Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for IBS

If your symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are preventing you from attending work, the protections provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) might be a way for you to keep your job. Here you will learn some basic information regarding the FMLA and how it might be applicable to a person who is dealing with IBS.

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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

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.

Conditions Covered

According to the WHD, entitled employees are eligible for FMLA benefits for the following reasons:

  • To bond with a newborn child after the birth of a son or daughter
  • To bond with a child who has been placed with the employee for adoption or foster care
  • To take care of an immediate family member (in-laws do not count) who has a serious health problem
  • For the reason of medical leave if a serious health condition is affecting the employee's ability to work
  • To deal with "qualifying exigencies" arising from an immediate family member of the employee who is on active duty status in the Armed Forces

Is IBS an Eligible Reason for FMLA Leave?

To answer the question as to whether or not your IBS would entitle you to FMLA leave, we must look at how the FMLA defines a "serious health condition."

  • Those that are serious enough to keep you overnight in a hospital
  • Conditions that "incapacitate" you or a family member for more than three days in a row
  • Conditions that involve ongoing medical appointments
  • Chronic health problems that cause intermittent periods of incapacitation for you or a family member, requiring medical care at least two times per year
  • All aspects of symptoms and medical care relating to pregnancy

Thus, if a health problem entails a period of incapacitation and subsequent treatment by a healthcare provider, it is considered a "serious health condition." Thus, 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 healthcare 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 an 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
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By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.