Must I give my employee time off for her son's school conference?

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Question:

Our office secretary is the backbone of our company. Her son is in special education, and she periodically asks for time off to attend various school conferences and meetings about his progress. I don't want to be stingy, but her absences really create problems for us. Do I have to allow her to take time off for these meetings?

Answer:

From a legal perspective, it depends on the laws of the state where your company is located. Although the federal leave laws do not require employers to provide time off for their employees to attend school events, some state laws do. These law vary in the particulars, including which employees are eligible for leave, which employers have to provide leave, and how much time an employee may take off during the course of a year. To find out whether your state has a leave law that applies to school activities, check with your state's department of labor.

Even if your state doesn't require you to provide this type of leave, however, it might be a good idea to do so. Your secretary sounds like an office VIP -- someone whose absence makes it hard for your office to function. You wouldn't want her to start a job search because you won't let her take time off to tend to an issue that is very important to her. Schedule a meeting with your secretary to talk about how much leave she thinks she will need over the course of the school year, when she will need to take time off, and how you can cover her job duties while she is absent. By collaborating with your employee, you may come up with some creative solutions that will work for both of you.

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