In a recent Opinion Letter (below), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) concluded that a parent could use intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to attend meetings at her children’s school to discuss Individualized Education Programs (IEP) for her children. If your organization is covered by the FMLA, read on for a reminder that an employer’s obligation to provide intermittent FMLA leave to care for a covered family member with a serious health condition is not limited to granting time off to attend medical appointments.
An employee had two children with FMLA-qualifying serious health conditions. The children’s pediatrician prescribed occupational, speech, and physical therapy, which the school district provided. The children’s school developed an IEP for each child. Four times a year, the school scheduled meetings with the employee to discuss her children’s educational and medical needs, provide updates on progress and concerns, review and discuss the children’s doctor’s recommendations, and discuss recommendations for additional therapy. These meetings were attended by a speech pathologist, school psychologist, occupational therapist, and/or physical therapist employed by the school, as well as teachers and school administrators. The employer authorized the employee to use intermittent FMLA leave to bring her children to medical appointments but not to attend the meetings at the school.
FMLA-qualifying leave includes leave to care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition. An employer may have to provide intermittent FMLA leave to an eligible employee when such leave is medically necessary to care for a covered family member with a serious health condition. “Care” in this context includes both physical and psychological care and making arrangements to modify care.
The employee qualified for intermittent FMLA leave to attend meetings at the school to discuss her children’s IEPs. Her attendance was necessary for her to provide appropriate physical or psychological care for her children and to make arrangements to modify their care. Her participation facilitated discussions with various health care providers that led to decisions about her children’s medical care. Further, the discussions served to ensure that the employee’s children could attend school in an environment suitable to their medical, social, and academic needs.
The FMLA speaks in terms of leave to “care for” a covered family member with a serious health condition. “Care” includes both physical and psychological care and making arrangements to change the type of care. Employers should carefully consider information about the reason for leave when an employee requests time away from work to care for a covered family member with a serious health condition, perhaps comparing that information to any certification that the employer required in accordance with the FMLA. The employer may then determine whether the reason for leave is FMLA-qualifying, keeping in mind at all times that, in this context, “care” is more broad than “treatment.”
Of course, any process for requesting medical information and maintaining records of medical information should comply with all applicable laws, including but not necessarily limited to the FMLA, ADA, GINA, and HIPAA.
(This post is not legal advice. Consider consulting with a lawyer about specific situations.)