When a New York man was diagnosed with cancer, his biological family couldn't care for him. They were in Malaysia, a world away. However, he did have people to help--his "chosen family." And, because of a recent change to New York law, many of those "chosen family" members were able to take paid sick days in order to provide his care.
Over the past few years, both Rhode Island and Arizona passed laws allowing workers to use their sick days to provide care for chosen family members. So have New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Texas and St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1994, the Federal Employees Family Friendly Leave Act gave federal workers the same right, and a 2015 executive order extended it to many federal contractors.
Workers affected by these laws don't get extra sick time; however, they are given a broader choice about how to use it. The idea goes back to 1969 when federal employees were allowed to use paid leave to attend the funerals of military service members with whom they felt a familial relationship.
Some of these laws have been prompted by concerns of the gay community but, according to the Associated Press, New York City broadened its law for a number of reasons. For example, the City had received complaints from workers who were denied sick leave when caring for an aunt or fiancée.
Maryland doesn't have such a law as of yet. However, while employers can decline to grant paid sick leave to care for a non-biological family member, workers may be entitled to use unpaid leave for this purpose. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows covered employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for the medical needs of a spouse, child or parent. "Parent" is defined broadly as a biological, adoptive, step- or foster parent. The law also allows leave to care for someone who has acted "in loco parentis" to the employee.
Under the FMLA, someone who has acted in loco parentis intentionally took on the day-to-day parental responsibilities and/or financially supported the employee as a child despite not being that child's legal or biological parent. This person could be a relative such as a sibling, aunt, uncle or grandparent, but no biological relationship is required. It also doesn't matter whether the employee has traditional parents in addition to the in loco parentis relationship with someone.
Do you think Maryland law should allow people to use paid sick leave to care for chosen family members?
If you have questions about using sick time or FMLA leave to care for others, please reach out to an employment law attorney.