Well, we've made it through another flu season - a time when I find my anxiety level rise in anticipation of the endless rounds of illness it seems our family goes through every winter. Aside from a few colds, we've thankfully all stayed pretty healthy this year, but last year was a definitely different story.
Our daughter got a terrible case of pneumonia that landed her in the hospital. Then, there were the viruses, each one with a high temp that went on for days. All in all, she missed 24 days of school because of illness.
My husband and I took turns caring for our daughter. And, each time a fever ended, we dutifully waited the recommended 24 hours before sending her back to school. But this is a luxury most parents can't afford. They don't have flexible schedules or the ability to work from home like we do and many of them are among the 59 million American workers who don't get any paid sick leave at all. And, even if they do, many employers still don't allow these days to be used to care for an ill family member.
So, what do these parents do? Well, for one, they send their sneezing and coughing kids to childcare and school, which in turn infects classmates and teachers. Sometimes, they go to work when they are feeling run down for fear of exhausting the little paid time off they have. And, then there are those who have to lie when they call in sick because it's really their little one who has the sniffles.
I don't blame these moms and dads. One bad bout of bronchitis - for them, their kids, or even their own aging parents - can land them in the unemployment line. They take their responsibilities seriously but are being put in the impossible position of having to choose between their health and putting food on the table.
I certainly don't need the threat of a pandemic to convince me that something has to change.
Fortunately, I'm not alone. Several recent news stories and research studies have highlighted the problem and our elected officials are beginning to offer solutions. Last year, a bill called the Healthy Families Act
was introduced in the U.S. Congress. If it passed, this legislation would guarantee full-time employees seven paid sick days each year to use when they are ill or needed to care for an ill family member (and part-time employees would also get a share based on the number of hours they work).
Closer to home, members of the Illinois General Assembly have been considering the creation of an insurance program
that would provide workers with up to 4 weeks of partially paid leave per year to care for a newborn or adopted child or to deal with a serious personal or family medical emergency. Employers and employees would each chip in about 75 cents per week to pay for the program, which seems like a small price for ensuring healthier families, schools and workplaces.
Believe it or not, there is still a lot of opposition to these common sense proposals. The biggest argument seems to be coming from the business community, which doesn't want the government telling it what to do. I'm fine with that as long as employers do their part by giving all workers - no matter what job they have or how much they earn - paid time off when they need it (and don't penalize them when they use it!).
As the saying goes, mothers and fathers really do know best when it comes to what our families need to stay healthy. So, tell us what you think of the ideas discussed here and about your own personal experiences in taking a family or medical leave. Simply click "comment" to join a conversation with other Illinois parents about what we can do to move this important concern from the back to the front burner.
And, be sure to bookmark www.parentswork.org
where you can learn more about paid leave and other timely topics
as well as ways you can speak out and take action.