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Illinois Supreme Court Confirms School Districts’ Right to Limit Use of Sick Days Following Birth

Published April 17, 2020

On April 16, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Illinois School Code did not entitle a teacher who gave birth at the end of one school year to use paid sick leave at the start of the next school year unless medically necessary.  This important decision clarifies the ability of a teacher to access the “automatic” 30 days of sick leave for birth provided in Section 24-6 of the School Code. 

The Supreme Court’s decision in Dynak v. Bd. of Educ. Of Wood Dale School District 7, concludes a four-year legal battle that began when Margaret Dynak, a teacher employed by Wood Dale School District 7 (the “District”), gave birth near the end of the 2015-2016 school year, requiring her to use 1.5 days of accumulated sick leave before the start of summer break. 

Because of the timing, Dynak planned to take 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) starting the first day of the 2016-2017 school year. Dynak also requested to use 28.5 days of paid sick leave at the start of her FMLA leave under section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code, which allows a teacher to take 30 days of sick leave following the birth of a child without needing to provide a physician’s certificate to their employer. Since the use of sick leave would begin 10 weeks after the birth of her child, the District denied her request but approved her leave under FMLA. Dynak filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that she was entitled to the 28.5 days of paid sick leave despite the intervening summer break. 

The Supreme Court rejected Dynak’s claim and found that the 30 days of sick leave for birth provided in Section 24-6 of the School Code must be taken immediately following the birth.  Writing on behalf of the Court, Chief Justice Anne Burke stated: 

Contrary to plaintiff’s reading, the statute does expressly limit a teacher’s right to use paid sick leave for birth … We find the most reasonable and consistent reading of the statute is that it allows an employee who experiences a qualifying event to use accumulated paid sick leave at the time of that event, not later at the employee’s discretion. We thus hold that under section 24-6, teachers may use up to 30 days of accumulated sick leave during the six-week period immediately following the birth. 

The Court clarified that any further leave would require the teacher to provide a physician’s certificate. 

This ruling is important for schools in their efforts to manage the use of paid time off.  However, districts should also review their collective bargaining agreements before applying this rule to ensure that they comply with any contract provisions that may provide more generous rights than those in Section 24-6 of the School Code.