Appeals Court: A Vegas Trip Can Be Considered “Care” Under the FMLA

By Eric B. Meyer

Back in 2012, I blogged here about an employee who took her mother to Las Vegas on a vacation.

The two ladies spent time playing slots, shopping on The Strip, people-watching, and dining at restaurants. The mother had terminal cancer, but had no specific plans to seek medical treatment in Las Vegas and was never hospitalized or treated by a physician.

When the employee returned to work, she soon became a former employee, immediately terminated for what her employer determined to be unauthorized absences.

The employee then sued for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Court focuses on what it means to “care” for someone

An Illinois federal court ruled (in Ballard v. Chicago Park District) that the employee had a tenable FMLA claim because she was “caring for” her mom, who had a serious health condition (terminal cancer), by helping her with basic medical, hygienic, and nutritional needs.

It did not make where the care was administered. It just mattered that the employee was caring for her sick mom.

This week, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Chicago, affirmed in this opinion, where — again — the issue came down to what it means to “care for” a family member with a serious health condition.

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The appellate court agreed with the lower court that it doesn’t matter where care is provided, just as long as care is provided:

Sarah’s basic medical, hygienic, and nutritional needs did not change while she was in Las Vegas, and Beverly continued to assist her with those needs during the trip. In fact, as the district court observed, Beverly’s presence proved quite important indeed when a fire at the hotel made it impossible to reach their room, requiring Beverly to find another source of insulin and pain medicine. Thus, at the very least, Ballard requested leave in order to provide physical care. That, in turn, is enough to satisfy [the FMLA].”

So, if your employee needs time off to care for a significant other with a serious health condition, get a FMLA medical certification to satisfy yourself that the leave is covered.

Otherwise, what does it matter where the employee cares for a loved one?

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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