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Joint Statement Clarifies That Employees Can Be Expected to Work During Act of God Days

Coronavirus K-12 Education

Although Act of God days between March 17 and March 30 will not be made up and are not instructional days, “the employer can expect school district employees to participate in work activities,” including stipend work, “in some form,” according to a joint statement issued earlier today by the Office of Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Principals Association, and Illinois State Board of Education in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).  

The key elements of the guidance are: 

  • The days of closure between March 17 through March 30 will be treated as Act of God days and will not need to be made up.
  • All school district employees on the district’s payroll will be paid as if the schools were functioning “normally.” This is true even if the district is not offering educational continuity during that time. 
  • Normal pay includes salary, hourly and stipend pay, and benefits, and employees will receive full and normal service credit in their pension systems.
  • What work an employee is required to do during the closure “must be worked out through mutual agreement,” with negotiations focusing on continuity of education, provision of meals, and other student support measures. 
  • Work should be done remotely when possible and public health guidelines about the numbers of individual present in a location should be followed. 

Based on this guidance, school districts with formal or informal e-learning plans in place can expect staff to carry out those plans during these Act of God days. School districts must negotiate the specifics of what that work looks like with their unions. 

The guidance does not address specifically how to pay employees who work only sporadically or as needed but are nonetheless “on the district’s payroll.” The guidance only states: “All employees will get paid as if they did all the normal work they would have done if schools were functioning normally.” 

The guidance also states that “[n]o school district can unilaterally change the use of benefit days” and encourages “local collaboration on the use of benefit days and encourage ways to support anyone who is sick or is caring for a sick family member.” The guidance does not explicitly address the use of sick leave to care for a child who is home due to a school closure, but instead seems to encourage districts to collaborate with its employees and unions on the use of such leave in accordance with language in its collective bargaining agreements and applicable policies and laws.  

Finally, the guidance notes that current law on teacher evaluation and Reduction in Force (honorable dismissal and layoff) remain in full force, including all relevant timelines. Because the Open Meetings Act standards for school boards were relaxed by the Governor’s Executive Order yesterday, these meetings can occur virtually, including online.  To meet the 45-day deadline, these resolutions should be acted on in March if possible or early April.  

Importantly, the guidance is clear that it is only effective through March 30.  After that date, questions about continued compensation, continued work expectations and e-learning programs among others remain open. We will continue to update you as these issues continue to evolve. For more information, contact one of the authors of this post or any other Franczek attorney.