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School-Activity Leave Laws Help Working Parents Be There for Kids

With schools back in session, you may need to study up on whether you're required to offer your employees unpaid school-activity leave. Read on to learn the details of these state- and local jurisdiction-specific laws.
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  • Nine states and the District of Columbia mandate that private employers give eligible employees unpaid time off to attend activities at their child’s school or day-care facility.
  • Eligibility and requirements of school-activity leave laws vary and may be incorporated into paid sick leave and parental leave laws.

 

Businesses may be required to grant unpaid time off to workers to attend school activities

Schools are back in session, and they’re generating a host of activities that working parents often need or want to attend. Employers may need to study up on whether they are required to provide unpaid leave to allow eligible employees to attend activities related to their child’s attendance at school. Nationwide, nine states and the District of Columbia require employers give unpaid time off to employees to attend activities at a child’s school or day-care facility. Eligibility and requirements vary. School-activity leave laws may allow leave for:

  • Enrollment;
  • Parent-teacher conferences;
  • Meetings with school staff for a child’s behavioral problems;
  • Classroom activities;
  • Monitoring certain educational programs; and
  • Volunteering at school functions.

These laws benefit millions of working adults. In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that 34.2 million families included children under age 18, about two-fifths of all families. At least one parent was employed in 89.7 percent of families with children in 2016.

Note that school-time leave is generally distinct from family and medical leave, but may be a permissible reason for use of paid sick leave or parental leave. Employers may also voluntarily choose to establish a policy to allow employees to take unpaid time off to attend school activities where it is not mandated by law.

State laws affect private employers

Nine states (CA, IL, LA, MA, MN, NV, NC, RI, and VT) and Washington, D.C., have laws mandating unpaid workplace leave for school-related purposes that apply to private employers. The amount of time provided to eligible employees varies by jurisdiction ranging from four hours per year in Nevada and North Carolina up to 40 hours per year in California.

States set their own rules for school-leave eligibility. Laws can vary by the size of the business, the length of an employee’s service and/or number of hours worked, and length of tenure at the company.

Laws set parameters for employers and employees

School-activities laws are usually structured to minimize inconvenience to employers and to ensure employee accountability. Depending on the jurisdiction, the laws may:

  • Allow employers to require notice and/or substantiation — sometimes in writing —from workers requesting leave;
  • Require workers to schedule leave time to minimize disruption to the company;
  • Permit businesses to deny school-leave requests, under certain circumstances; and
  • Prohibit discrimination or retaliation against workers asking for leave time.

Some states do not require an employee requesting school-related time off to be the biological parent of the child. Legal guardians, acting guardians, grandparents, step- or foster parents, aunts, uncles, or a parent’s domestic partner may also be eligible for leave under these laws.

Know your state’s law

Employers should first know whether their state or local jurisdiction has a school-activity leave law or whether such leave is addressed in any other applicable leave law, for example a paid sick leave law or parental leave law. Even if the employer is not covered under a law that requires them to offer school activity leave, many employers choose to allow employees the ability to use available paid time off, including paid sick leave for this reason. Employers are encouraged to consult with an HR professional or legal counsel to ensure full compliance with applicable laws or to develop a company policy to offer a leave to eligible employees.

Tammy Tyler

Tammy Tyler is an employment law compliance manager at Paychex, Inc., a leading provider of integrated solutions for payroll, HR, retirement, and insurance services.

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