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FMLA ‘stress leave’: When must you allow it?

by on
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 to cope.

That doesn’t mean, however, that employees are automatically entitled to use FMLA leave for stress. 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, says a new court ruling.

Recent case:
E. Lee, a supervisor for a New York special-needs housing company, was assigned extra beds to supervise. These new duties stressed her out so much, she says, she needed to go on leave. Her doctor suggested rest, but didn’t prescribe any medication, counseling or other treatment.

The company fired Lee after she returned, saying it discovered during the leave that she hadn’t been doing her job correctly.

Lee sued, claiming she had an FMLA-qualifying “serious health condition,” so she must be reinstated.

The court disagreed. It said Lee wasn’t eligible for FMLA leave because her stress problem did not, in fact, rise to the level of 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)

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