Back to School Update on School-Related Parental Leave
As the summer comes to a close, employees are preparing for their children’s return to school, and will need to attend various school events and activities during the workday. An increasing number of states now mandate that public and private employers provide unpaid leave for this purpose, including the following states that have laws covering private employers:
California – 40 hours (but no more than 8 per month)
Washington, D.C. – 24 hours
Illinois – 8 hours (no more than 4 on any day, and only when no other type of employee leave is available)
Louisiana – 16 hours
Massachusetts – 24 hours
Minnesota – 16 hours
Nevada – 4 hours
North Carolina – 4 hours
Rhode Island – 10 hours
Vermont – 24 hours (no more than 4 in any 30-day period)
Many of these state laws provide for leave beyond the standard school concert or classroom activity. For example, California’s law allows for a parent to take time off for visits to find, enroll, or re-enroll a child in a school or childcare facility. Massachusetts allows leave to participate in a broad range of school activities directly related to the educational advancement of the employee’s child, such as parent-teacher conferences or interviewing for a new school. California employees can also use the leave when they get the call that their child needs to be picked up and taken home due to discipline problems or unexpected closures. D.C. and North Carolina laws provide for leave to attend PTA events and sports games or practices.
You do not need to be a biological parent to be eligible for leave under some of these laws. The District of Columbia Parental Leave Act provides leave to employees who are: a biological parent; granted legal custody; acting as a guardian (regardless of whether he or she has legally been appointed as such); an aunt, uncle or grandparent; or married to – or in a domestic partnership with – a parent. California’s law also provides leave to guardians, step-parents, foster parents, grandparents and employees who stand-in as a parent (in loco parentis).
In terms of verification of the need for leave, most of these state laws do allow for the employer to request documentation from the school as proof that the employee participated in a school activity on a specific date and time. However, the employer must accept whatever documentation the school deems appropriate and reasonable. Employees are generally obligated to provide reasonable advance notice of a request to leave to attend a school-related event or activity.
None of these laws require employers to pay for the mandated time-off to attend school activities. However, employers can generally require an employee to use accrued PTO/vacation to participate in these activities, if the requirement is specified in the applicable policy. However, it is important to carefully check each state law. While California law allows the employee to choose whether to use existing PTO or take the time off without pay, Massachusetts law requires non-exempt employees to substitute any available accrued PTO for the unpaid leave.
These laws also contain provisions protecting employees from discrimination or retaliation for taking leave to participate in school activities if the employee provides reasonable notice.
Companies that have employees in these states should include reference to the mandated time-off for school related activities in employee handbooks, and cross-reference the interplay with existing PTO/vacation policies. Multi-state employers that seek to have a comprehensive policy for all locations should be aware that these laws vary in terms eligibility requirements, amount of leave, notice requirements, etc. Colorado employers should also note that, as one exception to this trend, Colorado repealed it’s Academic Leave Act that required employers to provide full-time employees with up to 18 hours leave per academic year. As a result, Colorado employers should provide notice that school-related parental leave is no longer available, or, if the company decides to continue to offer such leave, be sure to outline any terms that are different than what was provided in the repealed statute.
Finally, in tracking time used for the statutory leave, employers should be mindful that they should not dock exempt employees for hourly time-off.