New School Year, New FMLA Opinion Helps Parents Of Students On IEPs

Agency Spotlights School Visit Entitlement

With Illinois employers’ current focus on all the new employment laws coming into effect in 2019-20, which we’ve summarized here, it could be easy for an HR practitioner to lose sight of existing laws and their new applications in our ever-changing world.

On August 8, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor served up a useful reminder of how one such law — the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) — applies in one possibly-overlooked way relevant to the modern worker.

In an FMLA opinion letter addressed to an anonymous inquiry, the DOL said that the wife of the inquirer can take intermittent leave from her job under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to attend meetings related to their children’s individualized education programs (IEPs). IEPs are plans for education and other services that are created for student with special needs and are mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The opinion letter’s author, DOL Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton, explained that the children at issue have “serious health conditions” as defined under the FMLA and that the FMLA and its regulations allow parents leave to “make arrangements for changes in care” for children with such conditions without regard to whether the care involves medical facilities.

Stanton writes, “It appears your wife’s attendance at IEP meetings is ‘essential to [her] ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care’ to your children … Your child’s doctor need not be present at [IEP] meetings in order for your spouse’s leave to qualify for intermittent FMLA leave.” Stanton notes that FMLA would cover meetings to “ensure that a child’s school environment is suitable to their medical, social and academic needs.”

This letter will likely raise awareness among parents whose children have IEPs that they can request FMLA to cover work absences for these meetings. It might also lead workers to try to use FMLA in other school-related scenarios that aren’t as clearly tied to arrangements for care for children’s health conditions.

For these reasons, as well as in light of other new sick leave and predictive scheduling laws, which we’ve written about here and here , employers should refresh their leave policies as part of their 2019 HR law compliance plan.

The opinion letter can be read in its entirety here.


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Gary Savine is an Illinois employment lawyer and founder of Savine Employment Law, Ltd. in Chicago. Gary regularly advises human resources professionals on recently enacted employment laws.