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Do Connecticut FMLA Laws Apply to Workplace Anxiety Victims?

Mar 14 2022

Amanda DeMatteis: I am here with my partner, Josh Goodbaum. We’re going to be talking to you today about the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Josh Goodbaum: So, Amanda, I thought one of the ways we could talk about the substance of this to make it more accessible to people was to think about what’s a common scenario that comes into our office. So, let’s say Jane Smith has been at her job for a few years, and her boss is really starting to give her a hard time, she thinks unfairly. And she’s starting to develop a lot of anxiety around her job, and she’s concerned that that anxiety is going to lead her to make a number of mistakes at work.

So, she’s got this anxiety; she’s trying to figure out how to deal with her overbearing boss; and she’s not sure what to do now. Is that the sort of scenario that you often see?

DeMatteis: It is, yeah. And of course, one of the first things we tell employees to do is take care of themselves. So we would tell Jane, “If you’re experiencing anxiety, you have to take care of yourself. Get to a doctor. Get some medical treatment and get yourself feeling better.”

Another way to do that is to take some time away from the workplace. Because if the boss or the atmosphere or the environment is contributing to this anxiety, sometimes the best thing to do is to get out of that environment. And we’re able to do that by having employees go out on protected medical leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Now, a doctor has to okay this; we are not doctors, and we could not authorize people to get out of work. But if Jane’s physician thinks that she would benefit medically from getting out of the workplace for a period of time because of her own serious health condition, we can offer her some time away from work that is protected. Do you want to talk a bit about what that means?

Goodbaum: Yeah, so “protected” in the context of the FMLA means that the job is going to be there waiting for you when you get back from this medical leave. In other words, the employer is not allowed to let you go from your job because you didn’t show up for work. The idea being that people are not supposed to lose their jobs because they get sick – they’re supposed to be able to have time to get better on their own and then come back to their jobs or a substantially equivalent job.

One thing I would tell Jane as well is: The FMLA is unpaid. That means, if you’re not working, you’re not going to get paid your normal compensation, be it hourly or salary. But it’s important to understand you can use your PTO or, you can use your vacation time. Many employers have short or long term disability policies that might cover a leave. Some have PTO banks where other employees can donate to you PTO that they’re not going to use. But there can be a compromise there. Some people are not in a position to go out of work and not get paid.

We do have a situation in Connecticut, fortunately, where there’s been a paid sick leave act passed by the legislature. So that also can be helpful to employees who need to take a little bit of time off to take care of themselves.

DeMatteis: So, it’s critical for employees to know that FMLA leave is job protection and a short-term disability or long-term disability policy if they have that available to them is pay protection. But there are two distinctions there.

Goodbaum: Right. So, let’s say Jane goes out on a leave and while she’s out on the leave, she hears that she’s been fired, right? She’s been let go from her job while she’s on this protected FMLA leave. Now what?

DeMatteis: Well, it could be an interference with her rights that she is entitled to under the Family and Medical Leave Act. So, if Jane’s protected FMLA leave, even in part, motivated her employer’s decision to terminate her employment during that leave, it could be actionable. She could have a lawsuit against her company. It could also be an interference with her rights if she is otherwise entitled to that leave and her employer interfered with that entitlement by not providing her with the full extent of her leave that her doctor thought she needed, that too could be a violation of the law, and she could have a lawsuit against the company for both interfering with her rights and/or retaliating against her for taking that protected leave.

Goodbaum: So, these are really important rights for workers to understand as they think about how to prioritize their own health, potentially their family’s health as well, because the FMLA covers not just the employee’s own serious health condition but also the serious health condition of a family member. So if Jane, instead of having this anxiety situation, has a child with anxiety or a parent with anxiety whom she needs to care for and needs to take a leave related to providing that care, then the FMLA is an important resource.

DeMatteis: I also think it’s critical for people to know, Josh, that that anxiety doesn’t need to originate because of work. You could get into a car accident outside of work, having absolutely nothing to do with the essential functions of your position and not be able to go to work for whatever reason. And that is a serious health condition that you are suffering from that would entitle you to FMLA leave. This doesn’t need to be work-related in order for you to get that leave, right?

Goodbaum: That’s correct. So hopefully, this provides some useful information to people. If you have questions about the FMLA or if you find yourself in a difficult situation where you think the FMLA might be useful, feel free to reach out to us.

DeMatteis: See you next time.

Goodbaum: Thanks so much!

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