Who Is A Parent Under The FMLA?

While most everyone considers a grandparent to be an especially cherished family member, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not generally include a grandparent in its definition of a family member. There is one exception, though. If the grandparent acted “in loco parentis” (i.e., on behalf of the parents in raising the child), then the FMLA may apply.


Case in point: An employee requested three weeks of leave to visit family in Jamaica. Her request was denied based on work volume. But that didn’t stop the employee from forging ahead with her trip as planned.


A week into her leave, she called her employer and informed management that her grandmother was ill. When the employee failed to return to work at the end of three weeks, the company terminated her. That’s a violation of my FMLA rights, claimed the employee in court, where she argued that her grandmother should qualify as an immediate family member for FMLA purposes since her grandmother had raised her. Specifically, the employee and her mother both lived in the grandmother’s home; her grandmother cooked and cared for her; and they shared a bed at times.


While a court questioned whether this evidence was timely, it decided to let a jury determine whether the employee was indeed entitled to FMLA leave. (Dillon v. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, D.C. MD, No. 04-0994, 2005)


Definition Alert

The FMLA defines a family member to include a spouse, son, daughter, or parent. A parent can be either a biological parent or someone who stood in place of a parent in raising a child. A blood relationship is not necessary. Just as a grandparent can be considered a parent for FMLA purposes under certain circumstances, so too can a stepparent, an adoptive parent, or even a friend of the family. What’s not included are parents “in-law.”

FMLA Compliance D