What Do You Mean by a Day…and How do You Communicate it to Your Employees?

With the onset of four-day work weeks and earned paid sick days, defining what a day means becomes more important, as does notifying your employees of what a day means so that there will be no misunderstandings about that concept.  While we can all agree that a day is 24 hours long, that definition does not have the same meaning when we look at a “business day,” “school day,” “vacation day,” or “calendar day .”  The need for definitions in policy, handbooks and/or contracts becomes clear in a number of situations:

  1. The school district is normally on a 5 day work week during the months when school is in session, but during the summer, the school moves to a 4 day work week for its employees. July 4th is celebrated during the summer when the school is now on a 4 day work day.

A.R.S. §15-801 provides that if July 4th occurs during the work week, the day will be a holiday and the “compensation of teachers shall not be diminished.”  A.R.S. §38-608 picks up the slack for the balance of the employees by stating that when July 4th occurs during a week day, “one day additional vacation leave” or “one day additional compensation” will be provided to employees. A.R.S. 1-301 insures that July 4 will occur during the work week because if it falls on a Saturday, it will be celebrated on the nearest Friday and if it falls on a Sunday, it will be celebrated on the nearest Monday.

So far, so good, the school is going to compensate the employees for a day of pay!  There is no problem with salaried employees who don’t show up on the 4th of July, enjoy the watermelon and fireworks, and still get their regular paychecks on the next payday.  The problem comes in with the hourly employees–what is meant by a “day” when they are being paid for the vacation?    Some Districts in this circumstance pay the hourly employee for 8 hours as the holiday pay, but then require the employee to use 2 hours of vacation pay for the remaining 2 hours of the 10 hour work day, figuring that during the balance of the year, a vacation day is paid at 8 hours, so why not Independence Day?  The hourly employee, on the other hand, believes that he/she should receive pay for the full 10 hours of vacation because the work day on which July 4th falls is, in fact, a 10 hour day.  How is this resolved if there is no definition about how a vacation day will be paid?  “That’s the way we’ve always done it” or “That’s the way (this or that neighboring district) does it” may sound good, but if it isn’t written down in a policy, handbook and/or a contract or work agreement, how does the employee know that this is how vacation days are paid?  More importantly, if the employee takes the complaint to the Industrial Commission claiming a wage violation, how will the Commission look at the claim if nothing exists in writing to support the District’s definition?

  1. The teacher’s contract says it needs to be returned within 15 business days; the superintendent, principal or school psychologist contract says it needs to be returned in 30 calendar days; other contracts or work agreements have whatever days you give them to return the document.

A “business day” is a day when someone is working, but whom?  Including a definition in a policy, handbook and/or contract that says a “business day” is one in which the District office is open would clarify that it isn’t only a day when the school is open—because there are times when the two are different.   District offices are often open year round, while schools may only be open during the school year.

Calendar days, of course, are just that, but another sneaky thing is that you normally start counting the number of days the day AFTER the contract is received…and if the last day is on a weekend or a holiday, you are expected to accept the contract or work agreement on the next, yes, business day.  Another tricky thing is that if someone is entitled to respond in TEN or fewer days, it is understood that you do not count the intervening weekends or holidays, making it ten BUSINESS days.  On the other hand, if you give the same person ELEVEN days to respond, then they have to count the intervening days that make up the weekends or holidays (unless the eleventh day falls on a weekend or holiday)—so sometimes, eleven days to return an agreement is actually a shorter time period than ten days!

  1. The improvement plan says the teacher must be given at least 45 instructional days to overcome the listed inadequacies by meeting the requirements of a personal improvement plan; that there must be 60 calendar days between the first and second formal observation; and that the written feedback to the teacher must be within 10 business days of the observation.

Does “instructional days,” then have a different meaning from “school days”?  “School days” could be days in which a school is in session—but as there are in-service days and other similar days in which the school might be open, but no instruction is taking place, the days that count in a 45 day improvement plan must be days of actual instruction.  Fortunately, the Arizona School Boards Association provides a definition of “school day” under “Terminology” in the introductory language in its standard policy manuals.  That definition reads, “Whenever the term school day appears in this Manual it is to be interpreted as any day in which the students are present for instruction.”  Using that definition, “school day” and “instructional day” would have the same meaning—but be sure that when your principal is counting days for when a personal improvement plan might end, that the principal is aware that those 45 days must all be days in which the teacher does, in fact, have students present to be taught.  The 60 calendar days between the two formal observations that bookend the 45 day improvement plan may actually be very similar in the actual number of calendar days that it takes for the 45 instructional days to elapse.

So, while the Arizona legislature may define the number of hours that a school must be in session and the number of hours a student must be in class to qualify as a full time student, it didn’t choose to define “instructional day,” “school day,” “business day,” “vacation day,” or “calendar day” in terms of the number of hours those days include or how they should be paid.  Because of the different ways in which days could be interpreted, your school district should take the opportunity to not only define those days, but to include your definitions in policy, handbooks, and/or contracts so that your employees and the District will be agreement about what a day means—and how the employee will be compensated for that day.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding What A Day Means, or other Education Law matters, please feel free to contact Candyce B. Pardee at  800.863.6718, log on to udallshumway.com,  or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona with a branch office in Yuma, Arizona, and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.