Employer should have asked for more information before denying FMLA leave
An employee who was denied leave to take care of his seriously ill grandfather can take his federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) interference claim to trial, thanks to a decision by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The employer, a credit union, denied the employee’s request for leave because the FMLA doesn’t cover leave to care for a grandparent. That’s mostly true, but the FMLA has a very broad definition of “parent,” which includes a person who stands in loco parentis (in the shoes of a parent) with the employee.
In this case, the employee’s grandfather raised him from before the age of four. The court faulted the credit union for failing to ask for additional information to determine whether his grandfather was a covered family member (Courtard v. Municipal Credit Union, 2nd Cir., Feb. 2017).
Tips for Employers
Refine Policy Definitions, Probe for Information
Interestingly, the FMLA notice forms issued by the U.S. Department of Labor don’t mention in loco parentis relationships or provide any definition of “parent.” In light of this decision, it may be prudent to add a definition or otherwise mention in your FMLA policy the availability of FMLA leave to care for those with whom employees have an in loco parentis relationship. In addition, you should ensure that anyone who processes FMLA leave requests probes with additional questions before flatly denying leave to care for someone who doesn’t seem to be a covered spouse, child, or parent under the law.
A Reminder About FMLA Compliance
The FMLA is a mandatory, strict-compliance statute for all employers with 50 or more employees. Employers are required to comply with all of the technical requirements of the law, even if the employee doesn’t ask for or want to take FMLA leave and/or you don’t want to enforce it. Simply giving an employee the requested time off is not enough to comply. Employers are required to complete the proper notice and designation paperwork and provide it to the employee taking leave. Our members-only website provides several resources to assist with FMLA compliance. For example, see our Legal Guide, “FMLA: Qualifying Events and Notice Requirements.” Your Vigilant employment attorney can also assist you with any questions you may have regarding the FMLA and compliance.