FMLA May Cover Family Trip to Las Vegas
Providing physical and psychological care for a terminally ill parent on a last hurrah in Las Vegas qualified as care for a family member under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), ruled the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Providing physical and psychological care for a terminally ill parent on a last hurrah in Las Vegas qualified as care for a family member under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), ruled the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. An Illinois employee was terminated for excessive absenteeism after she accompanied her mother on the trip, which had been arranged by her hospice social worker. The employer argued that the FMLA did not cover the leave, because the employee was not receiving treatment during her travel. The court ruled that the location of the care was irrelevant to whether the employee was needed to care for the family member with a serious health condition. The court stated that as “long as the employee attends to a family member’s basic medical, hygienic, or nutritional needs, that employee is caring for the family member….”
This case involved a perfect storm of unfavorable facts for the employer. The mother needed day-to-day care which the employee provided, including administering medication, draining fluid from her heart, cooking, bathing her, dressing her, and preparing her for bed. The employee continued to provide this care while out of town, and even had to take her mother to the hospital to obtain medication during their trip. The employee consulted with her mother’s doctor about the trip, which had been arranged by the hospice social worker and funded by the Fairy godmother Foundation, a non-profit that assists with the last requests of terminally ill adults. However, the court focused on the language of the FMLA that says employees are entitled to leave if they are “needed to care for” a family member and could find no reason to say that services provided at home were “care,” while those same services provided elsewhere were not (Ballard v. Chicago Park District, 7th Cir, Jan. 2014).
Tips: Vigilant employers should realize that this court case is not controlling in the Ninth Circuit. At the same time, be cautious about denying FMLA leave requests simply because they look like a vacation or recreational travel. Consider whether the employee really is going to be providing care to a family member who will be traveling with a serious health condition. If you receive any questionable requests for leave, be sure to contact your Vigilant staff representative for clarification and advice.