By Katie Clarey
An employee may use Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to attend a Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting regarding the educational status of the employee’s child, the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) said in an opinion letter released Thursday.
The individual who wrote WHD has two children with FMLA-qualifying serious health conditions, WHD said. The individual’s wife has certification from her employer enabling her to use intermittent leave to care for the children and, specifically, to take them to medical appointments. Her employer has not approved her to use FMLA leave to attend the CSE meetings, the individual told WHD. Because her attending these meetings qualifies as “‘care for a family member … with a serious health condition,'” this is a qualifying reason for intermittent FMLA leave, WHD said.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) obligates public schools to create an Individualized Education Program for any child “who receives special education and related services with input from the child and the child’s parents, teachers, school administrators, and related services personnel.” The conclusion of this letter applies to any meetings “held pursuant to the IDEA, and any applicable state or local law,” not just Committee on Special Education meetings, WHD said.
There’s one big takeaway from this letter for employers, according to Fisher Phillips Partner Myra Creighton: Don’t view the “to care for” component of the FMLA too narrowly. In this specific circumstance, a mother needed to attend a meeting to fully comprehend and give input regarding her children’s situation at school. Similar cases may arise; WHD even referenced a previous opinion letter in which it approved a worker’s request to use FMLA leave to attend a caregiving conference because her attendance was “essential to the employee’s ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care” to her mother.

This doesn’t mean employers should approve FMLA leave for any request related to family care. Employers must strike a balance. “You need to be somewhat judicious with this kind of thing,” Creighton said. “My view is don’t have a knee-jerk response. Think through what the employee is asking you, what they are telling you they need to miss scheduled work time to do.”

Going forward, employers will want to train managers and supervisors to recognize these types of requests and involve the HR department. “If I’m the manager, I’ve got 50 million things that have to do with the business,” Creighton said. “Human resources? This is what they do.”

DOL’s latest round of opinion letters included this and two others, both focused on the Fair Labor Standards Act. Opinion letters are fact-specific, in that their scope is limited to the specific issues they address, but they can serve as a complete affirmative defense in litigation.