Back to School! How to Navigate School-Related Leave for Employees

3 minute read | October.11.2018

With school back in session, employees may be asking for time off to go to their children’s school activities. Employers should know that several states and the District of Columbia require or encourage employers to provide employees with school-related time off. It is time to make sure employers are compliant with these laws.

For example, in California, certain employers must provide a parent time off to “participate in school activities” including enrolling their kids in school.[1] The employee is supposed to provide reasonable notice to the employer before taking the time off, and the law provides a cap of 8 hours of time off per month and 40 hours total per year. The employee can also take time off if there is a school emergency or to address a child care provider without having to worry about the 8 hour monthly cap.[2] Additionally, all California employers, regardless of size, must provide parents with time off for teacher-initiated conferences if their child has been suspended for certain types of school misconduct.[3]

Employers may be able to require the employee to first use existing vacation, PTO or other personal leave. California permits this unless prohibited by a collective bargaining agreement.[4] If an employer gives vacation time to all employees during the same period of time in the calendar year (i.e. a two-week holiday vacation) an employee may not use that accrued vacation time at any other time during the year for school activities leave.[5]

As another example, Washington D.C. gives employees 24 hours per year to participate in school-related events for their child.[6] D.C. Code § 32–521.01, 32–521.02. D.C. specifically defines “school-related event” broadly to include performances like concerts, plays, and sports in addition to meetings with teachers and counselors. D.C. also has a bright-line rule that employees must provide a 10-day advance notice absent unforeseen circumstances. D.C. notes that an employer can only deny an employee leave if it would disrupt the employer’s business and make the achievement of production or service delivery “unusually difficult.” D.C. Code § 32-521.02.

Here are some scenarios to illustrate some possible differences:

SCENARIO 1: An employee asks in advance for time off to enroll his child in a new elementary school.

In California, enrollment is specifically included as a kind of school-related activity.  Assuming that the employer has 25 employees and that the employee has not already exhausted his leave, the employer should probably grant the request.

In D.C., although enrollment is not a specifically named school event, given the broad types of activities that are permitted, the employer should probably grant the request here as well unless the employee’s absence would disrupt the employer’s business and make the achievement of production or service delivery “unusually difficult.”

SCENARIO 2: The child’s school unexpectedly closes due to a flood and, without alternative childcare, the employee cannot come into work for the week.

California expressly includes “natural disasters” as emergencies and given the circumstances D.C. employers would probably want to grant the request as well.

Employers should consider putting policies in place that allow employees to take time off for school activities and school emergencies consistent with applicable law. To that end, it is incumbent on employers to determine what their obligations are. Employers are encouraged to review their leave policies with competent employment law professionals to ensure that they are in compliance with this ever-changing area of the law.

[1] The California law applies to employers with 25 or more employees at the same location. Cal. Lab. Code 230.8. Also, California expansively defines “parent”. Cal. Lab. Code § 230.8 (e)(1) (parent includes include parent, guardian, stepparent, foster parent, grandparent, or person who stands in loco parentis to a child in grade school (Kindergarten through Grade 12)).

[2] Although the 40-hour annual cap appears to apply to emergency leave, there does not appear to be a monthly cap on emergency leave. Furthermore, although the employee is required to provide notice to the employer that he or she is taking emergency school-related leave, the statute does not appear to require that notice of an emergency be provided in advance.

[3] Cal. Lab. Code § 230.7 (a) (citing Cal. Educ. Code § 48900.1); see also Cal. Educ. Code § 48900 (i), (k).

[4] Cal. Lab. Code § 230.8 (b)(1)

[5] Cal. Lab. Code § 230.8 (b)(2)

[6] D.C. employees are eligible if they are the natural mother or father of a child, a person with legal custody, a person who acts as a guardian of a child, an aunt, uncle, or grandparent of a child; or a person who is married to, or in a domestic partnership with a person mentioned above.  D.C. Code § 32-521-.01.