DOL: An employee may take FMLA leave to discuss a child’s special education needs at school.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor issued this opinion letter in which the DOL concluded that the FMLA covers a parent’s attendance at his/her child’s individualized education program (IEP) at school. Ultimately, this amounts to caring for a family member with a serious health condition, which the FMLA affords for ‘eligible employees.’

An eligible employee is one who: (a) has worked 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of leave; (b) works at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles; and (c) has worked for the company for 12 months.

Is this big news? That depends.

This won’t move the needle too much for companies that operate in states like New Jersey that already have expansive paid sick leave laws. In New Jersey, for example, an employee can take paid sick leave to attend a child’s school-related conference.

But, if you operate in a less progressive state (i.e., pretty much anywhere else), the ruling does provide your FMLA-eligible employees with another layer of job protection to take intermittent leave under the FMLA.

Of course, the same FMLA intermittent-leave rules apply here.

The son or daughter must have a serious health condition. Plus, if the leave is foreseeable, you can insist on 30 days’ advance notice. Either way, the employee must submit a completed medical certification.

So, HR, when someone comes in requesting FMLA leave for a school-related matter, whip out your laminated FMLA checklist and treat that request to care for a child who has a serious health condition as you would any other similar request.

Just make sure that the leave actually relates to the care of a child (i.e., the IEP meeting).

As opposed to, I dunno, picking the kid up after detention. Here are some of the hallmarks of FMLA leave in this situation:

  • The employee is attending the meeting at school to help participants make medical decisions concerning the child’s medically-prescribed therapy;
  • The employee will discuss the child’s wellbeing and progress with the providers of such services; and
  • The employee is ensuring that the child’s school environment is suitable to his/her medical, social, and academic needs.

Note: The child’s doctor does not need to be present at the IEP meeting for it to qualify as FMLA leave.

Finally, please educate your front-line managers so that they understand that an employee’s request to attend an IEP meeting at a son or daughter’s school is the same as asking for FMLA leave.

Not that your managers would ever mess something up relating to FMLA leave.


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