Is employee’s family vacation with terminally ill mother protected under FMLA?


Beverly, an employee in your organization, lives with and is the primary caregiver for her mother, who was diagnosed with end-stage congestive heart failure. Among other things, Beverly cooks her mother’s meals, administers insulin and other medication, drains fluids from her heart, bathes and dresses her, and prepares her for bed. As part of an end-of-life hospice plan, her mother was awarded a trip to Las Vegas. Beverly requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to accompany her mother on the trip. While in Las Vegas, Beverly and her mother participated in typical tourist activities, with Beverly continuing her caretaking responsibilities. After returning from the trip, Beverly was fired for unauthorized absences. She is now suing your organization for interfering with her rights under the FMLA. Will she be successful?


Probably. In a case with similar facts, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the FMLA applied when an employee requested leave to care for a terminally ill parent while that parent was traveling away from home. Although the employer argued that the trip was unprotected because the mother had no plans to seek medical treatment in Las Vegas, the court noted that the FMLA speaks in terms of “care,” not “treatment.” Also, the law does not restrict care to a particular place or geographic location; the only limitation it places on care is that the family member must have a serious health condition.

The mother’s basic medical, hygienic, and nutritional needs did not change while she was in Las Vegas, and the employer continued to assist her mother with those needs during the trip. Thus, at the very least, the employee requested leave in order to provide physical care, which was enough to satisfy FMLA Sec. 2612(a)(1)(C), the court reasoned. 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, even if that care is not part of ongoing treatment of the condition. Thus, the appeals court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Source: Ballard v. Chicago Park District. (7th Cir 2014) No. 13-1445.

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