Employee’s Trip with an Ill Parent Qualifies as Leave Under the FMLA

On January 28, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued its decision in the Ballard v. Chicago Park District case. The Plaintiff appealed the decision of United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, after being denied her claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA“). The question before the Court of Appeal was whether an employee’s trip with her terminally ill mother qualified as leave under the (“FMLA“).

In this case, an employee who worked at the Chicago Park District requested leave so that she could have provided physical and psychological care to a terminally ill mother while she was traveling away from home to Las Vegas. Plaintiff lived with her mother who was diagnosed with end-stage congestive heart failure and began receiving hospice support. Plaintiff was her primary caregiver: she cooked for her, administered insulin and other medication, drained fluids from her heart, bathed and dressed her, and prepared her for bed. As an end-of-life goals, Plaintiff’s mother wanted to take a family trip to Las Vegas and her social worker was able to secure funding from the Fairygodmother Foundation, a nonprofit organization. Therefore, Plaintiff requested unpaid leave under the FMLA from the Chicago Park District so that she could accompany her mother to Las Vegas. Defendant denied her request but Plaintiff went on the trip anyway, claiming she was never informed that it was denied. Several months later, Plaintiff was terminated ” for unauthorized absences accumulated during her trip.”

The FMLA gives eligible employees a right to twelve workweeks of leave in order to care for the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent, of the employee, if such spouse, son, daughter, or parent has a serious health condition. An eligible employee is entitled to leave in order to care for a family member with a serious health condition. However, the FMLA does not define the term “care” and usually Courts refer to the Department of Labor’s regulations get a definition: “medical certification provision that an employee is ‘needed to care for’ a family member encompasses both physical and psychological care. It includes situations where, for example, because of a serious health condition, the family member is unable to care for his or her own basic medical, hygienic, or nutritional needs or safety, or is unable to transport himself or herself to the doctor, etc.” Besides, the Court of Appeals also stated that the FMLA does not restrict care to a particular place or geographic location and added that “the only limitation it places on care is that the family member must have a serious health condition.”

The Court held: “At the very least, the employee requested leave in order to provide physical care, which was enough to satisfy 29 U.S.C.S. ยง 2612(a)(1)(C), because her mother’s basic medical, hygienic, and nutritional needs did not change while she was in Las Vegas, and the employee continued to assist her with those needs during the trip; [2]-So long as the employee attended to a family member’s basic medical, hygienic, or nutritional needs, that employee was caring for the family member, even if that care was not part of ongoing treatment of the condition; [3]-The employee was seeking leave to care for a family member within the meaning of the FMLA.”

If you believe you are entitled to medical leave under the FMLA, please contact the Harman Firm, LLP.