Involuntarily placing an employee on temporary disability leave (TDL) when their medical condition interferes with the performance of their regular duties can be a difficult but necessary decision.
Imagine a situation where a teacher has fainted repeatedly while trying to teach. There is concern for the employee’s health as well as the safety of students. When the principal talked to the teacher, she dismissed the problem as something she’s not concerned about.
This employee may be experiencing health issues and in need of professional evaluation and support. If the employee refuses to acknowledge the problem or the need to take time off to get things in balance but the district is concerned that the behavior may negatively impact the learning and working environments, it may be the time to move to involuntary placement on TDL.
The Fine Print
Unless Policy DEC (LOCAL) states otherwise, TDL is only available to individuals in positions requiring certification from the State Board for Educator Certification (i.e., superintendent, principal, assistant principal, counselor, diagnostician, librarian, and instructional aide). The maximum length of TDL is set by local policy but in any event cannot be less than 180 calendar days. Its purpose is to provide a measure of job protection to certain full-time employees who cannot work for an extended period because of a mental or physical disability of a temporary nature. Pregnancy and conditions related to pregnancy are evaluated under the same standards as other conditions.
Granted per incident as one continuous block of time, it is not intended to be taken on an intermittent or reduced-schedule basis. It is the only leave that is recorded in calendar days. This means that nonwork days, such as weekends, holidays, and extended breaks, including spring, winter, and summer breaks, are counted toward the employee’s total leave entitlement.
The leave is unpaid, so districts are not required to continue their health insurance contributions unless TDL runs concurrently with paid leave or family and medical leave. Also, employees must pay their own premiums to continue their group health care coverage.
Making the Decision
Opting to place an employee on involuntary TDL should not be taken lightly. State law allows a board to place an educator on leave of absence for temporary disability without the employee’s consent if the board determines the educator’s condition interferes with the performance of regular duties based on consultation with a physician who has performed a thorough medical examination. Employees placed on an involuntary leave of absence have the right to present the board with testimony or other information relevant to the educator’s fitness to continue in the performance of regular duties.
Returning to Work
TDL provides an educator with a guarantee of return to work no later than the beginning of the next school year. It does not provide an individual with a guarantee that he or she will be returned to the same position held prior to going out on TDL, although a contract employee is entitled to employment in the same professional capacity.
The employee must submit a request to return to work at least 30 days prior to the anticipated date of return. Medical certification confirming that the employee is able to perform his or her regular duties must be included. Reinstatement requirements at the end of TDL include the following:
- The employee must be reinstated to the school where he or she previously worked if an appropriate assignment is available.
- If an appropriate assignment is not available, the educator may be assigned to another campus, subject to the approval of the campus principal.
- If a position is not available at another campus before the end of the school term, the employee must be reinstated to a position at the original campus at the beginning of the next school term.
“School term” in this context is defined as the beginning of the next school year.
A Decision That Benefits All
Knowing when involuntary TDL is your best option (and isn’t) won’t always be obvious. When used, an empathetic approach to the employee’s unique situation and an open dialogue should reduce the likelihood of an adversarial situation. It may not be comfortable but using the option may be your best bet for safeguarding employee health and maintaining suitable workplace and learning environments.
Keith McLemore joined HR Services in 2015 and assists districts with compensation planning and development. He has 17 years of experience traveling the state supporting public education employees.
McLemore received a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern University and a master’s degree from Texas Tech University, both with a focus on research analysis and design. He is a SHRM-CP.
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