School is back in session: Here’s how employers can prepare for unexpected absences

As we transition from the dog days of summer into the beauty that is fall foliage, many employees are preparing for one of the biggest fall activities in their household: children going back to school. According to a recent article in Employee Benefit News, 74% of parents will miss time during the school year because of doctor appointments, school activities or illness. These commitments can last anywhere from a few hours to several days — or even longer. Employers should take this opportunity to review their policies as it relates to these unexpected absences to ensure that they are in compliance and prepared for such absences.

State laws that employers should be aware of

Currently, 11 states have laws in place around the Small Necessities Leave Act, including CA, CO, DC, IL, LA, MA, MN, NC, NV, RI and VT. These laws allow an employee to take time away from work for school conferences, routine medical appointments and other qualifying instances. Many of these laws have employee minimum head count requirements — similar to FMLA employer eligibility requirements — so they may not apply to everyone. However, the majority of these laws provide unpaid time off — making it critical for employers to review their policies.

California provides up to 40 hours per year for employees to attend school-related events for their children. Unlike other states, California allows this benefit to be used in 8-hour increments and it can be used by stepparents and grandparents if they have custody of a minor child in school. California also has language that allows parents to take time off above and beyond this for attending disciplinary meetings regarding their children.

Massachusetts and Washington D.C. allow for up to 24 hours during a 12 month-period while Louisiana allows up to 16 hours. Some states like Illinois require a small necessitates leave but don’t specify the number of hours available, only stating the leave is available if all other sources of leave (such as vacation, sick time, etc.) have been used up.

Other states like Nevada and North Carolina only offer four hours of time in a 12-month period. What’s interesting is that Nevada and other states like Maine and soon to be Minnesota, have up to 40 hours of paid time off that can be used for any reason, above and beyond what is required under a state’s small necessities law.

Policy review

Many jurisdictions that require paid sick time require employers to allow employees to use it for more than just the employee’s own illness. Often it can be used for family members, like children who are sick or have doctors’ appointments. While not every state/city requires this, it is becoming more and more common.

Finally, employers who have hybrid or remote employees should examine policies that address dealing with school activities during the work week. Recent studies have shown that remote employees tend to work in the mornings and then again in the evening hours to manage family obligations during mid day, such as doctor appointments, after school activities and more. Many times, these are not approved leaves but rather just employees who are modifying their schedules to accommodate their family’s needs. While employers may not say anything, they should have policies in place addressing such needs if they fall into one of the states that have small necessities laws.

Taking the time to review your organization’s leave policies and guidelines prior to the school year starting can save a lot of time and energy when employees begin taking time off to address their children’s needs. It’s also a good time to see if the policies are balanced so that employees without kids don’t feel left out or slighted because they feel that they are being punished for not having kids.

Learn more > read our disability and absence management or absence solutions flyer.

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