The federal Department of Labor issued some important guidance regarding the coverage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as it applies to all sorts of unconventional families. The DOL made clear that FMLA rights to get time off to care for children do not require a biological relationship with the child. Rather, anyone who has assumed the role of parent (for example a non-married step-parent, grandparent, or same-sex partner) is entitled to FMLA leave to care for the child. Continue for highlights from the guidance:
The FMLA entitles an eligible employee to take up to 12 workweeks of job-protected leave, in relevant part, “[b]ecause of the birth of a son or daughter of the employee and in order to care for such son or daughter,” “[b]ecause of the placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care,” and to care for a son or daughter with a serious health condition. See 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(A)-(C); 29 C.F.R. § 825.200. The FMLA defines a “son or daughter” as a “biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of a person standing in loco parentis, who is— (A) under 18 years of age; or (B) 18 years of age or older and incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability.” 29 U.S.C. § 2611(12).
Congress intended the definition of “son or daughter” to reflect “the reality that many children in the United States today do not live in traditional ‘nuclear’ families with their biological father and mother. Increasingly, those who find themselves in need of workplace accommodation of their child care responsibilities are not the biological parent of the children they care for, but their adoptive, step, or foster parents, their guardians, or sometimes simply their grandparents or other relatives or adults.”
In loco parentis is commonly understood to refer to “a person who has put himself in the situation of a lawful parent by assuming the obligations incident to the parental relation without going through the formalities necessary to legal adoption. It embodies the two ideas of assuming the parental status and discharging the parental duties.” . . . “The key in determining whether the relationship of in loco parentis is established is found in the intention of the person allegedly in loco parentis to assume the status of a parent toward the child. The intent to assume such parental status can be inferred from the acts of the parties.” Whether an employee stands in loco parentis to a child is a fact issue dependent on multiple factors.
Examples of situations in which an in loco parentis relationship may be found include where a grandparent takes in a grandchild and assumes ongoing responsibility for raising the child because the parents are incapable of providing care, or where an aunt assumes responsibility for raising a child after the death of the child’s parents. Such situations may, or may not, ultimately lead to a legal relationship with the child (adoption or legal ward), but no such relationship is required to find in loco parentis status. In contrast, an employee who cares for a child while the child’s parents are on vacation would not be considered to be in loco parentis to the child.