Question: My kids are going back to school in-person for the first time in over a year.  Their school is requiring parents to attend a half-day back-to-school orientation (via Zoom) before the first day.  I’ve used most of my available leaves and PTO.  Does my employer have to give me time off to attend?

Answer: California Labor Code Section 230.8 entitles parents who work for covered employers to take up to 40 hours per year of job-protected time off to find, enroll, or reenroll their children in school (kindergarten or grades 1-12) or with a licensed child-care provider, or to participate in activities of their children’s school or licensed child-care provider. The law applies to employers with 25 or more employees in the same location.   Under this law, “parent” means a parent, guardian, stepparent, foster parent, or grandparent of, or a person who stands in place of a parent to, a child.

To take this time off, parents must provide their employer with reasonable notice before any planned absence. Additionally, any time off for attending school or child-care enrollment or child related activities coordinated by the school or licensed child-care provider must not exceed eight (8) hours in any calendar month of the year.  The law does not specifically define the types of activities covered by this section, but the law generally applies to any school sponsored, supervised, or approved activity such as field trips or parent-teacher conferences.  While it is unlikely that the drafters of the law (enacted in 1995) contemplated parents participating in school activities remotely due to a pandemic, as long as your employer has 25 or more employees in the same location, taking time off from work for the Zoom back-to-school orientation is likely to qualify as protected time off under California law.

Parents may also use the annual 40 hours of job-protected leave for unplanned absences resulting from a licensed child-care provider or school “emergency,” which is when a child cannot remain with a child-care provider or in school due to one of the following:

  • Behavioral or discipline problems;
  • The school or child-care provider is closed or unexpectedly unavailable, excluding planned holidays;
  • A natural disaster; or
  • The school or child-care provider has requested the child be picked up, or has a policy, excluding planned holidays, that prohibits the child from attending or requires the child to be picked up.

In these types of emergency situations, parent employees are required to give notice of the need for leave to their employer as soon as possible.

The employer can ask the employee to provide documentation from the school or licensed child-care provider as proof that the employee engaged in child-related activities on a specific date and at a particular time.

Employees who take this leave must use accrued vacation, personal leave, or compensatory time off, if available; otherwise, the leave time is unpaid. Additionally, where both of a child’s parents work for the same employer and want to take leave to attend the same school or licensed child-care provider event, only the parent who requests the time off first may be granted time off, unless the employer approves time off for both parents.

Because this leave is protected, an employer may not discharge, demote, suspend, or in any other manner discriminate against an employee for taking this time off as long as the employee has given appropriate notice and documentation when requested.