Back to School Means More Leave Issues for HR

Classroom Low AngleIt’s that special time of year again when children and teachers make the (sometimes reluctant) journey back to school. Vacations are over, the school buses are on their way, and parents and guardians are adjusting their schedules accordingly.

So what does the start of the school year mean for employers? For one thing, it means HR may be receiving more leave requests than normal. An employer may also be dealing with frazzled employees as the season of parent-teacher conferences, class parties, school assemblies and volunteer activities approaches.

It’s important for an employer to take the time to reevaluate how school schedules may affect its employees and make sure it is following any school-related leave laws that may apply.

School Visitation Leave

There is no federal law that specifically relates to school visitation leave. However, there are more than 10 states that require employers to provide leave for parents and guardians to attend certain school-related activities. These jurisdictions include:

  • California;
  • Illinois;
  • Louisiana;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Minnesota;
  • Nevada;
  • North Carolina;
  • Oregon;
  • Rhode Island;
  • Tennessee;
  • Vermont; and
  • Washington, DC.

The state laws vary in their definition of an applicable employer, the amount of leave that must be given and what type of notice parents and guardians must give to their employers. A lot of the states don’t subject employers to penalties for failure to grant leave, and a few of the state laws only encourage employers to provide school-related leave to employees.

Additionally, none of the states require employers to offer paid school leave. However, most of the states require that the school-related leave not affect an employee’s entitlement to accrue benefits or seniority. In general, the laws also establish that an employer cannot terminate or otherwise discriminate against an employee for taking such leave.

School Closure Laws

HR professionals have been hearing a lot about the paid sick leave trend that has been sweeping the nation. However, you may find it surprising that a few of these state and municipality laws include provisions addressing school closures for certain reasons such as public health or weather emergencies.

Employer Flexibility

Flexibility is important to employees, and school-related leave is an area where employers can build a lot of goodwill with their workforce. Parents and guardians often struggle to balance work and family obligations, and when their kids are in school, they may have trouble attending school functions.

Many employers are sensitive to demands that are placed on their employees who are also parents and guardians to school-age children and have implemented policies to support work-life balance as a result. Although no federal law requires employers to provide paid or unpaid personal leave or personal days, many employers do so. Employees can use such personal days to attend school-related activities.

Another way some employers make it easier for employees to balance their work and family life is to introduce a flex-time system. This type of system allows employees to decide their start and finish times each day, as long as they work a set amount of hours each month and are working during certain hours each day.

Employer Best Practices

What should an employer do to make sure it is dealing with school-related leave appropriately? An employer should first evaluate what school-related leave laws may affect its workforce. Then it should determine what type of strategy it wants to take regarding this type of leave while remaining in compliance with all applicable laws.

Once these basic steps are completed, an employer should publish a written policy or handbook statement if the employer:

  • Is located in one of the states that requires such leave; or
  • Anticipates receiving regular requests for school-related leave.

Additionally, an employer also needs to address whether it will allow partial day absences, taking into account any applicable Fair Labor Standards Act rules. In rare cases (e.g., a newly adopted child), an employer may also need to check and see how school-related leave might intersect with Family and Medical Leave Act leave.

Finally, an employer may want to consider requiring written advance notice for any school-related leave. For documentation, an employer could request signed documentation from a school administrator (if appropriate) or just a standard form requesting time off.

How does your organization handle school-related leave? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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