With the announcement January 24, 2022 regarding a joint initiative to address sick leave concerns related to COVID-19, there have been a number of questions from members. In addition to the information provided below, the press release and an FAQ are available at ieanea.org/coronavirus/.
How did we get here?
Members may recall that IEA worked hard in the fall of 2021 to pass HB2778. That bill passed the Illinois House and Senate overwhelmingly before heading to Governor Pritzker’s desk — where it sat, unsigned, for weeks. HB2778 would have been retroactive to the start of the 2021-22 school year and would have:
- Required districts to provide COVID administrative days to any school or college employees to be used for all COVID-related absences, such as quarantining and testing, meaning employees would not have had to use all of their accrued benefit time during the pandemic.
- Provided paycheck protection for hourly employees, meaning if a school or higher education institution had to close because of an emergency, hourly employees would still receive their full paycheck.
After weeks of not signing the bill, Governor Pritzker signaled he was prepared to veto HB2778.
Where are we now?
With the Governor’s clear plan to veto HB2778, IEA leadership (along with the IFT and others) had to determine what options existed. The two most obvious options would be to accept the veto and get no additional benefits for any members or to try to push for an override of the veto – after all, the originally passed with overwhelming majorities in the Illinois House and Senate. It became clear getting an override of the veto was not likely.
IEA leadership and those IEA was working with determined the next best option was to sit down with the governor’s office to attempt to negotiate a compromise which could pass both houses of the Illinois General Assembly and get Governor Pritzker’s signature.
Those discussions resulted in the January 24, 2022 announcement of a new Act which will provide essentially the same benefits outlined in HB2778, but only to those individuals who are fully vaccinated (or who have received the required doses to become fully vaccinated within five weeks of the effective date of the Act ), or who have an approved religious or medical exemption.
When does this Act take effect?
Immediately after passage by the both houses of the General Assembly and signature by the Governor.
Who gets paid administrative leave for COVID-related issues rather than having to use their own sick leave?
You (and every employee of a public school district established under Article 10 or Article 34 of the School Code, public university, and public community college) — if you’re fully vaccinated or receive the required doses to become fully vaccinated within five weeks of the effective date of the Act, or have an approved religious or medical exemption.
When can I take paid administrative leave?
You can use your paid administrative leave under this Act if you or your child are required to be excluded from school because of a positive COVID-19 test result or close contact with a person who had a confirmed case of COVID-19. Paid administrative leave is also available when an employee is directed to be excluded from their workplace and misses work pursuant to the school or school district policy due to COVID-19 symptoms.
Who gets previously used sick leave restored?
You (and every employee of a public school district established under Article 10 or Article 34 of the School Code, public university, and public community college) — if you’re fully vaccinated or receive the required doses to become fully vaccinated within five weeks of the effective date of the Act, or have an approved religious or medical exemption. and you have previously used sick leave because you or your child were required to be excluded from school because of a positive COVID-19 test result or close contact with a person who had a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Sick leave is also restored for those previous instances in the 2021-22 school year where an employee used their sick time because they were excluded from their workplace and missed work pursuant to the school or school district policy due to COVID-19 symptoms.
What does “fully vaccinated” mean?
Individuals are fully vaccinated if they meet the CDC and IDPH definition of fully vaccinated. Currently, an individual is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving one dose of the J&J vaccine or two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. To comply with this Act, individuals must receive all required doses within five weeks of the law’s effective date. For more information about what it means to be fully vaccinated, please see this CDC guidance.
Additional information: If IDPH, following the lead of the CDC, changes the definition of “fully vaccinated” to include a booster dose of a vaccine, then individuals will have five weeks after the adoption of that change to meet the guidelines of the updated definition.
If the CDC or IDPH changes the definition of “fully vaccinated” is there any chance educators will lose their previously earned benefits?
No. If a school employee is eligible to have sick days reinstated as of the day the Act is signed or becomes eligible to have sick days reinstated, those days cannot be taken away based on future changes to the CDC or IDPH definitions of “fully vaccinated.” Similarly, any paid administrative leave days previously awarded to an employee cannot be taken away because of a future change in the definition to fully vaccinated.
If the CDC and IDPH change the definition of “fully vaccinated” to include booster shots, will I have to get a booster shot to remain eligible for future benefits under this Act?
Yes, you will need to remain fully vaccinated in order to receive future paid administrative leave. You have five weeks from the issuance of updated IDPH guidance to receive any booster shots required to be “fully vaccinated.”
I had to use sick time earlier during the 2021-22 school year because I got COVID-19 or because my child had COVID-19. Will I get those days back?
Yes. As long as you have received the doses necessary to be fully vaccinated within five weeks of the effective date of this Act, then your previously used sick days will be reinstated.
What are the testing requirements?
This bill requires you to comply with any testing requirements imposed by your school district, university, or community college. For example, if your school district requires vaccinated employees to participate in a testing program, you must participate to be eligible. If your school district only requires testing for unvaccinated teachers, you are in compliance with your district’s requirements so long as you have received the required doses to be fully vaccinated.
What if I have a religious or medical exemption from my district?
The bill does not impact any federal protections regarding religious or medical exemptions from vaccination requirements. Those employees who were granted a medical or religious exemption from vaccination by their employer pursuant to federal law are eligible for the benefits provided by this Act.
What does this mean for teachers who aren’t vaccinated and do not have a recognized medical or religious exemption from their employer, but who are tested every week?
Those individuals who have chosen to not be vaccinated (they do not have an approved medial or religious exemption) still must comply with the prescribed testing requirement, but they are not eligible for the benefits provided by this Act and will not receive any additional leave beyond what they receive in their contract or any locally bargained agreement.
Why are only vaccinated teachers eligible for these benefits?
Vaccines — widely and freely available through many publicly available sources — prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death, and decrease the chances of an employee spreading the virus which is in furtherance of public health. meaning that schools will be able to operate more consistently over time, with fewer staff in need of leave for COVID-related issues.
What wage protection is provided under this Act?
If a school district temporarily closes because of COVID-19 or switches to e-learning, school personnel who are paid hourly (paraprofessionals, office personnel and others) must continue to be paid even if they cannot perform their regular scheduled duties. For instance, a paraprofessional employed to work 180 days whose district goes remote for 10 days, would be paid for those days under this Act even if not required to work those days. This protection applies for the entire 2021-22 school year, including any days that a school has already closed or switched to e-learning which caused the hourly employee to go without pay or take their own earned paid time off.
What does this mean for UFEA and Unit 5?
We had previously bargained an agreement with the district to allow for use of days from the Sick Leave Bank to cover some COVID-related absences. Any days taken from the Sick Leave Bank to cover those absences for employees covered by this Act (those who are fully vaccinated or receive the required doses to become fully vaccinated within five weeks of the effective date of the Act, or have an approved religious or medical exemption) will be given back to the Sick Leave Bank. Any employees who had to use their own sick leave for COVID-related issues covered by this Act for themselves or their children will also have those sick days reinstated. Once the Act is signed and effective, UFEA leadership will work with the district on the logistics and process to reinstate any such days.