It’s that time of year when students around the country head back to school. In addition to watching their office supplies fly out of their store rooms, employers will see an increase in employee requests for time off work to deal with a variety of their kids’ school-related activities.
In evaluating parental requests for time off, employers need to be mindful that at least ten states and the District of Columbia provide some legal protection to workers who seek leave to attend to their children’s school-related activities.
By way of example, the Illinois School Visitation Rights Act provides that employers must grant leave to employees to attend to school conferences or classroom activities if such activities cannot be scheduled during non-working hours. Employees must provide “reasonable advance notice” and employers may require verification. This presents the unique juxtaposition of having the teacher write a note to excuse the parent. The law says the child must be a biological, adopted, foster, step child or legal ward who is enrolled in a public or private primary or secondary school within the state of Illinois or in a state that borders Illinois. Eligible employees are limited to eight hours per year which probably prevents anyone from sneaking out to Indiana to catch a basketball game.
The Illinois law only applies to employers with 50 or more employees. By contrast, California’s school leave law extends its coverage to companies that employ as few as 25 employees. Most generous of all is our nation’s capital, which extends the protections of its parental leave law to every employer located within the District of Columbia. D.C. allows employees who are parents or guardians to take 24 hours of leave (paid or unpaid) during a 12 month period to attend school-related activities. Under the D.C. law, school events include but are not limited to: parent-teacher conferences, concerts, plays, rehearsals, sporting events, and other activities where the child is a participant or the subject of the event, but not a spectator to sporting events and performances. California’s law appears to be the most generous by allowing employees to take up to 40 hours of leave per year, but no more than eight hours in a single month.
The takeaway for all employers is to know the applicable law in every jurisdiction where you have employees. You must also be mindful of the limits and requirements of each law. In other words, take extra care to follow all the instructions. Finally, administer this and all other leave programs in a non-discriminatory manner. If you allow dad to go to a student athletic event, but mom is denied leave to attend the school play, you have problems.
I do not envy the headache administering leave laws will give you, but knowledge and planning will help you rest well.