What Medical Conditions Qualify for FMLA?

By Jackie Lohrey
An earache does not usually qualify as a serious health condition.
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The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to help you balance family and work responsibilities when the birth of a child or caring for an ill family member requires time away from work. However, leave benefits only extend to health concerns that fall under the FMLA definition of a “serious health condition,” which are broad but not all-inclusive.

The FMLA Definition of a Serious Health Condition

A serious health condition is an illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that applies to you, an immediate family member or an active duty or retired service member. In an article on the Nolo law website, Lisa Guerin, an author and employment law specialist, describes conditions that apply. These include inpatient care and a recovery period, a condition that requires treatment from a health-care provider and leads to incapacitation for more than three days and incapacitating conditions due to complications from pregnancy. Others include absences related to caring for a person with a chronic, permanent or terminal health condition.

Conditions That Do Not Qualify

Even though the definition of a serious health condition does not specifically exclude any condition, not all conditions qualify. Common or routine illnesses or injuries and recovery from elective procedures don't usually apply, but the law might apply if treatment for routine problems reveals complications that are incapacitating. For example, a cold, the flu, an earache and tension headache typically do not qualify, and neither do outpatient dental, elective or cosmetic procedures, including plastic surgery. But if complications arise -- if that bad cold develops into pneumonia -- the condition might qualify for FMLA.

Birth and Bonding Leave

Although not technically a serious health condition, FMLA birth and bonding benefits apply following the birth or adoption of a new family member and after taking in a foster child. Leave benefits extend to both parents regardless of legal marital status, but unlike other conditions for which benefits can be applied intermittently, many employers require that you take birth and bonding leave in a continuous 12-week block. In addition, leave benefits expire one year after the birth or placement of a child.

Military Caregiver Leave

FMLA leave benefits can extend from 12 to 26 weeks in each 12-month period when you care for an active duty or retired service member with a serious health condition. Under this definition, a serious health condition can be one that renders a service member medically unfit to perform assigned duties or that requires ongoing treatment or therapy -- and this holds whether the illness, injury or condition occurs during active duty or existed before and was aggravated by active duty service. For a military veteran, a serious health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, can manifest even after the person retires.