How to get time off new job for mental health reasons
August 25, 2013 5:15 PM   Subscribe

I recently started a new job that has a very strict attendance policy and I have no vacation or sick time accrued. My doctor has recommended to me that I attend a 2 week inpatient program for the mental issues I've been dealing with. I'm still thinking about it, but if I did decide to do it, who at my company do I need to speak to and what should I say so that I don't end up losing my job for taking that time off. This is my first job so your answers can assume I know absolutely nothing about how these things work.
posted by theshire to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you tell us (generally) what kind of company you work for so that we can offer a little more assistance? I see that you are in the U.S. Can you tell us what state? Is there an HR department? How many employees work there? (10? 300?) Is there an employee handbook? Also, are you hourly or salaried? All of these may come into play in how MeFites can best help you.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 5:25 PM on August 25, 2013

Response by poster: It is a major insurance company, with tens of thousands of employees. I work in NY, full time hourly with benefits. I do have multiple employee handbooks. My first impulse would be to talk to HR about it, but is that safe to do?
posted by theshire at 5:38 PM on August 25, 2013

Talk to HR, but I can tell you right now that FMLA does not cover you, because you just started. Your best bet may be an ADA request, but it depends on the severity of your "mental health issues" (and what your doctor is willing and able to state regarding your "disability.") For info on ADA accommodations talk to the Job Accommodation Network.

And again, you must talk to HR. They know far more about your benefits than we do.

(I work in HR, but not in your company's HR.)
posted by SMPA at 5:47 PM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and what you say to HR is:

"I started work last month, and my doctor says I really ought to go into the hospital for some inpatient treatment. I don't have any sick leave yet, is there any program that can help me?"

Don't give them info about the diagnosis, etc., at that stage.

At my company, your only real shot, in the absence of a rock-solid ADA situation, would be if other employees were willing to donate their own sick and vacation leave to help you; I'm honestly not sure how many employers in the corporate world have such programs and I wouldn't want to predict how eager folks are to do that for a brand-new coworker.
posted by SMPA at 5:56 PM on August 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Following the ADA Amendments Act, many mental health diagnoses are more easily found to be covered "disabilities." For example, the EEOC regulation implementing the ADA Amendments Act states that the following diagnoses will predictably be found to be disabilities: major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.

A person with a mental health "disability" as defined by the ADA -- either one of those listed by the EEOC or another similar mental health condition that substantially limits major life activities when active/untreated -- may request time off for treatment. This EEOC guidance document discusses time off for treatment as a reasonable accommodation.

For a person to trigger their accommodation rights under the ADA, typically they must approach a manager or HR and disclose a disability and a need for accommodation. It's good to follow up with an email to the manager or HR confirming the disability and need for accommodation, and to print out the email and take it home.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:32 PM on August 25, 2013

You might also check to see whether your company has a Short Term Disability plan available to you. Depending on the terms of that coverage, you may qualify for that benefit while you are inpatient. It probably wouldn't be full salary, but it's better than nothing, and many plans of this type allow you to keep your benefits while you are on claim. YMMV, obviously, but this is definitely worth looking into.

Agreed that you should talk to HR, but without getting into detail with them. They should certainly know better than to ask.

NB: I work for a disability and life insurance carrier and have experience in adjudicating and managing disability claims. However, I don't work for your employer, and I don't know what plans they offer.

Feel free to MeMail me if you need moral support or advice.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 10:39 PM on August 25, 2013

If your benefits have kicked in and you are going to be using your insurance to cover them, I would also recommend that you check on 2 things before you even bother discussing with HR.

1) Does your plan have a pre-existing condition limitation? They are going away with the coming regulations, but that mandate has not kicked in yet, so you may still have the limit on your plan.

2) Would your inpatient treatment be authorized and covered? Just because your treating physician has recommended an inpatient treatment, that does not mean you would meet the clinical criteria for an inpatient admission.

If either of these apply, then you might be in a situation where you could not only be having to take time off from work, potentially without pay considering your length of service, you might also wind up having to pay for the admission as well.
posted by slavlin at 11:45 PM on August 25, 2013

You also might consider getting a second opinion on the recommendation for treatment. There are lots of ways to solve problems, and a two week inpatient stay might not be the only one for you. At least, not right now. Maybe a compromise would be in order- can you work a little overtime and bank a few days of comp time, and then do 4 days over a long weekend?

If it is a more acute situation, where if you don't go in you risk losing your job anyway, you might try to ask the HR people if they can do a leave of absence thing, where in lieu of paid vacation days, you'd just not get paid for those two weeks. If the risk is not being able to work, then the best alternative is to try to negotiate a solution that has the least risk and does the least damage to your relationship with your employers.

Some companies will also allow you to go negative on sick and vacation time: as long as your accrued hours of vacation time end up >= zero at the end of your year, you are good.
posted by gjc at 2:36 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

First: get a second opinion. Inpatient treatment for mental health is pretty uncommon and relatively expensive. Are you sure there isn't something else you could do? At least until you've got enough sick time accrued or qualify for FMLA? We're only talking about making it to next year here.

Second, talk to HR. Tell them that you might need a two week leave of absence for some health issues--you aren't required to say what just yet--and that you want to figure out how to best make this worth. Many companies have an official leave policy in place distinct from FMLA requirements. Also, the fact that you don't qualify for FMLA leave under the law doesn't mean that the company can't give it to you anyway. Many employers don't, but some do. All you can do is ask.

Note that if any adverse employment action is taken against you for simply raising the question, you've probably got an ADA employment discrimination claim on your hands and should contact a labor and employment attorney in your area.
posted by valkyryn at 7:41 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Additional thought if you feel that inpatient treatment is the right method for you. Check with the facility and see if they have a social worker that helps people with this kind of situation. they may be able to help with how to approach HR in the best manner.
posted by slavlin at 9:50 PM on August 26, 2013

Sample requests for reasonable accommodation (web site where I work).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:55 PM on September 5, 2013

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