In the midst of this pandemic, legislative staffers have been forced to modify the way they support lawmakers and constituents by switching to telework. These staffers remain on the metaphorical front lines though as they provide assistance to constituents who are desperately in need of support. Legislative staffers, especially those who reside in DC, are strapped with high housing costs, low wages, long work hours, and, with risk of illness particularly acute at the moment, they lack adequate paid and family leave protections.
There has undoubtedly been improvements to the paid parental leave benefits offered to legislative staffers in recent years, but there is still a long way to go. We have written before about the push for full paid family and medical leave for congressional staffers, but most policy proposals have been halted due to the ever-important task of adequately combating the coronavirus. While the passage of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act included provisions that enable congressional staff 12 weeks of paid parental leave, the legislation left out paid family and medical leave.
For weeks during this pandemic, legislative staffers have not been able to get guaranteed paid time off to take care of themselves, sick family members, or kids who may be at home due to school closures. There have been numerous cases of congressional staffers contracting coronavirus while others have been forced to quarantine due to exposure. It’s also evident that this pandemic will be lasting months or longer.
But there is some good news: the paid leave guidelines all changed last week, albeit in a narrow way.
The Families First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA) — signed into law on March 18, 2020 — went into effect for the legislative branch on April 2, 2020. The act requires all offices within the legislative branch to provide covered employees with paid sick leave and certain covered employees with family and medical leave for specified reasons related to the coronavirus. These provisions will last until December 31, 2020.
To provide guidance, the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) has created several portals and factsheets on their website. According to OCWR, all employees are eligible for up to two week of fully or partially paid sick leave if an they are unable to work or telework, because an employee:
- Is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
- Has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19.
- Is experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
- Is caring for an individual who is self-quarantined has been advised by a healthcare professional to self-quarantine.
- Is caring for their child whose school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19 related reasons.
- Is experiencing any other similar conditions specified by HHS.
While workers who have access to paid family and medical leave may not need to use it, ensuring and expanding access to these benefits for legislative staffers provide imperative protections during a time when congressional offices need to be at full strength.
While we believe that paid family and medical leave should be made permanently available to all Congressional staff, Coronavirus or no, and that two weeks of leave in the Coronavirus context may be insufficient (especially for staff with young children), it is a welcome start.
If you are a staffer who has had experience using these benefits since their implementation, let us know by emailing [email protected].
— Written by Taylor J. Swift