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Thursday, November 13, 2014

FMLA: When Family Doesn't Mean Family

Earlier this week I happened across this article in The Atlantic regarding the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and its restrictions, particularly on how it defines family.

The article details the case of Barbara Sapharas , whose brother became disabled in a workplace accident. He needed help caring for his children, and could not walk or drive. She went to her HR department to request FMLA time, and was told that under the terms of FMLA, siblings aren't considered family.

You read that right. Under the terms of FMLA, siblings aren't family.

At least, not family you're allowed to care for. FMLA limits you to caring for a spouse, parent, or child under 18 (older children with a disability are included). The law does allow you to take care of a relative in loco parentis (which means "in the place of a parent) - and that can cover leave taken to care for an aunt, a grandparent, and a non-biological parent, but the in loco parentis relationship had to have existed when the employee was a child. In other words, you have to have always known that person in a parental role, from childhood.

And that usually doesn't apply when you're talking about siblings.

As the mother of a child who may one day very well be her brother's keeper, I can't begin to tell you how this all concerns me. It's a hard and sobering fact for any special needs parent to face: I won't be around forever. Someday, my son will have to live in this world without me. Someday, my son may be dependent on others for some or all of his daily care.

And the odds are, he'll be leaning heavily on the one person I know will always have his back: his sister.

My daughter, as of right now, is on the fast track to a great and brilliant future. She's top of her class in Math and Language Arts, rocking out at science and acing Spanish like nobody's business. She tested out as a gifted child in the 4th grade and has her eyes set firmly on a STEM career.

I want her to have all that, and then some. I don't want her to have to derail or jeopardize any part of that if her brother should someday need her assistance.

I'm doing everything I can to prep him to be self-sufficient, but as of now, I'm not sure how that will shake out. I'm not sure if that will shake out. I'll keep working at it, though, and keep hoping that as autism awareness and research grow, more and more programs will be put into place to assist adults on the autism spectrum (and those with other disabilities) with job opportunities and living arrangements that will allow them that independence. Right now, there's not a whole lot of that.

Not in this country, anyway.

Last spring, the Family And Medical Leave Inclusion Act was introduced in both the House and the Senate, and it amends the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to provide for employee leave to care for a domestic partner (including a same-sex spouse) or his or her child, parent-in-law, adult child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law (as well as for a spouse, child, or parent), if such person has a serious health condition. It further amends federal civil service law to apply the same leave allowance to federal employees.

So far, these bills have been passed around for re-reading a few times and shuffled to committees, but nothing has come of them.

The National Partnership for Women and Families is backing efforts for a more inclusionary FMLA, and efforts are underway in some states to force a state-mandated FMLA inclusion for siblings, partners, and other auxiliary family members.

This needs to happen, for me, for my family, for my kids - for all of us.

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