CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Leave of Absence - Sick leave - Communicable diseases - Dependents DIGEST: An employee residing in Alaska claims sick leave for the time he remained at home to care for his child who was suffering from conjunctivitis. The governing regulations allow sick leave when an employee is required to attend to an immediate family member with a contagious disease. 5 C.F.R. Since in this case a state public health official stated that conjunctivitis would preclude the child from attending the day care facility while the child was exhibiting the disease's acute symptoms. The child's freedom of movement was substantially restricted and agency allowance of sick leave would be appropriate.
B-238784, Jun 15, 1990
CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Leave of Absence - Sick leave - Communicable diseases - Dependents DIGEST: An employee residing in Alaska claims sick leave for the time he remained at home to care for his child who was suffering from conjunctivitis. The governing regulations allow sick leave when an employee is required to attend to an immediate family member with a contagious disease. 5 C.F.R. Sec. 640.401(c) (1988). They define such a disease as one for which public officials require the child to be quarantined, isolated, or restricted in movement for a specified period. Since in this case a state public health official stated that conjunctivitis would preclude the child from attending the day care facility while the child was exhibiting the disease's acute symptoms, the child's freedom of movement was substantially restricted and agency allowance of sick leave would be appropriate.
Morton Forsko - Sick Leave - Care for Ill Child:
An agency asks whether sick leave may be granted to an employee, Mr. Morton Forsko, who remained at home to care for his son, who had conjunctivitis ("pink eye"). /1/ For reasons to be explained, we would not object to a grant of sick leave under the particular circumstances of this case.
A preschool child care facility notified Mr. Forsko to pick up his child and consult a physician on the belief that the child had a contagious eye infection. The agency noted that State Health and Social Services regulations provided that a child care facility may not admit a child who shows definite signs of illness.
The child's physician determined that the disease was conjunctivitis which he stated is highly contagious in young children and precludes the child from attending the child care facility while the eyes are red and draining. The agency states that the employee had no alternative but to remain home to care for the child.
Office of Personnel Management regulations governing the use of sick leave provide that agencies shall grant sick leave to an employee when the employee is "required to give care and attendance to a member of his immediate family who is afflicted with a contagious disease." 5 C.F.R. Sec. 630.401(c) (1988). Contagious disease is defined as one "which is ruled as subject to quarantine, requires isolation of the patient, or requires restriction of movement by the patient for a specified period as prescribed by the health authorities having jurisdiction." 5 C.F.R. Sec. 630.201(b)(3).
The Federal Personnel Manual, ch. 630, 13-7(b) and (c) (Inst. 335, July 24, 1986), provides further guidance in this area by stating that annual leave and leave without pay are appropriate for those instances when parents must stay home to care for a child suffering from a routine childhood illness, but sick leave should be granted for care of a child with a highly contagious disease for which public health officials require the child to be quarantined, isolated and restricted.
In 36 Comp.Gen. 183 (1956), we stated that the definition in the regulations is not limited to an actual quarantine by health authorities, but includes a situation where the health authorities or regulations recognize a limitation on the patient's freedom of movement. We also stated that an agency has discretion to determine what evidence to use in making a determination as to whether sick leave is appropriate, and that the grant of sick leave is not subject to review by our Office, in the absence of an abuse of discretion. See also Joanne Munno, B-236836, Feb. 14, 1990.
In view of these definitions and our decisions, the agency contacted the Alaska Division of Public Health concerning conjunctivitis. A public health official explained that in Alaska there is no list of diseases that require quarantine or isolation, and that each case is decided on its own circumstances and determinations are made according to the disease and its stage of development. He also stated however, that under no circumstances would conjunctivitis require isolation or prohibit freedom of movement in Alaska.
In a written response to a query from the employee's union, however, the State Epidemiologist stated that he concurred with the child's physician that acute conjunctivitis is highly contagious and that a child with this illness should not attend day care during the acute symptoms.
In these circumstances the agency asks whether it may grant Mr. Forsko sick leave for the time he was away from work to care for his child.
As the sick leave regulations and the FPM Instruction make clear, sick leave is not to be granted in every case in which a parent stays home to care for an ill child, but only in cases where the child is quarantined or required to be isolated, or restrictions are placed on the patient's movement as required by the health authorities.
From the information the agency obtained from a public health official it appears that conjunctivitis, although contagious, is not a disease that in the usual case would require quarantine, isolation or restriction of movement in Alaska, at least not as those terms traditionally have been used. However, the official stated that each case is decided on its own circumstances, and the State Epidemiologist considered this specific case and agreed with the attending physician that Mr. Forsko's child should not attend the day care facility during the acute symptoms of the disease.
In our view such a restriction on a young child who would otherwise be cared for in a day care facility constitutes a substantial restriction of the child's movement. Therefore, in this case the child's conjunctivitis may be considered a contagious disease which required restriction of movement for the period of its acute stage within the meaning of the sick leave regulations, and Mr. Forsko may be granted sick leave for absences to care for his child during that period.