The return to working in person, whether in the classroom or a district office, has increased concerns about what leave options exist if a person feels unable to return to the worksite because of a health risk or because they become ill or are required to quarantine.
At the time of this writing, there are additional leave options beyond the normal state and local sick leave days; however, there is no guarantee that all absences will be paid.
State Personal Leave
The Texas Education Code requires that districts provide five days of paid personal leave per year. The state-required personal leave is characterized as either discretionary (voluntary) or non-discretionary (involuntary) leave. Districts can place restrictions on the use of voluntary leave, but generally, if the absence is not under the control of the staff member, a district must allow the use of available personal leave. State leave would normally be available to a staff member who was ill or needed to quarantine. It would also likely be available for an individual who can provide medical documentation regarding a serious health risk in returning.
Local Sick Leave
Many districts provide sick leave in addition to the five state personal leave days. Most districts provide five local sick days, but the number provided is determined locally by the district’s board of trustees. Most districts treat local sick leave days in a way that they would be usable for a staff member who was ill or likely required to quarantine. But, as these days are locally provided, each district determines the terms of eligibility.
Leave Specific to COVID-19
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) went into effect April 1 and remains in effect through December 31, 2020. Two provisions are most important to teachers and other district staff members:
- The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act expands the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to cover some situations specific to the novel coronavirus, such as a parent’s need to care for their children who would normally be in school or childcare.
- The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act provides a legal entitlement to paid sick leave for some employees who are absent for work due to certain coronavirus-related reasons.
To learn more about the leave options provided, read ATPE’s analysis of these two new laws.
Family and Medical Leave
A qualifying employee is eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave (FML) if unable to work due to their own serious health condition or that of a close family member. Unlike the Extended Family and Medical Leave provided for under the FFCRA, regular FML is unpaid. The qualifications for FML and an explanation of the benefits can be found at atpe.org/en/Protection/Legal-Guide/Absences-Leave.
Some school districts have refused to grant FML to individuals who were previously able to work with their underlying health condition and are now unable to only because of the increased health risks caused by the possibility of an infection. There has, as of yet, been no guidance from the courts or Department of Labor clarifying whether this is consistent with the requirements of the law.
Temporary Disability Leave
A certified educator is eligible for up to 180 days of unpaid leave when a disability interferes with their ability to work. The qualifications for temporary disability leave and an explanation of the benefits can be found at atpe.org/en/Protection/Legal-Guide/Absences-Leave.
Paid Administrative Leave During Required Quarantine
In addition to the leave options described above, many districts have adopted Policy DBB, which provides that the district may require a medical examination when the district is notified an employee has a physical impairment that could be a health or safety threat to others. The policy may provide that the district may place the employee on paid administrative leave while waiting for the examination results. Many factors could dictate whether a district would place a particular employee on paid administrative leave, so it is not possible to guarantee that every staff member required by a district to quarantine will be placed on paid administrative leave.