Mental health conditions, including stress, affect millions of Americans: the current statistics reveal that at least one in five Americans suffers mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The American Institute of Stress reports that job stress is the major source of stress for American adults and that over half of the 550 million working days lost yearly to absenteeism are the result of stress.
Just what are employees’ rights to sick leave, and how can you handle the need to accommodate your employees’ mental health?
Employee Rights to Sick Leave for Stress-Induced Problems
The laws that address leave for a mental condition, including stress, vary by state and by the size of the company.
If your company is large enough to be covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (it has 50 employees within a 75-mile radius) and if your employee has been working for you for at least one year and has worked at least 1,250 hours in that year, then they may be eligible for unpaid FMLA leave for stress. The leave can be continuous or intermittent: employees can take up to 60 days off, and the days don’t have to be consecutive.
To be eligible for leave, the employee’s stress must be the result of a serious health condition. A serious health condition is one that (1) renders the employee unable to perform their job duties for at least three consecutive days and require ongoing medical treatment, such as prescription medication or follow-up doctor’s appointments; (2) requires the employee to stay overnight in a hospital or another medical care facility; or (3) is a chronic condition with intermittent effects that require medical treatment at least twice a year.
In other words, if an employee simply says that they’re too stressed out to work, that isn’t enough. The employee must be undergoing continuing treatment for their stress, and they’ll need to obtain documentation of the serious medical condition and its treatment from a medical practitioner.
Some states and localities, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C., may offer additional leave options.
What Employers Can Do to Address Workplace Stress
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to stress: its causes vary greatly from employee to employee and from company to company. Employers should audit their workplace for potential sources of stress. These sources might include repeated loud noises, physical strain due to poorly designed workplaces or repetitive movements, or even particular individuals who are loud and aggressive.
Employers can also take steps to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and respectfully and train managers and supervisors to look for symptoms of stress. They may also want to offer wellness programs, stress prevention programs, or even an employee assistance program, all of which can address the sources of stress and encourage a healthy outlet for employees.
Visit the Poster Compliance Center website for more information about employer responsibilities for providing employee leave under federal and state labor laws.