Parents Can Use FMLA Leave To Attend IEP Meetings, Labor Department Says In Opinion LetterC. Dixon
A parent should be able to leave work to attend IEP meetings for their children, states an opinion letter from the U.S. Department of Labor. Responding to a particular case, the department said that this type of situation falls under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, if it’s significant to a parent providing care for their child.
Any opinion letters from the Labor Department are pointed at specific circumstances and aren’t to be taken as a panacea for every situation. They come about after correspondence between the Labor Department and individuals who reach out to them.
Still, the opinion letter is significant, and it points to previous precedent and current laws to support its findings, which may be helpful to other families facing a similar situation. It also underscores the importance of parental involvement in a student’s education plan.
What Is FMLA
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of family or medical issues without risking losing their job or their health benefits. Situations that typically fall under this category include the birth, fostering, or adoption of a child, serious health issues that prohibit the employee from working, and caring for an immediate family member.
Serious health conditions included in the FMLA are illness, injury, impairment, and a physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider. Both physical and psychological care are covered as well as making arrangements for any changes in care.
This leave may be used intermittently rather than all at once.
A concerned father requested an opinion from the department after his wife got pushback from her workplace for wanting to use intermittent FMLA to attend their two children’s IEP meetings.
Her employer approved that she take FMLA leave intermittently to take her kids to various medical appointments, as both her children have serious, qualifying health conditions. Yet they denied her request to use FMLA to attend IEP meetings and other special education meetings.
The father thought that his wife’s employer should allow her to take FMLA to attend these meetings because of their nature. The meetings involve various people who are involved with the child’s needs at school, including a speech pathologist, school psychologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, teachers, and school administrators. They only happen four times a year, and their purpose is to review a child’s progress and ensure their needs are being met. If a child has any new test results or their doctor has any recommendations, these are also reviewed.
The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division sided with the family on this one, determining that the mother did indeed have a valid reason for using FMLA leave.
“It appears that your wife’s attendance at IEP meetings is ‘essential to [her] ability to
provide appropriate physical or psychological care’ to your children,” the opinion letter stated. “Your wife attends these meetings to help participants make medical decisions concerning your children’s medically-prescribed speech, physical, and occupational therapy; to discuss your children’s wellbeing and progress with the providers of such services; and to ensure that your children’s school environment is suitable to their medical, social, and academic needs.”
In addition, the letter stated, “Your child’s doctor need not be present at CSE/IEP meetings in order for your spouse’s leave to qualify for intermittent FMLA leave.”