Mental Health

How to Keep Your Job When You Have PTSD

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When I was struggling with PTSD there were years I could hold a job, and years I just really couldn’t. Today’s guest post starts a weekly 3-part series overview of very important information for anyone trying to juggle a career and symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome.

Job Protection for Those With PTSD

Being diagnosed with PTSD means you face the challenge of healing your mind and body, usually while trying to maintain a career. While your job may sometimes offer a distraction from your symptoms, at other times you may find you need time off for therapy or just to relax and deal with symptom flare-ups. What do you tell your boss? Can you be fired for taking time off because of PTSD?

In many instances, time off to deal with a medical condition is covered under the government’s FMLA law. If your employer meets the criteria and you are willing to do the paperwork, the law may protect you from losing your job when you need time off.

Disclaimer: This article is written to offer information about asking for and receiving time off to take care of a medical issue, such as PTSD. I am not a lawyer or a doctor, so everything written below is based solely on my experience in Human Resources. As FMLA law changes occasionally, you should double-check this info with your HR rep and/or doctor to be sure you have the most updated information.

What is FMLA?

FMLA stands for Family Medical Leave Act, and was created by the government to protect the jobs of people who need to take time off from work to attend to serious medical conditions. The law covers time off to care for a parent, spouse, or child, as well as for your own serious illness. A serious medical condition is generally defined as: any condition for which the person is under a doctor’s continuing care (multiple doctor visits, ongoing treatments, etc), and affects his/her ability to perform their regular job functions for a length of time.

All employees of companies who employ at least 50 people within 75 miles who meet the criteria (usually you must have been employed by the company for at least one year and you may have to meet a weekly average-hours-worked requirement) are covered by FMLA law.

What can FMLA do for me?

The law allows up to 12 weeks of FMLA-protected time off in a 12-month period. This is unpaid time, but you can usually choose to use your vacation and/or paid sick time if you wish to be paid while you are out. During this time off, the employer must hold your job for you (except in specific circumstances). Also, FMLA time cannot be counted against you in any way. For example, it cannot be counted as absences. If your vacation time or benefits are based on average hours worked, FMLA time will not reduce that average.

Should I file for FMLA time when I need it, or in advance?

You can do either, but there are time limits involved once you start the paperwork. If you wait to do it while you are having a symptom flare-up, you may be unable to complete the paperwork and return it by the deadline. Because of this, I recommend that you fill out the paperwork ahead of time so that it will be on file when you need it. Employers can ask that it be updated twice per year, but this may be averted with your doctor’s help. More on that later.

What’s the process for filing for FMLA protection?

To set up FMLA time, you will need to request FMLA paperwork from your HR rep, then take it to your doctor or therapist to have it filled out. When you return it, the HR rep will review it, tell you whether it is approved, and give you a sheet stating the amount of time you may use, as well as your rights under FMLA law.

Do I have to tell my boss about my PTSD?

When you ask your HR rep for FMLA paperwork, you don’t need to tell her what condition you’re seeking it for. She will ask, though, whether the FMLA time will be for a condition of your own, or a family member, or a member of the armed services, because they are three different sets of paperwork. You can just say it’s for yourself, and that you’ll provide more information when you return it. If your HR rep and your boss are two different people, your boss does NOT need to know the specifics of your condition.

Following is the process for getting FMLA time approved, along with suggestions based on my personal experience. I have FMLA paperwork on file with my employer, stating that I have PTSD and will occasionally need to call out for it. I find that taking a break for just one day when I’m having a difficult time really helps.

Getting the forms

Your first step is to ask your HR rep for an FMLA application. Again, you will have to let her know that it is for “your own medical condition,” but you don’t need to be any more specific at this point. She should give you a set of forms to take to your medical provider. [I'm not sure if a therapist will count as a medical provider, so if your regular General Practitioner is in the loop regarding your PTSD, that's where I'd take it. If not, try the therapist. Your employer may accept it, but if they don't, you can take a new, blank set of forms to your GP along with the ones the therapist filled out, and have your GP basically copy and sign.]

A copy of the forms you will take to your doctor can be found on the Department of Labor’s site at: You may be able to skip the first step of talking with your HR rep by printing all four pages directly from that site.

The writer is a regular poster on the PTSD forum. Since she found a name for her symptoms in 2007, she has been studying PTSD with the intent of healing herself and helping make the healing process easier for others. Since then, she has finally been able to stop.

The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.