Parents May Be Eligible for FMLA Leave from Their Employer to Attend Their Child’s IEP Meeting

The United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division issued an opinion letter on August 8, 2019 clarifying that a parent can be eligible for intermittent Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to attend a child’s IEP meeting.

The FMLA provides that an eligible employee may use FMLA leave intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule when medically necessary because of a family member’s serious health condition. See 29 U.S.C. § 2612(b)(1); 29 C.F.R. § 825.202.  A “serious health condition” is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider.  29 U.S.C. § 2611(11).  Care for a family member includes “both physical and psychological care” and “mak[ing] arrangements for changes in care ….” 29 C.F.R. § 825.124(a)–(b).

In this case, a parent requested FMLA leave to attend IEP meetings for her children.  Although her employer had approved intermittent FMLA leave to take her children to medical appointments, the employer denied the request for intermittent FMLA leave to attend the IEP meetings.

The IEP meetings occurred four times a year to review the “children’s progress and areas of concern; review recommendations made by [the] children’s doctors; review any new test results; and . . make recommendations for additional therapy.”  The children received pediatrician-prescribed occupational, speech, and physical therapy provided by the school district, and a speech pathologist, school psychologist, and a occupational and/or physical therapist participated in the IEP meetings along with teachers and administrators.

The DOL Wage and Hour Division concluded that, under these facts, the parent’s need to attend the IEP meetings addressing the educational and special medical needs of the children was a qualifying reason for taking intermittent FMLA leave.

The Department reasoned that the parent’s attendance at the IEP meetings constituted “care for a family member … with a serious health condition,” and that “to care for” a family member with a serious health condition includes “to make arrangements for changes in care.”  Specifically, the parent “attend[ed] these meetings to help participants make medical decisions concerning [the] children’s medically-prescribed speech, physical, and occupational therapy; to discuss [the] children’s wellbeing and progress with the providers of such services; and to ensure that [the] children’s school environment is suitable to their medical, social, and academic needs.”

The Department concluded that the children’s doctors need not be present at the IEP meetings for the parent’s absence from work to qualify for intermittent FMLA leave.

The Department’s opinion is limited to these specific facts, and it is possible it would have reached a different outcome under different circumstances.  However, this new opinion is an important new resource for parents who face challenges leaving work to attend and participate in their child’s IEP meetings.

Contact Bennett Rodick or Michelle Todd for questions regarding IEP meetings, and contact Cindi DeCola or Barbara Erickson for questions about the FMLA.

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