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Illinois Supreme Court Will Opine on District’s Ability to Restrict Sick Leave

Education Labor & Employment

Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court granted a petition for leave to appeal the Illinois Appellate Court’s decision in Dynak v. Board of Education of Wooddale School District 7, 2019 IL App (2d) 180551, which held that a school district may restrict a request to use sick leave for the birth a child pursuant to Section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code when a teacher’s use of the leave would be interrupted by the summer break.

In Dynak, a teacher gave birth to her child at the end of the 2015-2016 school year and used 1.5 days of sick leave. The teacher began FMLA on the first day of the 2016-2017 school year and sought to take the remaining 28.5 days of leave allotted under Section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code as paid sick days. The district denied the teacher’s request and this lawsuit subsequently ensued.

The central issue before the court was the interpretation of Section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code regarding the use of accumulated sick leave for the birth of a child. Section 24-6 entitles a teacher to use up to 30 days of accumulated paid sick leave for birth of her child. 105 ILCS 5/24‑6. The plaintiff alleged that she was entitled to 28.5 days of paid sick leave after the summer break because the statute contained no temporal constraints on how to apportion the sick leave.

The Illinois Appellate Court found that “where the plaintiff’s birth-related sick leave was properly triggered on the penultimate date of the 2015-2016 school year but then interrupted by the summer break, adopting plaintiff’s construction would lead to an absurd result, allowing the leave to reinitiate approximate 10 weeks after the triggering event.” As such, the Court held that the district had authority to deny the plaintiff’s request to use the remaining 28.5 days of sick leave during the 2016-2017 school year. The Court rejected any disability-related considerations when applying the 30-day period of Section 24-6.

Employer Take Away: This decision provides precedent for school districts to restrict an employee’s use of sick leave for birth under Section 24-6 when it is interrupted by the summer break. It is, however, unclear how the court would rule on a similar case with a smaller break between the birth and the recommencing of the school year (e.g., giving birth on the last day before a two-week winter break). Indeed, the court expressly left open the door for the use of sick leave for birth over spring or winter break when it declared that “[i]f the leave period is interrupted by some sort of holiday or break period, then, depending on the length of the break versus that of the leave, allowing the employee to claim the remainder of the leave period immediately following the break could yield an absurd result.”

By allowing an appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court may expand on the Illinois Appellate Court’s reasoning and clarify how Section 24-6 should be interpreted when shorter breaks are at issue. The Court may also address whether the teacher’s recovery from delivery of the child can be considered. Alternatively, it may overturn the Illinois Appellate Court’s decision. We anticipate a decision will be issued no later than June of 2020 and will continue to keep you updated on decisions related to this issue. 

With the holidays just around the corner, districts should continue to look at the reasonableness of the request being made, and the length of the break period involved when determining whether to permit a teacher to utilize the full 30 days of paid sick leave under Section 24-6 when the usage would be interrupted by a holiday or break period.