School-Activity Leave Laws Help Working Parents Be There for Their Children
With schools back in session, you may need to refresh yourself on whether you're required to offer your employees unpaid school-activity leave.
- 10 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 events
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, 10 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:
- Parent-teacher conferences
- Meetings with school staff for a child’s behavioral problems
- Classroom activities
- Monitoring certain educational programs
- Volunteering at school functions
These laws benefit millions of working adults. In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 32.2 million families included children under age 18, about two-fifths of all families. At least one parent was employed in 89.1 percent of families with children in 2021, up from 85.5% the previous year.
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
Ten states (CA, CO, 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. The following is a summary of some of the requirements, as known on the date of this publication, but employers should familiarize themselves with all requirements through their HR manager or legal counsel.
Businesses with 25 or more employees at the same locale must provide up to 40 hours (but not more than 8 per month) to attend school activities, and employees generally should give reasonable advance notice. All employers are required to give unpaid time off for employees to attend disciplinary meetings regarding a child.
Employees (parents and legal guardians) of children in kindergarten through 12th grade are allowed to take up to 6 hours un unpaid leave in any month (up to a total of 18 in a school year) to attend parent-teacher conferences or school activities.
If you employ 50 or more employees, your business is required to provide employees up to 8 hours of leave per school year to attend school activities, but not more than 4 hours in any day. This applies only if no other kind of employee leave is available. There are eligibility requirements for employees, including providing seven days written notice and have accrued at least six consecutive months of work with the business.
Employees are eligible to use any type of accrued leave to attend a child's school activities, up to 16 hours per year and at the employer's discretion.
All employers in the state must allow up to 24 hours per year for participate in children's educational activities. Employees may be required to use paid vacation, personal leave, medical or sick leave to do so.
If you have 1 or more employees, a business must give up to 16 hours a year for employees to participate in a child's school activities, provided the employee has worked at least 12 consecutive months prior to the request.
Up to four hours per school year must be provided by employers with 50 or more employees to attend a child(ren)'s school activities. An employer can require up five (5) days written notice and the unpaid leave must be at a mutually agreed upon time for both parties.
All employers must provide four (4) hours per year for an employee to participate in children's educational activities, which also might include a 48-hour written notice and verification from the school. The leave time must be mutually agreed upon.
Businesses with 50 or more employees must provide up to 10 hours per year of unpaid leave to attend children's school functions. Employees may use accrued vacation or other paid time off while absent.
An employer with 15 or more employees (eligible ones must work an average of 30 hours or more per week) is required to provide up to four (4) hours in a 30-day period (although not to exceed 24 hours in one year) for an employee to attend school activities of their child(ren). The employee must give at least seven (7) day's notice, except in the case of an emergency.
All district employers are required to provide 24 hours per year of unpaid leave to employees to be able to attend a child's school activities. An employee must provide at least 10 day's written notice, unless the need for leave is not foreseeable.
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.
This article was originally published in September 2017.