By: Brittany Flaherty Theis and Harry Hitzeman
Governor J.B. Pritzker vetoed a bill yesterday that would have provided for paid leave for all school employees who themselves or whose child or children must isolate or quarantine because of COVID infection or exposure. In his press release, though, the Governor touted a compromise with similar terms for vaccinated employees only.
House Bill 2778, also known as the School Employee and Wage Protection Bill, was sponsored by Rep. Janet Yang Rohr, a Naperville Democrat, and sent to Pritzker’s desk on Nov. 30, 2021.
The law would have required school districts to provide employees with as many administrative leave days as required to follow all public health guidance and mandates from the state’s Department of Public Health. School employees also would have received paid administrative days to care for their child or children in elementary or secondary school who need to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19 protocols.
Finally, the law would have afforded paycheck protection for hourly school employees; if a public school or higher education institution must close because of an emergency, hourly employees would have still received their full paycheck.
In vetoing the bill, Governor Pritzker said in a press release that he had negotiated this compromise with the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and other unspecified stakeholders. The IEA also issued a press release and an FAQ.
Under the compromise, only employees at public schools, community colleges, and universities who are fully vaccinated may use paid administrative leave if they get infected or are excluded from school because of COVID symptoms or exposure. This benefit also applies to employees who have children who are required to stay home from school under the same circumstances.
The compromise initiative would also return sick leave already used by vaccinated employees due to COVID-19 and provides wage protections for all hourly school employees like custodians or bus drivers who are required to miss work during a school closure or e-learning day due to COVID-19.
The new proposal does not extend the administrative leave provisions to staff who are not vaccinated. However, the IEA’s FAQ states that “Those employees who were granted a medical or religious exemption from vaccination by their employer pursuant to federal law are eligible for this benefit,” but that unvaccinated employees who do not have a recognized medical or religious exemption and are participating in weekly testing “will not receive any additional leave beyond what they receive in their contract.”
The Governor’s office did not specify a timeframe in which the alternative legislation would be submitted and approved. The Illinois Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union of more than 135,000 members, actively supported HB 2778 and praised the compromise. Opponents of HB 2778 argued it would create a disincentive for those who are still unvaccinated to get inoculated and could exacerbate a current teacher shortage by providing for unlimited paid leave for school employees because it lacked a sunset provision. Concerns regarding the proposed compromise remain among the opponents of the vetoed HB 2778.
Whitt Law LLC has served Illinois school districts for more than 30 years. Our attorneys are well-versed in the Illinois School Code, personnel issues, and education law. Please contact Attorneys Brittany Flaherty Theis or Brian R. Bare if you have any questions regarding this blog post.