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Can Working Parents Take Leave for Their Children’s School or Daycare Needs?

Children are a full-time responsibility, which can be a problem if you’re also a full-time employee. Working parents need to balance the need to care for their children with their duties at their jobs. 

But what happens when these needs conflict? What if you must pick up your child from daycare early for illness or participate in a school event? Unscrupulous or uncaring employers may threaten your employment for participating in parenthood’s routine demands.

Luckily, if you live in California, you may have the right to take time off for these situations. Here’s how California protects parents who need school-activities leave and how to request it. 

California School-Activities Leave Laws

According to California Labor Code Section 230.8, covered employees are eligible for up to 40 hours of time off per year for activities specifically related to school or licensed childcare providers. This unique form of parental leave may be used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Participating in activities at the school or licensed daycare. This includes volunteering at the facility, attending parent-teacher conferences, and participating in field trips.  
  • Enrolling or re-enrolling children at a facility. Anything a parent must do to ensure their kids become or remain enrolled in school or childcare is covered under this leave, including attending open houses to find a new facility.
  • Addressing emergencies. If an emergency occurs, such as the child needs to be picked up, a behavioral meeting is requested, or a health problem arises, employees have the right to take time off to address the issue.

The law is not restricted to legal parents, either. Section 230.8 treats the following people as parents who are eligible:

  • Biological and adoptive parents
  • Foster parents
  • Stepparents
  • Legal guardians
  • Grandparents
  • Anyone standing in loco parentis over a child

In other words, if you are directly responsible for caring for a child, you likely have the right to this time off under state law. Furthermore, covered employers may not retaliate against you in any way for requesting school-related parental leave.

Restrictions on School-Related Leave

Unfortunately, not every employee is covered under Section 230.8. The law only applies to employers with 25 or more employees. Furthermore, only workers with children in school between kindergarten and grade 12 are eligible. If your child is too young for kindergarten or you work for a small business, you may not be eligible to take time off. 

Furthermore, employees must provide their employer with reasonable notice before taking this type of leave. While employers may not deny the request, they may request proof that the time was dedicated to school- or daycare-related activities, such as a letter from the facility. Furthermore, except for emergencies, employees may only take up to eight hours of time off per month under this law.

You should also note that California childcare leave only accounts for needs directly related to the child’s education or daycare. It does not account for caring for kids who must stay home for the day because they’re sick, unless facility policy prevents them from attending. A parent may use sick leave or vacation time instead in that case. 

Finally, school-activities leave is not necessarily paid. Employers may require workers to use vacation, personal, and other non-sick leave before granting additional time. Employees may also choose to use any unpaid time off their employer provides. 

How to Request Daycare Leave at Work

If you need to handle responsibilities for your child’s school or daycare, in most cases, you must give your employer advance notice. Here’s how to request time off correctly to reduce the risk of your employer illegally denying you the time you’re due:

  • Keep track of the time you’ve already taken off for school activities. While you can take up to eight hours off in one month for childcare needs outside of emergencies, the total amount of protected time per calendar year is limited to 40 hours. Additionally, you can only take eight total hours per year for enrollment needs. Keep track of the time you’ve taken to ensure you remain under your limit. 
  • Determine if the reason you’ll be gone is covered under Section 230.8. Only activities specifically related to school or daycares are covered. Planned holidays, early closures, and children’s illnesses that prevent them from attending do not count, but snow days or a child’s unexpected illness do. Suppose your request is not covered under Section 230.8. In that case, you may be able to request leave under California’s Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act, which allows you to take up to three paid days off per year to care for yourself or your family.
  • Provide reasonable notice if possible. If an issue is not an emergency, notify your employer as early as possible. What is considered “reasonable” varies based on the circumstances. For example, you cannot reasonably tell your employer you must leave for a behavioral conference before the conference is scheduled. If an emergency arises and you must leave immediately, inform your employer as soon as possible.
  • Prepare documentation proving the reason for your leave. Documentation may include itineraries for field trips, tickets for open houses, notes from the school or daycare (ideally on branded letterhead), or other communications that demonstrate you had a valid reason for taking time away. However, you do not need to reveal specific details regarding your child’s health or behavior.

If you provide this information, covered employers may not deny your request for leave or retaliate against you for taking the time.

Consult Expert Employment Law Attorneys About Denied School Leave

Some employers disregard laws regarding protected leave. If your employer must provide school-activities leave and denies your request or penalizes you for taking time off, you have legal options. The first step is to consult with the skilled lawyers at Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP. Our Bay Area employment law attorneys understand the complexities of California’s many protections for working parents. We will help you determine if you have a claim and help you pursue justice and compensation for your employer’s rights violations. Schedule your consultation today to learn more.

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