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Elizabeth Chau's picture

The role of a registered professional school nurse is not only to provide for the safety and care of students, faculty, and staff, but also to support student academic achievement by addressing the physical, mental, emotional, and social health needs of their entire family. For the children of parents without paid sick days, being a successful student is not easy.

These parents are forced to make a difficult choice every time they get sick: stay home to recover or go to work sick in order to pay their bills. Given this choice, many workers feel compelled to work sick, compromising their own health as well as the health of the thousands of District residents with whom they come into contact each day – including their own children. A vicious cycle begins as those children place classmates, teachers, and all school personnel at risk for infection. In fact, parents without paid sick days are more than twice as likely as parents with paid sick days to send a sick child to school or daycare. School nurses play a vital role in the prevention of infectious diseases but we depend upon the support of our parent communities. When parents are placed in an untenable situation because they are ineligible for paid sick days, they cannot partner with us; this is detrimental for the entire community.

Perhaps the best illustration of the public health risks associated with workers who cannot stay home when sick is the spread of contagion experienced during the 2009-2010 H1N1 epidemic, which was first identified by Mary Pappas, RN, a school nurse in New York. During the epidemic, infected employees who attended work are estimated to have caused the infection of an additional seven million people and 1,500 deaths. If restaurant workers, who have a high level of contact with the public and food, continue to be denied paid sick days, the District will remain ill-prepared for containing future outbreaks of contagious diseases.

An overwhelming majority of the tipped restaurant workers in the District of Columbia are not eligible for paid sick days. As a result, more than 80% of restaurant workers in the District of Columbia do not have a single paid sick day, and nearly 60% of restaurant workers report having prepared, cooked or served food while sick.

Given these significant public health implications, it is essential that tipped restaurant workers in the District of Columbia are entitled to the same paid sick days protections as other workers under the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2008, which requires most employers to provide between three and seven earned sick days to their employees. It is in the best interest of our communities. This is the kind of common-sense policy we need to limit the spread of contagion – particularly in our schools - and promote access to health care for all residents of the District of Columbia. It also sends a clear message to our children that healthcare is a high priority in the District of Columbia.

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