Illinois Appellate Court Upholds School District Denial of Paid Sick Leave After Summer Break

On June 14, 2019, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that a teacher was not entitled to 28.5 days of paid sick leave at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year after giving birth on the final day of the 2015-2016 school year.

Plaintiff, a full time teacher, notified the school district’s superintendent in March of 2016 that she was scheduled to have her child by cesarean section on June 6, 2016, which was the last full day of the 2015-2016 school year. In addition to informing the superintendent that she would be using 1.5 sick days at the end of the school year, the plaintiff also stated that she intended to take the first 28.5 days of the following school year as paid sick leave under section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code. The superintendent denied plaintiff’s request to use those sick days.

Following the denial, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Dupage County alleging that she was entitled to 28.5 days of paid sick leave after a 50-work-day summer break based on Section 24-6 of the School Code, which entitles an employee to 30 work days for a birth-related sick leave. The appellate court, however, ruled in favor of the school district by deciding that a leave period comprises only work days, and “[i]f the leave period is interrupted by some sort of holiday or break period, then, depending on the length of the break versus that of the leave, allowing the employee to claim the remainder of the leave period immediately following the break could yield an absurd result.”

This ruling was specifically tied to the “absurd result” that would have occurred had the plaintiff been able to use 28.5 days of sick leave after enjoying a 50-work-day summer break. It is unclear how the court would rule on a similar case with a smaller break between the birth and the recommencing of the school year (e.g., giving birth on the last day before a two-week Christmas break). The holding that the extra sick leave should not have been given because it “could yield an absurd result,” however, does serve as an indication of how courts will analyze such issues especially as it relates to a summer break. Courts will look to the reasonableness of the request being made and how long of a break period is involved to determine whether an employee should receive their full 30 days of sick leave under section 24-6.

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