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Mandatory Quarantines Should Not Bleed Teacher Sick Leave.

September 2, 2020

As teachers across the nation return to school in person amid the coronavirus pandemic, personal safety and safety of others are on our minds. We don’t want to contract the virus. We also don’t want to spread the virus, especially to vulnerable populations, including aging family members.

But there is another looming concern: What will happen to my accrued sick leave if I am required to quarantine more than once due to being exposed to someone (i.e., a student or a fellow faculty member) with COVID-19? 

Our district is following the CDC guideline of 14 days of quarantine from last day of known exposure, regardless of receiving a negative COVID-19 test result. A 14-day quarantine entails missing 10 days of school.

According to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the first two-week quarantine period is paid by the employer and does not involve tapping into the employee’s accrued vacation or medical/sick leave. For subsequent COVID-19-related quarantine periods, the employee is eligible to be paid two-thirds of regular rate of pay and can substitute accrued vacation, medical or sick leave in place of this two-thirds-pay option. The Act does not specifically allow for such substitution beyond a second, two-week quarantine period.

Important point before we proceed: This Act expires on December 31, 2020. That would almost surely be before less than half of the 2020-21 school year has passed for schools and districts that have delayed the start of the year. 

Back to a second quarantine (assuming the first quarantine occurs before the end of 2020 and therefore does not affect an employee’s own accrued sick leave):

In my district, teachers are allotted 10 sick days per school year. So, a second COVID-19 quarantine would effectively wipe out an entire year’s worth of sick days in one shocking sweep.

For first-year teachers, that is all of the sick leave they have. After a second quarantine, there would be nothing left, and if the first-year teacher uses any of those days for other health issues prior to being required to take a second quarantine, then the teacher might be able to claim the two-thirds pay option, which is quite the rub in its own right but becomes more of an issue if the teacher is told that he/she must provide lessons for a substitute or provide remote assistance to students. 

It is possible that by the time teachers are facing second quarantines, the school or district has so many faculty and students in quarantine that officials have decided to shift to remote learning. Maybe, maybe not. It is also possible that specific teachers are asked to quarantine multiple times even as the greater school population is less affected. One simply cannot predict such outcomes; however, the longer a school stays open for in-person instruction, the more likely it is that teachers will confront having to quarantine multiple times.

If teachers (and other staff, for that matter) are facing the prospect of having to deplete their sick leave because of quarantining time and again, it is also likely that litigation will happen if the school or district is not proactive about the situation. Will teachers be told, for example, that they must still teach remotely while on their own sick leave? Will they be told that they are going to lose pay because they lack enough sick leave and be told that they must remotely fulfill job duties? Will a district allow some employees to skirt the full quarantine period because their jobs do nto involve direct instruction, thereby holding teachers to a higher, more costly, quarantining standard? Will a quarantine be the result of negligent behavior of other employees, such as refusal to wear masks or to wear masks consistently?

Answering “yes” to any of these questions leaves schools and districts vulnerable to lawsuits. 

In order to avoid such vulnerabilities, school/district officials would do well to anticipate the teacher unrest associated with bleeding their sick days due to multiple mandatory quarantines by proactively instituting supportive policies and procedures that preserve that leave. Doing so will surely encourage teachers to continue with remote instruction in the face of quarantine disruptions without the distracting fear of income instability. Otherwise, the threat of income instability will prompt litigation.

School officials: Be proactive. Do not drive teachers to desperation. Protect teacher sick leave.

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4 Comments
  1. This is another consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. You’ve raised an important issue and provided possible solutions. There needs to be a greater investment into schools to help deal with the pandemic. Thank you, Mercedes.

  2. Christine Langhoff permalink

    There’s been a push to get kids with IEP’s back into physical settings on the premise that they stand to lose the most from on line instruction. But kids with developmental delays, behavior challenges or who are on the autism spectrum are precisely the population which will have trouble adhering to covid protocols like social distancing and hygiene. Also, they are likely to be in settings where more than one adult is in the room. The chances of exposure will be much higher.

    Those teachers and support staff deserve extra compensation, whether money or time, for taking on additional risk.

  3. Laura H.Chapman permalink

    This is an important post and expose of another aspect of this pandemic and opening schools. Thank you.

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