Question:

I recently opened a new business and have never been an employer before. Now that school is back in session, one of my employees asked for time off during the workday to go to his daughter’s school. What are my obligations as an employer?

Answer:

As I am sure you are finding, being a new employer in California can be very challenging. As an employer, you have various obligations to your employees who are parents, guardians, and in some instances even grandparents, with children in school. Those obligations depend in part, on the number of employees you have and on the reason why the employee wishes to go to his daughter’s school.
Under the California Labor Code, as an employer, you must allow time off for an employee, who is the parent or guardian of a child suspended from school, to attend a parent-teacher conference or meeting with school administrators to discuss that suspension. This law applies to all employers. If the employee gave you reasonable notice of the request to appear at school, you as an employer are prohibited from firing or in any way discriminating against the employee for taking that time off. The statute does not define “reasonable notice,” nor does it indicate the school grade levels to which it applies. To date, the courts have not interpreted those terms in this context. Without the benefit of a court decision interpreting these terms, you should assume that unless the employee only gives you a few hours’ notice, the notice given is reasonable. You can also assume that the requirement to grant time off applies at least to parent-teacher conferences for grade levels from kindergarten through high school.

The penalty for firing, threatening to fire, demoting, suspending, or in any other way discriminating against an employee for taking time off to attend the parent-teacher conference or meeting with school administrators is severe. The employee would be entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement of lost wages and benefits.

Under another Labor Code section, if you have 25 or more employees working at the same location, you have additional obligations to your employees who have children in school. If the employee who has requested the time off is a parent, guardian, or grandparent with custody of one or more children in kindergarten, grades one through twelve, or who is attending a licensed child day care facility, you may not fire, or in any way discriminate against, that employee for taking off up to 40 hours each year to participate in activities of the school or licensed child day care facility of any of his or her children. Again, the employee must give you “reasonable notice” of his planned absence. In this instance, you can ask the employee to provide you with documentation from the school or the licensed child day care facility as proof that he participated in activities at the school or facility on a specific date and at a particular time. For the time off, the employee must use accrued vacation, personal leave, or compensatory time off, and may also used unpaid time off to the extent that he is entitled to it.

If you employ both parents of a child at the same worksite, you are only obligated to give the time off to the parent who first gave you notice of the request for time off. Both parents can only take such a planned absence simultaneously if you first give them approval to do so.

As in the case of the law requiring you to give your employee time off when his child has been suspended, if you fire, threaten to fire, demote, suspend, or discriminate against an employee for participating in school activities, the employee is entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits. Additionally, if you are ordered to rehire or promote that employee by way of a grievance procedure, arbitration, or hearing authorized by law, and you refuse to, you can be liable for a civil penalty in an amount up to three times the amount of the employee’s lost wages and work benefits.

As an employer, you should always be alert to any changes in the law or new laws that are passed that add to your obligations.
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