Employee’s Request For Vacation Time To Visit Ailing Parents Is Not A Request For Family Leave


The California Court of Appeal, Third District, recently considered whether an employee’s request for vacation time to visit his ailing parents is sufficient notice to the employer that the employee needs leave under California’s Family Rights Act of 1991 (CFRA) to care for his parents. (Stevens v. California Department of Corrections, (2003 WL 550172))


Keeley A. Stevens (Employee), a sergeant for California Department of Corrections (CDC), gave his supervisor a memo entitled “Request for Vacation.” The memo advised that, due to deteriorating health, his parents might pass away in the near future. Employee, therefore, requested a one-week “vacation . . . to spend the Christmas [h]oliday with [his] family.” When his request was denied Employee filed a lawsuit claiming that the denial of his vacation violated the CFRA.

Appellate Court Decision

Although an employee does not have to expressly assert his rights under the CFRA, he must provide “at least verbal notice sufficient to make the employer aware that the employee needs CFRA-qualifying leave.” The Court determined that Employee’s “request for vacation” did not accomplish this, because it “gave no hint of a desire to care for his parents.” Rather, the request simply advised CDC that he sought vacation time. Furthermore, Employee’s comments regarding his parents’ deteriorating health “did not reasonably alert [CDC] to an intent to care for his parents, rather than to visit them over the holidays.” The Court therefore concluded that Employee’s “vacation request was insufficient as a matter of law to notify [CDC] that he sought leave to care for his parents in accordance with the CFRA.” Consequently, Employee did not trigger the protections of CFRA and his lawsuit could not proceed.

It should be noted that the Court contrasted an employee’s request to care for parents with a request to care for a child. According to the CFRA, the mere occurrence of a child’s birth, adoption, or serious ailment would itself justify leave, whereas the mere fact that an employee’s parent is ill would not. “In the context of an ailing parent, reasonable notice requires some communication, express or implied, by the employee that he or she seeks to care for the parent.”

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