Would taking a medical leave of absence affect a job search?

This is a tough post for me to make.

As I’ve mentioned on this board, I’m struggling with bipolar disorder type 2. I am holding down a job and actually doing well at the mechanics of it–by which I mean I’m getting work done in a timely and effective manner–but there are certain other problems at work which I’m not handling well. My doctor and my therapist, having worked with me for over a year, are both of the opinion that the problems I’m having at work are a major barrier to the improvement of my mental health, and both of them have strongly recommended that I either seek employment elsewhere or take a major leave of medical absence–something on the order of three months.

So I’m currently applying and interviewing for other positions, including one which seems promising. But the process has been mentally draining (for those of you who’ve been through a job search, imagine if every setback left you suicidal and every success sent you on a manic what-if about the job) and if the two I’m working on don’t pan out I’m going to be in a pretty bad state. Add to that some increasing mental pressures at my current job and dealing with the last days of a close family member, and I’m not sure I’ll be mentally healthy enough to continue working here until I get some serious treatment. My wife has suggested that I combine my doctor’s suggestions: I take a leave of absence from work, and use that time to apply and interview for other positions. When I suggested this to my doctor, he strongly advised against it. Firstly, he felt that the point of taking the leave was to get my mind off of work, which is a point I concede.

But secondly, he argued that being on medical leave would be bad for my job search. He contended that other employers would find out that I was on medical leave (even if under HIPAA they wouldn’t be able to find out what it was for) and that might discourage a potential employer from hiring me. I was surprised to hear about that because I didn’t know that HR departments could actually tell a different company, “Oh, Person X works here but they’re currently on medical leave”–I was under the impression they couldn’t tell another company about their leave or sick time history. (I’m sure a reference could but I would hardly be so stupid as to pick a reference who would blurt out that kind of info.)

So the question is–and I put this in IMHO instead of General Questions because I’m not sure if there’s a solid answer–are HR departments allowed or obligated to tell a prospective employer that an employee is currently on medical leave?


I think the bigger concern would be, will HR pull your medical leave (change you to an “on vacation” or “unpaid leave”) status if they find out you’re actively job searching. Many, many moons ago when I worked HR, we had a person who was out on FMLA to care for (she said) her sick parent. While it was true her parent was ill, and that the woman was living with the parent in an out-of-stare location, it turned out that she wasn’t actually providing care- she was job hunting. Our bosses were displeased.

I don’t know if this would be a problem with your personal medical leave, though. If the doctor says on your forms that you are too incapacitated to work, it makes sense (from an HR perspective) that you are too incapacitated to job hunt, and they may decide they’re under no obligation to keep your job open for you. No employer wants to pay an employee to job hunt on their time/dime, which is exactly what you would be doing.

As for your question- legally HR reps can only confirm employment and eligibility for rehire. But HR reps find all sorts of ways around those rules, so it would really depend on how ethical your HR person is.

If your current prospects don’t pan out and you become actively suicidal as a result, take a medical LOA and chill for a few months. Maybe check into a mental health facility for a week/month/whatever your policy will cover. There’s no reason you can’t return to job-searching a few months from now, when you’re more stable and able to handle rejection.

Getting a new job will probably help you. But if you are literally in a life-and-death situation, you need to prioritize your health first and a new job second.

Many companies have policies that allow only that information- but that’s not the same as a legal prohibition on providing anything more. It is generally not illegal for a employer to give more information as long as it is true. While it’s possible that your employer may not be able to disclose that you are on a medical leave, they surely could mention that you are currently on extended leave. Which then brings you to the point of

  1. Your current employer knows you are job searching on medical leave
  2. There’s now a question in their mind of how is it that you are medically unfit to work, but not unfit to job search.
  3. They may cancel your leave or terminate you based on the above.
  4. The potential employer knows you are on extended leave and are using it to job search. They may not be inclined to hire someone who requests a longer-than-usual leave (regardless of the reason) and uses it to job search

doreen, I think your advice is sound. I think then the best course of action if the job I’m interviewing for soon doesn’t pan out is to step back for a bit, maybe take a vacation day or two (or, considering that my father’s wife is very ill, I might have to take some bereavement time anyway) and then start looking again. My current job is affecting my life in some very specific ways that I really can’t go into much here, and I, along with my doctor and therapist, feel that my quality of life would be greatly improved by being somewhere else.

Rachellelogram, having been in a mental health facility in this country, I wouldn’t re-enter one unless I were paid a very large sum of cash. They’re not places where one gets better, they’re places where you’re put to be kept away from society. I’d honestly be better off going to a cheap hotel in Vegas to chill out for a month or so. I could probably find whatever meds I needed on the street and I definitely wouldn’t be disturbed by my roommate howling at 3 am. (I’m only slightly kidding.)

bobkitty, I’ve known our HR person for many years, and she is one of the most ethical people I’ve ever known. However, she also plays by the rules, and I think you’re right that she would strictly interpret “too incapacitated to work” as “too incapacitated to look for work.” I think I best not try that.