Tuesday, January 28, 2014

FMLA and the Sunset to Sunrise Requirement

I just came across an interesting FMLA case from the Western District of Pennsylvania. The FMLA provides certain leave requirements, including for employees with a "serious health condition" (or to care for a family member with a "serious health condition").

As the Court explained:
A “serious health condition” is defined as “an illness, injury, impairment, or physical condition that involves (A) inpatient care in a hospital, or (B) continuing treatment by a health care provider.” 29 U.S.C. § 2611(11); see 29 C.F.R. § 825.114 (defining inpatient care as “an overnight stay at a hospital”).
Bonkowski v. Oberg Indus., Inc., CIV.A. 12-00812, 2014 WL 199790 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 17, 2014). The Court couldn't find a definition of "overnight" in the statue or regulations so it turned to dictionaries:
The Merriam–Webster Dictionary defines “overnight” as “for or during the entire night.” The Oxford Dictionaries defines “overnight” as “for the duration of a night.” The ordinary meaning of “overnight” in this context is “for the duration of the night.” Plaintiff can establish he had a qualifying serious medical condition only if he is able to establish he spent the entire “night” as an inpatient at the hospital. In order to assess whether he presented sufficient evidence to do so, requires defining the word “night.” 
The Merriam–Webster Dictionary defines “night” as “the time from dusk to dawn when no sunlight is visible.” The Oxford Dictionaries defines “night” as “the period from sunset to sunrise in each twenty-four hours.” The Federal Aviation Administration in its regulations defines night as: “the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac, converted to local time.” 15 C.F.R. § 1.1. Based upon these definitions, an “overnight” stay at a hospital is a stay from sunset on one day to sunrise the next day.
(emphasis added). The Court used the Farmer's Almanac to determine the sunrise and sunset times on the dates in question.

This seems fair enough, although it creates some odd implications. For example, whether you have a "serious health condition" is in part contingent on the time of day you go to the hospital. It is also contingent on the day of the year you go to the hospital.

For example, a patient can go to the hospital just after sunset and stay in the hospital for over 24 hours and leave just before sunrise the following day - and that's not a serious health condition? Meanwhile, in the summer, another patient can go to the hospital just before sunset at 9:00 pm and leave just after sunrise at 6:00 am (a total of only 9 hours) and that is serious health condition?

I don't fault the Court. It applied the text of the statute - but it leads to some bizarre applications.