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
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...
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