By Laurie Nooren, SPHR, PHRca, SHRM-CP

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that eligible employees* are allowed time off from work to care for a child with a “serious health condition,” which includes both physical and psychological care as well as making arrangements for changes in their care. 

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued an opinion letter regarding an employee whose two children had qualifying serious health conditions that required speech, occupational and physical therapy.  The employee requested intermittent time off to attend Committee on Special Education (CSE) meetings.  A speech pathologist, school psychologist, various therapists (for the purposes listed above), teachers, and school administrators attend these meetings, to discuss the children’s Individual Education Programs (IEPs), including providing updates on the children’s progress and areas of concern, reviewing recommendations made by the children’s doctors, reviewing of any new test results, and making any recommendations for additional therapy.  

These IEPs are mandated for children who receive special education and related services at public schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The CSE meetings counted as “related” services.

Because the employee’s Company did not approve her requested intermittent FMLA leave to attend these meetings, the employee’s husband wrote a letter to the DOL, to get their opinion on the situation.  The DOL responded that the employee’s attendance at these meetings was “essential to [her] ability to provide appropriate physical and psychological care to [her] children.”

While this DOL opinion letter was specifically looking at CSE meetings, it also stated their analysis would apply to “any meetings held pursuant to the IDEA, and any applicable state or local law, regardless of the term used for such meetings.”

DOL letters do not have the full impact that the law does, but do give clear ideas of how they would react in similar situations.  You should ensure your staff is trained on how to handle requests like these, and not automatically assume employees are not eligible for FMLA protection for such meetings.  As always, please feel free to call one of our consultants or your attorney if you have such a situation arise, to discuss best practices.

*To be eligible for FMLA, you must have at least 12 months of service with the Company and must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period preceding the date the leave is to begin.  Additionally, you must work at a worksite where the Company employs at least 50 part-time or full-time employees within 75 miles of the worksite.