The Department of Wage and Hour Division recently released a fact sheet and an FAQ on FMLA coverage when it comes to mental health. This reminds employers that an employee’s mental health condition, or that of a family member in their care, is covered when it inhibits the employee from working. The documents provide several examples of FMLA-triggering situations, including physician appointments for anxiety conditions, flare-ups of mental health conditions, caring for an adult child who was recently released from several days of inpatient treatment for a mental health condition, and more.
Employees do not have to specifically request FMLA leave. FMLA guru, Jeff Novak points out, “There are an increasing number of cases in which courts have found that changes in employees’ behavior might suggest that the employee is suffering from a serious health condition and that the employer is obligated to treat the behavior as a request for FMLA leave.” Employers must identify all situations in which the employee may be experiencing a medical condition and proactively engage the employee in a discussion about what can be done to help. He advises employers to simply ask the question, “How can I help you?”
Frontline managers are key, yet many are not properly trained to recognize when an employee has provided sufficient facts to trigger FMLA leave for mental health. Despite the prevalence and increased public conversation on mental health issues, managers may be uncomfortable dealing with mental health issues, fail to recognize the warning signs that an employee is struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression, or be attuned to a family member’s mental health issues. Specific training on this issue can help them ask the right questions and take appropriate steps to respond to the employee’s situation. Remind them that an empathetic approach builds trust and keeps the lines of communication open, which will make their job easier.