Last week, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued an Opinion Letter affirming the right of parents to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to attend meetings about their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or any other meeting pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The FMLA gives eligible workers the ability to take up to twelve weeks of job-protected leave per year to care for a parent, child, or spouse who has a serious health condition (among other qualifying reasons for taking leave). The FMLA has a broad definition of child, which includes biological, adopted, or foster children, stepchildren, and legal wards who are under age 18, or if older than age 18, incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability. Employees may also use FMLA leave to care for children for whom they are standing in loco parentis (in the place of a parent).
A parent of two children with disabilities contacted the DOL for clarification about the law after his wife’s employer told her she could use FMLA leave to take their children to medical appointments, but not to attend appointments related to their IEPs.
All children who attend a public school and receive special education and related services must have an IEP. According to the Department of Education, the IEP is “the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability,” and creating an effective IEP “[w]ithout a doubt…requires teamwork” among parents, teachers, other school staff, and often the student. Therefore, the ability of parents to attend meetings related to their child’s IEP is critical to ensuring that the IEP is best serving their child. However, many working parents struggle to attend these meetings because they often occur during work hours.
The DOL’s Opinion Letter, issued in response to the parent’s inquiry, affirms that attending these meetings is a crucial part of caring for a child with a disability and is therefore a permissible reason to take FMLA.
We applaud the DOL for this important step in protecting the rights of parents to care for children with disabilities. We will continue to fight for the ability of all working parents and caregivers to have the flexibility they need to care for their families. Forty percent of workers are not covered by the FMLA and still more are covered but unable to take advantage of its protections because the leave provided is unpaid. We are working both federally and state-by-state to enact legislation to provide paid leave to workers across the country.