Sick Leave Donation Program

The Ohio Attorney General has released a formal opinion finding that the board of education of a joint vocational school district (JVS) has no authority to establish a sick leave donation program for non-teaching employees of the district who are not members of a collective bargaining unit.

The JVS explained its donation program to the Attorney General thusly:

“The sick leave donation program would allow non-teaching employees to donate unused sick leave accrued by those employees into a bank for the use of eligible employees. Upon application and approval, unused sick leave in the bank would be accessible to an eligible employee, meaning that an employee with a serious illness could exhaust his or her accrued sick leave and then access the donated sick leave in the bank, all accrued by other joint vocational school non-teaching employees. The board of education itself would not provide any additional sick leave. The donation program would consist only of donated leave accrued by other non-teaching employees. Nor would there be any cash payment or any other incentive to any employee to compensate them for donating the sick time to the donation program.”

The Attorney General reasoned that as political subdivisions of the state, school districts are creatures of statute and can only act as expressly authorized or as may be necessarily implied to carry out such express grants of authority. Sick leave is a benefit school boards are permitted to provide their employees by statute (R.C. 3319.141). That statute provides that employees may use sick leave for their own personal illness or for illness of a family member. Because the statute limits the purposes for which sick leave can be used, a school board has no authority to permit sick leave to be used for another purpose, i.e., for the illness of another person who is not a family member.

The opinion, of course, does not apply to employees who are members of a collective bargaining unit who have negotiated the establishment of a sick leave donation program through collective bargaining. This is because, generally, collective bargaining agreements can supersede the requirements of statute, except where prohibited by law.

Districts should be cautious in permitting sick leave donation outside of the confines of a collective bargaining agreement. This opinion could be used as a basis for a finding for recovery for sick leave that is improperly paid to an employee under an unlawful donation program.