Benefits | 

With Schools Returning, Are You Ready for A Potential Rush of Leave Requests?

As many schools return to in-person learning, employees with school-aged children may ask for leave to attend their child's school-related activities. Or, due to the current surge in COVID-19 cases, some employees may ask for time off to care for a child who is quarantining or whose school closes because of COVID-19. To help you handle these types of requests and understand your obligations, here’s a brief overview of federal, state, and local laws on such leave.

Federal law:

Currently, there’s no federal law that requires employers to provide school-activities leave or COVID-19 leave for school closures or asymptomatic quarantining, unless the employer has promised otherwise. However, employers may be eligible for federal tax credits if they provide COVID-19 leave (that meets certain requirements) even though there is no federal mandate. The tax credits expire on September 30, 2021, unless extended. For the purposes of the tax credits, the following absences are covered:

  • The employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19 or is caring for an individual who is subject to such an order.
  • The employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19 or is caring for an individual who has been advised to self-quarantine.
  • The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • The employee is caring for their son or daughter due to their school or place of care being closed, or their childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions.
  • The employee is awaiting the results of a test to diagnose COVID-19, to obtain immunization for COVID-19, or to recover from any adverse health impacts arising from the immunization.

The IRS provides additional guidance here (leave before April 1, 2021) and here (leave after March 31, 2021).

State and Local Laws:

COVID-19 Leave for School Closures or Caring for Quarantining Child:

Prior to the pandemic, several states and local jurisdictions had paid sick leave laws or other leave laws that already covered absences related to caring for a child who is ordered to quarantine due to close contact with someone with a communicable disease or whose school is closed because of a public health emergency. Others amended their existing paid sick leave laws to cover such absences and/or established a separate, specific COVID-19 leave entitlement. Here are a few examples:

  • Arizona. Since 2017, the state has had a paid sick leave requirement that has covered, among other things, absences due to closure of a child’s school by order of a public official due to a public health emergency. The law also covers absences to care for a family member when it has been determined by the health authorities or by a healthcare provider that their presence in the community may jeopardize others’ health because of their exposure to a communicable disease. The state has published answers to frequently asked questions about the paid sick leave law and COVID-19 here.
  • Colorado. In late 2020, the state enacted legislation that requires employers to provide paid sick leave and public health emergency leave (PHEL) to employees. Effective January 1, 2021, employers with 16 or more employees must provide paid sick leave to their employees. For employers with 15 or fewer employees, this paid sick leave requirement takes effect January 1, 2022. Covered absences include but aren’t limited to when a public official has ordered the closure of the school due to a public health emergency. In addition to paid sick leave, all Colorado employers must provide PHEL beginning January 1, 2021. Covered absences include but aren’t limited to caring for a child whose school closes due to a public health emergency or caring for a child who is quarantining. Employers may count unused paid sick leave toward the PHEL that state law requires.
  • California. In early 2021, the state enacted legislation that requires employers with more than 25 employees to provide COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave to employees. Covered absences include but aren’t limited to when the employee is caring for a family member who is subject to a quarantine order or is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or otherwise unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19 on the premises. The COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave is in addition to any leave to which they are entitled under the state's paid sick leave law. The supplemental leave requirement will remain in effect through September 30, 2021, unless extended.
  • Chicago, IL. Effective August 1, 2021, the city’s paid sick leave law was amended to cover, among other things, when an employee is absent from work to care for a family member whose school has been closed and to care for a family member who has been ordered to quarantine.
  • Oregon. In 2020, the state amended its regulations implementing the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) to allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of job protected leave per year to care for a child whose school closes due to COVID-19 or another statewide health emergency. The OFLA applies to employers with 25 or more employees and is generally unpaid unless the employee has other paid leave to use.

While many of the COVID-19 leave requirements are being implemented via legislation or regulation, some state and local executive orders have included leave requirements. Employers should check their state and local laws, regulations, and executive orders to determine their compliance requirements.

Even in the absence of a requirement to provide paid time off to employees for reasons related to COVID-19, employers may want to consider offering it to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, help employees balance their work and family responsibilities, and retain and attract employees in the current competitive job market.

School-Activities Leave:

Several states require employers to provide time off for school-related activities. Below is a summary of these requirements.

State

Covered Employers

Pay Requirements

 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.

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

All D.C. employers.

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

 Illinois

Employers with 50 or more employees.

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.

 Massachusetts

All Massachusetts employers.

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

All Minnesota employers.

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

 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.

School-activities leave is unpaid. However, the leave is paid if taken under the state’s all-purpose leave law.*

 New Jersey

All New Jersey employers. The leave is provided under the state’s sick leave law, which entitles employees to paid time off for reasons that include certain school-related activities.

Leave is paid.

 North Carolina

All North Carolina employers.

Leave is unpaid.

 Rhode Island

Employers with 50 or more employees.

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

 Vermont

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

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

*Note: Nevada also requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide paid leave to employees to use for any reason, including school activities. In Maine, employers with more than 10 employees must provide paid leave that employees can use for any purpose, including school activities. This is often called all-purpose leave.

See the text of the applicable law for information on which employees are eligible, the amount of leave to which they are entitled, and other details.

Conclusion:

Make sure your policies and practices comply with applicable leave laws, and train supervisors on how to handle leave requests.

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