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FMLA gives workers the right to take time off for PTSD

The Family Medical Leave Act guarantees American employees the right to take time off of work to care for a newborn, sick relative or yourself. While taking leave after your baby is born or your spouse, parent or child is seriously ill is perhaps most common, under the FMLA, you can also take a leave from work to take care of yourself. And your job (or a substantially similar position) must be waiting for you when you return.

This right to job leave includes time to deal with mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For some people, their condition has reached the point where they need to focus completely on treatment and must stop working temporarily. That was the case for a police officer who worked in a state outside of Indiana, but whose story is a good example of what can happen when an employer violates a worker’s FMLA rights.

Police officer’s PTSD doubted

As an officer with a small-town department for 26 years, the man frequently responded to intense events like car accidents, fires and shootings. The work began affecting his mental health. Eventually, his doctor diagnosed him with PTSD and recommended he take a leave of absence from police work. At first, the officer’s chief encouraged him to take a leave under FMLA.

But when the officer actually filed a leave request, the town rejected it. The chief and other town officials next began “a steady campaign of harassment… and retaliation,” according to a lawsuit the officer later filed against the town. They questioned whether he really had PTSD, or if his symptoms were really as serious as they were. In his lawsuit, the officer says he was harassed until the town fired him in 2019, but that the mistreatment continued even after that.

The parties recently settled the lawsuit for $600,000 as compensation for lost wages and benefits, as well as mental anguish.