The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law passed in 1993 to account for changing demographics in the United States. Its intent is to improve work-life balance for employees while improving the overall productivity of employers. Under 29 U.S.C. § 2612, eligible employees are protected should they decide to request unpaid leave from work for the birth of a child, for adoption or fostering a child, because the employee is seriously ill, or “to care for” an employee’s family member with a serious health condition.
Litigation arises in determining what the legislature intended by the phrase “to care for” when an employee requests leave “to care for” a family member. The Department of Labor provides broad regulations relating to the word “care.” Because the regulations are broad in scope, and only provide a few examples of what “care” is, courts have interpreted “care” differently, especially when an employee accompanies a seriously ill family member on a trip unrelated to the family member’s medical care. The Seventh Circuit determined in Ballard v. Chicago Park District that an employee is protected by the FMLA when accompanying a family member on a trip to Las Vegas. Other circuits have decided the issue differently.
Given this circuit split, a bright-line rule is necessary. A rule taking into account the factual circumstances and opinions in each circuit would provide guidelines for not only courts, but also for employees and employers to determine whether accompanying a family member on a trip is protected under the FMLA. Consequently, this would decrease employee abuse and reduce litigation. It would also diminish the current inconsistency between FMLA interpretation today and its original intent—not only to improve work-life balance for employees but also to support businesses’ productivity.
Heather N. Collinet,
Gambling on Court Interpretations of Care: Approving Leave for Travel Under the FMLA,
Seventh Circuit Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/seventhcircuitreview/vol10/iss2/5