Dear HR Knowledge, I have a lot of employees who ask to leave early or come in late for their kids’ school events. How should I handle this?

With the school year in full swing, this is the season for parent-teacher conferences, field trips, volunteer events, children’s doctor appointments and other school-related activities. As these types of events unfold, employers may notice an uptick in time-off requests from working parents and caregivers, leaving them wondering how to accommodate all these requests.

Employers should be aware that there are leave laws in place that allow eligible employees to participate in school-related functions. School-related parental leave laws are state-specific, and each jurisdiction has its own eligibility requirements and provisions. However, the common denominator is that time off is unpaid; however most state laws allow employers to require that employees use their accrued paid time off.

There are currently 10 states with school-related leave laws in place. Generally, they all provide a certain number of hours of unpaid leave, either annually, per month, or per school year. Most states require employers with 50 or more employees to offer this leave. In Massachusetts, the Small Necessities Leave Act provides up to 24 hours of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to eligible employees. This time is in addition to any leave allowed under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Small Necessities Leave Act not only covers time off to attend school-related activities but also allows employees to accompany their elderly relatives to routine medical and dental appointments or nursing-home meetings or interviews.

Other New England states with school-related laws in place include Rhode Island and Vermont. Rhode Island employers with at least 50 employees must provide up to 10 hours of unpaid leave in a 12-month period, and Vermont employers with at least 15 employees must provide up to four hours of unpaid leave in a 30-day period. California is the most generous state, providing providing people who work for an employer with at least 25 employees, up to 40 hours of unpaid leave to attend school activities for their children in childcare or kindergarten through grade 12.

So, what’s an employer to do? Consider the state(s) you operate in and your obligations under these types of laws. We encourage you to review your leave-of-absence policies and employee handbook to ensure compliance and understand the interplay of paid time off (i.e., PTO, vacation, and sick time policies) with these school and parental leave laws. Even if you operate in a state that does not require these types if leave, you should still be aware of any state-specific sick time laws, which often cover leave to take qualified family members to doctor and dentist appointments.

 

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This content is provided with the understanding that HR Knowledge is not rendering legal advice. While every effort is made to provide current information, the law changes regularly and laws may vary depending on the state or municipality. The material is made available for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice or your professional judgment. You should review applicable laws in your jurisdiction and consult experienced counsel for legal advice. If you have any questions regarding this advisory, please contact HR Knowledge at 508.339.1300 or email us.