The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed a jury verdict for an alleged violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) based, in part, on the determination that the employee was not entitled to FMLA leave for his depression.

In Hurley v. Kent of Naples, Inc., the plaintiff alleged that he was terminated after requesting 11 weeks of vacation time over the course of two years and explaining to his employer that he needed the time off due to depression.  At trial, the jury found in the plaintiff’s favor, and the court awarded the plaintiff over $1 million in damages and attorneys’ fees.

The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s findings based, in part, on the conclusion that his request for leave did not qualify for protection under the FMLA.  The court explained that “the FMLA does not extend its potent protection to any leave that is medically beneficial leave simply because the employee has a chronic health condition.”  Rather, the FMLA only authorizes leave for “any period of incapacity or treatment for such incapacity due to a chronic serious health condition.”  29 C.F.R. § 825.115(c).  Therefore, even though the plaintiff’s depression likely qualified as a chronic health condition and, therefore, as a “serious health condition” under the FMLA, the plaintiff was ineligible for FMLA leave because there was no evidence that he needed the leave because of a “period of incapacity or treatment for such incapacity” due to his depression.

Takeaway:  The Hurley case shows that even if an employee may have a chronic health condition, that does not necessarily mean he or she is entitled to FMLA leave.  Instead, an employee will only be eligible for FMLA leave for a “period of incapacity or treatment for such incapacity due to a chronic serious health condition.”