Do Summer Babies Get More Snuggle Time? Insight from Oral Argument in Dynak Case
The Illinois Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in a case addressing restrictions on school district employee sick leave for the birth of a child under Section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code. As we explained in our earlier Franczek alert on the case, Dynak v. Board of Education of Wood Dale School District 7, 2019 IL App (2d) 180551, addresses whether a school district properly measured a teacher’s use of sick leave for the birth of a child when the leave was interrupted by summer break.
Not surprisingly, everyone agreed during oral argument that sick leave for the birth of a child can only occur after birth. The teacher posited, however, that because there is no language in Section 24-6, which provides for 30 days of leave “for birth,” requiring a “medical purpose” for the leave, a teacher should be allowed to take the leave at any time as long as there is “some tethering” of the leave to the birth. One Justice pushed back on that position, noting that a school can ask for proof of medical necessity after the 30 days of initial sick leave for birth, suggesting that the legislature considered there to be medical necessity during that initial 30 days.
The teacher was asked to address a number of hypotheticals based on the rule the teacher proposed, with the following responses:
- What if an employee has a child during summer break? Can the employee take 30 days of sick leave for birth of a child upon return in the fall? The teacher’s answer: Yes.
- What if two school employees have a child together, can each take 30 days of sick leave for childbirth, back to back, for a total of 60 days? The teacher’s answer: Yes.
- Can an employee who has a child on the last day of school in a school year, but returns to teaching on the first day of the next school year, take 30 days of leave from Thanksgiving through winter break? The teacher’s answer: Yes, as long as there was a valid “excuse” such as the employee’s partner was taking leave prior to the day the employee’s leave was to begin.
- Can an employee take leave every Friday for 30 weeks? The teacher’s answer: No. One Justice pointed out that this seemed to contradict the teacher’s argument by setting a temporal limit on the leave, but the teacher responded the distinguishing fact was that it would somehow not be sufficiently “tied to” the birth.
These hypotheticals illustrated just how malleable the teacher’s standard could be; without an objective standard, two different administrators could easily reach different results when deciding whether two similarly situated employees’ leave requests were sufficiently “tied to” the birth.
The school district distinguished the leave at issue from paid parental leave, arguing that sick leave is only meant for times when an employee is sick or caring for the sick, not for bonding or family adjustment. According to the school district, under the teacher’s reasoning a father could come in a year after a child’s birth and ask to use 30 days of sick leave for birth. That result would not make sense.
The school district also argued that an employee who has a child on the eve of summer break is actually significantly better off than a school employee who has a child during the school year, The employee with the summer baby is off work the entire summer without using any sick leave, whereas the employee who gave birth during the school year only has 30 days at home with the child and must use sick leave for the birth of a child to access it.
The school district opined that sick leave for the birth of a child should be used within six weeks after the child’s birth. If there is a break in work days during that six weeks, the employee should be allowed to use the remainder of the available 30 sick days upon return from the leave, but only if it falls within the six-week overall time period. The school district analogized the teacher’s reading of the law to an employee being sick on a Thursday and Friday when Friday is a holiday. It would be nonsensical for the employee to ask to use sick leave on Monday, even if no longer sick, because the employee did not have to use a day of sick leave to stay home on Friday. Similarly, here, it would be unreasonable to allow parents of summer babies more sick leave for snuggle time just because the babies happened to be born on the eve of summer.
We will continue to monitor this important case and will report back when there is a final decision. For any school personal matters, including those relating to use of sick leave for the birth of a child, contact the authors of this post or any other Franczek attorney.