An employee goes to Las Vegas with her dying mom for an end-of-life trip. One problem: The company says the trip doesn’t qualify as FMLA leave, and the staffer sues. Who wins? Read the dramatized version of this real-life case and see if you can determine the outcome.
“So the trip I took to Las Vegas with my dying mother doesn’t qualify as FMLA leave after all?” asked Britney Pitman.
Britney sat opposite HR manager Lynn Rondo in Lynn’s office.
“You said it yourself – your mother didn’t undergo any medical treatment for her heart failure while you were away,” said Lynn.
‘I’m her primary caregiver’
“Are you serious?” asked Britney. “I’m my mother’s primary caregiver. I cook her meals and I give her insulin shots, oxygen and medicine. Heck, I even help her with her heart treatments.
“She was given the trip through a charitable organization that grants ‘wishes’ to people with terminal illnesses,” Britney added. “My mother couldn’t go without me.”
“I understand,” said Lynn. “But again – your mother didn’t visit a new doctor or undergo a new procedure or anything like that while you were away.
“Furthermore, you said you spent most of your time there gambling, shopping and dining out,” Lynn added.
“I’ll speak it over with a lawyer and let you know what we decide,” said Lynn.
Lynn’s company fired Britney, who turned around and sued, claiming Lynn’s company denied Britney her FMLA rights.
Did Lynn’s firm win?
No, Lynn’s company lost.
The court acknowledged that several previous court decisions had linked “care” to “ongoing medical treatment.”
But in the end, the company sided with Britney.
Why? In examining the wording of the law as well as Department of Labor regs addressing the phrase “care for,” the court found that “caring for” a family member doesn’t depend on a particular location or on participation in medical treatment.
Instead, Britney was only required to show that her mother had a “serious health condition” and that the care Britney gave her mother qualified as “care” under FMLA regs – which the court found it clearly did. Case closed.
Analysis: ‘Care’ can take place anywhere
This company wasn’t the first to get caught up in the intricacies and subtleties of the phrase “care for” in the FMLA regs, and it won’t be the last.
But what HR?pros should take away from this case is that the “care for” section of the FMLA isn’t location specific, nor does it require that the “care” include treatment.
What does matter is the type of “care” being afforded, which can include both physical and psychological care. The DOL regs state that:
the phrase ‘needed to care for’ encompasses both physical and psychological care, and 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. The term also includes providing psychological comfort and reassurance which would be beneficial to . . . a parent with a serious health condition who is receiving inpatient or home care.”
The case is Ballard v. Chicago Park District. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.