On August 8, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued an opinion letter stating a particular parent's circumstances qualified her to take time off using the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to attend special education meetings. Although the letter addresses the concern's of a specific family, the principles in the letter have a broad application.
The Case in the Letter
The family has two children with qualifying health conditions. Their mother had notified her employer that the children's physician had certified her need to take intermittent FMLA to care for her children. The mother's employer allowed her to use FMLA to take her children to medical appointments. However, the employer denied her request to use FMLA to attend her children's Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, a type of special education meeting.
The children receive doctor-prescribed occupation, speech, and physical therapy through school. The therapists who provide the children's services participate in these IEP meetings to discuss progress and potential changes to the children's care. According to the DOL, the mother's request qualified for FMLA leave because her participation in the IEP meetings was required to provide "physical or psychological care" and to "make arrangements for care".
The Impact for Employers and Other Families
Although the DOL did not state parents may use FMLA for all special education meetings, employers can expect an increase in requests to use FMLA to participate in special education meetings. The standard that a parent's participation must be necessary to provide "physical or psychological care" and to "make arrangements for care" is going to apply to many families. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 9.4 million American children have special healthcare needs. Many of their parents are aware of this DOL opinion since it has been announced on online channels that are designed for families with special needs children like Wrightslaw.
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