Monday, January 25, 2010

Faith healing and the FMLA

The Smart HR Manager brought to my attention a recent case out of Massachusetts which held that an employee could not use FMLA leave to care for a spouse with a serious health condition who seeks to travel abroad for faith-based healing. The opinion, however, dodges the issue of whether faith-based healing is covered by the FMLA. Instead, it dismissed the FMLA claim because more than half of the trip was spent visiting family and friends and sightseeing, and the FMLA does not permit employees to vacation with a seriously ill spouse, even in a caregiving capacity.

The case, though, got me to thinking, is a faith-healer covered under the FMLA as a “health care provider?” The most logical place to look is the FMLA’s regulations. Section 825.125 defines a “health care provider” as—

  1. A doctor of medicine or osteopathy;

  2. Podiatrists, dentists, clinical psychologists, optometrists, and chiropractors;

  3. Nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, clinical social workers and physician assistants;

  4. Christian Science Practitioners listed with the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts; or

  5. Any health care provider from whom an employer or the employer’s group health plan’s benefits manager will accept certification of the existence of a serious health condition to substantiate a claim for benefits.

Faith-healers do not fall under any of these categories. This conclusion only resolves whether the FMLA covers leave for faith-healing. It does not address whether other laws – such as Title VII’s religious discrimination protections – protect these employees, which is a topic for another day.

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