Employees May Use FMLA Intermittent Leave to Attend Children's IEP Meetings, DOL Says

Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 13, 2019

Employees may take intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to attend special education meetings to discuss their children's Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), according to a new opinion letter from the US Department of Labor (DOL).

The FMLA entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave to care for family members with a serious health condition, among other reasons.

The opinion letter involved an employee with two children who have qualifying serious health conditions that were certified by their doctors. Her employer approved her request to take intermittent FMLA leave to bring the children to medical appointments but not to attend IEP meetings. However, the employee pointed out that her children receive pediatrician-prescribed occupational, speech, and physical therapy provided by the school district, and those therapists also attended the IEP meetings to discuss the children's progress and make recommendations for additional therapy.

Federal special education law requires public schools to develop an IEP for any child who receives special education and related services with input from the child and the child's parents, teachers, school administrators, and related services personnel.

According to the DOL, attending IEP meetings was a qualifying reason for taking intermittent FMLA leave. Under federal regulations, to care for a family member with a serious health condition includes "to make arrangements for changes in care." The DOL noted that its opinion applies to any similar meetings under applicable state or local laws, as well as under federal law.

The DOL said it appears that the employee's attendance at IEP meetings is essential to her ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care to her children.

DOL opinion letters do not carry the weight of the law, and courts need not defer to them. However, an employer that has an identical fact pattern may limit its liability if it follows a DOL opinion letter in good faith.