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It’s Back-to-School Season: Are You Prepared to Provide School-Related Leave?

With the start of the school year just around the corner, employees with school-aged children may ask for time off to attend their child's school-related activities. To help you plan for these requests, we answer some common questions about school-activities leave below.

Q: Which laws require employers to provide leave for school-related activities?

A: While no federal law requires employers to provide time off for school-related activities, several states have laws that do. There are generally three types of state laws that require such leave:

  • A standalone law that requires employers to provide leave for school activities. Eight states and the District of Columbia have this type of law: California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
  • A law that requires employers to provide paid leave that employees can use for any purpose, including school activities. Two states have a paid all-purpose leave law: Maine (effective January 1, 2021) and Nevada (effective January 1, 2020).
  • A sick leave law that entitles employees to paid time off for reasons that include certain school-related activities. One state has this type of law: New Jersey.

In addition, some states may encourage employers to grant leave for school-related activities.

Q: Do the laws that cover school activities apply to all employers?

A: Some of them apply to all employers, but others are limited to larger employers:

State

Covered employers

California

Employers with 25 or more employees at the same location. In addition, all employers must grant unpaid time off for employees to attend disciplinary meetings.

District of Columbia

All D.C. employers.

Illinois

Employers with 50 or more employees.

Maine

Effective January 1, 2021, employers with more than 10 employees must provide paid leave that employees can use for any purpose, including school activities.

Massachusetts

All Massachusetts employers.

Minnesota

All Minnesota employers.

Nevada

School-Activities Leave: Employers with 50 or more employees. However, all employers are prohibited from taking adverse action against individuals who appear at a conference requested by a school administrator or who are notified during work of an emergency regarding their child.

Paid All-Purpose Leave: Effective January 1, 2020, Nevada requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide paid leave to employees. Employees may use the leave for any reason, including school activities.

New Jersey

All New Jersey employers.

North Carolina

All North Carolina employers.

Rhode Island

Employers with 50 or more employees.

Vermont

Employers with 15 or more employees working an average of 30 or more hours per week.

Q: Who is eligible for leave for school activities?

A: Under the standalone laws in California, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Nevada, and North Carolina, all employees are generally eligible if they work for a covered employer. However, four states limit eligibility to employees who meet certain criteria:

State

Employee eligibility

Illinois

The employee must have worked for the company for at least six consecutive months.

Minnesota

The employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months immediately preceding the request. Employees must also work for the employer for an average number of hours equal to at least halftime employment.

Rhode Island

Employees must work an average of 30 or more hours per week and be employed by the employer for 12 consecutive months.

Vermont

Employees must have worked for the same employer for at least one year, averaging at least 30 hours per week.

The paid sick leave law in New Jersey and the paid all-purpose leave laws in Maine and Nevada work slightly differently in that employees generally accrue the leave instead of being entitled to all of it at once. Under these laws, employees (with a few exceptions) are entitled to accrue the paid leave, but employers can make new employees wait a certain length of time after their date of hire (90 days in Nevada and 120 days in New Jersey and Maine) before they can use it.

Q: If I have 50 employees in Nevada, do I have to comply with the school-activities law and the paid all-purpose leave law?

A: Employers with 50 or more employees must provide school-activities leave now. The paid all-purpose leave requirement doesn't take effect until January 1, 2020. Once it goes into effect, employers with 50 or more employees must comply with both laws. Given the added complexity in Nevada, covered employers may want to consult legal counsel.

Q: In states that require leave for school activities, how much leave must be provided, and which activities are covered?

A: It varies by state:

State

Leave entitlement

California

Up to 40 hours per calendar year to visit a child's school or licensed child care provider to:

  • Find, enroll, or re-enroll a child (up to eight hours in any given month);
  • Participate in their child's activities (up to eight hours in any given month);
  • Address an emergency.

There is no limit on the amount of time an employee can take for a conference to discuss their child's suspension.

District of Columbia

Up to 24 hours of leave during a 12-month period to attend or participate in a school-related event for a child, including performances, meetings with a teacher or counselor, or similar activities.

Illinois

Up to eight hours per school year (not to exceed four hours in any given day) to attend school conferences or classroom activities if the conference or classroom activities cannot be scheduled during non-work hours.

Maine

Up to 40 hours of paid leave per year that employees may use for any reason, including school activities.

Massachusetts

Up to 24 hours of leave during a 12-month period to participate in a child's school activities. Under the same law, employers must also provide time off for a child's doctor or dentist appointment, or an elder relative's doctor, dentist, or other appointment related to their care.

Minnesota

Up to 16 hours during any 12-month period to attend school conferences or school activities or to observe or monitor pre-kindergarten or special education programs.

Nevada

School-Activities Leave: Up to four hours per school year per child at a public school to:

  • Attend school-related activities and parent-teacher conferences;
  • Volunteer or otherwise be involved at the school during regular school hours; and
  • Attend school-sponsored events.

Paid All-Purpose Leave: Up to 40 hours of paid leave per year that employees may use for any reason, including school activities.

New Jersey

Up to 40 hours per year. Employees are entitled to use accrued paid sick leave to attend school-related conferences, meetings, functions or other events requested or required by a school administrator, teacher, or other staff member responsible for the child's education, or to attend meetings regarding the child's care related to their health condition or disability.

North Carolina

Up to four hours of leave per year for school activities.

Rhode Island

Up to 10 hours of leave during any 12-month period to attend school conferences and activities.

Vermont

Up to four hours in any 30-day period (not to exceed 24 hours in 12 months) for employees to attend school activities and attend to certain other family matters, such as accompanying family members to medical, dental, and other appointments related to their care and well-being.

Q: Is school activities leave paid or unpaid? If the leave is unpaid, can employees substitute paid leave they have accrued under another policy?

A: Here are the rules for each state:

State

Rules

California

Employees must generally use accrued vacation or personal leave during the absence. Employees may also use time off without pay if made available by their employer.

District of Columbia

Leave is unpaid, unless the employee elects to use accrued vacation or other paid time off.

Illinois

The employee must use accrued vacation or other paid time off, if available. Otherwise, the leave is unpaid. Employers must generally make a good-faith effort to allow employees to make up missed time during the same workweek.

Maine

Leave is paid.

Massachusetts

An employee may elect, or the employer may require, the employee to use paid vacation, personal leave, medical or sick leave during the absence.

Minnesota

An employee may use accrued vacation or other paid time off for the absence.

Nevada

School-activities leave is unpaid. However, beginning January 1, 2020, the employee may be entitled to paid all-purpose leave.

New Jersey

Leave is paid.

North Carolina

Leave is unpaid.

Rhode Island

Leave is unpaid. However, an employee may substitute accrued vacation or other paid time off.

Vermont

Leave is unpaid. However, an employee may elect to use accrued vacation or other paid time off.

Q: Can I require employees to give advance notice of the need for leave for school activities?

A: States typically allow employers to require notice but have different rules on how far in advance the notice is required:

State

Notice

California

Employees must provide "reasonable" advance notice.

District of Columbia

Employees must provide at least 10 days' advance notice when the need for leave is foreseeable.

Illinois

Generally, employees must provide at least seven days' written notice of the need for leave.

Maine

Absent an emergency, illness, or other sudden need for taking leave, an employee must give reasonable notice. Employees must also schedule their leave to prevent undue hardship on the employer.

Massachusetts

If the need for leave is foreseeable, the employee must provide seven days' notice.

Minnesota

If the need for leave is foreseeable, the employee must provide reasonable notice and make a reasonable attempt to schedule the leave so as not to unduly disrupt the employer's operations.

Nevada

Under the state's school-activities-leave law, the employer may require the employee to provide up to five days' written notice and the leave must be at a time mutually agreed upon by the employer and the employee. Under the state's paid all-purpose leave law, employees must provide notice of their use of paid leave as soon as practical. Note: Employees are entitled to paid all-purpose leave without having to disclose the reason to their employer.

New Jersey

If the need for leave is foreseeable, employers may require up to seven days' advance notice. Employers may also require employees to make a reasonable effort to schedule sick leave so it does not unduly disrupt employer operations. If the reason for the leave is not foreseeable, an employer may require an employee to give notice as soon as practical, if the employer has notified the employee of this requirement.

North Carolina

The employer may require at least 48 hours' written notice. The leave must be at a time mutually agreed upon by the employer and employee.

Rhode Island

The employee must provide 24 hours' advance notice and make a reasonable effort to schedule leave so it does not unduly disrupt the employer's operations.

Vermont

The employee must provide at least seven days' notice and make a reasonable attempt to schedule appointments outside of regular work hours, except in the case of an emergency.

Keep in mind, depending on the circumstances, employees may not always be able to provide timely notice. For instance, if they've been called in to attend a disciplinary meeting at their child's school.

Q: May I ask employees to provide verification that they attended a school activity?

A: Some of the laws expressly allow employers to request verification that the employee participated in a school activity on a specific date and time, but others don't address the issue. Check your state law for details and consult legal counsel if necessary.

Q: I have employees in two different states that require school activities leave. What are my options for compliance?

A: You can either draft a separate policy for each state or a single policy that complies with both laws. If you choose the latter, review the differences of each law and provide your employees with the greatest protection called for in each provision of the law.

Q: What can I do if I'm not covered by a law that requires leave for school activities?

A: If you want to voluntarily provide school-activities leave, you have a couple of options. If you have an existing policy that allows employees to take time off from work, such as a vacation policy, you can allow employees to use it for school-related activities. If so, clearly communicate this to employees and include it within your written policy. You could also voluntarily adopt a separate policy for school-activities leave or a paid time off policy that allows employees to use the leave for any reason.

Another option is to offer flexible schedules so that parents can adapt their schedule to meet their family's needs. Employees may, for example, be able to build their hours around their children's daycare schedules. The employee may work early in the morning, take an afternoon break to pick up their kids, and then resume work later in the evening.

Q: What are the advantages of offering school-activities leave?

A: It can give your existing employees more flexibility to manage their work and personal responsibilities, which can improve employee morale and performance. It can also help you recruit new employees who value flexibility.

Conclusion:

If you have employees in a state that requires leave for school activities, review your law in full to determine whether the provisions apply to your employees and to ensure that your policies comply. In states without these requirements, employers may want to consider providing leave voluntarily to help employees balance their work and personal responsibilities.

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