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IEP Meetings Covered Under FMLA

August 15, 2019 Leave a comment

By: Amanda Thibodeau

DOL Issues New Opinion Letter On the Intersection of IEP Meetings and the FMLA

AET Headshot Photo 2019 (M1344539xB1386)

Most employers and their human resources specialists are acquainted with the protections afforded to employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Quite often employers interact with the FMLA when an employee needs time off of work to recover from an extended illness or other medical issue, or to care for an employee’s family member.  A trap for the unwary, however, presents itself in a new Opinion Letter issued by the Department of Labor on August 8, 2019.

The Opinion Letter (FMLA2019-2-A) responds to an anonymous request from the parents of a school-aged child inquiring whether the FMLA protects the parents’ ability to take time off of work to attend their children’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings.  The DOL unequivocally reached the conclusion that parents’ attendance at such IEP meetings were covered by the protections of the FMLA.

In the facts presented to the DOL, the children had qualifying health conditions under the FMLA that were certified by the children’s doctors.  The children’s doctors had also provided documentation to the wife’s employer that the children required intermittent care that would require her to miss work on occasion.  The wife’s employer had previously granted the wife’s requests for leave under the FMLA to bring the children to medical appointments in accordance with these certifications; however, the employer refused to grant FMLA leave for the wife to attend the children’s IEP meetings with the school, which are held four times per year.

The DOL focused on several aspects of the FMLA including that the FMLA permitted leave “to care for” a family member with a serious health condition, including “to make arrangements for changes in care.” See 29 C.F.R. § 825.124(b).  In narrowing in on these clauses, the DOL also relied upon its previous opinion letter (FMLA94, 1998 WL 1147751 (Feb. 27, 1998)), which found an employee was entitled to take FMLA leave to attend “care conferences” related to her mother’s health conditions.  Similarly, the DOL found that wife’s attendance at the children’s IEP meetings was “clearly essential” to the children’s care and noted that the children’s doctors need not be present at these meetings to qualify for intermittent leave under the FMLA.

Employers or human resources specialists presented with similar situations should be mindful of this guidance when analyzing whether such leave requests qualify under the FMLA.  Proper training of managers is recommended, including on what types of school meetings are covered and which may not be, and what types of documentation the managers can request from the employee to support the leave request.

For more information, please contact Matthew Mitchell or Amanda Thibodeau.