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Friday, January 31, 2014

Trip to Vegas Covered By FMLA Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act gives eligible employees a right to 12 workweeks of leave in 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."  In Ballard v. Chicago Park District, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether the Act protected an employee who traveled to Las Vegas with her terminally ill mother.

Ballard was a former Chicago Park District employee.  According to the case, Ballard acted as the primary caregiver for her mother, who had been diagnosed with end-stage congestive heart failure. In 2008, she requested unpaid leave from the District to accompany her mother to Las Vegas, a trip funded by Fairygodmother Foundation, a nonprofit that works with terminally ill adults.  Although the District denied her leave request, she traveled to Vegas with her mother as planned.  Several months later, the District terminated Ballard for unauthorized absences during her Vegas trip. She sued under the FMLA, and the District argued that Ballard was not eligible for FMLA leave because she did not "care for" her mother in Vegas, and that the trip was not related to medical treatment.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals spent some time interpreting what is meant by the phrase "care for" under the FMLA. The Court disregarded the District's argument that "care for" is limited to medical treatment, finding no such language in the statute. The Court also disagreed with the District's argument that care must be restricted to a particular location such as a patient's home. Instead, the Court looked to the Department of Labor regulations that define "care" by a family member to encompass activities such as "basic medical, hygienic, or nutritional needs or safety." In this case, the Court held that Ballard's mother's "basic medical, hygienic, and nutritional needs" were the same in Vegas as they would be at home, and that Ballard's assistance was necessary during the trip. In short, Ballard's trip to Vegas with her mother fell within the scope of the FMLA. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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