Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
A medical leave of absence is a leave category for employees who face medical conditions that reduce their physical and/or mental health to the point that they can no longer perform key job responsibilities. Like other leave types, a medical leave of absence will have compliance and employee engagement ramifications that need to be addressed.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has a broad definition for what qualifies for medical leave: any serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position. Employees coordinate with their healthcare providers to certify that the employees’ condition renders them unable to perform any one of the essential functions of their position or unable to work at all.
The FMLA requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of leave for medical purposes. As with other FMLA leave categories, the employer is not required to provide paid leave. In addition, employers who provide forms of paid leave (such as paid sick leave and paid vacation) may require employees to use their accrued leave as a part of the 12-week period.
Not all medical conditions leave visible scars. Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder can keep an employee from the personal performance, collaboration, and even the physical health they need to work effectively. An in-depth article from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) provides several insights into navigating a medical leave of absence for mental health reasons:
Avoid assumptions for how mental (or physical) illness affects employees, such as assuming PTSD leads to rage and aggressiveness.
Identify how the employee’s behavior creates difficult or concerning situations in the workplace.
Encourage managers to engage with employees and identify assistance that can help manage any conditions causing the behavior.
Make the organization’s performance expectations clear and follow up with consistent actions.
Listen to employees and ask the most important question: “How can I help you?”
A medical leave of absence doesn’t need to be taken all at once as a solid 12-week block. Staying flexible can help employees deal with recurring conditions or setbacks without fearing for their jobs.