“Who Will Stay Home with the Kids When They’re Sick?”

August 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Disease, Front Page, Health, Jobs, Kids, Parenting, U.S.

Many sick kids go to school because there's no one to stay with them at home. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/bonniej

Many sick kids go to school because there's no one to stay with them at home. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/bonniej

If you’re a working parent, you’ve probably faced this scenario: One or more of your kids is sick, but you’re expected to be at work. Maybe you can telecommute that day. Or maybe you have a nanny, who’s paid to stay with your kids no matter what. You might even have a willing relative, who isn’t worried about catching whatever illness your child is carrying. If so, you’re one of the lucky few.

More likely, you’re one of the millions of workers who are expected to be on the job in the office or in the fields or at the factory every day, regardless of what’s going on at home. Oh, and you probably don’t get paid sick leave for staying home with your children, do you?

Most of us don’t have the luxury of loving family members or caring daycare providers who will stay with our kids while they suffer from sniffles, coughs, or even a slight fever. So what are the chances that we’ll have appropriate care for a child who comes down with H1N1 (swine flu)?

H1N1 isn't just a case of the sniffles. Photo: © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

Many parents worry about losing their jobs when they stay home with sick kids. Photo: © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

H1N1 isn’t just a case of the sniffles. So far this year (as of August 21, 2009), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports nearly 8,000 hospitalizations and 522 deaths in the US from H1N1. And the chances of our children — or ourselves — contracting H1N1 are growing as the cold and flu season nears.

An email I received this morning from an organization called Momsrising.org says, in part:

Who will stay home with the kids when they’re sick?

Today, the vast majority of all household have two parents in the labor force, yet nearly half of all private-sector working people aren’t allowed to earn a single paid sick day for themselves or to care for their children. With more and more people living paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, many simply can’t afford to lose a day’s pay, or even their jobs, when they have to stay home sick or to care for sick kids.

Stopping the Spread of Disease

Parents shouldn't have to make a choice between caring for their kids and keeping their jobs. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Gerville

Parents shouldn't have to make a choice between caring for their kids and keeping their jobs. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Gerville

For many parents, staying home without pay — especially for several days — may mean economic disaster. So, what happens when the kids are sick and no one can be home to care for them? Far too often, they’re sent to school anyway. Even if a teacher heads the child off to the health office (if there is a health office), by that time, the child has exposed classmates and school personnel to whatever illness afflicts her.

It’s no different when adults without sick day pay are ill; many of them go to work feeling sick, and spread their germs among their co-workers and anyone else in the public they might encounter on their commute.

The article goes on to say,

This problem is magnified for low income families. Dr. Anita Barry of the Boston Public Health Commission explains what happened in Boston earlier this year:

“For some parents in lower-wage jobs, if they don’t show up at work, they don’t get paid, and people may already be on the economic margins,” Barry says. “So parents were desperate to get some of these children back in school. As a result, there were many sick, contagious kids in Boston classrooms this spring.”[2]

If we’re going to stop the spread of H1N1 and other flu viruses, we need the simple safety net provided by paid sick days. And paid sick days not only benefit families, they also save businesses money by keeping workers healthy and productive.

Proposed Legislation

The Healthy Families Act would provide paid leave to care for ailing parents. Photo: © Claudio's Pics - Fotolia.com

The Healthy Families Act would provide paid leave to care for ailing parents. Photo: © Claudio's Pics - Fotolia.com

So what the email asked me to do — and to ask others to do — is to sign a petition about getting paid sick leave for individuals and their dependents. For whatever reason, I couldn’t really see a “petition” — just a box in which to write comments. I also didn’t see any reference to a specific bill. But Momsrising.org made their point with me, regardless. I checked the Web to find pending legislation the group might be trying to support. Here’s what I learned on the Global Labor and Employment Law website (A Service of DC International Counsel & Global Capital Law Group).

On May 18 [2008], the Healthy Families Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide workers with paid sick leave.

The proposed statute, which had been introduced in the previous Congress in 2007, would require employers to provide workers with up to seven days of paid sick leave annually on an accrued basis. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by [the late] Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Under the proposed statute workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked to a maximum of seven days (56 hours) per year. Employers would be permitted to allow employees to accrue more than 56 hours but would not be required to do so.

There are other requirements in the bill, both for employers and employees. But the upshot is that all workers in companies with 15 or more employees would have the opportunity to accrue sick leave — and they could use that leave to care for themselves, to care for their ill children or parents, or to go to the doctor for preventive care.

Time for the US to Catch Up

The Global Labor and Employment Law website also says,

The US falls behind 21 of 22 countries in providing paid leave for parents to care for sick kids. Photo: © soupstock - Fotolia.com

The US falls behind 21 of 22 countries in providing paid leave for parents to care for sick kids. Photo: © soupstock - Fotolia.com

According to Representative DeLauro of Connecticut, the bill’s sponsor, almost half of all U.S. private sector workers have no paid sick leave. Among the lowest quartile of wage earners, 79% have no leave.

A recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research comparing laws and policies related to sick leave in 22 different countries, notes that the United States and Japan are the only countries of the 22 examined that do not provide any short-term paid sick leave to workers. All of the countries, except for the United States, provide long-term paid sick leave to workers with serious illnesses.

Out of 22 countries, the US and Japan are the worst. And the US is the worst-of-the-worst when it comes to long-term illness. Whoa. That’s something to think about — and take action on.

Another site, Support Paid Sick Days, which promotes state and local legislation similar to the Healthy Families Act, provides an online map showing the status of such laws across the US. According to the map, 15 states have active campaigns, and three cities (San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C.) have sick leave laws in place.

What are we waiting for here in the US? It’s time we caught up with the rest of the world and passed the Healthy Families Act. I will be writing to my Senators and my Representative today. (I’ll also be sending letters to my state senators and representatives. Iowa doesn’t even have an active campaign.) If you are a US resident, I invite you to join me and write to your own Congressional and State officials. While you’re at it, write to President Obama, too. H1N1 isn’t going away any time soon. Neither are other forms of the flu or any number of other illnesses you and your co-workers and your children and their classmates (and everyone you come into contact with) will get this winter. We need this important protection for all workers and their families, not just the lucky few.

Julia Wasson
Blue Planet Green Living