Back to School Special: School-Related Leave Issues

iStock_100722947_SMALLIt is that time of year. School buses are gleaming, pencils are sharpened and children everywhere are eager to charge back through the schoolhouse doors.

Well, maybe not quite.

If your house is like mine, the pencils are those worn stumps from the end of the last school year and there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for charging anywhere but the local swimming pool.

Like it or not, the new school year is upon us and with the return to school comes the predictable rise in employees’ school-related leave requests. In addition to helping employees manage work and family responsibilities, employers find themselves preparing for school-related needs – sharpening their policies and polishing practices to address the host of leave-related issues that accompany the return to school.

State Leave Laws and Soccer Games

In order to allow employees to attend to school-related needs, a number of states have passed laws that allow employees to take leave for reasons such as school enrollment, parent-teacher meetings, addressing behavioral or disciplinary problems, classroom activities and even attending school sporting events, performances and plays.

States that currently have school-related leave requirements for private employers include:

California: An employer with 25 or more employees at the same location must allow eligible employees to use up to 40 hours of unpaid leave per year to enroll a child in school or child care, participate in school activities, or address an emergency or disciplinary issue.

Illinois: An employer with 50 or more employees must provide at least eight hours per year of unpaid leave for qualified employees to visit a child’s school conference or classroom activity if the conference or activity cannot be scheduled outside of work hours.

Massachusetts: An employer that is subject to the federal FMLA must grant FMLA-eligible employees a total of 24 hours of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to allow such employees to participate in school activities directly related to the educational advancement of their son or daughter, such as parent-teacher conferences and interviewing for a new school.

Minnesota: An employer with at least one employee must provide eligible employees with up to 16 hours of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to attend school conferences and school-related activities related to the employee’s child (including a foster child) that cannot be scheduled during nonwork hours.

Nevada: An employer with 50 or more employees must grant up to four hours of unpaid leave per school year to parents, guardians or custodians of a child enrolled in a public school in order for the employee to attend parent-teacher conferences, school-related activities during regular school hours, or school-sponsored events.

North Carolina: All employers in North Carolina are required to provide eligible employees with at least four hours of unpaid leave per year for the employee to attend or otherwise be involved with his child’s school.

Rhode Island: An employer with 50 or more employees is required to provide eligible employees with up to 10 hours of leave during a 12-month period in order for the employee to attend school conferences or other school-related activities for a child of whom the employee is the parent, foster parent or guardian.

Vermont: An employee is entitled to take unpaid “short-term” leave not to exceed four hours in any 30-day period (not to exceed 24 hours in a 12-month period) to participate in preschool or school activities directly related to the academic educational advancement of the employee’s child.

In addition to the states listed above, the District of Columbia requires that all employers in the District allow eligible employees to use up to 24 hours of unpaid parental leave in a 12-month period to attend a school-related event such as a student performance (e.g., a concert, play or rehearsal), a sporting game for a school team or practice, a meeting with a teacher or counselor, or any similar type of activity.

Meanwhile, Louisiana, Oregon and Tennessee have enacted legislation that encourages, but does not require an employer to provide school-related leave to employees.

Don’t Relax Just Yet

Don’t see any states in which you operate listed above? Don’t relax just yet. First, consider that an increasing number of states and cities have passed laws and local ordinances that provide for “sick and safe” leave laws that give employee leave in situations where a child’s school or daycare provider closes due to events such as a public health or weather emergency.

States that currently have school closure laws include Maine and Oregon. Vermont’s school closure leave law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2017 for employers with five or more employees and January 1, 2018 for smaller employers.

Localities with leave requirements for school and daycare closures include:

  • San Diego;
  • Chicago;
  • Minneapolis  (effective July 1, 2017);
  • New York City;
  • Seattle and Tacoma;
  • Spokane (effective January 1, 2017);
  • Montgomery County, Maryland (effective October 1, 2016); and
  • Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, Trenton, Bloomfield, East Orange, Irvington, Montclair, New Brunswick, Passaic, Paterson and Plainfield, New Jersey.

For more information on the specific requirements of these state and local school-related leave laws, including eligibility, notice, covered family members, discrimination provisions and exceptions, see XpertHR’s Leave Laws by State chart and Paid Sick Leave chart.

No Law, No Problem . . . Right?

What if you are an employer in a state without a school-related leave law? No problem, right?

Well, not so fast.

Other school-related leave considerations include paid and unpaid sick leave to care for a child with a school-borne illness. For more seriously ill children, an employer should also consider whether state family leave or the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies.

Beyond family and medical leave or mandated sick and safe leave, an employer also needs to be sure that caregivers are treated fairly. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has made it clear that discrimination against employees with caregiving responsibilities might constitute discrimination based on sex, disability or other characteristics protected by federal employment discrimination laws.

For employees with school-age children, consider the following best practices from the EEOC:

(1)    Ensure that managers at all levels are aware of, and comply with, the organization’s work-life policies and are supportive of employees who take advantage of available programs.

(2)    Respond to complaints of caregiver discrimination efficiently and effectively. Investigate complaints promptly and thoroughly and take corrective action as necessary.

(3)    Provide clear and credible assurances that if employees request protected leave or make complaints about unfair treatment, the employer will protect them from retaliation.

(4)    Encourage employees to request flexible work arrangements that allow them to balance work and personal responsibilities. Work with employees to create customized flexible work arrangements that meet the specific needs of the employee and employer.

So before the school year starts, check for state law compliance, polish those leave policies and have a great year!

 

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