- An Apple employee who took time off to care for the children of his seriously ill sister was not protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), ruled a federal district court in Ohio (Brede v. Apple Computer Inc., No. 19-cv-2130 (N.D. Ohio Jan. 23, 2020)).
- Edward Brede took about one day off every two weeks to care for his niece and nephew and was eventually fired for an unrelated issue, though his performance evaluations mentioned his "spotty attendance," and he was allegedly denied a promotion for his "inability to come to work." Brede claimed that his leave was protected by FMLA because he was caring for the children in loco parentis — in the role of a parent — due to his sister's medical condition.
- The court concluded that Brede's leave was not covered by FMLA. Even if he was in fact acting in loco parentis to his niece and nephew, he never claimed that either of the children were experiencing an FMLA-covered medical issue that required his care; it was his sister who was ill. Even if Brede's child care could be viewed, by extension, as caring for his sister, "FMLA does not entitle an employee to take leave to care for a sibling with a serious health condition," said the court. Accordingly, it granted Apple's motion to dismiss.
FMLA provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for a variety of reasons, including:
- The birth of a child or the placement of an adopted or foster child.
- The employee's own serious health condition.
- To care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition.
- Circumstances related to a family member's active military duty.
Additionally, employees may be eligible for up to 26 weeks of leave to care for a family member who is a covered service member with a serious injury or illness.
As the court in this case noted, siblings are not considered qualifying family members under FMLA, but many states and localities have their own family and medical leave laws that may be more inclusive.
Employers may neither deny FMLA leave nor discriminate or retaliate against employees who exercise FMLA leave rights.
HR professionals should train supervisors and managers on FMLA's requirements, including who is eligible for leave, when a FMLA-qualifying request is being made (even if "FMLA" is never mentioned by name), and when requests should be escalated to HR. Also, managers should be trained to avoid any statements or actions that could be construed as discouraging an employee from taking protected leave.