Is employee’s trip to Las Vegas with ill mother protected under FMLA?


Beverly, an employee in your organization, is the primary caregiver for her mother, who has been diagnosed with end-stage congestive heart failure. Beverly and her mother were awarded a trip to Las Vegas, which was donated by a charitable organization that grants wishes to terminally ill persons. She requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to accompany her mother and, assuming it would be granted, left on the trip. While in Las Vegas, Beverly and her mother played slots, shopped on the Strip, and dined out at restaurants. She also continued to administer her mother’s medication and look after her. 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??


Maybe. In a case with similar facts, a federal district court ruled that the employee could proceed to trial with her FMLA interference claim. As her mother’s primary caregiver, the employee prepared healthy meals, administered her insulin shots and other medicines, operated a pump to remove fluids from her heart, bathed her, pushed her in a wheelchair, administered oxygen when needed, provided necessary transportation, and otherwise made sure she was comfortable. According to the court, “So long as the employee provides ‘care’ to the family member, where the care takes place has no bearing on whether the employee receives FMLA protections.”

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 demands only that a family member must have a serious health condition and that the employee must use the leave to care for that family member. The statute does not mention the employee’s direct participation in the treatment or limit the care to when the family member is at a particular location. Because the employee’s mother suffered from a covered serious health condition and was unable to care for her own basic medical, hygienic, or nutritional needs or safety, the court found that the services the employee provided to her mother at home constituted physical care within the meaning of the FMLA. Thus, it followed that the employee also cared for her mother during their trip because her mother’s basic medical, hygienic, and nutritional needs did not change while she was in Las Vegas.

Source: Ballard v. Chicago Park District (NDIll 2012) No. 10 C 1740.

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