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On January 15, 2013, a federal court in Connecticut held that an employee who was fired for excessive absences based upon taking off several days to care for his wife following her hip replacement surgery and their son who was ill, suffered unlawful retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Notably, the employee never asked for FMLA leave. However, the court in McNamara v. Trinity College held that where an employer is on notice of an employee’s request for time off, and such time could potentially qualify as FMLA leave, then the employer may not terminate the employee for taking such leave. Of course, if the employer is unaware of the reasons for taking time off, then it would be difficult for an employee to prove that he or she was fired for taking FMLA leave.

On January 14, 2013, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor issued guidance in the form of an Administrator Interpretation, which seeks to clarify the definition of “son or daughter” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) as it pertains to a child 18 years old or older and is incapable of self-care.

The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid leave for a medical or family reason. Among other things, the FMLA entitles an eligible employee to twelve weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for the “serious health condition” of a son or daughter. In situations where the son or daughter is 18 years old or older, an employee is not permitted to take leave to care for such child unless the child is incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability at the time the FMLA leave begins.

In determining whether the condition qualifies as a mental or physical disability, employer considering leave requests must look to the Americans with Disability Act and related regulations issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which provide a definition of such disabilities.

On December 17, 2012, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) approved its Strategic Enforcement Plan for Fiscal Years 2013-2016 (“SEP”). The SEP establishes priorities and integrates all components of the EEOC’s enforcement. In so doing, the SEP adopted the following national priorities:
1- Eliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring. The EEOC intends to target class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity or national origin, religion, age, gender (women), and disability.
2- Protecting Immigrant, Migrant and Other Vulnerable Workers. Among other things, the EEOC intends to target disparate pay, job segregation, harassment, trafficking and discriminatory policies affecting those workers who may not be aware of their rights to equal employment opportunity, or are otherwise reluctant to exercise them.
3- Addressing Emerging and Developing Issues.
4- Enforcing Equal Pay Laws. The EEOC will continue to target compensation disparities and practices in the area of gender or sex discrimination.
5- Preserving Access to the Legal System. The EEOC will scrutinize policies and practices that have the effect of discouraging employees from seeking relief under the applicable employment discrimination statutes.
6- Preventing Harassment Through Systemic Enforcement and Targeted Outreach.

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