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Settled: Paid Sick Leave Must Be Taken Immediately After Birth

K-12 Education Labor & Employment

The Illinois Supreme Court today ruled in Dynak v. Board of Education of Wooddale School District 7 that a teacher’s use of paid sick leave for the birth of a child must be taken during the six-week period immediately following the birth under Section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code. Once that six-week period has elapsed, a teacher may not use paid sick days for birth unless he or she provides a physician’s certificate as set forth in the statute.

As we noted in our earlier alerts on the case on October 24, 2019 and February 21, 2020, Dynak involved a teacher who gave birth on the second-to-last day of the 2015-2016 school year. She used 1.5 of the 30 days of leave for “birth” allotted under Section 24-6, and then went on summer break. On the first day of the 2016-2017 school year, the teacher started FMLA leave and sought to take the remaining 28.5 days of leave for birth as paid sick days. The school district denied the teacher’s request and the teacher sued.

In affirming the Appellate Court’s ruling in favor of the school district, the Illinois Supreme Court expressly recognized a required temporal connection between the birth and the use of paid sick leave and rejected the argument that paid sick leave for birth is open-ended and noncontinuous. The Court reasoned that “birth” is listed in a group of other events that qualify for paid sick leave in the School Code and there is no indication that the legislature intended sick leave for “birth” to operate differently from sick leave for “personal illness, quarantine at home, or serious illness or death in the immediate family or household.” According to the Court, “in the same way that sick leave for illness may not be disconnected in time from the illness, sick leave for birth may not be disconnected in time from the birth.”

The impact of the Dynak decision for teachers taking leave related to birth in your school district will largely depend on the language in your collective bargaining agreements and/or your past practice. The Court’s decision does, however, finally put to rest the argument about whether school districts can lawfully restrict a request to use sick leave for the birth of a child pursuant to Section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code to the period immediately following the birth. It thus opens the door for school districts across the state to reassess past practices and relevant bargaining language. For more information about how this decision impacts your district, contact the authors of this post or any other Franczek attorney.