If an employee asks for time off to attend a meeting at his or her child’s school, is that covered by FMLA? Maybe not but it depends on the nature of the meeting. If the child is disabled and the school meeting is for the child’s IEP, according to a recent opinion letter from the Department of Labor (DOL), it may be covered FMLA leave.

What is an IEP?

An IEP is an Individualized Education Program for a child in school who may need assistance because of a disability that affects his or her education. Federal law requires schools to develop an IEP for every student that meets the federal and state requirements for special education. As part of the process of establishing an IEP, school personnel meet with the parents (and sometimes the student, depending on age) to design the plan and talk about how it will work.

Why Should a Parent/Teacher Meeting Be Covered by the FMLA?

The DOL was approached by a parent who had two children with qualifying serious health conditions under the FMLA. The mother applied, and her employer approved intermittent FMLA leave for her to care for her children and take them to medical appointments. However, the employer had denied leave for the IEP meetings at the school that occurred four times a year. The mother argued that the children received pediatrician-prescribed occupational, speech, and physical therapy provided by the school district, and the IEP meetings involved speech pathologists, psychologists and therapists, as well as teachers and school administrators, to talk about these services and the children’s progress and areas of concern. The mother wanted to know if intermittent FMLA leave could cover the meetings.

The DOL opinion letter discussed the right of a parent to take intermittent or reduced FMLA leave when it was medically necessary because of a family member’s serious health condition. The DOL flatly said that the mother’s need to attend the IEP meetings addressing the educational and special medical needs of her children, who have serious health conditions as certified by a healthcare provider, is a qualifying condition for taking the FMLA leave. The opinion notes that the FMLA covers taking leave for making medical decisions on behalf of a hospitalized parent or to make arrangements for finding suitable childcare for a child with a disability. The DOL also cited Wage and Hour Division policy providing that FMLA covers care conferences where the employee’s attendance at the conference is “clearly essential to the employee’s ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care to a qualifying family member.”

How Does This Affect Us?

This decision shows that situations may arise around the edges of what we consider “typical” FMLA leave—especially when it deals with leave taken to care for another individual. The important facts in this scenario appear to be:

  • The children had a qualifying serious health condition that was documented by a healthcare provider. The mother was already taking intermittent leave related to these children.
  • The IEP meetings were directly related to that medical condition. According to the opinion letter, the occupational, speech, and physical therapy were prescribed by a doctor, provided by the school, and discussed at the IEP meeting.

While it is wise to be ever-vigilant when monitoring possible abuses of FMLA, if the request relates to the care of someone with a previously documented serious health condition, it may be best to err on the side of granting the leave.