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DTCI: 'Caring for' family under FMLA

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freybergerGenerally stated, the Family and Medical Leave Act gives eligible employees the right to 12 workweeks of leave “[i]n order to care for the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent, of the employee, if such spouse, son, daughter, or parent has a serious health condition.” 29 U.S.C. §2612(a)(1)(C). What happens when a family member is diagnosed with a terminal illness and begins the somber review of their bucket list, noticing that a trip to Las Vegas is still unchecked? Would taking time to accompany and care for that family member be included in the definition of caring for under the FMLA? For instance, if a father is diagnosed with terminal cancer and been given the opinion that he has six months to live, can you request leave to take him to Italy to meet distant relatives because it has always been his dream to do so?

A similar question was presented to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and the decision was rendered Jan. 28. In Ballard v. Chicago Park District, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 1747; 2014 WL 294550, the issue was whether the FMLA applies when an employee requests leave to provide physical and psychological care to a terminally ill parent while that parent is traveling to Las Vegas to fulfill an end-of-life goal. The employee had been providing care to her mother before the trip. Through the help of a hospice worker, the funding for the trip was being provided by the Fairygodmother Foundation, a nonprofit organization that facilitates such opportunities for terminally ill adults.

The court ultimately found that this was covered by the FMLA. In doing so, the court parted ways with the 1st and 9th Circuits on this issue. The 7th Circuit pointed out that the FMLA does not restrict care of a family member to a particular geographic location. Care for an individual in Las Vegas is the same as care for that individual at home. The court also stated that the care provided can be both physical and psychological under the applicable regulations and would include providing comfort and reassurance for a family member who is receiving inpatient or home care, although the court refused to restrict it to situations of in-home care, noting that it was an example rather than an exclusive definition.

In Ballard, the employee was actively caring for her mother before the Las Vegas trip. She also provided physical care for her mother while on the trip, so the need for leave was not solely to provide moral support. It could conceivably be a different outcome if the need for leave was to accompany a family member on a trip while no actual medical care is being rendered. However, the 7th Circuit seemed to address this potential situation by stating, “[a]ny worries about opportunistic leave-taking in this case should be tempered by the fact that this dispute arises out of the hospice and palliative care context.” This seems to give significance to the dire situation being faced by the family, making it logical that psychological care was needed, and the employee was not using the opportunity to take a vacation.•

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Greg Freyberger is a partner in the litigation section of the Evansville firm Kahn Dees Donovan & Kahn LLP, and is a member of the board of directors of DTCI. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  2. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

  3. Hello everyone I'm Gina and I'm here for the exact same thing you are. I have the wonderful joy of waking up every morning to my heart being pulled out and sheer terror of what DCS is going to Throw at me and my family today.Let me start from the !bebeginning.My daughter lost all rights to her 3beautiful children due to Severe mental issues she no longer lives in our state and has cut all ties.DCS led her to belive that once she done signed over her right the babies would be with their family. We have faught screamed begged and anything else we could possibly due I hired a lawyer five grand down the drain.You know all I want is my babies home.I've done everything they have even asked me to do.Now their saying I can't see my grandchildren cause I'M on a prescription for paipain.I have a very rare blood disease it causes cellulitis a form of blood poisoning to stay dormant in my tissues and nervous system it also causes a ,blood clotting disorder.even with the two blood thinners I'm on I still Continue to develop them them also.DCS knows about my illness and still they refuse to let me see my grandchildren. I Love and miss them so much Please can anyone help Us my grandchildren and I they should be worrying about what toy there going to play with but instead there worrying about if there ever coming home again.THANK YOU DCS FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE. ( And if anyone at all has any ideals or knows who can help. Please contact (765)960~5096.only serious callers

  4. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

  5. I am not a fan of some of the 8.4 discipline we have seen for private conduct-- but this was so egregious and abusive and had so many points of bad conduct relates to the law and the lawyer's status as a lawyer that it is clearly a proper and just disbarment. A truly despicable account of bad acts showing unfit character to practice law. I applaud the outcome.

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