Leaves of Absence

School boards and other employers offer an array of leaves, including sick leave, emergency leave, personal leave, vacation, jury duty leave, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, and sabbatical leave. Leaves of absence are generally granted through federal or state statutes to state, local, and federal employees, including school employees. Leave categories are either unpaid or paid leave for employees meeting eligibility requirements, which usually address length of service. Labor agreements generally contain specifics for local education systems requirements, along with school board policy, for paid and unpaid leaves and must be in compliance with state and federal statutes.

Unpaid Leaves

The FMLA ensures eligible employees up to 12 work weeks unpaid leave within a 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons: the birth and care of the newborn child of the employee; placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care; caring for an immediate family member identified as a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition; or taking medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition. To be eligible, employees must have been employed by the employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours of service during the 12-month period immediately preceding the commencement of the leave. FMLA’s “serious health condition” is defined in state statutes or labor agreements. Benefits continue while employees are on approved FMLA leave. Employees may elect to use (or boards may require the use of) available, accrued paid vacation, personal, or medical/sick leave for all or part of the maximum 12-week period of medical leave. Special rules apply to school employees who wish to take FMLA leave at or near the end of an academic year.

Maternal/paternal/parental leave for birth, adoption, or child care is unpaid leave when school employees have utilized other forms of paid leaves available to them through statutes. The FMLA allows for up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave for maternal/ paternal/parental leave.

Guidelines for educational/professional leave and sabbatical vary by state and district. The purpose of these leaves is to permit educational professionals to study, and typically this is limited to no more than 1 academic year to eligible employees. In states that offer this as a form of paid leave, it is generally based on a formula of no more than one half of an individual’s annual salary.

Overused sick leave occurs when school employees have used all available sick leave. If sick leave banks are not available, employees would then be on unpaid leave.

Personal leaves may be granted through labor agreements and can be both paid and unpaid if employees have used their available days. Eligibility perimeters are typically set forth in school board policies or collective bargaining agreements. Personnel who are on unpaid leaves may be granted the opportunity to retain insurance benefits by personally paying the premiums.

Military 1eave is addressed in both state and federal law. Under this leave, school boards must grant their employees defense service leave to fulfill their military obligations.

Paid Leaves

Most paid leaves are short term and range from a few days to a few weeks. Generally, benefits continue while school employees are on paid leaves.

Sick leave is used for employees’ medical examinations and treatments or occurs due to the physical inability to work because of personal illness or the illness or death of an immediate or close family member. In many states, school employees earn 1 day of sick leave for each month that they are on the job. State statutes usually grant school boards the authority to establish policies that allow for portions of accrued sick leave to be used for personal reasons.

Illness-in-the-line-of-duty leave is paid leave for school employees who are absent from their duties on account of personal injuries received in the discharge of their jobs or having contracted illness from a contagious or infectious disease. Personal injury claims, which are usually handled through worker’s compensation laws, vary according to state laws. Depending on state law, employees (or their estates) may have to forfeit their benefits if their injuries or deaths result from willful misconduct or from intoxication.

Maternity leave is considered a short-term disability and can be paid leave if teachers use their accrued vacation and personal leave. Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions is considered unlawful sex discrimination under the terms of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, as incorporated into Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jury duty leave for the majority of employers is paid leave if employees are summoned to serve on juries or are subpoenaed as witnesses, but not as defendants or plaintiffs in litigation. School boards typically require employees to submit copies of the summonses or subpoenas to their supervisors.

Vacation leave is normally earned according to a formula based on days/hours worked. It is usually earned by school employees on 12-month contracts.

Paid holidays are addressed in both federal and state statutes. In states where school employees operate under collective bargaining agreements, designated paid holidays are negotiated and may be celebrated on dates other than the public holiday date as set by the state. Holidays are part of the total contractual days. For example, in Florida, teachers work 196 to 198 days (180 instructional days), including six paid holidays and the remainder designated as work days or professional development.

Darlene Y. Bruner

See also Collective Bargaining; Family and Medical Leave Act; Title VII

Legal Citations