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Absent genuine doubt, grant FMLA care request

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Here’s a risk you’ll run into if you refuse to let an employee take time off to care for a child she says has a serious health condition that requires her care: If you guess wrong and the case goes to trial, it’s up to the jury to decide whether the child’s condition rose to the serious level.

And that can depend on such subjective factors as sympathy, parental instinct and a whole host of intangibles.

That’s why if a parent has already documented that a child has a chronic health condition, and the parent says she needs time off, your best bet may be to go along with the request unless you have a solid reason to believe there is an ulterior motive or some form of sick-leave abuse. Then be prepared to prove exactly that.

Recent case: Ceyrelia Ladner worked for the Hancock Medical Center. Since the time she was hired, she kept her employer informed about her asthmatic son’s medical condition. On Sept.14, he had an asthma attack and was sick and wheezing. Ladner knew from experience that an attack often meant several days of treatment.

Because the medical center was about to go on hurricane lockdown for several days, she asked permission to bring him to work. Her supervisors refused, so Ladner sent her son to school with his inhaler. When the school was evacuated, he became ill, started vomiting and had another asthma attack.

Ladner sued, alleging she had been denied FMLA leave.

The case went to a jury, and the hospital tried to argue her son didn’t have a serious health condition. Therefore, it maintained, Ladner wasn’t eligible for leave. The jury disagreed and awarded her damages. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the award. (Ladner v. Hancock Medical Center, No. 07-60802, 5th Cir., 2008)

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