Time to care for adult children limited to ADA disabilities

The FMLA provides employees with up to 12 weeks off to care for a child suffering from a serious health condition. But when the child is an adult, the rules change, making it much harder for employees to qualify for leave.

Here’s why: FMLA regulations say that FMLA leave for children older than 18 is available only if the child is disabled under the definition in the ADA. And that definition excludes most transient or minor conditions.

Recent case: Donna Novak’s employer fired her from her job when she exceeded the company’s no-fault absence limit. Novak claimed her discharge violated the FMLA because some of the absences were to care for her adult daughter, who had recently given birth and had postpartum depression.

But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her case. It reasoned that postpartum depression, which in this case lasted just a few weeks, was not a disability under the ADA because it did not substantially limit a major life function over the long term. Although it might have been a serious health condition (and covered under the FMLA if the child had been younger than 18), it wasn’t covered for adult children. (Novak v. MetroHealth Medical Center, No. 06-3036, 6th Cir., 2007)