A new opinion letter from the U.S. Department of Labor suggests that many parents of kids with disabilities are entitled to take time away from work to attend their child’s individualized education program meetings.

In response to an inquiry from a parent, the federal agency said that employees can qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, if their presence at an IEP meeting is significant to their ability to provide care for their children.

FMLA guarantees certain employees unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition. Leave can be intermittent and often centers on the need for a loved one to undergo medical care.

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Opinion letters from the Labor Department only speak to the specific circumstances of the individuals who the agency is corresponding with. However, the letters do illuminate the agency’s view on the issue at hand and detail relevant laws and court precedents.

In this case, the Labor Department received a request for an opinion from a parent whose wife was granted FMLA leave from her employer to attend medical appointments for their two children with qualifying serious health conditions. However, her employer denied a request for intermittent FMLA leave to attend special education meetings.

The letter writer asked whether FMLA leave should be approved given that their children’s school therapy providers, psychologist, teachers and others provide progress updates and recommendations about care for their kids during four annual IEP meetings.

Based on the information received, the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division determined that the writer’s wife had a “qualifying reason for taking intermittent FMLA leave.”

“It appears that your wife’s attendance at IEP meetings is ‘essential to (her) ability to provide appropriate physical or psychological care’ to your children,” reads the opinion letter. “Your wife attends these meetings to help participants make medical decisions concerning your children’s medically-prescribed speech, physical and occupational therapy; to discuss your children’s well-being and progress with the providers of such services; and to ensure that your children’s school environment is suitable to their medical, social and academic needs.”

Furthermore, the opinion noted that “your child’s doctor need not be present at … IEP meetings in order for your spouse’s leave to qualify for intermittent FMLA leave.”

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