Courts keep pushing theAct ( ) boundaries, letting employees take job-protected leave for circumstances other than physically providing care to a sick family member.
The case below shows one place where you can draw the line: letting an employee taketo travel with his seriously ill spouse to a family funeral. Still, don't play it tough with all such "family caregiving" requests. It's safer to assume that FMLA covers such caregiving. Look at each case individually and, most importantly, require documentation certifying the serious health condition.
Finally, to avoid an FMLA squabble in the first place, let your bereavement or funeral leave policy handle such requests. No law says you must offer bereavement leave, but most companies do.
Recent case: On a Friday morning, a sheet-metal worker received a call from his seriously ill wife saying her father had died and they needed to attend the funeral in Mexico. The worker received permission to leave right away, but there was no agreement on the amount or type of leave granted.
Upon the worker's return several days later, the com-pany fired him, citing company policy that says employees can be fired if they miss work for three consecutive unexcused days. He sued under California's version of the FMLA.
A lower court said the employee had no case and a federal appeals court agreed. Reason: Coming to any other conclusion, the court said, would open up employers to FMLA-type claims every time a sick relative of an employee needed to travel. (Gradilla v. Ruskin Manufacturing, No. 01-56725, 9th Cir., 2003)