Employers know that eligible employees are entitled to use intermittent FMLA leave to take their children with serious medical conditions to doctor, therapy and other appointments. Employees are eligible when they meet requirements for FMLA and provide appropriate health care certifications documenting the qualifying medical conditions of their child or children. Last week, the Department of Labor issued an opinion letter expanding FMLA protections to include some school meetings if the parent already qualifies for FMLA leave based on their child’s medical condition.
Under FMLA, an eligible employee of a covered employer may take up to twelve weeks of job-protected, unpaid FMLA leave per year “to care for the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent, of the employee, if such spouse, son, daughter, or parent has a serious health condition.” Care for a family member includes “both physical and psychological care” and “mak[ing] arrangements for changes in care...”
In further defining what is care of a family member, the DOL stated last week that attendance at school CSE/IEP (Committee on Special Education/Individualized Educational Plan) meetings are “care for a family member ... with a serious health condition.” The DOL noted, “to care for” a family member with a serious health condition includes “to make arrangements for changes in care.” The DOL recognized previous court findings that the FMLA covered such circumstances as taking leave to make arrangements to find suitable childcare for a child with a disability and to find a daycare to care for a daughter with an autism spectrum disorder and a visual impairment. Courts noted in those cases that the FMLA “speaks in terms of ‘care,’ not ‘treatment”.
Often the development of an IEP requires several meetings between the school, student and parents, which identify and develop special educational needs and services for students with medical or learning conditions which require specialized services. After that, schools generally hold IEP meetings with parents at least annually.
Employers who are covered by the FMLA should note that parents who submit or have submitted health care certifications for FMLA intermittent leave to care for their children with serious medical conditions are eligible to FMLA protected time off to attend school meetings to address specialized services for those children.