When can I care for my adult child under FMLA?

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The FMLA provides eligible employees of covered employers with job-protected leave for qualifying family and medical reasons and requires continuation of their group health benefits under the same conditions as if they had not taken leave. FMLA leave may be unpaid or used at the same time as employer-provided paid leave.



The FMLA broadly defines a child to include a:

  • Biological, adopted or foster child,
  • Stepchild,
  • Legal ward, or
  • Child of a person standing in loco parentis, or in the role of a parent.  (See Fact Sheet 28B for more information on standing in loco parentis to a child.)

FMLA leave is available to parents for the care of a child with a serious health condition if the child is under 18 or, in some circumstances, if the child is 18 years or older. Employees may use FMLA leave to care for an adult child with a serious health condition who is incapable of self-care at the time the FMLA leave will start because of a mental or physical disability. The disability does not have to have begun or been diagnosed before the employee’s child turned 18. A disability may occur at any age for FMLA purposes.



Incapable of self-care means the employee’s adult child requires active assistance or supervision with three or more “activities of daily living” or “instrumental activities of daily living.”


Activities of daily living include, but are not limited to:

  • Grooming and hygiene,
  • Bathing,
  • Dressing, and
  • Eating.


Instrumental activities of daily living include, but are not limited to:

  • Cooking,
  • Cleaning,
  • Shopping,
  • Taking public transportation,
  • Paying bills,
  • Maintaining a home,
  • Using a phone, and
  • Using the post office.



The adult child’s need for assistance or supervision with activities of daily living must be because of a disability. The FMLA uses the definition of a disability provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA definition of disability is inclusive and provides broad coverage.  The definition includes mental or physical conditions that substantially limit one or more major life activities (such as standing, breathing, or communicating) or bodily functions (such as brain or immune system functioning).


Major life activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Caring for oneself,
  • Performing manual tasks,
  • Seeing,
  • Eating,
  • Standing,
  • Reaching,
  • Breathing,
  • Communicating,
  • Interacting with others, and
  • Major bodily functions (such as, brain or immune system functions or normal cell growth).


Conditions that occur on an occasional basis rather than continuously are included in the definition if the condition would substantially limit a major life activity when active. For example, cancer in remission or conditions with episodic periods of illness, such as multiple sclerosis, asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are considered disabilities even when the individual does not show symptoms of the condition on an ongoing basis.



An eligible employee may use FMLA leave to care for a child who is 18 years or older if the child has a serious health condition, the parent is needed to care for the child, and the child is incapable of self-care because of a disability at the time when the employee’s FMLA leave, due to the serious health condition, will start. A serious health condition is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. Although an adult child’s serious health condition need not be directly related to the adult child’s disability, the same condition may satisfy both the ADA definition of disability and the FMLA definition of serious health condition. However, the terms “disability” and “serious health condition” must be analyzed individually. See Fact Sheet #28P for more information about using FMLA leave for a family member’s serious health condition.


A parent may be needed to care for a child with a serious health condition, if, for example, their adult child is unable to care for their own basic medical, hygienic, or nutritional needs or safety, or is unable to transport themself to the doctor, because of the serious health condition. “Needed to care” also includes providing psychological comfort and reassurance that would be beneficial to an adult child with a serious health condition who is receiving inpatient or home care.



  • Angelique uses FMLA leave to provide psychological support for her 19-year-old daughter who is in hospice care in the terminal stages of cancer. Angelique’s daughter is incapable of self-care because of cancer, a disability, and she has a serious health condition.
  • Wesley uses FMLA leave to transport his 29-year-old son to physical therapy as he recovers from an accident. Wesley’s son does not live independently and is incapable of self-care because of a life-long developmental disability. He was injured in an accident and his injuries qualify as a serious health condition.
  • Isaac uses FMLA leave to stay home and help care for his stepson, 33-years-old, when his stepson has a severe depressive episode that makes him incapable of self-care. His stepson’s severe depression is a disability and qualifies as a serious health condition under the FMLA.

For more information about taking FMLA leave to care for a child who is 18 or older and incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability, see Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2013-1.


Documentation of a Family Relationship 

Employers may, but are not required to, request that employees provide reasonable documentation of a family relationship when they need to take FMLA leave to care for a family member. Employees may satisfy an employer’s request for documentation of a family relationship by providing a simple statement asserting that the required family relationship exists. It is the employee’s choice whether to provide a simple statement or other documentation.


An employer may require that an employee provide a medical certification for a family member’s serious health condition.

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