The United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) has issued an opinion letter advising that eligible employees may take intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave to attend Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) meetings addressing the educational and special medical needs of their children. The opinion letter, which constitutes formal guidance on the interpretation of the FMLA, expands the use of FMLA leave.
The DOL’s opinion letter was issued in response to an inquiry from a concerned parent indicating that the employer had not approved a request to take intermittent FMLA leave to attend scheduled IEP meetings. The parent’s letter indicated that the parent’s two children have qualifying serious health conditions under the FMLA, and receive pediatrician-prescribed occupational, speech and physical therapy provided by the school district. The parent also indicated that the school holds IEP meetings four times a year to review the children’s educational and medical needs, well-being and progress. The Federal Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act of 2004 requires public schools to develop an IEP for every student with a disability who meets the federal and state requirements for special education.
The FMLA permits an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year to care for an immediate family member of the employee who has a serious health condition. Care for a family member includes physical and psychological care as well as making arrangements for that care.
Takeaways for employers
Because the FMLA definition of “care” includes making arrangements for care, the DOL’s letter advises that an employee’s attendance at an IEP meeting constitutes making arrangements for the child’s care and is a qualifying reason to take intermittent FMLA leave. While the employee’s child must have a serious health condition certified by a health care provider, the health care provider does not need to be present at an IEP meeting for the meeting to qualify for FMLA leave.
It is important for employers to keep in mind that an employee is permitted to take FMLA leave intermittently to attend IEP meetings. Therefore, employers should inform managers that IEP meetings qualify for FMLA leave so this type of leave is not denied. However, because the opinion letter specifically responds to a question involving scheduled IEP meetings, it does not address questions involving unexpected meetings.
Generally, FMLA regulations require employees to make reasonable efforts to schedule intermittent leave in order to avoid undue disruption of the employer’s operations.