Requiring employees to use leave in half-day increments is one of many things districts do just because it’s always been done that way.
This practice dates back many years from rules tied to the former state sick leave which originally only applied to teachers and theoretically was an approach to ease the task of securing a substitute teacher. When state leave was expanded to other employees, the rule was applied to all positions in the school district. When the State Board of Education (SBOE) rules were repealed, districts continued the practice despite the ability to be more flexible.
No doubt, requiring teachers to take leave in half- or full-day increments may help because a substitute is more likely to accept an assignment than for a shorter period. Applying the same requirement for all staff may seem equitable by treating all employee types the same. Additionally, the leave accounting or payroll system can be set up with no variations and creates no challenges when building employee leave.
Not all employees require a substitute so the justification of this process is weak. It forces employees who may only need one hour of leave to use four hours. This inhibits productivity for employees not requiring substitutes because duties and responsibilities fall on the staff who are at work. This also forces employees to use leave at a faster rate than needed.
Expediting the exhaustion of leave doesn’t necessarily serve the best interest of the school district nor the employee. Docks occur sooner leading to leave-related terminations and more hiring.
The district must decide how to handle situations when a nonexempt employee’s actual time worked and use of leave exceeds 40-hours. As an example, an administrative assistant takes four hours of leave on Tuesday for a one-hour doctor’s appointment in the afternoon. At the end of the week, the employee worked a total of 38 hours. When the four hours of leave are added, the employee has a total of 42 hours that must be compensated at the regular rate of pay. The dilemma is whether to pay the extra hours or move the excess two hours to an equivalent time off balance. If the employee was able to take only the hour of leave needed for the doctor’s appointment, this issue could be avoided.
What about teachers?
Principals tend to make arrangements with teachers who may need less than four hours of leave. This may be accomplished by using a conference period and providing classroom coverage if the time extends beyond or by arranging for time to be taken at the end of the day after students leave. In these cases, the teacher wouldn’t have their accrued leave deducted.
Allowing teachers to take leave in one-hour increments may be more helpful to the campus than harmful. Often campuses scramble to cover duties and responsibilities. If a teacher only needed one hour and a half-day substitute was secured, the substitute could provide other needed support (e.g., unexpected absence, additional instructional support) once the teacher returned. The overall benefit of staff using leave in one-hour increments is probably greater than the cost of the half-day substitute.
Deterring abuse of leave
Some may argue hourly leave allocation may result in more absences. An effective leave management system is important to oversee staff absences. The HR Library topic Absence Control (member login required) provides information to help districts design an effective system by offering management control strategies including:
- Evaluating leave policies
- Monitoring and reporting absence rates
- Calculating absence rates
- Providing employee leave counseling
- Offering incentive programs
- Implementing a neutral absence provision
Options and implementation
Districts can choose to record leave other than FML (e.g., sick and personal leave) in any of the following ways:
- Half-day increments for all positions for situations other than intermittent FML
- Half-day increments only for those positions normally requiring a substitute (e.g., teachers and classroom instructional aides)
- One-hour increments or the smallest increment allowable by the payroll system for all employees
Any of these methods is acceptable since most payroll systems can accommodate the accounting and use of leave in units of one hour or less. If the payroll system allows for use in increments smaller than one hour, this rate should be used.
Several aspects need to be considered when changing the increments of leave usage including:
- Evaluating policy language and making updates to reflect practices
- Aligning the employee handbook with policy provisions
- Converting employee accrued leave from half-day to hourly
- Determining the start date (e.g., July 1st, beginning of school year, start of a semester)
- Communicating what is changing, why it is changing, and how it impacts employees
Best practice is to offer solutions that support employees and not base the action on a specific employee’s ease of implementing the task. Many school districts have opted to move most employees, with the exception of teachers, to an hourly increment. Take the time to research and discover the hidden benefits of moving all employees to an hourly leave usage system.
Karen Dooley is a senior HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Karen an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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