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Back to School: Employers Must Remain Mindful of Employee Entitlement to School-Related Leave

Written by Michael Arnold

School is back in full swing and we thought it best to update our previous post addressing school-related leave requirements for employers. Many states require (or at least encourage) employers to provide short-term unpaid job-protected leave to their employees seeking to participate in their children’s school-related activities.

As of this writing, less than half of the states have addressed school-related leave legislatively. Nine states (California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont) along with the District of Columbia require private employers to provide this type of leave in some form. A few states (Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah) have laws that encourage, but do not require, private sector employers to provide school-related leave. Other states like Arkansas, Hawaii and Texas extend school-leave entitlements to public sector employees only. And then there is Florida, which prohibits employers from taking an adverse action against an employee subject to a court order requiring attendance at a child’s school activities.

Since we last wrote on this topic in 2011, only one state, Arkansas, has addressed school-related leave, and it did so in a minimal way by expanding its statute to extend school-related leave to certain parents with children over 18. At least five states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan and Texas) have introduced school-related leave bills in their legislatures this year.

As previously reported, these laws vary in shape and size, covering different types of employers and employees and providing different amounts of leave to employees. They also differ over when an employee may take that leave, what type of advance notice the employee must give, and what types of school-related activities are leave-eligible. For example, Minnesota requires employers to provide employees with up to 16 hours of school-related leave in a 12-month period, but only where the employee provides advance notice and so long as the leave will not disrupt the workplace and only where the activity could not be scheduled to occur on the employee’s personal time (i.e. the parent-teacher conference takes place during the workday and not in the evening). Vermont requires employers to provide employees with up to 4 hours of leave in any 30-day period, but it cannot exceed 24 total hours in any 12-month period, and employers may limit the leave to 2-hour segments. You can see additional examples in our previous post.

Where applicable, employers should ensure that their employee handbooks address school-related leave, including through a specific school-related leave policy or by suggesting that the employee use any other employer-provided paid or unpaid time off to attend school-related activities. Employers should also encourage employees to work with supervisors to schedule school-related leave well in advance. Finally, employers should train their supervisors to recognize and process school-related leave requests, and refrain from retaliating against an employee utilizing this leave.

(Note: This posting corrects an earlier version previously posted.)

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Michael S. Arnold

Member / Chair, Employment Practice

Michael Arnold is Chair of the firm's Employment Practice. He is an employment lawyer who deftly handles a wide array of matters.