COVID-19 School Closures & Employment Issues
Posted March 13, 2020

With the recent COVID-19 school closures occurring throughout the state, we can expect that a number of employees will request to work from home or take time off work while their children are out of school.

For employees who want to work remotely, but do intend to keep working their regular schedules, employers should consider granting the request on a temporary basis as a courtesy to employees who could reasonably perform their work at home, even if remote work is not typically permitted. When permitting remote work, implement a temporary remote work agreement specific to COVID-19 conditions, to be clear that this is not a long-term option. LightGabler can assist with preparing this agreement for you.

For employees who cannot work remotely but want to take time off work, or work a reduced schedule at home for school closure purposes, here are the relevant employment law standards in considering this request:

  • Sick Leave: Employees are entitled to use their sick time for family care purposes. However, sick leave does not apply to caring for a child unless that child is ill, injured or has other medical needs.
  • Vacation Leave: Employees may use vacation time for any personal reasons. While most employers have specific advance notice requirements when employees request vacation, consider waiving those notice requirements for your workers at this time of crisis and allowing them to take vacation immediately. Employees can be expected to apply available vacation to personal time off before taking unpaid time off; this is a business decision for the company (but make sure you are consistent with all employees).
  • PTO: PTO (combined sick and vacation leave) policies must comply with the rules of both sick leave and vacation leave. PTO may be used entirely for vacation purposes, so it would be available to the employee in the same manner noted in the “vacation leave” paragraph above.
  • School Leave: For employers with at least 25 employees, the company must grant unpaid “school leave” in child care emergency situations (which would include unexpected school closures). The maximum leave available is 40 hours per school year, at a rate of no more than eight hours per month. While employees who want to take full time off would use up this time almost immediately, some employees may use this in increments if they have available child care options but must arrive late or leave early to work within those child care schedules. For employees who want to work remotely, consider allowing remote work if at all possible, or grant non-working time off if working from home is not possible.
  • Unpaid personal time off: Employers may not typically provide unpaid personal time off, but may consider doing so during mandatory school closures related to a public health crisis. It is a difficult time for everyone involved, and it is advisable to allow employees to take unpaid personal time off to self-quarantine and/or to care for a child at home during a school closure. When doing so, employers can remind employees that unpaid personal leave typically is not granted but is being implemented as a courtesy during this crisis period.
  • Negative time off balances: Some companies are granting employees the right to “go negative” on their available sick, vacation and PTO balances, even if this is not typically permitted. This is acceptable and a reasonable courtesy to grant at this time. Remember that you cannot deduct negative balances from final pay if an employee leaves with a negative balance on the books, so this may turn out to be a gift to employees who leave before recovering the negative time.

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