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New Case Broadens FMLA

A new federal case has upheld the right of an employee to
take FMLA leave to care for a parent who is on a recreational trip. The case
represents a significant broadening of FMLA leave, and represents one of the
most important cases of the year.

In the case the employee, Beverly Ballard, had a mother who
was suffering from end-stage congestive heart failure and was not expected to
live
. Ms. Ballard was her mother’s primary care giver, and had to feed, bathe,
and administer medicine to her mother. A local Make-A-Wish foundation granted
her mother a six-day trip to Las Vegas, and Ms. Ballard accompanied her mother
in order to provide care. She asked for FMLA leave and her request was denied;
she fully acknowledged that the trip was not related to her mother’s medical
condition and that in addition to providing medical care she engaged in
recreational activities in Las Vegas. Upon returning from the trip, she was
fired.

Generally, courts have been skeptical of FMLA claims where
the family member for whom the employee provides care is not getting medical
treatment on the trip. However, in this case the court held that because
Beverly was providing care, it didn’t matter where she was providing it. Previous
courts seemed to have read in the requirement that treatment be part of any
trip away from home; here the court simply noted that Beverly took leave to
care for her mother’s health condition- a leave of absence that is within the
guidelines of the FMLA as strictly construed.

Employers are worried this decision will open
the door to more FMLA abuse. Until the case is elaborated on, either in the
form of more cases or additional Department of Labor guidance, employers should
be careful to not limit FMLA leave to those instances where the family member
travels to receive treatment. It seems like if the employee is providing care
for a family member, FMLA leave should be given regardless of whether the care
is provided at home or on a recreational trip.