’t qualify for FMLA leave unless there’s some additional treatment ordered, such as medication or counseling.

Recent case: E. Lee worked as a counselor and unit supervisor for Heritage Health & Housing, a company that provides housing for people and with special needs.

When she was assigned additional beds to supervise, Lee claimed she was too stressed out to add the new clients to her roster. She asked for a week off to deal with the stress and went to her doctor. He told her to take the time off to rest, but didn’t prescribe any medication for her stress, nor did he recommend counseling or other treatment.

Heritage fired Lee after she returned from leave, allegedly because it discovered that she hadn’t been doing her job. She sued, claiming her stress was a serious health condition under the FMLA and that she had been denied reinstatement to the same or a similar position when she returned.

The court disagreed. It said Lee wasn’t eligible for FMLA leave because she didn’t, in fact, have a serious health condition: She saw her doctor only once and he didn’t prescribe anything except time off. (Lee v. Heritage Health & Housing, No. 07-CIV-10628, SD NY, 2009)

Final note: Chances are, Lee would have lost the case even if she had been eligible for FMLA leave. Her employer discovered she hadn’t been doing her job, which would probably be a legitimate reason for not reinstating her.

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