by | Aug 13, 2019

The DOL issued an opinion letter on August 8, 2019 stating that where a child has a serious health condition as defined under the FMLA and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) associated with that condition, a parent can utilize intermittent FMLA leave to attend IEP meetings addressing the educational and special medical needs of the child.  To do so, the parent has to qualify for FMLA and provide medical certification supporting the parent’s request to take leave for the care of the child.

The DOL determined that, under the circumstances described in the opinion request to the DOL, the parent’s attendance at her children’s IEP meetings was “essential to [her] ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care” to her children.  Furthermore, the DOL found attendance at the meetings was to help participants make medical decisions concerning the children’s medically-prescribed speech, physical, and occupational therapy; to discuss the children’s well-being and progress with the providers of such services; and to ensure that the child’s school environment is suitable to their medical, social, and academic needs.  Pursuant to the opinion letter, a child’s doctor need not attend IEP meetings for the time to qualify as FMLA leave.

Since IEP meetings are generally scheduled in advance, a parent should be able to notify an employer of the need for leave in advance, and scheduling generally may be done in a way that limits interruption to business operations.   A parent who has already submitted documentation of a child’s serious health condition may not know to ask for FMLA leave for an IEP.  Employers need to be aware that a request for leave to attend an IEP may be qualifying FMLA leave, and take steps accordingly including informing the employee of the availability of FMLA leave if the employee has not already requested it.

The DOL opinion letter does not address other types of school meetings focused on issues associated with a child’s serious health condition.  Employers should evaluate leave requests for school meetings involving the serious health condition of a child in light of this most recent opinion.

The DOL opinion letter is available here.  While opinion letters are informal guidance and are not legally binding, employers can look to them to determine whether they are following DOL’s position on certain wage and hour topics.

If you have questions about the letter, or need assistance with wage and hour requirements, please feel free to contact Torrey Gerdes, Chris Schmidt or Susan Foster.