A federal court of appeals recently decided that only “treatment” is protected under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), not days when an employee relapses into alcoholism and blacks out for days because of substance abuse, and not days when an employee is trying to get an appointment to see a doctor and misses work.
In Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., an employee, Chalimoniuk, sued his employer, IBC, on the basis of retaliation and violation of the FMLA. The evidence showed that one day after work, Chalimoniuk had become so intoxicated that he blacked out for a few days, missed work, and later admitted himself to a hospital. After the absences, Tonya Gordon, the human resources manager at IBC, reviewed Chalimoniuk’s insurance and medical paperwork. She discovered that Chalimoniuk’s absences were not entirely due to receiving treatment. She subsequently fired him on account of too many unexcused absences. Chalimoniuk then brought a lawsuit under the FMLA. The U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed that he had no claim and that IBC had properly denied paid medical leave to Chalimoniuk. The FMLA, as the court determined, only protects the time during which the patient actually receives “treatment.” This means that employees who abuse alcohol are not entitled to hide behind the FMLA.