Teaching Profession

What Happens When Teachers Are Out of Sick Days?

By Marina Whiteleather — January 14, 2022 2 min read
Female at desk, suffering from flu symptoms like fever, headache and sore throat at her workplace
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Omicron is still raging, schools everywhere are pummeled by staff shortages, and many K-12 employees who are now getting COVID-19 are finding out they don’t have enough sick leave.

How school districts are handling this situation is wildly different across the country, as Education Week reporting shows.

So, we wanted to find out even more about what teachers and other school staff are experiencing.

We asked our social media followers: “What is your school policy on COVID-related sick leave? What happens for teachers who are out of regular sick days?”

The responses reveal a wide range of district approaches to providing COVID-related sick leave for teachers and K-12 staff.

Some noted the struggle to keep up with flip-flopping guidance and policies.

“Our school district took out COVID sick leave, and then gave that back to us.”

- Eric B.

The majority of respondents said they have to use their own sick days, and if they run out, then they’re stuck taking unpaid leave. In some cases, teachers have even been made to pay for their own substitutes.

“When we’re out of PTO, we can use banked sick time. When we’re out of that, we’re unpaid. 👎"

- Erin H.

“We are paid but a family member’s school system does not. Lost 10 of her 14 sick days when she (vaccinated) caught COVID from one of her students. Pretty tough for a first year teacher.”

- Keith C.

“If we are out of our allotted days they dock our pay and we lose money.”

- Cora V.

Some educators have been made to use their own sick days, even if they are completing a mandatory quarantine after COVID exposure.

“5 days. Test again. If you test positive, 5 more days. I lose ten days of sick leave this year. I’m asymptomatic, vaccinated, and boosted.”

- Walter

But, not all teachers have had negative experiences with their district responses. Some applauded their schools’ support, especially those who offered extra sick days to be used in COVID-related absences.

“In Atlanta the district pays empl. absent due to Covid if they’re vaccinated (or exempt) & participating in weekly surveillance testing so they don’t have to use their own leave. It’s about a $2,000 benefit per occurrence.”

- Skye D.

“Our school district uses COVID time instead of sick days. So we are still paid our normal wages.”

- Kimberley E.

Some districts have been allowing for more flexibility in their policies, like the ability for educators to carry over unused sick leave from the previous year, and to take advantage of that banked paid leave.

“We do not get any COVID sick days. We must use our regular sick days first. We have the capacity to bank up to 90 sick days. We may use those as well.”

-Susan F.

There are also some creative approaches to allow for more time off, like giving teachers the ability to gift their unused sick days to colleagues.

“Our immediate school district would allow us to contribute unused sick days to individuals.”

- Suzanne P.

Paid leave policies are incredibly complex and not showing any signs of getting easier to navigate among COVID-related pressures and staff shortages. Since the beginning of the pandemic, teachers have been grappling with how to make the best decisions for their health and their loved ones in the middle of often opaque and changing guidance. While districts have been charged with the impossible task of prioritizing who gets to stay home.

To learn more about how district leaders are approaching how to re-shape paid leave policies during COVID, visit ‘Teachers’ COVID Sick Leave, Explained.’

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