If your IBS is preventing you from attending work, the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) might be a way for you to protect your job. Here is some basic information regarding the FMLA and how it might be applicable to IBS.
What is FMLA?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles you to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a period of 12 months. The FMLA protects your job and requires your employer to maintain your health benefits during the time of your leave. The government agency responsible for overseeing FMLA compliance is the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD).
Who Is Eligible for FMLA Coverage?
You are eligible for protection under FMLA if you work for a public agency or a private employer who has more than 50 employees within the U.S. or its territories. You must have worked for the employer for at least a year and for a minimum of 1,250 hours.
What Conditions are Covered by the FMLA?
According to the WHD, entitled employees are eligible for FMLA benefits for the following reasons:
- "for the birth and care of a newborn child of the employee
- for placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care
- to care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition
- to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition
- for qualifying exigencies arising out of the fact that the employee's spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on active duty or call to active duty status as a member of the National Guard or Reserves in support of a contingency operation."
Is IBS an Eligible Reason for FMLA leave?
The FMLA defines a "serious health condition" as one that requires either:
- "Inpatient care (i.e., an overnight stay) in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical-care facility, including any period of incapacity (i.e., inability to work, attend school, or perform other regular daily activities) or subsequent treatment in connection with such inpatient care
- Continuing treatment by a health care provider"
The FMLA outlines a variety of scenarios to define the term "continuing treatment", but the health condition must entail a period of incapacity and subsequent treatment by a health care provider. If you are under a doctor's care and your IBS symptoms are incapacitating, you should be eligible for protection and leave under FMLA. FMLA may be granted on an intermittent basis, an option that might be useful for IBS, due to its waxing and waning nature.
Requesting FMLA Leave:
When FMLA need is foreseeable, you are required to provide your employer with 30 days notice. Need for leave due to IBS is not necessarily foreseeable, so therefore you must request leave as soon as possible. You should make sure to follow your employer's policies regarding leave requests. You must provide your employer with enough information regarding your health condition that they can make a determination that your request is covered by FMLA. Your employer may require certification from your health care provider and has the right to send you for a second or third opinion at no cost to you. Once your condition has been certified, your employer is required to inform you that your leave is designated as FMLA. Upon your return to work, your employer has the right to obtain certification that you are able to resume employment.
How to File a FMLA Complaint:
If you feel that your rights under the FMLA have been violated, you can file a formal complaint. In order to do so, you must contact the WHD:
- Online: "Find a WHD office"
- By phone: 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243) or TTY: 1-877-889-5627
"Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993" U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) web site Accessed February 10, 2011.
"The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)" United States Department of Labor web site Accessed February 10, 2011.