This post was contributed by Tony D. Dick, Esq., an Associate in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Labor and Employment Practice Group in Columbus, Ohio.

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued additional guidance to employers regarding the definition of “son or daughter” under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as it relates to an adult child. Under the FMLA, an eligible employee may take leave to care for a son or daughter who is 18 years old or older if the following four conditions are met: (1) the adult child has a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); (2) he or she is incapable of self-care as a result of the disability; (3) he or she has a serious health condition; and (4) the adult child is in need of care due to the serious health condition.

A lingering question has been whether the onset of the child’s disability had to occur prior to the child turning 18 in order for the adult child’s parent to be eligible for FMLA leave. DOL has now clarified that it is irrelevant whether the onset of the disabling condition occurred before or after the child turned 18. DOL’s interpretation falls in line with the majority of courts that have decided the issue.

In addition, in light of the broader definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), DOL has offered further guidance on the impact of those changes on the FMLA. Among other things, the ADAAA broadened the definition of “major life activities” and expanded the definition of “disability” to include episodic conditions that periodically flair up and substantially limit a major life activity. Since the FMLA’s inception, DOL has utilized the definition of disability under the ADA in defining a “son or daughter” who has reached the age of 18. DOL has now explicitly taken the position that the expanded definition of disability under the ADAAA should apply to the definition of “son or daughter” under the FMLA.  It remains to be seen whether courts will adopt DOL’s position.

Finally, DOL has issued guidance concerning FMLA leave used to care for an adult child who has become disabled during military service. Under the FMLA’s military caregiver provision, a parent of a covered service member who sustained a serious injury or illness is entitled to up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave in a single 12-month period. Acknowledging that the servicemember’s injury or illness could have an impact that lasts beyond the single 12-month period covered by the military caregiver leave entitlement, DOL clarified that the servicemember’s parent may take FMLA leave to care for a son or daughter in subsequent years because of the adult child’s serious health condition. 

DOL’s recent guidance is just the latest example of it construing the FMLA generously in favor of employees. Employers should train managers and HR personnel who handle leave requests on these new changes to ensure compliance with the law.