Alternative Treatments, Vacations, and the FMLA

Many people these days are seeking alternatives to standard medical treatments, many of which do not involve licensed physicians. Do those treatments qualify family medical leave under the FMLA? And what if the treatments are taken in such a way that they basically constitute a vacation?

No and no, says a federal district court in Massachusetts. It is an open question if this case affects Georgia employment law, but it is certainly of interest.

The case, Tayag v. Lahey Clinic Hospital, Inc., Case. No. 08-10727-PBS (Mass. Dist., dec. 1/6/10), involved a couple who were native Filipinos. The husband had a number of chronic illnesses, and underwent angioplasty. Mrs. Tayag applied for seven week’s FMLA leave to take care of him, but wasn’t granted the leave because of a problem with the paperwork from the surgeon. Nevertheless, the couple flew back to the Philippines.

While in the Philippines, Mr. Tayag sought treatment from a local Catholic priest who was renowned for his miraculous healing powers.

Mrs. Tayag did take care of her husband while they were on their healing trip, but, because they were back home in the Phillipines, they visited relatives and friends, spending an estimated 40% of their time on what amounted to a vacation. They spent half of their time with the priest, and spent no time whatsoever seeking standard medical treatment.

They were gone for seven weeks, during which time Mrs. Tayag was fired by the defendant.

The Tayags sued Lahey Clinic after their return.

The court divided the case into two issues: whether or not a “faith healer” constituted a “health care provider,” and whether or not time spent on vacation while caring for a spouse is allowable leave under the FMLA.

The court found that the ministrations of a priest do not fall under the category of “medical provider” under the FMLA. This designation has included practitioners of Christian Science in the past.

The court also found that the vacation time did not fall under the “needed to care for” category, which lists reasons for the family member to take a leave. On the facts, the court found that, even if the trip had been allowable-even if this particular priest had been designated a health care provider, under the facts of this case, it seemed that the main reason for the trip was for vacation purposes, and not for health care.

There is not any way to tell how much of this case may be precedent in a Georgia court, but there does seems to be some logic here that could be applicable to any case involving any alternative medical pursuit taken out of a person’s home territory.

If you have any questions as to how this may affect your employment here in Georgia, please contact the employment law offices of Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP.