Governor Pritzker issued an Executive Order August 26, 2021, which was extended on September 3, 2021, requiring vaccination (or testing) for school employees. IEA issued a joint response to the mandate with IFT. UFEA echoed that response.
The Executive Order has raised many questions from members. The following FAQ attempts to address a number of those questions with information we have right now. There may also be additional information and guidance from IDPH and ISBE, such as this updated FAQ from IDPH & ISBE. As we receive new information or guidance, we will update this FAQ and continue our conversations with the district.
What does the Governor’s Executive Order say?
Among other things, the EO states that all public and private school personnel (pre-K through 12 and higher education) either be vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19. You can read Executive Order 2021-22 here.
What’s the timeline for teachers and other school employees to be vaccinated?
With the extension of the EO, school employees must receive the first dose no later than September 19, 2021 . The second dose for those receiving a vaccine requiring two doses (currently the J&J vaccine only requires one dose) should be within 30 days of receiving the first dose. Employees who do not receive the vaccine must be tested at least once per week, though the frequency may increase in the event of positive cases at the discretion of the health department. The testing mandate also goes into effect September 19, 2021.
Can UFEA bargain the requirement for employees to be vaccinated or regularly tested?
UFEA can bargain the impact of the Executive Order requiring vaccination/testing, but we don’t have authority to bargain over the decision.
That means that we can attempt to bargain with the district over how the mandate will be implemented in the district, but we can’t bargain over whether or not the mandate will be implemented.
As with all bargaining, we can’t guarantee a certain outcome and the district is not obligated to come to any specific agreement with us. All we can guarantee is that we will engage in discussions with the district regarding how the mandate will be implemented.
UPDATE from September 14, 2021: As a result of bargaining the impact of the Executive Order, we’ve negotiated a Letter of Understanding outlining how the vaccine and testing requirements will be implemented locally. You can read the entire LOU here and there are more details throughout the FAQ.
So, what will UFEA be bargaining with the district? And when?
As mentioned, we’ve now negotiated a Letter of Understanding with the district regarding a number of issues related to the vaccine and testing mandate. Our discussions with the district included a number of topics based on guidance from IEA and feedback from members, such as:
- who can “opt-out” or be exempted from the vaccine requirement
- what proof of vaccination will be required and how employees will provide that documentation to the district
- who will maintain and have access to vaccination information and documentation to guarantee confidentiality
- how the district will handle inquiries from parents or families of students regarding staff vaccination status
- where testing will be provided (likely on-site at district buildings) and how staff who are tested off-site will provide documentation of their test results — as well as who will learn of those test results and how confidentiality will be maintained
- how the district plans to respond to employees who refuse vaccination and testing requirements
- how any associated costs or time required for vaccination or testing will be provided for by the district
If we get further guidance or there are changes to the mandate, we will discuss those with the district and UFEA leadership will update members as we have more information and details to share.
Can my employer ask about my vaccination status? What about privacy & HIPAA?
Employers are allowed to ask about or require proof of vaccination from employees. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has made it clear such inquiries do not violate HIPAA. And, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the entity which enforces workplace and discrimination laws, has already concluded such inquiries do not violate anti-discrimination laws.
Am I exempt from the mandate if I’ve had COVID?
Currently there is no exemption for employees who have contracted COVID in the past and may already have antibodies. As of right now, those employees will still either need to be vaccinated or tested regularly.
Will my vaccination status, testing results & medical information remain confidential?
While employers are allowed to ask about or require proof of vaccination from employees, that information must be kept confidential. That means, for example, it should be maintained separately from an employee’s personnel file. Our negotiated Letter of Understanding explicitly addresses this so members can be confident their information remains confidential.
Can a parent request their child be in a classroom based on vaccination status?
Employee medical information is confidential and should not be disclosed. However, it is possible a parent or caregiver of a student with a serious medical condition may be able to demonstrate an intense interest in having the child assigned to employees who are vaccinated. In those situations, it could be possible that a student’s IEP may indicate the child be placed with vaccinated teachers and employees.
What about exemptions for documented medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs?
Those employees who require accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or request an exemption from vaccination due to sincerely held religious beliefs may communicate that with the district. Members are encouraged to contact Human Resources regarding such exemptions. The district should be able to provide employees with guidance regarding the process and any required paperwork. UFEA can assist members with that if requested. Currently, even employees who qualify for a vaccination exemption for such reasons still must undergo regular testing according to the EO, and any employee may choose to be tested regularly for COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status.
What if I refuse both vaccination & testing?
The EO states schools shall exclude school personnel who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from the premises unless or until they comply with the vaccination or testing requirements. The district intends to provide employees an opportunity to comply with the requirements and that process is outlined in our Letter of Understanding.
Bargaining unit members who fail to comply with the Executive Order will be provided with verbal direction to provide proof of being fully vaccinated, proof of being tested onsite at a school within the current work week, or a negative test result obtained elsewhere within the current work week. If those individuals fail to comply with that verbal direction, they will be provided written direction to not return to work until they provide proof of being fully vaccinated, proof of being tested onsite at a school within the current work week, or a negative test result obtained elsewhere within the current work week. Those individuals will be paid for the first 48 hours to provide time to provide such documentation. If bargaining unit members still fail to comply and provide proper documentation after 48 hours, they will be docked pay for the days they are excluded from work until they provide proof of being fully vaccinated, proof of being tested onsite at a school within the current work week, or a negative test result obtained elsewhere within the current work week.
While currently the district has no intent to discipline such employees, if the district at some point plans to apply any discipline, UFEA will ensure the district follows progressive discipline as required by contract and supported by law. Bargaining unit members who wish to refuse both vaccination and testing requirements are encouraged to consider requesting one of the numerous negotiated leave options by emailing their request to Human Resources, and UFEA will advocate the district approve such leave requests whenever possible.
Can UFEA file a grievance over the vaccination or testing requirement?
UFEA can only file a grievance when there is an alleged violation, misinterpretation or misapplication of the collective bargaining agreement. As always, if a member believes they can identify a potential contract violation, they should share the circumstances with UFEA leadership for consideration, including what has occurred and which portion(s) of the contract they believe may have been violated, misinterpreted or misapplied. The UFEA grievance committee receives those allegations and considers the merit of the complaint and the likelihood of success when determining if and how to proceed with a grievance.
I heard universal mandates are unprecedented & have never been tested in the courts?
That’s not accurate. Universal mandates have been upheld in the courts, most notably by the United States Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905) a case in which the Court upheld that state’s vaccination law regarding smallpox. This case has been cited by courts in upholding mask mandates and stay-at-home orders during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
If I’m not yet vaccinated and decide to be, is there any leave available for me?
Yes. Last spring, when “COVID days” were still available, individuals had some leave available to receive, or recover from side effects from, the vaccination. Those days are no longer available. However, as part of our Letter of Understanding, we’ve negotiated some leave time to be available to any bargaining unit members for the purpose of receiving the vaccination or recovering from side effects. The agreement reads:
Bargaining unit members who wish to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination shall attempt to schedule an appointment outside of the workday. However, if an appointment outside the workday is not possible, bargaining unit members will be granted paid leave during the workday in order to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, and shall not be required to use their own leave for such purpose. Unless experiencing side effects, bargaining unit members should return to work following their vaccination for the remainder of the work day. In addition, bargaining unit members receiving the COVID-19 vaccination will be granted up to one (1) paid day to remain home if experiencing side effects resulting from the COVID-19 vaccination. For clarity, only one (1) total paid day will be granted regardless of whether the vaccine is administered in one dose or two doses (i.e. bargaining unit members will not be granted a paid day per dose). Such time should be recorded by the bargaining unit member in Tyler as “Leave With Pay” with a note that the leave is for an “appointment for COVID-19 vaccination” or “due to side effects resulting from COVID-19 vaccination”. Any bargaining unit member requiring more than one (1) day absence because of COVID-19 vaccination side-effects, shall use their accumulated sick leave.
If I get COVID-19 will I be required to use my own sick leave?
Maybe, but hopefully not. This is one item we bargained with the district in our Letter of Understanding. Eligible bargaining unit members may have special access to the sick leave bank under certain conditions.
Bargaining unit members are eligible for special use of the sick leave bank if they:
- are not vaccinated but have received approval of an exemption from vaccination under the allowable exemptions as provided in Section 4 of the LOU, and they are required to quarantine as a result of a close contact with an individual at school who has tested positive for or been clinically diagnosed with COVID-19; or
- are required to isolate as a result of a COVID-19 positive test or COVID-19 symptoms
If a bargaining unit members meets one of the qualifications above, they may access up to ten (10) days each from the sick leave bank under the conditions outlined in the LOU:
- They must have donated to the sick leave bank for the 2021-22 school year. Anyone who did not contribute to the sick leave bank by the deadline is provided an additional week to contribute a day to the bank from the time the LOU was executed (one week from September 14, 2021).
- Bargaining unit members do not need to have exhausted their own accumulated sick leave prior to accessing the sick leave bank, and they are not required to use the traditional sick leave bank request form or provide additional documentation from a doctor.
- Bargaining unit members who are eligible should email their intent to the UFEA president and Unit 5’s Human Resources Department for consideration and approval.
So, if I am vaccinated and test positive for COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms and have to isolate, I can use up to 10 days from the sick leave bank before using my own sick leave?
If I’m not vaccinated, but have an approved medical or religious exemption, and I am required to quarantine as a close contact, can I use up to 10 days from the sick leave bank before using my own sick leave?
If I’m not vaccinated, but have an approved medical or religious exemption, and I am required to isolate because I test positive for COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms, can I use up to 10 days from the sick leave bank before using my own sick leave?
If I choose not to be vaccinated, but don’t have an approved exemption, and I am required to quarantine as a close contact, can I use up to 10 days from the sick leave bank before using my own sick leave?
No. This would not be a qualifying use of the sick leave bank under these special provisions.
If I choose not to be vaccinated, but don’t have an approved exemption, and I am required to isolate because I test positive for COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms, can I use up to 10 days from the sick leave bank before using my own sick leave?
Can I use more than 10 days?
No, currently our agreement allows each eligible bargaining unit member a total of 10 days from the sick leave bank under these special use provisions.