Back to School Concerns for Employers

by Laura Pokrzywa, HR Consultant, East Coast Risk Management

back to schoolNow that schools are back in session around the nation, parents and legal guardians may be requesting time off to attend school functions and teacher conferences. If one of your employees is a parent or legal guardian of a school-aged child and they are requesting time off to attend a meeting or event related to that child’s school, ask yourself two questions:

1. Does this request fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

It might if you are a covered employer. To be covered by the FMLA, you must be a public or private employer with at least 50 employees working within a 75-mile radius and you must have had that count for at least 20 work weeks (not necessarily consecutive) in the past or present calendar year. If you are covered by the FMLA, the leave request could be covered by the Act if the employee is eligible AND if the reason for the request qualifies. If that reason is for the employee to attend a meeting to discuss the Individualized Education Program (IEP) of the employee’s child, take note. In a recent opinion letter, the Department of Labor said that “IEP meetings addressing the educational and special medical needs of children who have serious health conditions as certified by a health care provider is a qualifying reason for taking intermittent FMLA leave”.

 

2. Does state law require such a leave?

If you are an employer with employees in any of the following states, make sure your supervisors and manager know about the leave requirements briefly outlined here:

 

California: Employers with 25 or more employees at the same location must provide leave to parents, guardians and grandparents with custody of children in kindergarten through grade 12 or children in licensed daycare to attend school activities. Up to 40 hours per year, but no more than 8 hours per month, to participate in children’s educational activities, including concerts, school plays, sporting events, art shows and other school events. Employees must generally use accrued vacation or personal leave during the absence and provide reasonable advance notice.

In addition, all employers, regardless of size, must allow employees to take time off to appear at school in conjunction with a child’s or ward’s suspension from a class or school (see California Labor Code Section 230.7).

 

Illinois: All employers with 50 or more employees in Illinois must grant eligible employees up to eight (8) hours unpaid leave during any school year; no more than four (4) hours may be taken at any one-day. To be eligible, the employee must have been employed at least six (6) months and have been employed at least half-time. This time can only be taken if the employee has exhausted all accrued leave time, except sick leave or disability leave. The employee must provide a written request for leave at least 7 days in advance. In an emergency situation 24 hours’ notice is required.

 

Massachusetts: Under the state’s Small Necessities Leave Act, all Massachusetts employers with 50 or more employees must allow eligible employees to take a total of 24 hours of unpaid leave during any 12-month period. Valid reasons for this leave include participation in children’s educational activities. Individual eligibility for this leave is identical to the eligibility requirements of the federal FMLA. An employee may elect, or the employer may require the employee to use available paid time off during the absence. If the need for leave is foreseeable, the employee must provide seven days’ notice.

 

Minnesota: Employers with one or more employees must provide up to 16 hours during any 12-month period to attend school conferences or school-related activities related to the employee’s child, provided the conferences or school-related activities cannot be scheduled during non-work hours. An employee may use accrued vacation or other paid time off for any part of the absence.

 

Nevada: Employers with 50 or more employees must allow employees with students enrolled in a public school unpaid leave for up to 4 hours per school year, which must be taken in increments of at least 1 hour, to attend parent-teacher conferences and participate in activities at the school in which his or her child is enrolled during regular school hours.  You may require up to five days written notice and the leave must be at a time mutually agreed upon by the employer and the employee.

 

North Carolina: All employers must allow up to 4 hours per year to any employee who is a parent, guardian, or person standing in loco parentis of a school-aged child so that the employee may attend or otherwise be involved at that child’s school. The leave must be at a time mutually agreed upon by the employer and employee. Additionally, the employer may require at least 48 hours written notice, along with verification from the school.

 

Rhode Island: Employers with 50 or more employees must provide School Involvement Leave to eligible employees.  An employee who has been employed by the company for 12 consecutive months is entitled to a total of 10 hours of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend school conferences or school-related activities for a child of whom the employee is the parent, foster parent or guardian.  You may require 24-hours prior notice. In addition, the employee must make a reasonable effort to schedule the leave so as not to unduly disrupt business operations.

 

Vermont: Employers with 15 or more employees who are working an average of 30 or more hours per week are required to provide Short-term Family Leave.  An employee is entitled to up to 4 hours of unpaid leave in a 30-day period, not to exceed 24 hours in 12 months, to participate in preschool or school activities directly related to the academic advancement of the worker’s child, stepchild, foster child or ward who lives with the worker; to attend or to accompany a family member to routine medical or dental appointments or other appointments for professional services related to their care and well-being. The employee must provide at least seven days’ notice, except in the case of an emergency.

 

Washington, D.C.: The “Parental Leave Act of 1994” provides employees who are parents or otherwise responsible for a child with up to 24 hours of leave during any 12-month period to attend or participate in school-related events for the child. A school-related event includes: a student performance such as a concert, play, or rehearsal; the sporting game of a school team or practice; a meeting with a teacher or counselor; or any similar type of activity that involves the child directly either as participant or subject but not as a spectator.

 

A few other notes about state laws:

Texas has a school visitation leave law, but it applies only to employees who work for the Texas state government. Colorado has a bill under consideration that would reinstate a modified version of the “Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act of 2009” that was repealed in 2015. In addition, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Utah all recommend similar leaves, but come short of actually requiring such.

If you are an employer that has questions on any issue relating to human resources, safety, or workers’ compensation, contact East Coast Risk Management by calling 724-864-8745 or emailing us at hrhelpline@eastcoastrm.com.

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