|March 19, 2014|
Previously published on March 12, 2014
Employers often struggle with the meaning of “serious health condition” when determining whether an employee is eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The FMLA grants eligible employees the right to take up to 12 workweeks of leave during a 12-month period for the reasons outlined in the statute, including a “serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee.” 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D). A “serious health condition” is defined under the FMLA as “an illness, injury, impairment, or physical condition that involves (A) inpatient care in a hospital, or (B) continuing treatment by a heath care provider.” 29 U.S.C. § 2611(11). The regulations define “inpatient care” as “an overnight stay at a hospital.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.114.
In Bonkowski v. Oberg Industries, Inc., 2:12-cv-00812 (W. D. Pa. January 17, 2014), the employee claimed that he had a right to FMLA leave based on a “serious medical condition” because he arrived at the hospital before midnight and was eventually admitted as an inpatient. The employer argued that the employee did not have a “serious medical condition” because he was not formally admitted to the hospital until after midnight and was discharged on the same calendar day, which does not constitute as an “overnight stay.” In determining whether the employee was eligible for FMLA leave, the Court looked to the ordinary meaning of the word “overnight,” and found that an “overnight” stay at a hospital is a stay “from sunset on one day to sunrise the next day.” The Court further found that the sunset on the day that the employee arrived at the hospital was at 5:02 p.m. Because he did not arrive at the hospital until shortly before midnight, almost seven hours after the sunset, the Court determined that he did not stay “overnight” as an inpatient and therefore, was not entitled to protection under the FMLA.
As this case demonstrates, employers making eligibility determinations for FMLA leave need to carefully weigh each decision since eligibility often turns on critical factual differences.