The U.S. Department of Labor/Wage and Hour Division has continued its practice of issuing opinion letters. It recently issued an opinion letter that addresses the question of whether an employee may take FMLA leave to attend a Committee on Special Education (“CSE”) meeting to discuss a child’s Individualized Education Program (“IEP”). See DOL Opinion Letter FMLA2019-2-A.
This issue arose when an employer denied an employee leave to attend CSE/IEP meetings addressing the educational and special medical needs of her children who had serious health conditions certified as such by a health care provider. In this opinion letter, the DOL/WHD determined that the employee’s attendance at CSE/IEP meetings that address the educational and special needs of the employee’s child does qualify for intermittent FMLA leave. The DOL/WHD noted that the children must have a serious health condition as certified by a health care provider for the employee to qualify. The DOL/WHD stated that the analysis and conclusion of the opinion letter applied to any meetings held under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as any applicable state or local law, regardless of which term is used to describe the meeting.
The opinion letter found that the employee’s attendance at the IEP meetings were “essential to [her] ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care” to her children. The DOL/WHD noted that attendance at IEP meetings:
- Assisted the employee in making medical decisions about the child’s on-going care, including, speech, physical and occupation therapy;
- Allowed the employee to discuss progress with the providers of those services; and,
- Ensured that educational environment is conducive to the child’s medical social and academic needs.
The letter concluded by stating that the child’s doctor need not be present at the meetings in order for the employee’s leave to qualify for intermittent FMLA leave.
Human resource professionals and supervisors should be advised of the opinion and potential ramifications, including the potential implications for meetings other than formal IEP meetings convened under the IDEA. While the conclusions reached in DOL opinion letters are not necessarily legally binding, an opinion letter does provide persuasive guidance on how the agency views the treatment of FMLA leave in a particular situation.