IEP meeting attendance is appropriate use of FMLA leave, says DOL | Katz Melinger PLLC
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IEP meeting attendance is appropriate use of FMLA leave, says DOL

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A recent study shows a significant increase in developmental disabilities in children. The study, published in the medical journal, Pediatrics, has revealed substantial increases in the prevalence of disorders, such as autism, ADHD and intellectual disability, in U.S. children aged 3 to 17.

Since federal and state laws require that public schools provide appropriate educational services to children with disabilities, it should not be unusual for their parents to request time off work to attend Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings. According to a recent opinion letter from the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), an employee eligible for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, may use unpaid FMLA leave for IEP meeting attendance.

FMLA leave allows eligible employees to take protected leave to care for close family members with serious health conditions while retaining the right to return to their jobs. FMLA allows eligible employees to take this leave on consecutive days or intermittently.

What is an IEP meeting?

An IEP is a document laying out the needs of a child with a disability and outlining a plan at the child's school to meet those needs. IEP meetings bring together parents or guardians and an educational team that might include special education directors, principals, teachers, therapists, psychologists, school nurses, and/or assessors. They are extremely important planning meetings that can make or break a child's ability to receive appropriate educational and related services for the school year.

It is crucial for parents to attend these IEP meetings as they are usually the ones who know the child's history best, and are likely in the best position to understand the child's specific needs. In addition, a parent must sign off on an IEP and will need the IEP meeting to hear professional recommendations, ask questions, communicate needs and make suggestions.

The opinion letter

The DOL opinion letter responds to a particular inquiry but provides general guidance on how the agency is likely to interpret the law as it applies to similar situations. The August 2019 letter concluded that a mother's attendance at IEP meetings was a "qualifying reason for taking intermittent FMLA leave" because she was providing "care for a family member ... with a serious health condition." The WHD noted that leave can be appropriate even if it does not involve meeting with a doctor or if the meeting is not held in a medical facility.

The agency made note of the fact that it had previously held that attending "care conferences" for an ill mother was also appropriate for FMLA leave because the meeting was "essential" to the employee's "ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care."

The WHD explained that IEP meetings are crucial for parents to attend because, at these meeting, decisions are made concerning a child's "medically-prescribed speech, physical and occupational therapy." Furthermore, attendance is crucial for parents to discuss the child's "well-being and progress" and for parents to ensure that the school will be meeting the child's "medical, social, and academic needs."

FMLA leave is highly regulated and the applicable law is complex. Any New York employer or employee with questions should seek the counsel of an experienced employment lawyer.

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