Frustrated with FMLA?

Learn how to determine whether leave to care for a family member qualifies under FMLA

Understanding, interpreting and administering the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) continues to challenge many employers. A specific problem area employers have been grappling with involves determining when an employee is eligible for FMLA leave to care for a family member.

Enacted in 1993, FMLA provides eligible employees with 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave from a covered employer in a 12-month period for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child; to care for a family member with a serious health condition; or when an employee's own serious health condition makes the employee unable to perform his or her job.

Most employers generally are aware of their obligations under FMLA to grant leave to employees to care for family members. However, FMLA narrowly limits the definition of family member to a "spouse, or a son, daughter or parent, of the employee, if such spouse, son, daughter or parent has a serious health condition." This definition may appear self-explanatory, but it is further restricted by the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL's) interpretive regulations, which set forth additional criteria for determining whether the requested leave is indeed needed to care for the family member.

For instance, if an employee were to ask for one week of leave to be at home with her 18-year-old son who had a serious case of the flu that required hospitalization, would the leave be covered by FMLA?