Back to school with the FMLA
DOL says school meetings are covered
An employee had two children with serious health conditions. She had an FMLA certification for intermittent leave to care for the children for medical appointments. The employer, however, did not approve leave to attend school meetings regarding the children’s educational and related medical needs. Likely, the employer did not consider such meetings as “treatment.”
The meetings, however, included participation by a speech pathologist, school psychologist, occupational therapist, and/or physical therapist all employed or contracted by the school. The children received this school-supplied, pediatrician-prescribed therapy four times per year. These meetings involved reviewing the children’s’ doctor’s recommendations and test results, and led to recommendations for additional therapy.
Upon being asked about whether the FMLA would protect leave for these meetings, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) issued an opinion letter indicating that, yes, time off for these meetings was protected by the FMLA, as the employee’s attendance was caring for the children. The meetings involved medical decisions on behalf of the children.
Interestingly, the WHD pointed out that the FMLA “speaks in terms of ‘care,’ not ‘treatment.’” It also asserted that an employee may take FMLA leave to “make arrangements for changes in care,” even if that care does not involve a facility that provides medical treatment. This is spelled out in the FMLA regulations under the “needed to care for…” provisions at 825.124 (for all you regulatory nerds out there).
You may require that leave be supported by a certification, and the certification in situations that involve treatment outside of a normal healthcare setting (such as a school) should still support the absences. Reviewing a certification can help determine if an absence is covered. If the employee is asking for more leave than the initial certification indicates, this could be a request for an extension of leave, and you may request a recertification. That way, you will have documented evidence that these particular school meetings relate to the children’s condition and care.
The FMLA is anything but cut and dry. Agency opinion letters like this one, can illustrate situations that many employers (much less managers and supervisors) would not consider reasons that qualify for FMLA protections, particularly on the surface. The law is like a language, however, and it evolves over time.
This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.
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