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By Karen Pesapane, National Partnership (cross posted at the National Partnership's blog to support paid sick days)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps updating its guidelines to help child care and early childhood programs - - and all of us - - respond to influenza during the 2009-2010 flu season.

Guidelines for providers include separating children with signs of illness from healthy children until the ill child can be picked-up, and not allowing children back to school until 24 hours after their fever naturally subsides.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius unveiled a new PSA featuring Elmo practicing sneezing into his arm and went on record saying “If your child comes down with the flu, we hope you plan to keep them home and not share this with their playmates.”

It’s been said enough over the past few weeks that I think we all get it. Staying home when feeling sick is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of illness.

But for all the recent emphasis on keeping sick kids home, I wondered if my 2 year-old son’s child care teachers were sick, would they stay home? Could they stay home?

So I did the unthinkable and I asked the director of my son’s child care if teachers are able to stay home when they are sick without losing pay or worrying about job security.

I was delighted to learn that the teachers at my son’s child care have a paid leave package that covers sick days, and that they also allow longer tenured employees (who earn more leave than newer employees) to transfer their leave hours to colleagues who may need them.

But I know the child care industry does not typically provide workers with paid sick days.

Case in point, my mother recently retired after 25 years of teaching child care in Connecticut. She told me recently how relieved she is that she retired when she did, because she never had any sick days. She shudders to think how any teachers in the same situation this flu season will not be able to follow the CDC’s advise and stay home when they are sick.

Unfortunately, the national emphasis on staying home when sick is neglecting to acknowledge the fact that millions of workers in this country don’t have a single paid sick day. If they stay home, they get no pay. This isn’t exactly a great time to be losing income, especially for working families.

We all need a reality check.

Ask your child care provider, or the barista at your favorite coffee joint, or the worker preparing your lunch order, or working members of your family: “Can you afford to stay home if you feel sick?”

If they say no, ask them to tell their leaders in Congress that we need a minimum standard of paid sick days in this country.

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