Back to School! Employers: Are You Ready for School-Related Leave for Parents?

by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
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The lazy days of summer are behind us this month as many children head back to school. Employers of parents with school-aged children should review California’s laws, which provide certain rights to employees to take time off from work to deal with school-related issues.

Family-School Partnership Act

California Labor Code section 230.8, the self-described “Family-School Partnership Act,” is a leave law that gives parents the right to take time off from work to participate in their children’s school or child care activities.

What is the legislative intent behind this law?

Enacted in 1998 to encourage parents’ involvement in their children’s education, the law’s drafters noted that “parent involvement improves pupil achievement” and that “parents represent the single most important citizen group in terms of school support.” Further, the legislation noted that over 60 percent of women of childbearing age in the United States are in the workforce.

Which employers are covered?

The Family-School Partnership Act applies to companies employing 25 or more employees in one location.

Which employees may take leave?

Employees who are the parents, guardians, or grandparents having custody of one or more children enrolled in a California public or private school kindergarten, in grades 1 through 12 or in a licensed child day care facility, may take leave.

Under what circumstances is leave allowed?

An employee of a company employing 25 or more employees at the same location may take time off to “participate in activities” of the school or licensed child day care facility of any of his or her children.

How much leave is available?

The covered employee may take off up to 40 hours each year, not exceeding 8 hours in any calendar month of the year.

Is notice required?

Yes, Labor Code section 230.8 requires the employee to provide “reasonable notice” to the employer of his or her planned absence.

What if both parents work for the same employer?

In this case, the parent who requests the leave first may take the time off. The second parent may take simultaneous time off for the school activity only with the consent of the employer.

May the employer require the employee to provide documentation of his or her participation in the activity?

Yes. The law states that the employee “shall provide documentation from the school or licensed child day care facility as proof that he or she participated in school or licensed child day care facility activities on a specific date and at a particular time.” “Documentation” means whatever written verification of parental participation the school or licensed child day care facility deems appropriate and reasonable.

May the employer require the employee to use paid time off hours?

participate in the school or day care activity, subject to any collective bargaining agreements. The employer may also allow the employee to take unpaid time off.

What remedies are provided to an employee whose employer violates the law?

The law provides that “Any employee who is discharged, threatened with discharge, demoted, suspended, or in any other manner discriminated against in terms and conditions of employment by his or her employer because the employee has taken time off to participate in school or licensed child day care facility activities . . . shall be entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits caused by the acts of the employer.”In some instances, the aggrieved employee may be entitled to reinstatement, lost wages and benefits, and three times the lost wages as a civil penalty.

Required Appearance After Suspension of Child

What if little Jacob or Olivia were sent to the principal’s office one too many times? In that case, their parents may be called into school to deal with disciplinary issues related to the child’s suspension from class. The labor code allows a parent to take time off from work to deal with such matters.

Labor Code section 230.7 protect employees for taking time off if the employee is required—by Educational Code 48900.1—to appear in the school from which the employee’s child or ward was suspended. Specifically, the Labor Code prohibits an employer from discharging or discriminating against an employee who takes time off pursuant to this law.

This law applies to all employers regardless of the number of employees they employ. Parents needing to take this leave must provide reasonable notice to the employer.

The law does not appear to apply to just any school discipline. The referenced Educational Code Section 48900.1 states:

The governing board of each school district may adopt a policy authorizing teachers to require the parent or guardian of a pupil who has been suspended by a teacher pursuant to Section 48910 for reasons specified in subdivision (i) or (k) of Section 48900, to attend a portion of a school day in the classroom of his or her child or ward.

Employers should consider whether a school discipline meeting that does not meet this definition may nevertheless be a covered “activities” leave under Labor Code section 230.8.

An employer that violates this law must reinstate unlawfully discharged employees and reimburse them for all lost wages and benefits.

There are common problems related to these leave rights. First, some supervisors are unaware of the leave rights and therefore inadvertently deny school-related leave requests. Second, employees often neglect to give reasonable notice of the need for time off. Third, because Labor Code section 230.8 does not define “school activities,” arguments arise over what “counts” as protected time off. To avoid such problems, employee handbooks used in California should set clear expectations regarding the proper use of these leave rights. As an added measure to avoid misunderstandings, at the start of each school year employers could remind employees about policies relating to school activities leaves. With proper planning, most problems relating to school-activities absences can be avoided.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. | Attorney Advertising

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