Senator Leyva Reintroduces “Protect School Employees on Medical Leave Act”

While on Extended Sick Leave, School Employees Would Receive Full Pay 

SACRAMENTO – Building on her commitment to continue supporting California teachers and other school employees, Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) today introduced legislation that would repeal the 40-year-old California law requiring public school and community college employees—including teachers—to pay for the cost of their substitutes, known as “differential pay.”  Under SB 205, school employees would be entitled to continue receiving their full pay while on extended sick leave.

During the previous legislative session, Senator Leyva introduced similar legislation (SB 796) in January 2020, though she decided to stop consideration of that measure two months later as the Senator drastically scaled back her legislative package to allow the Legislature the ability to focus on the pressing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Added to California statute in 1976, the current differential pay law was widely and rightfully criticized in 2019 when a San Francisco Unified School District elementary public school teacher was required to pay for her substitute teacher while she underwent breast cancer treatment.  Once it became public, the situation received national attention as parents requested GoFundMe donations for the teacher.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that a public school or community college employee would lose the majority of their salary while they are fighting for their life,” Senator Leyva said.  “SB 205 will right this wrong by ensuring that teachers and school employees can focus on their health, instead of having to worry how they will provide for their family during treatment and recovery.  These employees should certainly not have to pay for their own replacement—out of their very own paycheck—or have to rely on donations as they undergo cancer treatment or any other urgent and vital medical care.  One of the many things that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is the critical need to protect access to quality and affordable health care, while also reinforcing the economic safety net for all Californians—including public school and community college employees.”

Full-time California public school teachers and classified school employees earn 10 and 12 days of paid sick leave each year, respectively.  If an employee needs more time after exhausting all paid sick leave, they may be placed on extended leave for up to five months.  During this period, the employee’s pay is deducted by the cost of a substitute—even if a substitute was not actually hired by the school district.  While teachers in some districts set up sick leave banks where teachers can draw from a pool of donated sick days, California law only allows teachers to access these banks after they have experienced financial hardship due to fully exhausting their sick and other paid time off.

Though it is relatively uncommon for employees to go on extended leave after exhausting all sick leave, the policy of providing only differential pay does not affect all teachers equally.  Since employees can roll over their sick days from year to year, early-career employees that do not have a large amount of leave stored are more likely to feel the potentially devastating impact of the current policy.  Moreover, female employees that have previously used their sick leave during or after pregnancy are far more likely to exhaust what little sick leave they may have remaining.

Following introduction, the “Protect School Employees on Medical Leave Act” will be considered by the appropriate Senate committee(s) later this spring.


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