District Peace Officers Entitled to New Leave Options
School districts that employ peace officers need to provide mental health and quarantine leave. Here’s what your district needs to know.
State law requires school districts to make certain kinds of leave available to district peace officers.
Texas Government Code 614.015 allows peace officers who work for a law enforcement agency of a political subdivision, including a school district, to take mental health leave following a traumatic event in the scope of their employment.
Texas Local Government Code 180.008 requires a political subdivision to provide quarantine leave for peace officers, EMTs, detention officers, and firefighters employed by the political subdivision who are exposed to a communicable disease while on duty and ordered to take leave.
Approximately 25% of Texas school districts employ peace officers. These districts must have provisions in their employee leave policies at DEC(LOCAL) regarding leave for peace officers. Many districts already have these provisions in place, using sample language provided by TASB Policy Service.
Districts also need to make sure that their administrative regulations are updated to fully comply with these legal requirements. TASB HR Services updated its Framework for Developing Leaves and Absences Procedures, available in the HR Library (TASB HR Services subscription required), to meet these requirements.
Mental Health Leave for Peace Officers
Districts that employ peace officers must:
- Establish clear and objective guidelines addressing the circumstances under which mental health leave will be granted
- Provide such leave with no loss of compensation
- Specify the number of mental health days available, typically designated per incident
- Detail how much anonymity a peace officer has when the leave is taken
A traumatic event is defined in the Framework as “an incident or event that causes physical, emotional, or psychological harm" that may make the person “feel physically threatened or extremely frightened.” Note that legitimate personnel actions, including demotions, transfers, or other disciplinary action up to and including termination, do not constitute traumatic events.
Districts must also determine how much mental health leave a peace office receives per event. So far, districts have chosen to allow anywhere from two to 45 days, with most offering around five days.
Quarantine Leave for Peace Officers
When a district peace officer is ordered by a health authority or the peace officer’s supervisor to quarantine because of a known or suspected exposure to a communicable disease while on duty, state law requires the district to provide quarantine leave.
Districts may not reduce or withhold any of the peace officer’s benefits during the quarantine, including compensation, paid leave, or health benefits. Districts must also reimburse a peace officer for any reasonable expenses incurred because of the quarantine, including lodging, medical treatment, and transportation.
TASB HR Services’ Framework for Developing Leaves and Absences Procedures, available in the HR Library, helps districts define which district personnel or health authority may order an officer to quarantine, as well as determine appropriate certification for the leave and procedures for reimbursement of reasonable expenses incurred as a result of quarantine.
Mental Health and Quarantine Leave for Other School District Employees
State law does not address other district employees who may be part of a work-related traumatic event or exposed to a communicable disease.
Districts are not required to provide additional leave to employees who are not peace officers beyond their leave program and any existing legal obligations, although they may choose to do so. The board must authorize any such leave. Boards that wish to authorize such leave often do so through a resolution.
Districts should also note that provisions regarding nondiscretionary use of state personal leave (and local leave, if the district offers it) do not distinguish between mental and physical illness, nor do Family Medical Leave Act provisions. Districts may support employees’ mental health through employee assistance programs or by creating a safer environment for discussions of mental health issues.
If your district employs peace officers but hasn’t updated policy DEC(LOCAL) to address mental health leave and quarantine leave, contact your policy consultant. Your policy consultant can help you bring your leaves and absences policy into alignment with current law.