Many people face difficult choices when determining the best course of treatment for aging parents. Last month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reminded employers that in some circumstances, time spent exploring and making these decisions can be considered grounds for job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
In Romans v. Michigan Dep't of Human Servs., the plaintiff alleged interference and retaliation based on the employer's refusal to recognize time spent planning his mother's medical care as a legitimate FMLA request. The employee requested time off to meet with his sister at the hospital to determine whether his mother would continue to receive life-support care. The employer contended that the plaintiff was not needed at the hospital because his sister was present, and that he was not providing care or companionship for his mother.
The Sixth Circuit disagreed, reversing a grant of summary judgment for the plaintiff. The court noted Department of Labor regulations stating that employees can be needed for care of a sick parent even if they are not the only relative available to provide such care. In addition, making arrangements for changes in care is encompassed in the companionship leave definition, even if the employee is not personally providing the care.
As more employees face medical care issues involving aging parents, human resource professionals should be aware of situations where requests for time off will qualify as protected FMLA leave