Being there for sick offspring costs many workers their jobs

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Nothing throws a wrench into the middle of a workday like a call from elementary school that your little one has a fever.

And nothing makes for a bad morning like a child who just hurled breakfast — even if he makes it to the bathroom first.

A completely unscientific sampling of pharmacists, pediatricians and parents by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has them all agreeing that this winter has been worse than any they can remember in terms of sick children.

Whether it is strep, bronchitis, walking pneumonia, ear infections, pink eye, vomiting or some weird fever that seems attached to nothing, children who are sick shouldn’t be in school or day care.

Research from the Drum Major Institute in New York City, a nonpartisan progressive think tank, has found that 46 percent of the workers in Pennsylvania do not receive any paid sick days from work. Those workers are mostly in minimum-wage or below poverty-wage jobs.

“They are put in a really impossible position of choosing between their paycheck and their child’s health,” Amy Traub, the director of research at the institute, said.

Ms. Traub said research had shown that children recover more quickly when they are cared for by their parents, which she said is sort of beside the point because “what’s the alternative to [parents] staying home?”

While the federal government has adopted the Family Medical Leave Act, which provides for up to three months of unpaid leave to care for a seriously ill family member, there is nothing to protect parents of mildly sick youngsters.

Only San Francisco has adopted any sort of sick leave requirement. While businesses there warned that it would kill growth, Ms. Traub said that after the ordinance was passed in 2007, the city’s economy is outperforming the surrounding suburbs that don’t have that ordinance.

Stefani Pashman, the CEO of Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, doesn’t just study family/work issues, but she relates to them.

Ms. Pashman, who is married with three young children, depends on her husband, extended family and friends and baby sitters to provide support for those days when the children are sick. This year she needed that support: There were five cases of strep between just two of her children.

“I’ve learned over the years to have a backup plan and a backup plan to the backup plan,” she said. Ms. Pashman has worked at home, brought sick offspring to her office, dropped sick children on relatives and even taken sick youngsters to friends.

To do that, she builds up a reserve of chits by taking other people’s children whenever there are school or federal holidays. She is home on those days to help other families, then she uses those days like currency.

Of course, she said, most of those solutions don’t work if a child is more than moderately sick.

The difficulty is even more stark for single parents who don’t have the immediate ability to turn to their partners to juggle schedules. Some parents can work from home, but even that is not a perfect solution when work has to get done and a child is needy.

Ms. Pashman said that even with her ability to cobble together child care for unexpected sick days shows, “there are larger systemic problems with this. “People lose their jobs regularly for this.”

And even if you are not at risk of losing your job, like Kelly Denny, who owns her own public relations firm in O’Hara, having a child home sick makes life tough.

Or as she put it: “It’s a nightmare. Even when you have a husband, it makes everything impossible.”

About seattlehealthyworkforce

The Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce is a diverse coalition of businesses, faith-based, labor, family, and community groups. We’re working to ensure everyone has paid sick days, so we can all have safer food, healthier families and more productive workplaces.
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