Attending Children's Special Education Meetings Covered by FMLA

The U.S. Department of Labor ("DOL") has released Opinion Letter FMLA 2019-2-A confirming that an employee may take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA") to attend special education meetings called "Individualized Education Programs" ("IEPs") for children with serious health conditions.

Background. A mother received certification from her children's doctors supporting her need to take periodic leave to care for her two children with qualifying serious health conditions as defined by the FMLA. While the mother applied and her employer approved intermittent FMLA leave for her to bring the children to medical appointments, the employer denied her request to use FMLA time to attend IEP meetings for the children.

The children received prescribed occupational, speech and physical therapy provided by the school district, and the IEP meetings involved the caregivers discussing these services along with the children's progress and areas of concern. The mother's attendance at the IEP meetings helped the caregivers: (i) make medical decisions concerning her children's medically-prescribed speech, physical and occupational therapy; (ii) discuss her children's well being and progress; and (iii) ensure her children's school environment was suitable for their medical, social and academic needs. After the employer's denial of her request to use intermittent FMLA leave to attend these IEP meetings, the mother contacted DOL to ask it to confirm whether FMLA leave could cover the meetings.

DOL Opinion. In Opinion Letter FMLA 2019-2-A, the DOL confirmed the right of a parent to take intermittent FMLA leave when it was medically necessary as a result of a family member's serious health condition. In the instant case, the DOL observed that the mother's need to attend the IEP meetings addressing the educational and special medical needs of her children, who have serious health conditions as certified by a healthcare provider, is a qualifying reason for taking intermittent FMLA leave.

The DOL explained that the FMLA covers taking leave to make medical decisions on behalf of a hospitalized parent or to make arrangements for finding suitable childcare for a child with disability. Additionally, the DOL cited its policy providing that FMLA covers care conferences where the employee's attendance at the conference is "clearly essential to the employee's ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care" to a qualifying family member.