Senator Leyva Introduces “Protect Teachers on Medical Leave Act”

SB 796 Ensures School Employees Receive Full Pay While on Extended Sick Leave

Monday, January 6, 2020

SACRAMENTO – As the California State Legislature reconvened today, Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) introduced legislation that would repeal the 40-year-old California law requiring public school employees—including teachers—to pay for the cost of their substitutes, known as “differential pay”.  SB 796 would entitle school employees to continue to receive their full pay while on extended sick leave.

The current differential pay law, added to California statute in 1976, was heavily scrutinized last year when a public school teacher from the San Francisco Unified School District was required to pay for her substitute teacher while she underwent breast cancer treatment.  The situation received national attention when a GoFundMe donation page was launched by parents for the teacher.

“No public school employee on extended sick leave should ever lose the majority of their salary while they are in the fight of their life.” Senator Leyva said. “In that moment, the employee’s job is to simply survive.  It should not be the employee’s job to pay for their own replacement or, even worse, figure out how to feed or keep a roof over their family’s head while they are undergoing cancer treatment or any other health crisis while on extended sick leave.  School employees, including teachers, are the backbone of California’s education system and SB 796 will ensure that we have their back when they need that support the most.”

In California, full-time public school teachers and classified school employees earn 10 and 12 days of paid sick leave each year, respectively.  If after exhausting all paid sick leave an employee needs more time, they may be placed on extended leave for up to five months, during which their pay is deducted by the cost of a substitute—even if a substitute was not actually hired by the school district.  While teachers in many districts set up full-pay 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 used the full five months of differential pay leave. 

While instances of employees going on extended leave after exhausting all sick leave is relatively uncommon, 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 today’s introduction, SB 796 will be considered by the appropriate Senate committee(s) later this spring.