Friday, February 10, 2017

FMLA leave is required if sick grandparent raised you as a child

There are some cases where you think to yourself that, morally, one party must lose the case. This is probably one of them. The employer denied FMLA leave to an employee who needed to miss work to care for his seriously ill grandfather who had been his father figure. The district court rejected that claim, but the Court of Appeals brings it back.

The case is Coutard v.  Municipal Credit Union, decided on February 9. The Family and Medical Leave Act grants certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for certain ill family members, including parents and even grandparents who stood in as in loco parentis. As the Court of Appeals notes,

The very reason that Congress in the FMLA defined "parent" and "son or daughter" to include, respectively, "an individual who stood in loco parentis to an employee when the employee" was "under 18 years of age," and "a child of a person standing in loco parentis," was to "reflect the reality that many children in the United States today do not live in traditional 'nuclear' families with their biological father and mother," and are increasingly raised by others including "their grandparents."
When plaintiff sought FMLA leave, he said it was for his grandfather, who was seriously ill. The employer argues that plaintiff was not entitled this leave because he did not tell management that his grandfather stood in as in loco parentis after his father died when plaintiff was a kid. The Court of Appeals runs through the many regulations governing the FMLA before deciding that this case has to go to trial. Judge Kearse reasons:

the obligation of an employee to give notice of his need for FMLA leave is not the obligation, imposed by the district court on Coutard, to provide the employer with all of the necessary details to permit a definitive determination of the FMLA's applicability at or before the time of the request. Rather, in the absence of a request for additional information, an employee has provided sufficient notice to his employer if that notice indicates reasonably that the FMLA may apply.
In other words, if it thinks the FMLA may apply, the employer has to follow up with the employee to see if the employee in a case like this (involving a grandfather) is covered under the FMLA. Defendant did not so inquire about plaintiff's relationship with his grandfather, so it was not plaintiff's fault that he did not provide that information. "We conclude that the district court erred in ruling that Coutard was required, at the time of his request, to provide MCU with all of the information it needed to determine with certainty that his requested leave was within the FMLA."

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