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Time & Attendance

A New Challenge: Paid Sick Days for Substitutes

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Over the past few years, the number of jurisdictions passing paid sick day laws has risen rapidly. In 2006, only one passed a law mandating paid sick leave: San Francisco. But in 2016, three states, one county and ten cities passed sick day legislation.

number of paid sick day laws passed
These laws pose a compliance challenge to all employers, but can be particularly burdensome for K-12 organizations — particularly as they relate to variable-hour employees like substitutes, whose work schedules ebb and flow. Administering this process can be complex, time-consuming and flat-out expensive.

If your state or city passes one of these laws, will you be ready?

The Effects of Paid Sick Days for Substitutes

If your state or city implements a paid sick day law — or already has one in place — what can you expect?

  1. Confusion in the central office

You’ll probably have a significant amount of confusion to contend with, at least in the beginning. Legislation generally isn’t written in an easily-digestible format that gives you the answers you need quickly, and figuring out how to put new processes in place (and keep them going) can lead to mix-ups and mistakes along the way.

  1. Higher spending on substitute wages

On average, substitute wages already constitute 1% of a district’s budget. Paid sick days can mean more spending — especially since you may find yourself paying substitutes for not working. If you choose to provide each substitute with an allowance of sick days up front rather than parceling out sick time as it’s earned, you could be spending even more.

You can estimate how much it would cost your district to give each eligible substitute their sick leave days up front with this calculator:

Launch Paid Sick Leave Calculator


  1. Scheduling difficulties

With substitute shortages across the country, many districts already struggle with their fill rates. Sick days might lead to substitutes canceling jobs at the last minute rather than trying to power through the day despite feeling ill. While you certainly don’t want sick employees (or substitutes) coming to work and spreading their illness to others, it can be frustrating to try and fill an absence at five in the morning.

  1. Improved substitute morale

Paid sick days might bring more complexities to your substitute management process, but there’s a bright side too! You may find that substitutes are happier and feel more valued as part of the team in your district — leading to more productive days in the classroom. And, of course, when staff, substitutes and students stay home when they’re feeling under the weather, it helps prevent sickness from spreading.

Five Steps to Managing Paid Sick Days for Subs

If you’re responsible for managing sick days for substitutes in your district, don’t worry. Just follow these five steps and you’ll be on your way to stress-free sub management.

checkoffStep 1: Know the law.

Before doing anything, get a firm handle on the laws pertaining to your district. Enlist your organization’s legal team or outside counsel if necessary, and ensure that they’re involved in any policy you develop around sick leave.

You need to know which employees are exempt from the mandate (if any), if sick time can be used to care for dependents and loved ones and how much time must be given to eligible workers.

Make sure you consider both state-level and city-level regulations: for example, California mandates paid sick days at the state level, but allows localities like San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and others to pass stricter regulations for employers in the city

checkoffStep 2: Conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

To stay compliant with paid sick leave laws, you have two options. You can provide every single substitute in your district with an allowance of sick days up front, regardless of how much they work — a very expensive way to go.

Or, you can allow substitutes to accrue sick leave based on time worked. You will need to track each substitute’s eligibility, sick leave accrual and sick leave usage. If you choose to track and record all of this yourself, take into account the increased workload this will place on you or others. Alternatively, you may opt to invest in technology that can manage paid sick days, eliminating the extra time and effort needed to manage the process manually.

checkoffStep 3: Implement a process.

Once you have decided on the most cost-efficient way to manage sick days for your employees and substitutes, work out how you will manage the process. This is where you’ll want to get into detail, especially if you don’t manage the entire process online. If you are tracking the amount of sick time accrued, how will you do so? Will you track and record substitutes’ actual time worked, or make an estimate based off their work schedule? Where will you record the amount of time each substitute has accrued against the sick days they have already taken? How often will it be updated?

Don’t forget to look beyond time tracking and accruals. When a substitute takes a sick day, you still need to find another qualified person to cover the absence — even at the last minute.

checkoffStep 4: Set clear expectations.

Once you have a process in place and documented policies that have been reviewed by your district’s legal counsel, make sure you communicate expectations to employees and substitutes. Be transparent about why you are instituting any changes — for example, if you did not track employee time electronically in the past, be clear that the changes are to ensure that they are given an accurate amount of accrued leave.

checkoffStep 5: Document your district’s compliance.

Hopefully, this step was covered earlier in your planning process, but it bears repeating. Make sure that you have a way to securely document your district’s compliance with any relevant labor laws, including paid sick leave.

Now you’re ready to tackle paid sick leave, stay compliant and keep your district running smoothly.