Anxiety Disorder and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

If you have an anxiety disorder, there is a good chance that your condition qualifies you for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). You may find that your symptoms worsen while under stress or become more difficult to control during certain times of the year. You may even find that your symptoms wax and wane with no apparent rhyme or reason.

Whether or not your symptoms are predictable, their intensity may affect your ability to carry out your usual employment duties. This may mean taking a temporary medical leave of absence from work.

The FMLA provides certain benefits for employees who need to be absent from work due to their own illness or that of an immediate family member.

What Is FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act took effect in 1993. It requires employers to allow eligible employees an unpaid leave of absence for up to 12 workweeks in a year for any of the following reasons:

  • The birth of a child or to care for a newborn
  • The adoption or foster care of a newly placed child in the employee’s home
  • The care of an immediate family member (such as a spouse, child, parent) with an illness or chronic condition
  • The employee’s own serious health condition

The act generally defines “serious health conditions” in a few ways including physical or mental conditions that involve inpatient care, continuing treatment, and a period of incapacity for three or more days. A seriously ill employee or employee’s family member may also take an intermittent leave of absence or work a reduced schedule.

Reduced work hours may mean working four-hour days or four-day weeks. A reduced schedule also refers to intermittent absence due to an unpredictable course of an illness (i.e., unforeseen absence due to unpredictable worsening of symptoms).

 Intermittent or reduced schedule leaves are bound by the 12 workweeks in a 12-month period.

Covered Employers

The following employers are covered by the FMLA:

  • Generally, private employers who have 50 or more employees
  • State, local, and federal employers
  • Public and private elementary and secondary schools

Eligible Employees

An employee who is employed by a covered employer is eligible for leave under the FMLA if all of the following are met:

  • The employee has worked for the covered employer for at least 12 months.
  • The employee has worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of the FMLA leave.
  • The employee works at a location, or within 75 miles of other employer locations, where at least 50 employees are employed.


Under the FMLA, an employer must maintain health benefits during the leave period. An employee may be required to continue to pay his or her share of the medical benefits premium during the leave.

An employer must also provide job restoration upon an employee’s return from an FMLA leave. This would include returning the employee to his or her original job or to an equivalent position within the company.

Certain “key” employees may not qualify for job restoration. “Key” employees generally occupy crucial positions within the company.

If holding such an employee’s position open during an FMLA leave causes the employer “substantial and grievous economic injury,” an employer may be able to fill the position without violating the job restoration provision.

Getting Leave Approved

An employer may require the entitled employee to provide a medical certification from his or her physician or other healthcare professional prior to granting an FMLA leave. An employee is not, however, required to provide an employer with medical records.

In some cases, the employer may be entitled to timely notice prior to granting a leave (such as scheduled treatments). An employer may require an employee to use all accrued paid time off prior to beginning an unpaid leave under the FMLA.

FMLA leaves are generally handled through human resources (or personnel) department. Any and all information that you provide to your employer should be held in the strictest confidence and should only be disclosed to others who are directly responsible for making the leave determination.

In general, your immediate supervisor should not have access to the medical information provided by your doctor or other healthcare providers.

How Violations Are Handled

It is unlawful for an employer to deny an entitled employee an FMLA leave or to discriminate against or discharge an employee for exercising his or her rights under the FMLA.

The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor investigates employer violations of the FMLA. This division will contact the employer for resolution of the issues but may also bring court action against an employer for noncompliance.

In addition, an eligible employee may initiate a civil lawsuit against his or her covered employer who has violated the terms of the FMLA.

1 Source
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  1. U.S. Department of Labor. Family and Medical Leave Act.

By Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC
Sheryl Ankrom is a clinical professional counselor and nationally certified clinical mental health counselor specializing in anxiety disorders.