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Third Circuit Adopts FMLA Test for Overnight Stays

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Recently the Third Circuit issued a decision in Bonkowski v. Oberg Industries, Inc. that focused on what constitutes an “overnight stay” under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, an employee can take job-protected leave for “any period of incapacity or treatment connected with inpatient care in a hospital.” The FMLA regulations define “inpatient care” as “an overnight stay in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical facility, including any period of incapacity as defined in 29 C.F.R. Sec. 825.113(b), or any subsequent treatment in connection with such inpatient care.”

As with most cases, the outcome hinged on the specific facts. In this case, the plaintiff’s wife drove him to the hospital where he was admitted just after midnight. While at the hospital, the plaintiff underwent comprehensive tests and was released later that day, without any restrictions on his activities. His stay in the hospital lasted about 14 hours. After being released, the plaintiff’s employer terminated him claiming that he had walked off the job. The plaintiff filed suit under the FMLA claiming that his absence from work was a qualifying absence under the FMLA protecting him from discharge.

The Western District of Pennsylvania found that the plaintiff did not prove that he suffered from a “serious health condition” because he did not receive “inpatient care.” The District Court pointed to the definition of “inpatient care” contained in the FMLA regulations that requires an “overnight stay in a hospital.”

The District Court stated that in order for the plaintiff to establish that he suffered from a “serious medical condition,” he would have had to spend the entire night at the hospital, which would require a stay from sunset on day one to sunrise on day two. The District Court concluded that since the plaintiff was not admitted at the hospital until just after midnight, he did not prove that he remained at the hospital overnight.

The plaintiff appealed to the Third Circuit. While the Third Circuit rejected the “sunsetsunrise” rule used by the District Court, the Third Circuit still ruled in favor of the employer, holding that an “overnight stay” means a stay in for a substantial period of time, “from one calendar day to the next calendar day as measured by the individual’s time of admission and his or her time of discharge.” The court added that a minimum of eight hours could meet the “substantial period of time “requirement but did not specify a minimum required length of time.

While this case is a win for employers, it does not address what constitutes a “substantial period of time.” Meaning, this lack of clarity leaves room for dispute
when an employee’s stay meets the next calendar day admission and discharge requirement, but the stay was less than eight hours.

For more information, contact the Association’s Legal Services Division at 814/833-3200 or 800/815-2660.