Parents recently received a thumbs up from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to use intermittent FMLA leave to attend individualized education program (IEP) meetings related to a child with a serious health condition. Issued on August 8, 2019, the DOL’s new opinion letter states that attending IEP meetings falls within the FMLA-qualifying reason of care of a family member with a serious health condition.
Why do IEP Meetings Qualify for FMLA Leave?
According to the FMLA regulations, care of a family member includes “both physical and psychological care,” which covers making arrangements for changes in care. In offering its opinion letter, the DOL pointed to numerous court decisions in which changes in a family member’s care formed the basis for FMLA leave. For example, courts have deemed FMLA applicable for leave to help make medical decisions on behalf of a hospitalized parent, to find suitable childcare for a disabled child, to join other family members in deciding whether to keep a parent on life support, and to find daycare for a child with an autism disorder and visual impairment.
The parent who requested the DOL’s opinion on whether IEP meetings qualify for FMLA leave specified that his two children receive “pediatrician-prescribed occupational, speech, and physical therapy provided by their school district, and that four times a year their school holds CSE/IEP meetings to review their educational and medical needs, well-being, and progress.” At the meetings, a speech pathologist, school psychologist, occupational/physical therapist, teachers, and school administrators review recommendations made by the children’s healthcare providers, discuss the children’s progress, review new test results, and may recommend additional therapy. The DOL concluded that the parents needed to attend the IEP meetings in order to provide appropriate physical or psychological care to their children, which meets the definition of care of a family member under the FMLA.
What Educational Meetings Are Covered?
The DOL relied on the parent’s description of specific IEP meetings under the Committee on Special Education. But in a footnote, the DOL stated that its conclusion applies to any meetings held pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires public schools to develop an IEP for children who receive special education services.
Medical Certification Still Applies
In order for a parent to take FMLA leave for this reason, the remaining FMLA requirements apply. The child must have a serious health condition, as defined by the FMLA, and that condition must be certified by the child’s health care provider. In addition, employers may require that the parent provide medical certification stating that the parent is needed to care for the family member and that it may be medically necessary for such leave to be taken intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule. It is not necessary, however, for the child’s healthcare provider to attend the actual IEP meetings.
If a parent requests time off to attend an educational meeting for a special-needs child, recognize that the request may be covered by the FMLA. Normal FMLA procedures should be followed, including checking FMLA eligibility, providing the rights-and-responsibilities notice, and requesting medical certification of the child’s serious health condition and the need for the employee to provide care for the child. If supported, the parent may use intermittent FMLA leave for the care of a family member to attend those educational meetings, and the employer must designate the time off as FMLA leave.