Backpacks have been stuffed with new school supplies.  Lunches are packed with cheese sandwiches and juice boxes. Yellow school buses again flash their red lights as kids jump on and off every weekday morning and afternoon.  Kids have returned to class which means it won’t be long before parents meet with teachers for conferences and some unlucky parents meet with principals to talk through discipline issues.  It is time for Colorado employers to brush up on their obligations to provide employees with leave to participate in these sorts of academic activities for their kids. 

Colorado’s Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act 

Enacted in 2009, the Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act requires Colorado employers to provide full-time employees with up to 18 hours of unpaid leave per academic year to participate in their children’s academic activities.  Part-time employees are entitled to a pro-rated amount of leave.  Employees in an executive or supervisor role, however, need not be provided this leave. 

The law applies to both public and private employers with 50 or more employees.  The academic activities for which leave is available include meetings related to: 

  • Parent-teacher conferences;
  • Dropout prevention;
  • Attendance;
  • Truancy;
  • Disciplinary issues;
  • Special education services (as defined in C.R.S. §22-20-103); and
  • Response to intervention (as defined in C.R.S. §22-2-133). 

Employers may place some restrictions on the use of this leave.  For example, companies may limit the amount of leave to three-hour increments not to exceed six hours in any one month.  Except in the case of an emergency, companies may require at least one week’s notice of the need for leave and may require that that the employee provide written verification from the school or school district of the academic activity.  Employees are required to make a reasonable attempt to schedule these activities outside of regular work hours. If the absence of an employee would cause a production stoppage or endanger the health or safety of others, the company may limit the use of academic activities leave. 

Substituting Paid Leave 

Colorado employers that provide paid leave for vacation, sick time, personal leave or other reasons must allow, and can even require employees to substitute the employee’s accrued paid leave for the unpaid academic activities leave.  When substituting other accrued paid leave, however, companies must not impose more restrictive notice requirements (i.e., more than one week’s advance notice) when leave is being used for academic activities. 

No Additional Leave May Be Required 

For many employers, the Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act may be a non-starter because employers can satisfy the requirements of this law by providing employees with other types of leave sufficient to cover the allotment for academic activities leave.  In other words, if an employer provides full-time employees with at least 18 hours per year of vacation leave, sick leave or personal leave, whether paid or unpaid, the employer need not provide any additional academic activities leave.  Such employers must, however, allow the use of those alternative types of leave for the academic purposes established under this law without imposing any stricter notice requirements. 

Review Your Policies 

Before the requests for academic activities leave start rolling in, take the time to review your leave policies and procedures to ensure compliance with this law.  Decide in advance whether you will require employees to substitute any accrued paid leave when taken for academic activities purposes and update your leave policies to inform employees of the mandatory substitution.  If you use an outside vendor to administer leaves, make certain that their system allows for the use of leave for academic activities and that any notice requirements are no more stringent than as are required under this law.  If you wish to limit the use of this leave to a maximum of three-hour increments and six hours per month, set up a mechanism to track each employee’s use of leave throughout the school year.  Finally, make sure your supervisors and human resource professionals are trained on granting time off for the stated academic purposes so that your company doesn’t inadvertently violate the law because folks don’t know or forget about this Colorado leave requirement.