Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
Our company is expanding and we are concerned about compliance with all of the various state leave laws. We think we’re on top of most of them, but we understand that some states have laws requiring leave for school activities. Are they paid or unpaid? What do we need to do to comply? The school year has just started, so we anticipate more requests for time off.
—Still Learning About Leaves
Dear Still Learning,
You are correct that some states have school-activity leave laws. Although there is no federal law covering school activity leave, eight states—California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont—and the District of Columbia require covered private employers to provide leave for parents to attend school or day care activities: Louisiana, Oregon, and Tennessee encourage, but do not require, employers to provide leave for school activities. While many of these leaves are unpaid, the laws often permit employees to use accrued vacation or other appropriate paid time off during leave.1 Furthermore, New Jersey and New Mexico’s paid sick leave laws permit employees to use their available paid sick leave for similar reasons.2 Eligibility for leave, including the definitions of “parent” and “child,”3 and requirements, vary by jurisdiction. You don’t indicate in your inquiry the states in which you will be located, so to help you we’ve included a summary of state laws requiring school-activity leave, some of which have recently been updated:
School Activities Leave
California employers with 25 or more employees at the same location must allow employees who are a parent to one or more children who are of the age to attend a licensed childcare provider, kindergarten, or grades one through 12 up to 40 hours of leave per school year to participate in any of the following:
- Finding, enrolling, or reenrolling their child in school or with a licensed childcare provider.
- Participating in activities of the school or childcare provider.
- Addressing a childcare provider or school emergency.
Time off for reasons other than a childcare provider or school emergency is limited to eight hours per calendar month. Childcare provider or school emergencies occur when the child cannot remain in school or with a childcare provider due to one of the following: (1) The school or childcare provider has requested that the child be picked up or has an attendance policy (excluding planned holidays) that prohibits the child from attending or requires that the child be picked up from school or child care; (2) behavioral or discipline problems; (3) closure or unexpected unavailability of the school or childcare provider (excluding planned holidays); or (4) a natural disaster (e.g., fire, earthquake or flood). Employees must provide their employer with reasonable notice before any planned absence and notice as soon as practicable when time off is needed to address a childcare provider or school emergency. Employers may require employees to provide documentation from the school or childcare provider verifying that the employee participated in the school or childcare activity, including the date and time of the activity. If both parents of a child work for the same employer, only one parent – the first to provide notice – may take the time off, unless the employer approves both parents taking time off simultaneously. Furthermore, employers may require employees to use accrued vacation or personal leave during the leave.
Leave for School Disciplinary Proceedings
All California employers are obligated to provide employees who are the parent or custodial guardian of a child in kindergarten or grades one through 12 time off to appear at their child's school when required to attend a portion of a school day in their child’s or ward’s classroom because that child or ward has been suspended. There is no hour limit specified for this leave. Prior to taking the leave, the employee must give reasonable notice to the employer that they are requested to appear at the school. The employer may require employees to provide documentation, including a copy of the school’s notice or some other certification stating that the employee's presence at the school is mandatory. Employees may use their existing vacation time or other appropriate accrued paid time off.
Under the District of Columbia Parental Leave Act, all District of Columbia employers must provide eligible employees working in the District of Columbia up to 24 hours’ leave during a 12-month period to attend or participate in school-related events for their children. To qualify for leave, school-related meetings or events must be sponsored by the child’s school or an organization associated with the school, such as a parent-teacher association (PTA), including concerts, plays, rehearsals, sporting games or practices and meetings with teachers or counselors. The child must be involved in the meeting or event as a participant or as the subject, not as a spectator. The leave is unpaid, but employees may elect to use accrued vacation or other paid time off. Employees must provide at least 10 days’ advance notice unless the need for time off is not reasonably foreseeable, in which case the employee must provide as much notice as possible. Employers may deny leave only if granting it would disrupt the employer’s business and make the achievement of production or service delivery unusually difficult.
Employers with 50 or more employees in Illinois must provide eligible employees who are the parent or legal guardian of a child enrolled in a public or private primary or secondary school located in Illinois or a state that shares a common border with Illinois up to eight hours of unpaid leave per school year, but no more than four hours on any day, to attend school conferences, behavioral meetings, or academic meetings if the conferences or meetings cannot be scheduled during non-work hours. Eligible employees are those who have worked for the company for at least six consecutive months immediately preceding the leave request and who have worked, on average, a number of hours equal to or greater than one-half of a full-time position during the six-month period. The leave may not be taken unless the employee has exhausted all accrued vacation leave or other appropriate leave available except sick and disability leave. Before arranging attendance at the conference or activity, the employee shall provide the employer with a written request for leave at least seven days in advance of the time the employee is required to utilize the visitation right. In emergency situations, no more than 24 hours’ notice may be required. The employee must consult with the employer to schedule the leave so as not to disrupt unduly the operations of the employer. The employee must submit verification from the school within two working days of the visit.
The employee may choose to make up the time missed if a reasonable opportunity exists to do so in a manner that would not require the payment of overtime. If unpaid leave conflicts with requirements to pay exempt employees under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers may require exempt employees to make up the leave hours during the same pay period.
An employer is not required to grant this leave if doing so would result in more than 5% of the work force taking school leave at the same time.
The Massachusetts Small Necessities Leave Act requires Massachusetts employers that are subject to the FMLA to provide FMLA-eligible employees up to 24 hours of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to, in relevant part, participate in school activities directly related to their child’s educational advancement, such as parent-teacher conferences or interviewing for a new school. An employee may elect, or the employer may require, the employee to use paid vacation, personal leave, medical or sick leave during the absence except that sick leave will only be substituted if the time off is for a purpose normally covered by the company’s sick leave policy. If the need for leave is foreseeable, the employee must provide at least seven days’ notice. If the need for a leave is not foreseeable, the employee must provide such notice as is practicable.
An employer may require that leave be supported by a written certification signed by the employee including the date on which leave will be taken, the duration of the leave, the purpose of requesting the leave and the employee’s signature. An employer may require that the certification be provided at the time the employee gives notice of the need for leave or within two business days thereafter. When the need for a leave is unforeseen, certification must be given within two business days after the leave was taken or as soon thereafter as is practicable. The employer may require additional information so long as the request is reasonable.
Minnesota’s School Conference and Activities Leave law allows employees up to 16 hours of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend their children’s special education, preschool or school conferences, or school-related activities if those activities cannot be scheduled during non-work hours.
Note that the law was amended on July 1, 2023, to expand the definition of employer and eligible employee. Now, all Minnesota employees are eligible regardless of the size of their employer or the amount of time they have worked for their employer. When leave is foreseeable, reasonable notice must be provided and the employee must make a reasonable attempt to schedule the leave so as not to disrupt unduly the employer’s operations. Although the leave is unpaid, employees may use accrued vacation or other paid time off for the absence.
Nevada employers with 50 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current calendar year must grant parents of a child who is enrolled in public school up to an aggregate of four hours per school year of unpaid leave to attend parent-teacher conferences, attend school-related activities during regular school hours, volunteer or otherwise be involved at the school during regular school hours; and attend school-sponsored events. The leave must be taken in increments of at least one hour and the employer may require the employee to provide at least five school days’ written notice in advance of the leave. The leave must be at a time mutually agreed upon by the employer and the employee. The employer may require the employee to provide documentation that during the time of the leave, the employee attended or was otherwise involved at the school or school-related activity for one of the purposes set forth above.
Under New Jersey’s earned sick and safe leave law, which applies to all New Jersey employers, employees may use their paid sick leave to attend a child’s school-related conference, meeting, function, or other event requested or required by school officials. Per the rules, this could include sporting events, plays, or similar activities. In addition, employees may use their time to attend meetings regarding care provided to child in connection with the child’s health conditions or disability. All New Jersey employees are eligible for paid sick leave with limited exceptions.
Under New Mexico’s Healthy Workplaces Act, which applies to all New Mexico employers, eligible employees may use their paid sick leave for meetings at the employee’s child’s school or place of care related to the child’s health or disability. All employees, with limited exceptions, who work in New Mexico are eligible to receive paid sick leave.
All North Carolina employers must provide employees up to four hours per year of unpaid leave to attend or otherwise be involved at their child’s school (including a public school, private and religious school, preschool or childcare facility). The leave must be at a time mutually agreed upon by the employer and employee. In addition, the employer may require at least 48 hours’ written notice prior to the leave, along with written verification from the school indicating that the employee attended or was otherwise involved at the school during the time of the leave. An employee may substitute accrued vacation leave or other appropriate paid leave for any part of the school involvement leave.
Rhode Island employers with 50 or more employees must provide eligible employees up to 10 hours of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend school conferences or other school-related activities for their child. To be eligible for the leave, employees must work an average of at least 30 hours per week and have been employed by the employer for at least 12 consecutive months. Employees must provide at least 24-hours’ notice of the leave and make a reasonable effort to schedule the leave so as not to disrupt unduly the employer’s business operations. Although the leave is unpaid, employees may substitute accrued vacation or other paid time off.
Vermont employers that employ 15 or more employees for an average of 30 or more hours per week are required to provide eligible employees up to four hours of unpaid, short-term family leave in any 30-day period, not to exceed 24 hours in any 12-month period, in part, to participate in preschool or school activities, such as parent-teacher conferences, that are “directly related to the academic educational advancement of the child.”4 Employers may require that leave be taken in a minimum of two-hour segments. In order to take this leave, an employee must provide the employer with the earliest possible notice, but in no case later than seven days, before leave is to be taken except in the case of an emergency. An “emergency” means circumstances in which the required seven-day notice could have a significant adverse impact on the employee’s family member. Although the leave is unpaid, employees may elect to use any accrued vacation or personal leave during the time off.
We know this is a lot to take in, Still Learning. If you do your homework and determine whether your workplaces are subject to these requirements, you should do fine.
1 As a reminder, for exempt employees, always consider federal wage and hour laws regarding deductions from salary for partial day absences.
2 Also note that many paid sick leave laws permit employees to use their available paid sick leave when the employee’s child’s school or place of care are closed due to public health emergency reasons, and some include weather related closures of school or places of care as covered reasons for use.
3 Some definitions of “parents,” for example, include extended family members such as grandparents, aunts/uncles, foster parents, stepparents, and anyone standing in loco parentis. It is therefore important to check the laws in the states in which you operate to see if your employees are eligible for such leave.
4 Vermont short-term family leave is in addition to leave available under the Vermont Parental and Family Leave Act, meaning the two leaves should not run concurrently.