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On August 8, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued an opinion letter confirming that a parent is entitled to time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to attend a meeting at school to discuss his or her child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The facts under consideration in the opinion letter assumed that the employee’s child had a qualifying serious health condition under the FMLA. The child’s doctor had completed a certification supporting the employee’s need to take intermittent leave to care for the child. The child received pediatrician-prescribed occupational, speech, and physical therapy provided by the school district. A speech pathologist, school psychologist, occupational therapist, and physical therapist participated in the meetings and provided updates regarding the child’s progress and areas of concern. The team reviewed recommendations from the child’s doctors and made recommendations for additional therapy.

The DOL found that this meeting met the definition under the FMLA regulations for “care for . . . a son or daughter . . . .” The definition includes “mak[ing] arrangements for changes in care.”  29 C.F.R. § 825.124. The DOL also found that the IEP meetings were “essential to [the employee’s] ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care” for her child, and therefore covered by the FMLA.

The opinion letter does not appear to be a significant departure from the FMLA regulations because the child received medical services at school, such as speech, physical, and occupational therapy. The opinion letter nonetheless may trigger an increase in FMLA leave requests in connection with other types of school meetings that are tied less clearly to a child’s medical needs. Even in the context of an IEP meeting, a child may not be receiving medical services through the school district.

Key Considerations

  • The opinion letter does not create a broad right for all parents to take protected time off under the FMLA for school appointments. The child must have a serious health condition, and the employer may require certification from a healthcare provider to confirm the need of the parent to take intermittent leave to care for the child.
  • On its face, the opinion letter does not apply to all school-related meetings, even if the child has a serious health condition.
  • Employees taking FMLA leave for a foreseeable event, such as an IEP meeting, are required to provide notice to their employers 30 days in advance, or as soon as reasonably practicable.
  • Employees using intermittent FMLA for planned medical treatment also must make reasonable efforts to schedule the treatment so as not to disrupt unduly their employers’ operations.
  • Employers that receive requests for FMLA leave in connection with school meetings may want to consider them on a case-by-case basis—including considering whether the purpose of the meeting involves addressing the child’s serious health condition—to determine whether the FMLA applies to the particular circumstances at issue.

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Leaves of Absence/Reasonable Accommodation

Managing leaves and reasonably accommodating employees can be complex, frustrating, and expose employers to legal peril. Employers must navigate a bewildering array of state and federal statutes, with seemingly contradictory mandates.

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