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New law expands access to family leave

New law expands access to family leave

By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

SPRINGFIELD – A new law in Illinois will make it easier for part-time school and college employees to receive paid family and medical leave.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill Tuesday lowering the threshold for those workers so that most will be eligible for the benefit after one year of employment.

“For too long, we have asked our school staff to provide exceptional care supporting kids in school without giving them the grace and flexibility to care for themselves and their families,” Pritzker said during a bill signing ceremony in Chicago. “It’s an omission that undermines the value of their work and the reality of their lives away from school grounds.”

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, workers are entitled to as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to care for a newborn child, to care for a close relative who has a serious health condition, or to deal with their own serious illness. That expands to 26 weeks to care for a child, spouse or parent who is a service member with a serious illness or injury.

To be eligible, though, the employee must have been employed for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12-month period. That’s a threshold that often can’t be met by many part-time school employees known as education support professionals, or ESPs. Those include paraprofessionals, secretaries, librarians, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others, many of whom work only limited hours during the day, and often only when school is in session.

For those workers, House Bill 12 lowers that threshold to 1,000 hours of work during the previous 12 months. It applies to all employees of school districts, community colleges and public universities in Illinois. It takes effect Jan. 1.

“Unfortunately, some of our ESPs, many who are 10-month employees, were a bit short of the number of hours federally required to qualify for FMLA benefits,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association. “In many school districts across the state, this meant that when these amazing education employees had to care for themselves or a family member’s health, they had a very difficult decision to make.

“They would be forced to deny care of a loved one, or resign from their job. Or if it was the employee who was sick, they may not be guaranteed their position once they got better, and lose their health insurance, all while the only reason they needed to take a leave was due to a health condition.”

Griffin said there are more than 25,000 ESPs within the Illinois Education Association. That does not include those who belong to the International Federation of Teachers, the other major education union in the state, or those who are not union members.

The bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly with strong bipartisan majorities – 95-14 in the House; 47-3 in the Senate.

“Gov. Pritzker is making sure that the people who keep our schools running smoothly have fair access to FMLA when they face illness and other life changing events within their families,” said Rep. Terra Costa Howard, D-Glen Ellyn, the bill’s chief sponsor in the House. “So I’m very proud that both sides of the aisle in the General Assembly stood up for Illinois’ dedicated school and college workers in our state.”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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