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Taking Time Off From Work for Treatment: What You Need to Know

If you need to take a mental health leave of absence, it's important to be prepared to know what to expect. In this article, we'll overview the logistics of taking time off from work and which resources you can use.

Understanding the Family and Medical Leave Act

If you need to take time off to manage your mental health, you'll want to start by contacting your company's human resources department. You need to determine if you qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA leave). This act gives employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for mental health or addiction treatment. During this time, your employer cannot fire you from your position, demote you, or retaliate against you in any way.

California Family Rights Act

Like FMLA, the California Family Rights Act (CRFA) grants employees to receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave for physical health or mental health conditions. This can include depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, and eating disorders.

Taking time off under this act is protected. Your employer can't fire or demote you during this time. However, to be eligible, you must have worked for your company for at least 1,250 hours over the past year, and your employer must have 5+ employees within a 75-mile radius.

California Labor Code

In California, employers with 25+ employees are required to offer 'reasonable accommodations' for employees seeking treatment for a drug or alcohol condition. This labor code also highlights that employees are eligible to use their accrued sick leave for mental health treatment.

Using Paid-Time Off

You may also be able to use your accrued PTO when seeking treatment for your mental health concerns. This may not be your preferred strategy, but taking a leave of absence may be one of the best decisions you make to support your emotional well-being.

Leaving Your Job

Unfortunately, in some cases, people find that they simply can't keep their jobs while treating their mental health issues. This doesn't mean you have failed- it simply means you need to invest in your mental well-being as a top priority right now.

Leaving your job may not be optimal, but it's something worth considering if:

  • you have family or loved ones that can help financially support you

  • are seeking a more intensive, lengthy treatment program

  • your work environment consistently exacerbates your mental health challenges

How Much Time Off Do You Need?

All mental health conditions have different presenting symptoms, meaning they affect everyone's functioning and quality of life differently. Some people don't need a leave of absence- they can cope with their symptoms via outpatient care, medication, or lifestyle changes. However, others will need a higher level of care. You may need to consider an inpatient treatment program if you:

  • have a serious mental illness that hasn't been successfully managed in lower levels of care

  • you feel chronically suicidal or recently made a suicide attempt

  • struggle with a co-occurring substance use disorder and serious mental health condition

  • you lack a strong support system in your daily life

  • feel you have significantly struggled over the past few months and can't seem to get better

Treatment programs vary in length. Standard inpatient programs range between about 1-3 months. Outpatient mental health support can last several months to several years, although this may just include meeting with a therapist once a week or checking in with a psychiatrist periodically.

Do You Have to Disclose Treatment With Your Employer?

It's important to know your legal rights before taking a leave of absence. You legally do not need to disclose a medical diagnosis to your employer. However, you may need to provide enough information to demonstrate that your leave is an FMLA-protected condition.

Ultimately, you can choose how transparent you wish to be. If you do decide to talk to your employer, it's a good idea to prepare for the conversation in advance and be honest and direct. It's reasonable to say, "I'm experiencing a health condition and need to take some time away from work."

Make sure you follow up on your request and plans in writing. Outline the main points you addressed and any agreements that were made. This creates an important paper trail for managing your leave.

Seeking Support With Resurface Group

At Resurface Group, we treat a variety of mental health symptoms, and we help many clients navigate mental health leaves. We commend you for reaching support, and we are here to help you feel more regulated and empowered in daily life.

No matter what you're currently struggling with, we offer customized guidance, tools, and coping skills. Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic program, including Resurface Connect, our fully virtual IOP that's in-network with most insurance companies.

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