The United States Court of
Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that an employee is
entitled to unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
("FMLA") when the employee requests leave to provide
physical and psychological care for a terminally ill parent who is
travelling away from home.
In Ballard v. Chicago
Park District, the employee's mother was diagnosed with end-stage
congestive heart failure, after which she began to receive hospice
care. With the assistance of a social worker at the hospice, the
employee received a grant to take her mother on an end-of-life trip
to Las Vegas.
The employee next requested
unpaid FMLA leave, so that she could travel with her mother to Las
Vegas to provide basic care and support. (Under the FMLA, employees
are entitled to leave "in order to care for" a family
member with a "serious health condition.") The employer
denied the employee's request for FMLA leave. Nevertheless, the
employee travelled with her mother to Las Vegas and, several months
later, the employer terminated the employee because of the
unauthorized absences that accumulated during her trip.
After being terminated, the
employee sued, claiming her FMLA rights had been denied. The employer
asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the FMLA did not
apply in this situation because the employee did not provide care for
her mother in Las Vegas since she was already being provided with the
necessary care at home.
In ruling in favor of the
employee, the Seventh Circuit said that the geographical location
where care for a seriously ill family member is provided does not
have any bearing on whether the employee has the right to
The employer also asserted
that the employee's trip to Las Vegas was not covered by the FMLA
because the leave did not involve medical treatment. Once again the
Seventh Circuit disagreed, finding that the word
"treatment" does not appear anywhere in the FMLA's relevant
provisions. The court added that "the FMLA speaks in terms of
basic medical, nutritional and hygienic needs - needs that, as in
this case, do not change merely because a person is not undergoing
active medical treatment."
The Seventh Circuit's
holding in Ballard confirms that employees can take up to 12
weeks of leave under the FMLA to provide physical or psychological
care for a seriously ill spouse, child or parent - regardless of the
geographic location where the care will be rendered.