Casten Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Ensure Education Professionals Have Access to Family and Medical Leave

July 23, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Sean Casten (IL-06), introduced the bipartisan, bicameral ESP Family Leave Act, legislation which would ensure that the Education Support Professionals (ESPs) who keep our schools running have access to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The legislation is cosponsored by 17 Representatives.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made even clearer what we already knew: Workers need access to family and medical leave to keep themselves, their families, and our communities safe,” said Casten. “It is unconscionable that many of the dedicated Americans who care for and teach our children have to choose between their health – not to mention our children’s – and their livelihoods when faced with an illness. The ESP Family Leave Act is a small but critical step toward giving school employees the support they deserve.”

“Too many education support professionals—the dedicated school staff members who work in such essential areas as food service, maintenance, transportation, and much more—are left out of current family and medical leave law. They are devoted to taking care of and supporting students, yet they cannot use leave to take care of themselves or their loved ones during a medical crisis, or after a major life event such as the birth of a child,” said National Education Association Director of Government Relations Marc Egan. “The ESP Family Leave Act addresses this serious inequity, allowing more employees working in our public schools across the nation to have access to the benefit that millions of working people already enjoy.”

ESPs include clerical support professionals, maintenance workers, janitorial staff, social workers, paraeducators, food service employees and bus drivers who work for our schools, among others. Because of their schedules and the limited school year, many of these workers fail to meet the 1,250 hour threshold needed to qualify for FMLA benefits. This gap in federal law means that many of those we entrust to help feed, transport or teach our students are unable to access basic leave benefits without risk of losing their job.

The ESP Family Leave Act would create a new hours of service threshold specifically for ESPs, analogous to the provision enacted for airline crews. An ESP would qualify for FMLA benefits if – during the previous school year – they worked more than 60 percent of the total monthly hours expected for their specific role, as defined by their employer. Under this bill, ESPs would have greater access to unpaid FMLA benefits without the risk of losing their job.

The legislation is cosponsored by U.S Representatives Susan Wild (D-PA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), John Larson (D-CT), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Denny Heck (D-WA), Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-IL), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Vincente Gonzalez (D-TX), Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Deb Haaland (D-NM), and Jahana Hayes (D-CT).

The Senate companion was introduced by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and is cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Chris Coons (D-DE).