Should You Take a Stress Leave From Work?
Everyone knows that if you have the flu, you should stay home from work to recover and not spread the infection to your colleagues and friends. It’s also clear that giving birth requires time off from work. But what about stress? Can you really take a “stress leave” from work?
You can, and sometimes taking a stress leave is the right thing to do. You may not see your situation strictly as needing a “stress” leave, but you may see it as experiencing burnout, anxiety, or depression. You need to apply for a leave of absence for any of these reasons in a similar way. Here’s how you should approach making the request for a stress leave from work.
Determine Whether You Are Eligible for FMLA
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to companies with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the workplace. For FMLA eligibility, you must have been employed by your company for at least a year and have worked at least 1250 hours in the past 12 months. If you meet these qualifications, it’s possible that you are eligible for legal protection for your stress leave.
Go to your Human Resources department and let them know you would like to take an FMLA-approved absence for stress leave. They will provide you with the necessary paperwork that you must take to your doctor. Just saying you are too stressed out to work is not sufficient—your doctor will need to recommend that you take a stress leave.
When you speak with your doctor, it’s important that you speak honestly and not downplay your symptoms. She or he can’t make a fair evaluation if you keep saying, “It’s fine. Everything is fine. I’m just a little stressed.” Remember, stress can affect you physically as well as mentally.
Web MD says “Stress seems to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma.” Stress is not something you should ignore.
Your doctor will fill out the paperwork. To qualify for the stress leave, you must be suffering from a serious medical condition. Not all stress causes an FMLA-eligible condition. But, if your doctor agrees that you are suffering from a severe condition and that you are unable to work during this time period, you will be eligible for protected leave.
You have 15 days to return the FMLA paperwork, so make sure you get it back into HR. It’s also okay to send the paperwork in with a spouse or a friend if your condition prohibits you from going into the office.
What Does a Stress Leave Look Like?
This will depend on what your doctor instructs you to do. It’s vital that you follow her instructions and don’t just treat this as a vacation. Even though you won’t go into the office, you are not on vacation.
If your leave is approved under FMLA, then you cannot do any work during the time you are off of work. Other than answering a quick question, you should not check your work email, participate in phone calls or meetings, or do any work. You should focus on your health and alleviating the stress which caused you to take the stress leave.
FMLA is unpaid leave from work. Depending on your company’s internal guidelines, they may require you to use your paid vacation and sick leave upfront so that you receive a paycheck while you are on stress leave. Some companies require you to do so, while others do not. You may also have short-term disability insurance that will cover at least a portion of your pay while you are on stress leave. Check with your HR benefits coordinator or your benefits provider.
Can You Take Intermittent FMLA for Stress Leave?
Yes, you can. If your doctor feels that a shortened workweek or other accommodation is vital to help you with your serious stress condition, intermittent FMLA is possible. FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 60 days off per year, and you do not have to take the days off consecutively.
What If You Are Not Eligible?
If your company isn’t large enough, or you haven’t worked there long enough, or your doctor doesn’t consider your condition severe enough to leave work, you won’t have a protected leave of absence. This doesn’t mean that your company cannot approve a stress leave, it’s just that they don’t have to guarantee you a position when you return.
Certainly, do ask about taking time off as an unpaid personal leave of absence to get the rest and treatment you need. Many companies will offer you unpaid time off even without the FMLA time off. Your state or region may also have different requirements for employers so ask your HR department.
The Bottom Line
It’s important that you are healthy to contribute your best at work, and that means both physically and mentally healthy. If you feel yourself burning out, consider stress leave as a possible best option for you.