On August 8, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) released an Opinion Letter clarifying that parents of students with special education needs may take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to attend a meeting related to addressing those needs. Importantly, the DOL stated that its analysis and conclusion apply to “any meetings held pursuant to the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], and any applicable state or local law, regardless of the term used for such meetings.”

The individual who requested the opinion letter stated that their two children had serious health conditions under the FMLA, and that their children each had Individualized Education Programs (IEP), which are created pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  IDEA requires public schools to develop an IEP for a child who receives special education and related services with input from the child’s parents, teachers, school administrators, and related services personnel.  Such “related services” include services such as audiology services, medical services, physical therapy, psychological services, speech-language pathology services, and rehabilitation counseling services, among others.

The requestor’s children were receiving physician-prescribed support services, such as occupational, speech, and physical therapy.  Four times a year, the school held meetings to review the children’s educational and medical needs, well-being, and progress.  The meeting participants provided updates regarding progress, areas of concerns, reviewed new test results, and recommended additional services.

In determining that the requestor may take intermittent FMLA leave for the meetings, the DOL noted the following:

  • The meetings were to care for a family member with a serious health condition;
  • Caring for a family member with a serious health condition includes making arrangements for changes in care; and
  • An employee may make arrangements for changes in care, even if the care is not provided by a facility that provides medical treatment.

FMLA-covered employers must take note of this broadly worded Opinion Letter and provide appropriate leave for employees to attend meetings related to care for children with special education needs.  In providing intermittent leave, covered employers should be mindful of the regulations related to calculating intermittent leave for exempt and non-exempt employees.  Ensure that managers and supervisors initially fielding leave requests understand that a request to attend an IEP meeting, or other meeting covered by the IDEA, is the same as asking for FMLA leave. Contact your Saul Ewing attorney with questions regarding FMLA compliance.