The FMLA Protects Parents with Children Covered by IDEA

A recent Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Opinion Letter (FMLA2019-2-A) explained that if a parent has a child who has a special education plan, that parent should have job-protected leave when attending any conference concerning the special education plan. It is helpful to understand how the FMLA works in conjunction with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and how this might be different from other plans for children with disabilities.

Certain children in public schools receive additional medical support under IDEA. This law requires public schools to develop an IEP for a son or daughter who receives special education and related services with input from the child and the child’s parents, teachers, school administrators, and related services personnel. Under the IDEA, “related services” include such services as audiology services, counseling services, medical services, physical therapy, psychological services, speech-language pathology services, and rehabilitation-counseling services, among others.

This is much more extensive than a “504 plan,” which is an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, often allowing a child extra time to do school work and take tests. This typically does not involve a conference with a parent and a medical professional, although it could in an unusual circumstance.

If a parent requests time off for a conference with their special needs child at the school that the child is attending, it would be wise to have the employee turn in the FMLA paperwork filled out by a medical professional or professionals who are meeting with the child and the parent. In this way, the employer can determine whether the leave is protected by the FMLA. If the child has ongoing treatment with medical professionals, it is likely that the parents may take time off for this job-protected leave.