Who has not felt like they needed to take a few days off from work to regroup and clear their minds before tacking your job’s many challenges? I call these days off “mental health days.” While everyone needs to take some time off (whether it’s over a weekend, extended vacation, or holiday), a federal district court in Florida has confirmed that the need for mental health days does not count as a serious medical condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).
In Pivac v. Component Services and Logistics, Inc., an employee sued her employer for denying her FMLA leave, and then terminating her in retaliation for the FMLA leave that she had already taken. The employee first met with her employer and discussed her desire to take FMLA leave; however, she decided to think about whether she wanted to actually request the leave. The employee then went to her doctor and told him that she needed some time off from work. The doctor apparently agreed that the days off would be good for her health and gave her a note for her employer. Armed with this medical “excuse” from her doctor, the employee told her employer that she was taking seven days off.When she returned to work without any completed FMLA paperwork or a doctor’s certification, she was terminated for excessive absenteeism. In reaching its decision in favor of the employer, the court concluded that the employee was not eligible for FMLA leave because she did not have a serious medical condition as defined by the FMLA. Specifically, the court found that:
[t]he substance of the [employee]’s “evidence” is that she felt maybe overworked and wanted time off, first to visit her parents, but then just because she was crying and sad. She went to a doctor who provided her with no treatment, no referrals, no medicine, and no further appointments. The [employee] stated that she “told him [the doctor] she needed about seven days to get herself together and he gave her a ‘Medically Excused Absence’ form for the dates October 4, 2011 to October 17, 2011.” There is absolutely no evidence presented by the [employee] that she met the definition of “serious medical condition” at the time she took the extended unpaid leave. There are no medical records submitted, no indication of continuing treatment at the time of the [employee]’s being out of work from the 4th to the 17th of October of 2011, no evidence, other than the [employee]’s conclusory statements, that she suffered depression and anxiety as chronic health conditions. In fact, the only thing the [employee] has established is that she told the doctor she did not feel like working and he gave her a note to excuse her from working. There is just nothing here on which to find that the [employee] suffered a serious medical condition and without that the cause of action may not proceed.
With all of the recent changes to the FMLA, it is understandable that employers are overly cautious when it comes to denying an employee’s request for FMLA leave. But let Ms. Pivac and her situation be a lesson to all – as confusing as the FMLA may be to employers, it is probably even more confusing to employees. Therefore, it is up to you as an employer to have established FMLA leave policies, including the requirement that the employee provide a doctor’s certification supporting an employee’s request. Otherwise, you risk employees using (or attempting to use) FMLA leave for non-serious medical conditions.