If an employee’s loved one dies, can he use FMLA leave to settle estate affairs?

Q. One of our employees has been out on FMLA leave for seven weeks taking care of his sick mother in another state. We approved a full 12 weeks of leave. I received a voice mail from him saying that his mother died. He also said that he had to clear up a lot of things with his mother’s estate, but that he would be back by the end of his scheduled leave. Can he do that, or can I tell him he needs to come back sooner?

A. The FMLA does not cover leave to deal with a parent’s estate. You probably don’t need to allow the employee to continue his leave under the FMLA.

However, other consequences of a parent’s death could be covered under the FMLA.

The FMLA covers leave to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent) with a “serious health condition” or for the employee’s own serious health condition. For example, if the employee suffers depression as a result of the death, that condition may meet the definition of an FMLA-covered serious health condition. Similarly, the employee may be entitled to leave “to care for” a spouse, son, daughter or parent who is suffering either physically or mentally as a result of the death of a loved one, if that suffering meets the standard for a serious health condition.