Working in retail, Adrianne Hamilton is accustomed to weekend shifts and other odd hours. But it still was difficult when her schedule would not allow her to attend her daughter's first-grade play, the child's first major school activity following the family's move to Atlanta a few months earlier.
"I apologized that I couldn't make it and [said] we would do something special when I got off and she was done from school," Hamilton recalled, adding that she has since cut back her hours to spend more time with both of her daughters, ages 7 and 3.
Hamilton is lobbying with Atlanta 9to5, a local chapter of the National Association of Working Women, for passage of a law in Georgia that would allow parents to take time off from work to attend their children's school functions without fear of losing their jobs.
Georgia is one of several states considering legislation to create or expand existing allotments of such parental leave, which covers everything from parent-teacher conferences to extracurricular activities. Ten states already have similar laws in place.
"The more children see adults involved in their education, the more we're going to have children finishing school," said Iris Martinez, a Democratic state senator from Chicago who has sponsored a bill in Illinois that would increase the current amount of leave. "It's important for kids to see that we're really involved in their schoolwork during the day."
While many family and work groups endorse such initiatives, there is resistance from some in the business community who fear the laws place unfair burdens on employers and affect productivity.
"It's one of those pieces of legislation that, if it becomes law, it will not in a big way but in a small way … eat away at our ability to be productive and have that edge that we've had in recent years," Jay Shattuck, executive director of the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce's Employment Law Council, said of the bill that has passed the Illinois Senate.
According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, 10 states require leave for participation in children's educational activities. California offers the most time, with 40 hours a year and no more than eight hours per month, while Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and Vermont offer 24 hours a year.
Illinois provides eight hours a year and no more than four hours a day, but this could increase to 24 hours a year if Martinez's bill becomes law. Louisiana and Minnesota offer 16 hours a year, Rhode Island provides 10 hours, North Carolina allows four hours and Nevada provides no maximum time but prohibits terminating employees who go to school conferences or leave work because of an emergency involving their child.
Among the states considering such laws are Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, New York, Wisconsin and Colorado, the group's research shows. All proposals but Colorado's would provide paid time off that is separate from existing vacation or personal time. Colorado's law would allow unpaid leave.
"It's a growing trend," said Jodi Grant, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families. "It always strikes me as odd talking about job-protected leave … this is something we all should take for granted."