What Is a FMLA Serious Health Condition?

There are six serious health conditions under the FMLA. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees the legal right to take up to 12 weeks off to recuperate from a serious health condition or to take care of a family member that has a serious health condition.

FMLA leave may be taken when a condition falls into one of these six serious health condition categories:

  1. Inpatient care
  2. Incapacity for more than three days with continuing treatment by a health care provider
  3. Incapacity relating to pregnancy or prenatal care
  4. Chronic serious health conditions
  5. Permanent or long-term incapacity
  6. Certain conditions requiring multiple treatments

What's Considered a Serious Health Condition?

The purpose of the law regarding FMLA leave is to provide time off for serious medical conditions. Minor health issues such as coughs, colds, sore throats, aches and pains, and minor cuts and bruises don't generally qualify.

To find out if a specific health condition is covered by the FMLA, a medical certification form should be filled out by the employee and his or her doctor.

Inpatient Care

The inpatient care category covers medical conditions that require a stay at a medical facility for one to three nights.

The employee is also allowed time off for post-care treatment connected to the condition and for incapacitation due to the condition.

Incapacity for More Than Three Days Plus Continuing Treatment

Incapacitation is a condition defined as being unable to perform typical daily activities including attending work and school. When a person is incapacitated for more than three days and requires ongoing medical treatment, it is considered a serious health condition.

Examples of ongoing treatment include therapy with medical equipment such as oxygen and treatment with a course of prescription drugs.

To meet the ongoing treatment requirement, an employee must have the first treatment within seven days of the initial incapacitation and another treatment within 30 days.

Pregnancy or Prenatal Care

When an employee is not able to perform typical daily activities because she is pregnant or is incapacitated due to morning sickness, the FMLA allows for time off.

Time off is also covered by the FMLA for routine, prenatal doctor visits.

Employers may request medical certification from employees to verify pregnancy-related conditions.

Chronic Serious Health Conditions

Occasional time off for certain ongoing health conditions is covered even if an employee isn't being seen by a doctor or permanently incapacitated.

Two conditions must be met for this coverage:

  1. Periodic visits for treatment – 2 per year -- are required by the employee.
  2. The employee's condition persists for an extended amount of time and may cause episodes of incapacity.

Examples of these conditions include asthma, epilepsy, or diabetes.

Permanent or Long-Term Incapacity

An employee who is being cared for by a health care provider for a long-term or permanently incapacitating condition that does not respond to treatment is covered by the FMLA.

Examples of these conditions include Alzheimer's disease, terminal cancer, and advanced ALS.

Multiple Treatments

For an employee to get time off coverage for multiple treatments, one of two conditions must be met. The treatments must be for either:

  • Restorative surgery after an injury, such as repairing a torn ligament.


  • A condition that, if not treated, would require the employee to miss more than three days of work, such as cancer treatment.

Additional FMLA Leave Situations

The Birth of a Child

Both a mother and father are permitted to use FMLA parental leave for caring for a child after he or she is born. If his spouse is incapacitated due to a difficult child birth, a father may also use FMLA leave to care for her.

The 12-week parental leave can also be taken intermittently by either shortening the hours in a given work week or taking a few weeks at a time during a one-year period. However, depending on the employer, only one parent may be eligible for parental leave if both parents work at the same company.

The Arrival of a New Child

Both a mother and father are permitted to use FMLA leave when they adopt a child or take a child into foster care.

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