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FMLA gives broad coverage for employee leave

The Family Medical Leave Act gives many employees in New York the right to take time off work to provide care for family members. However, the regulations put out by the Department of Labor give only a little direction regarding what the term "care" actually means. The DOL acknowledges that it includes psychological as well as physical care and covers situations where the family member cannot handle basic hygienic, nutritional or medical needs.

In an opinion letter, the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL said the FMLA gives a parent the right to leave work to attend meetings at a child's school to discuss the child's Individualized Education Program. In the case, meetings occurred four times during the school year. Several professionals, like a school psychologist, speech pathologist, therapists, school administrators and teachers, attended the meetings. The parent's employer had told her the FMLA did not cover her attendance at the meetings.

The WHD reasoned that attendance at the meetings was covered by the FMLA because one of the purposes of the meetings was to arrange for changes in care. It cited an earlier opinion letter supporting FMLA leave for care conferences related to health conditions. The employee attending these conferences said the previous letter was essential to the ability to give appropriate psychological or physical care. These letters demonstrate that employers should avoid a restrictive view of FMLA leave.

Depending on the specific facts of the situation, the FMLA may require employers give leave for such things as attending care meetings, traveling to special events or accompanying a traveling family member. An attorney who has experience in employment discrimination cases might be able to help a worker who has questions about FMLA leave by examining the facts of the situation and the terms of the Act. Legal counsel could negotiate leave on the employee's behalf or pursue legal relief in cases where leave has been denied.

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