Do FMLA guidelines cover grandkids?
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Do FMLA guidelines cover grandkids?

FMLA regulations for “In Loco Parentis”

“We’ve decided to deny your family leave request,” HR Manager Amy Sporkin told Joe Blocker, a maintenance worker.

“Why?” Joe asked.

“FMLA guidelines don’t allow you leave to care for your newborn granddaughter,” Amy said. “I’m all in favor of family values, but we can’t stretch the law that far. If this were your own child, it’d be a different story, but …”

“It’s as if I’m her parent,” Joe said. “Her mother – my daughter – has Air National Guard duties and is trying to finish a two-year college degree and an internship as well. So she doesn’t have a ton of time for the baby. Plus, the father isn’t in the picture,” Joe continued. “That’s why I have to take up the slack. I feed and bathe the little girl, and change her diaper.”

He paid the bills

Amy screwed up her nose. “Spare me the smelly details,” she said, smiling. “No, look, Joe, I’ve got all the sympathy in the world with you. I just can’t approve leave outside of FMLA guidelines.”

“There’s more,” he said. “I’m paying most of the expenses both for my daughter and the baby. They live at my house. I think I should qualify for the time off.”

“You can take your sick and personal days,” Amy said. “Plus any vacation you’ve got left. Will that do the trick?”

“No,” Joe said. “I need 12 weeks, and I haven’t got anywhere near that much coming to me.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to make other arrangements,” Amy said. Joe took the 14 sick, personal and vacation days he was owed, but didn’t return afterward.

He was fired for absenteeism, and sued the company for interfering with his FMLA rights.

Did he win?

Yes, Joe won.

An appeals court said his case was strong enough to go to a jury. Employers usually settle out of court when this happens. HR Manager Amy got in trouble because she didn’t fully understand FMLA regulations.

It’s true the Family and Medical Leave Act doesn’t give rights to grandparents to take time off to care for grandchildren.

But it does provide for leave for people who are what the law calls “in loco parentis.” That Latin phrase refers to someone who stands in for a parent by assuming the obligations of parenthood. FMLA guidelines say a person is in loco parentis when he or she has a “day-to-day responsibility to care for and financially support a child.” A biological or legal relationship isn’t necessary. The court pointed out that Joe cared for his granddaughter while his daughter was away, and provided significant financial support for the child.

A range of relationships

Remember, FMLA rights to care for children aren’t limited to people’s direct offspring.

Your employees have rights associated with the in loco parentis situation. FMLA guidelines also cover:
• adoptive children
• foster children
• stepchildren
• legal wards.

Cite: Martin v. Brevard County Public Schools, No. 07-11196, 11th Cir., 9/30/08. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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