Do IEP Meetings Count? Yes, Attendance at IEP Meetings is Qualifying Reason for FMLA Leave
In an August 2019 opinion letter, the U.S. Department of Labor ("DOL") clarified whether attending a meeting to discuss the Individualized Education Program ("IEP") of an employee’s child is a qualifying reason for the employee to take intermittent Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") leave. The couple requesting the opinion stated the wife was approved by her employer to take FMLA leave intermittently to care for the couple’s two children, both of whom have qualifying serious health conditions under the FMLA. The wife’s employer had approved her request for intermittent FMLA leave to take the children to medical appointments, but had not approved her request to attend IEP meetings, which are held four times per year. IEPs are required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), a law that ensures students with a disability and are attending a public school receive appropriate education tailored to their individual needs. These IEP meetings allow the parents of a child who requires special education to provide input as to the needs of the child so the education is properly tailored. IEP meetings give parents the necessary opportunity to provide physical and psychological care to their children, and the decisions made at such meetings assist other participants in appropriately caring for the child.
In responding to the request, the DOL considered that the FMLA allows an eligible employee to take 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid FMLA leave per year to care for a spouse, child or parent. Under the FMLA’s regulations, qualifying care includes not just physical care, but psychological care, as well as “mak[ing] arrangements for changes in care.” The DOL referred to a previous 1998 opinion letter, where it found the FMLA applicable to an employee’s request for time off to attend “Care Conferences” for her mother’s serious health condition, as these conferences assisted in “the employee’s ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care” to her mother. Furthermore, the DOL cited several cases, including one where a parent’s intermittent FMLA leave was approved so she could arrange for a change in necessary daycare providers for her child with autism. Accordingly, the DOL found that attendance at meetings to discuss a child’s IEP, which addresses both the medical and educational needs of the child, is a qualifying reason for intermittent FMLA leave.
The person requesting this opinion letter refers to these meetings as Committee on Special Education, or CSE meetings, but in a footnote the DOL broadens the application of the opinion to any meetings held pursuant to the IDEA, and even further applies it to any applicable state or local law, even if the term used for such meetings is different.
As a takeaway, employers need to be aware that any meeting that actually arranges for – or makes changes to – a plan of care for an employee’s child relating to an FMLA-covered health condition should be approved as part of the employee’s intermittent FMLA leave. Front line HR managers should be careful not to dismiss these requests “out of hand.” This does not, however, include meetings merely for disciplinary measures or other general school meetings - the meeting must relate to the child’s IEP or individualized care plan. Consequently, as part of the employer standard policies and procedures for reviewing and approving requests for intermittent FMLA leave, one should pay close attention to the purpose of the meeting.
If you have any questions, please contact our Labor & Employment team