Illinois Supreme Court Clarifies use of Paid Sick Leave Following Birth of a Child

Teacher denied right to continue paid maternity leave following intervening summer break.

By:  Katherine L. Swise

katherine.swise@mhtlaw.com

In the case of Dynak v. Board of Education of Wood Dale School District No.7 (2020 IL 125062), the Illinois Supreme Court was asked whether accrued paid sick leave may be used to extend a teacher’s maternity leave into a new school year.  In a decision issued on April 16, 2020, the Court answered this in the negative, holding that a teacher who gave birth to a child prior to the end of the school year was not entitled to use her remaining accrued sick leave when school resumed in the fall.

The Dyank case involved a full-time teacher who gave birth to a child on the second-to-last day of the school year.  She requested and was granted use of accrued paid sick leave for those remaining 1.5 days of school.  When school resumed following the summer break, she made a request for 12 weeks of leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act, and also requested to substitute 28.5 days of accrued paid leave for the first part of her FMLA leave.  The school district granted her request for FMLA leave but denied her request to substitute accrued paid sick leave, unless the teacher was able to demonstrate circumstances that allowed the use of paid sick leave pursuant to Section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code. 

Section 24-6 of the School Code provides for paid sick leave for full-time teachers, and interprets “sick leave” to include “personal illness, quarantine at home, serious illness or death in the immediate family or household, or birth, adoption, or placement for adoption.”  105 ILCS 24-6.  Section 24-6 further provides that a school district may require a doctor’s certification for absence of in excess of 3 days for personal illness or 30 days for birth.  The school district argued that, because the teacher’s request for paid sick leave in this case was more than 30 days (6 weeks) after the birth, she was not entitled to use paid sick leave without a doctor’s certification, or unless another triggering event applied.  The teacher argued that the School Code does not specify that paid sick leave for birth must be continuous or that it must be commenced or used within a certain period following the birth, and thus she was entitled to use her accrued sick leave after the summer break.

The Supreme Court rejected the teacher’s argument that she was entitled to use paid accrued sick leave at any time following the actual birth.  Rather, the Court held that the language of Section 24-6 “strongly suggests that the legislature intended that sick leave for birth must have a temporal connection to the birth.”  If a teacher could use their paid sick leave at any time after the birth, the Court reasoned, it would make no sense to require a doctor’s note for a period in excess of 30 days.  The Court further noted that there is no indication that the legislature intended sick leave for the birth of a child to operate any differently from sick leave for any other triggering event, such as personal illness or a death in the immediate family.  It would be absurd to require school districts to allow a teacher who got sick or had a death in the family over summer break to use accrued paid sick leave for those events once school resumed.  It is clear in those cases that the paid leave must be used at the time those events occur, and not at some later time of the teacher’s choosing.  Similarly, the Court held that paid sick leave for birth must be used at the time of the birth.  Thus, the Court held that the teacher in this case was not entitled to use accrued paid sick leave when school resumed after the summer break because the “triggering event”—in this case, the birth—had occurred more than 10 weeks earlier.

It is important to note that the Court’s holding in this case was limited to the facts of this case.  The Court implied that the outcome would have been different if the teacher was able to provide medical documentation supporting her need for additional sick leave so long after the actual birth.  Thus, there may be circumstances under which an employee would be permitted to use accrued paid sick leave for the birth of a child, even after an intervening summer break.  Additionally, she was granted unpaid leave under FMLA, which can be taken any time within the first year after the birth of a child. 

It is also important to note that there may be an applicable collective bargaining agreement provision that could change the outcome in a particular case.  There was no discussion of whether the teacher in this case was entitled to use her paid leave pursuant to the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement, so it is presumed that there was no applicable contract provision in this case.  However, school districts should take care to review the terms of their own collective bargaining agreement before relying on the outcome of this case to deny a teacher’s request for paid leave after an intervening summer break.  As always, be sure to consult your board attorney if you have any questions about the application of the Court’s holding in this case to your paid sick leave policy.