USDOL Interprets FMLA to Apply to Domestic Partners, Grandparents, and Other Individuals Providing Day-to-Day Care for Children

July 1, 2010

By: Kseniya Premo

Recently the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division issued an Administrator’s Interpretation (the “Interpretation”) clarifying the definition of “son or daughter” under Section 101(12) of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) as it applies to an employee standing “in loco parentis” to a child. The FMLA allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to care for a child after adoption or birth, or to care for a child with a serious health condition. The Interpretation concludes that these rights extend to any individual who assumes the role of caring for a child, regardless of the legal or biological relationship.

The definition of a “son or daughter” under the FMLA includes not only a biological or adopted child, but also a “foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of a person standing in loco parentis.” According to the Interpretation, the legislative intent behind this definition was to reflect the reality that often the day-to-day responsibility of caring for a child falls to someone without a biological or legal relationship to the child, and that employees with such a responsibility are therefore entitled to leave under the FMLA.

In loco parentis, or “in the place of a parent,” is commonly understood to mean a person who has assumed obligations typical of a parent without formally adopting the child. Courts have routinely looked to the intent of the person allegedly in loco parentis to determine whether such a relationship is established; such intent is inferred from the acts of the parties. Whether an employee stands in loco parentis depends on multiple factors such as the age of the child, the child’s dependence on the employee, the amount of support provided and to what extent the employee performs duties commonly associated with parenthood.

Although FMLA regulations define persons standing in loco parentis as including those with day-to-day responsibilities to care for and financially support a child, the Interpretation views the regulations as not requiring an employee to establish that he or she provides both day-to-day care and financial support in order to be found to stand in loco parentis. In addition, the Interpretation makes special note that neither the statute or the regulations restrict the number of parents a child may have under the FMLA. Although an employer may require the employee to provide reasonable documentation of the family relationship, a simple statement asserting that the requisite relationship exists is sufficient.

Examples of situations in which an in loco parentis relationship may be found include:

  • A grandparent assuming ongoing responsibility for a grandchild due to the parents’ incapacity;
  • An aunt assuming responsibility for raising a child after the death of the child’s parents; and
  • A person sharing in the raising his or her unmarried partner’s biological child.