POE Legal Update: Sick Leave

As of right now, there are not any provisions for mandatory paid federal leave if you have contracted COVID-19. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) gave two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid leave to anyone who was quarantined due to COVID-19. The FFCRA was only in place from April 1 to Dec. 31, 2020. Any COVID-related leave that was taken during that time would still be covered under the FFCRA and sick leave should not be used. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus Relief Bill that recently passed did not extend the mandatory FFCRA leave requirements into 2021. So, if you need to quarantine from school due to COVID-19, you will need to request to use your sick leave. The school district could still offer to give you FFCRA leave, but at this point, they are under no obligation to do so, absent district policy.

Since you will need to be using your sick leave to quarantine from COVID-19, you should be aware of the relevant laws surrounding sick leave. It is important to know when to use it and how many sick leave days the law provides. Some important considerations outside the scope of this discussion that may affect your decisions regarding sick leave include personal preferences of your administration and local District sick leave policies (cash reimbursement for unused sick days, leave sharing, sick bank, etc.).

Sick leave is paid leave. As such, your school district is required to pay your full salary with no deductions. You can take sick leave for your own personal illness, accidental injury, or pregnancy, or for the same of someone in your immediate family. Some school districts require proof of illness or injury by way of doctor’s note after a certain amount of consecutive sick leave days are taken. Sick leave cannot be used for any other purpose (vacation, ballgame, personal business, etc.). Under the law, you are to receive 10 sick leave days per year upon the start of the first day of school. So, if you have not taken sick leave this year, you would at least be given 10 days at full pay to be able to quarantine from school.

If you run out of accumulated sick leave days but still suffer from an illness or injury, then you may have access to an alternative type of leave, called Extended Leave, which provides teachers partially paid leave after exhausting all of your accumulated sick leave. Under the statute, you are to be paid your full salary minus the cost of a substitute for 20 additional days beyond the use of your sick leave days. The cost of a substitute can be calculated as the actual cost paid to the substitute or the cost usually paid by the district to a substitute. This leave may only be utilized for personal illness or injury and would not include immediate family members, like regular sick leave.

It is important to note that if you are ill or injured, as defined by statute, a school district simply cannot deny or punish you for using sick leave because you have the right to use it. Also, keep in mind that the statute sets the minimum amount of leave benefit every school district must provide and that the statutory language trumps any district policy if there is a conflict.

Hopefully, this overview of sick leave has provided you a sound base of knowledge for you to utilize when determining your best course of action. Remember, local district policies can drastically change the analysis so be sure to call in if you have any questions regarding sick leave so that we can provided you with the best advice for your specific circumstances and school district.

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