Your “family-friendly” company allows employees time off to attend their kids’ activities. However, your receptionist has four school-aged children and frequently asks for time off in the middle of the work day to attend class parties, parent-teacher conferences, and meetings. In some weeks, she has taken several hours off on multiple days. This is creating a problem because other employees are annoyed at having to frequently put off their own work in order to answer the busy phone and cover the reception area while she is gone. Can the company limit her absences?
Yes, but within certain guidelines. Many states require that employers provide leave for employees to attend certain school activities involving their children, including California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont. These laws vary in terms of which employers are covered and the amount or type of leave required. For example, North Carolina’s law applies to all employers and allows four hours per year, while California’s law applies to employers with 25 or more employees and allows 40 hours per year. Some states, such as Texas, have laws that only apply to public employers. Others, like Louisiana, have laws that encourage, but do not require, employers to provide leave for school activities.
In addition, under changes to the FMLA that became effective in 2009, employees with family members in the military may qualify for leave due to a circumstance, or a “qualifying exigency,” arising from the fact that the family member has been called to active duty. Under DOL regulations, such exigencies can include enrolling the child in a school, attending certain school activities such as conferences, and providing childcare on an urgent basis (e.g., if the child is sick).
With this in mind, the best bet is to take a proactive approach. Rather than addressing an individual employee’s use (or perceived overuse) of leave in a family-friendly work environment, take actions that apply to every worker on a going-forward basis as follows:
- Create a leave policy describing when leave can be taken and how much leave will be granted.
- Make sure your policy conforms to applicable state and federal laws.
- Keep the policy consistent among all employees to avoid the appearance of discrimination.
- Inform employees about the policy.
- Train supervisors to apply the policy consistently and within the confines of applicable laws.
By taking these steps, employers can place reasonable limits on the use of leave to attend school activities, communicate their expectations to employees, and avoid the appearance of treating one employee better or worse than others.
Source: Cal. Labor Code § 230.8; Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-13.3-103; D.C. Code Ann. § 32-1202; 820 ILCS 147/1; La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 23:1015.2; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, § 52D; Minn. Stat. § 181.9412; Nev. Rev. Stat. §392.920; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-28.3; R.I. Gen. Laws §28-48-1 to 11; Tex. Gov’t. Code 661.906; Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 472a.