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Woman fired for caring for sick niece settles FMLA claim

It is no secret that not all households in New York are comprised of members of what could be described as only including a traditional, nuclear family. Working adults in some households in New York, like anywhere in the country, may take in a child of a sibling. Blended families, adoptive parents, and other types of relationships may place an adult with the financial responsibility for a child, as well as responsibility for day-to-day care of the child.

The Department of Labor says that when lawmakers created the Family and Medical Leave Act, the concept of a non-parent standing in the place of a parent for a child was known. Our Long Island readers may understand that an eligible parent may be able to seek medical leave to care for a seriously ill son or daughter.

But, the definition of son or daughter in the FMLA includes more than only biological children of a parent. In fact, the law expands the definition to include many relationships, such as stepchildren, adoptive children, legal wards, and other types of relationships. A son or daughter may also include a child for whom an adult stands in the place of a parent in raising the child.

A recent case from the Midwest may help to illuminate the concept. A woman says that last year she needed time off from work to care for her niece. The 12-year-old child suffered from an undisclosed serious illness, and the woman asked for FMLA leave. She says that she had financial responsibility for the child and took care of raising the girl as if she were her legal parent.

The company apparently decided that without a court document appointing her as a legal guardian of the 12-year-old niece, the woman was not entitled to job-protected leave under the FMLA. The business denied the woman’s request for the family leave and fired her for missing work.

The company was hit with a lawsuit late last year that alleged that the company’s denial of leave was unlawful, and that the company wrongfully terminated the woman in violation of the FMLA. That lawsuit settled earlier this week for damages.

Whether a person stands “in loco parentis,” which essentially means in the place of a parent, is a factual question based upon the individual circumstances.

Source: Journal-News, “Fairfield company settles wrongful termination case,” Feb. 4, 2014

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