Q: One of my veteran teachers has almost 40 days of banked leave. She has told her campus principal that she intends to take at least 3 days’ vacation every week until the end of the semester. While she may have these days available, her absences will create a major disruption on the campus. What leverage do we have to prohibit this type of excessive absenteeism?
A: Lots. While a teacher may have leave days available, your local policies and campus handbooks likely require approval from the campus principal for use of discretionary leave and should also identify limits for use of non-discretionary leave, including a maximum number of consecutive number of days used, restrictions pertaining to the timing of the leave and obligations to provide medical certification.
Board Policy DEC (LEGAL) and (LOCAL) outlines your district’s leave policies. The type of leave that the employee is likely relying on is “discretionary leave” which most local policies require to be approved by the campus principal before use (often with three to five days advanced notice). In deciding whether to approve or deny the request, the principal cannot consider the reasons that the employee requests to use the leave. However, the administrator can consider the “effect of the employee’s absence on the educational program or District operations.” [Example of DEC (LOCAL) policy language]. This may include considering the need for core teacher instruction right before an exam or state assessment, or the availability of substitutes. Your local policy likely also sets a limit to the number of discretionary leave days that may be used consecutively (e.g., no more than three days in a row).
Your local policy may also designate certain days when discretionary leave cannot be used. Days which may be excluded for discretionary leave use under your DEC (LOCAL) policy may include:
- The day before or after a school holiday
- Days scheduled for end-of-semester or end-of-year exams
- State-mandated assessment days
- Professional/staff development days
- The first or last day of instruction in a school year
If the employee begins calling in “sick” in order to use these days, check your DEC (LOCAL) policy for provisions on requiring medical certification. Typical local policies will require a doctor’s note when the employee is absent for three consecutive work days. In circumstances like this where the leave is taken in one day increments every week, look for language allowing the district to require medical certification “due to a questionable pattern of absences or when deemed necessary by the supervisor (i.e., campus principal) or Superintendent.” This language gives the district some leverage to require proof of illness if the employee is routinely calling in sick in order to use banked leave days.
Consistent application of your leave policies will be critical when denying an employee’s request to use discretionary days; however, these policy provisions will help place limits on excessive absenteeism at the end of the school year. It is recommended that the district’s policies and expectations be laid out in writing to the employee. Your school district’s attorney can be helpful in considering your particular fact patterns and drafting employee notices.