Next week, millions of children around the country will return to school, which serves as a good time to remind employers that they may have to provide short-term unpaid job-protected leave to their employees seeking to participate in their children’s school-related activities.  Currently, at least twelve states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont) along with the District of Columbia provide this type of leave in some form.  Additionally, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Utah have laws that encourage, but do not require, employers to provide school-related leave, and more than a dozen other states, like New York, have introduced school-related leave bills in their legislatures. 

These laws vary in shape and size.  They cover different types of employers and employees, provide different amounts of leave to employees, and differ over when an employee may take that leave and what types of school-related activities are leave-eligible.  Several examples highlight these differences:

  • The District of Columbia’s school-related leave law covers all employers, while Massachusetts’ law covers those with 50 or more employees. 
  • Hawaii’s school-related leave law only covers public employees, Colorado’s law only extends to non-supervisory employees, and Vermont’s law only entitles those employees who have worked for their employers an average of at least 30 hours per week for one year to school-related leave. 
  • North Carolina provides parents with up to 4 hours of leave per school year, while Minnesota provides up to 16 hours of leave. 
  • Nevada requires eligible employees to take school-related leaves in one-hour increments and upon agreement by the employer and employee, while Illinois permits leave of up to 4 hours in any one day, but only after the employee has already exhausted all vacation, personal, compensatory or other employer-provided leave (except sick and disability leave). 
  • Rhode Island, like most other states, allows for eligible employees to take leave to attend school-related activities generally, while Texas limits those activities to attendance at a parent-teacher conference.

Employers should be aware that their employees are entitled to school-related leave in addition to any leave they are entitled to under the Family Medical Leave Act (or state law equivalent), which provides employees with unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. 

To the extent required, employers should ensure that their employee handbooks address school-related leave (whether they include a specific school-related leave policy or suggest that the employee use paid time off to attend school-related activities).  Employers should also train their supervisors to recognize and process school-related leave requests and remind their employees to work with supervisors to schedule school-related leave well in advance.