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Can you be fired for visiting a sick family member in the hospital?



We all dread a phone call at work saying that a loved one is in the hospital suffering from a serious medical condition. Our first reaction is to leave work immediately to provide what help we can. Most employers are understanding in this situation. But what happens if an employer does fire an employee for visiting a family member in the hospital?

Keep in mind that the below is not legal advice for any particular situation. Individual circumstances vary. If you have a question about time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), contact an employment law attorney to discuss your specific circumstances and legal protections.

The Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows you to take time to recover from a serious medical condition for up to 12 weeks without losing your job. It also allows you to care for a sick member of your immediate family for up to 12 weeks.

Generally, what constitutes "care" under the FMLA is an issue for courts to decide on a case-by-case basis. However, two general types of care are protected under the FMLA: physical care and psychological care.

Physical care

Taking care of the daily living needs of a sick child or parent is protected under the FMLA. Other physical needs could involve taking family members to medical appointments when they cannot do so themselves or making medical decisions regarding care on behalf of an immediate family member. This means that under the FMLA, you are able to go to the hospital to figure out appropriate medical care for a parent, child or spouse. You are also protected if you have to take a parent, child or spouse to the hospital.

Psychological care

Psychological care can be harder to define. In general, however, courts loosely interpret what this means. Giving comfort to a child with cancer who is undergoing surgery by being at his or her side at the hospital would qualify for FMLA protection.

Less clear is simply "visiting" an ailing parent or child. If you are by the patient's side and offering love and support, however, you could likely claim FMLA protection.

Questions on FMLA? Speak to an employment law attorney.

As with all employment law matters, issues involving the FMLA can be complex. Contact an attorney to discuss your situation and legal options if you believe you have been terminated illegally. 

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