No matter what kind of occupation you are in, work can be stressful. Even those who truly love their jobs may find that they are feeling overwhelmed from time to time. Since the United States is one of the most overworked countries in the entire world, and people work more hours on average than those in other nations (and with less paid time off), it’s no wonder that people are more stressed than ever.
Sometimes, the stress becomes too much to handle, and you may feel that you need to take medical leave from your job due to the toll work is taking on your mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, the stress of having to ask for medical leave can add to your problems. So, how can you ask for medical leave without having to worry about putting your job at risk?
What Causes Job-Related Stress?
Of all the things that can cause stress in our lives – family, friends, health or even the anticipation of happy occasions – our jobs tend to rank at the top of that list. Since we spend more time at work than anywhere else, we don’t have many places to go to diffuse after a stressful day.
Having a difficult boss, difficult co-workers or a lot of challenging work to get through in very little time are all examples of job-related stress. What’s even more stressful is the worry of losing your job if you cannot manage that stress.
What Is a Leave of Absence?
A leave of absence is when an employee asks his boss for an extended period of time off work. This is different from taking arranged vacation time or sick time, which may be anywhere from one day to two weeks off and is usually stipulated in your contract or the company’s policy.
Instead, a leave of absence may be a month long or until further notice. It can be taken for a variety of reasons, though the amount of time you can take off for a leave of absence depends on several factors.
What Is FMLA for Stress and Anxiety?
Though you might have a really kind boss who will give you a leave of absence if you simply ask, the fact of the matter is that it's not something you necessarily have to worry about if you don't have a kind boss. This is because there is a law that protects employees who need it. This law is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, or the FMLA.
This law protects employees by giving them up to 12 weeks off to cope with a medical condition or the medical condition of a family member. Under the American Disabilities Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against you based on having a disability. Because of HIPAA laws, your health information needs to be kept private. Therefore, if you need to take a leave of absence due to job-related stress and anxiety, you shouldn’t have any problem doing so in most cases.
Who Is Qualified for FMLA?
Unfortunately, FMLA only applies to certain employees. In order to be protected under FMLA, you must have been employed at a company that has 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of the office. You must have been working there for at least 12 months, and you must have worked 1,250 hours during those 12 months.
If you are qualified for a leave of absence under FMLA, you can also use it if a family member needs care. This is good news if you have a loved one who is ill, and you have job-related stress on top of that.
Getting a Doctor’s Note for Stress and Anxiety
Even though your privacy is protected, and your employer cannot demand to know your reason for wanting to take a leave of absence, it may help your case to get a doctor’s note when requesting a stress leave from work. Of course, meeting with a medical professional can also help you with managing the stress and anxiety and making sure there are no underlying mental health conditions. It can also help you navigate a path toward recovery.
When you talk to your employer about a leave of absence, your doctor's note will go to the company’s disability insurance provider, HR or whoever manages these cases. They can work as a liaison between you and the employer to come up with an appropriate course of action without discussing your diagnosis or specific health condition. They will ultimately decide how much time you’ll need off.
Although the FMLA law can give you the time off, it’s not exactly required that this time off is paid. However, going this route can help make sure you are protected under this law. This means that even if you aren't paid during your leave of absence, you will still receive your health insurance benefits and have your job waiting for you when you’re ready to return.
When to Ask for Medical Leave
In general, you are required to give 30 days of notice before taking a leave of absence. However, if the job-related stress is too much for you to handle, then ask your employer as soon as you can.
Depending on your relationship with your boss, you may decide to speak with her directly. There’s a chance that you may be able to negotiate something together without necessarily applying through the FMLA.
For instance, perhaps your employer can approve you to work from home if that’s something with which you’d be comfortable. Otherwise, you will have to meet with HR regarding your leave of absence, and they can give you information regarding the next steps.
How to Ask for Medical Leave
Once you make a decision regarding whom you will ask about your leave of absence, it’s best to do it on a day when you’re not feeling really overwhelmed with stress. This way, you can go into the office with a clear head and feel more confident in what you want to say.
Consider making an appointment via email with your boss or HR manager. Tell him that you have something you want to discuss and that it may take more than a few minutes. He may ask you what it’s regarding, and you can be honest and say, "a leave of absence."
When you walk into the office on the day of your appointment, take a seat and take a deep breath. It’s likely that the person with whom you are speaking will know that the conversation is somewhat serious. Remember that while you have to ask for a leave of absence, you do not need to provide all the details. Simply say, “I wanted to let you know that I am considering taking a leave of absence due to medical reasons.” From there, you will be told how you can proceed and, hopefully, how the company can help.
Returning to Work After a Leave of Absence
When you go on a leave of absence, chances are that you will be missed at work. When it’s time to return, you may have a lot of anxiety about going back, especially if you left due to job-related stress. At some point during your leave of absence or before your return, it’s important that you set up a meeting and talk to your boss about what’s been stressing you. If you don’t tell her, she cannot help make changes in your work environment so that you don’t have to feel as stressed.
This may be hard to do, so write down some bullet points and possible solutions so you can present them in a clear and concise manner. Remember that you don't need to tell anyone why you took a leave of absence in the first place.