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6th Circuit: FMLA Does Not Cover Care of Grandchild

By Steven M. Nakashima  10/19/2007
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An employer did not interfere with an employee’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights when it denied her FMLA leave to care for her grandchild and an adult child who had postpartum depression, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held.

MetroHealth Medical Center had a no-fault attendance policy that assigned points to each employee based on the number of unexcused absences incurred. Approved absences such as FMLA leave were not included in the point total.

Donna Novak sought to have certain absences regarded as FMLA leave. Specifically, Novak alleged that she had suffered a back injury for which certain time off should have been regarded as covered by the FMLA.

She also contended that she had taken time off from work to care for her adult child and her grandchild when her adult child suffered from postpartum depression after giving birth. If these absences were covered by the FMLA, Novak’s point total would have been below the allowable number.

MetroHealth determined that those absences did not qualify for FMLA leave and fired Novak.

Novak sued, but the district court agreed with MetroHealth and the 6th Circuit affirmed.

As to her back injury claim, Novak was given several opportunities to present medical certification to confirm the existence of the back injury, which presumably would have qualified as a serious health condition covered by the FMLA. But the court agreed that the three medical certifications submitted by Novak were either insufficient or did not contain authenticated information.

The first certification was invalid because it did not contain the date when the injury began or the probable duration of the condition, nor did it contain the appropriate medical facts. The second certification was completed by the doctor’s assistant without the doctor’s knowledge or authorization; thus that certification was not deemed authentic. The third certification was unreliable and appropriately rejected because it set forth that another doctor had treated Novak and that the doctor signing the certification had not treated Novak for nearly six months prior to signing the certification. On these facts, the court ruled that MetroHealth had acted reasonably in refusing to grant FMLA leave. The certifications were insufficient to establish that Novak had a serious health condition for purposes of the FMLA.

Next, the court noted that the FMLA permits an employee to take leave from work to care for a child suffering from a serious health condition. However, the FMLA authorizes leave to care for a child 18 years of age or older only if the child is suffering from a serious health condition and is incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability. Novak did not provide any evidence that her adult child was unable to care for herself, but rather the evidence was that her adult child had difficulty caring for her newborn because of her postpartum depression. The court ruled that the FMLA does not entitle an employee to take leave from work to care for a grandchild.

Novak v. MetroHealth Medical Center , 6th Cir., No. 06-3036 (Sept. 28, 2007).

Professional Pointer: By understanding the FMLA, employers can ensure that they have a clear record of the bases for which FMLA leave is being requested and whether they are obligated to afford the requested leave.

Steven M. Nakashima is an attorney with Marr Hipp Jones & Wang , the Worklaw® Network firm in Honolulu.

Editor’s Note: This article should not be construed as legal advice.

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