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National Partnership Vice President Vicki Shabo and her son, Jasper – ANDPhotography 2016

National Partnership for Women and Families's picture

By Vicki Shabo, Vice President for Workplace Policies and Strategies

For kids, heading back to school can be an anxious and exciting time – figuring out new routines, adjusting to different teachers and classmates and navigating changes in social and academic environments, all while growing and learning. Employed parents stress about these changes too, but the millions of moms, dads and caregivers without access to paid sick time also have to worry about cold and flu season and what will happen if their kids get sick.

Most employed parents in the United States (52 percent) cannot earn even a few paid sick days to care for a sick child. Yet more than two-thirds of school-aged children miss a day or more of school each year due to illness or injury. This means many parents are having to choose between staying home from work to provide care or take a child to the doctor and forfeiting pay or even losing their jobs.

It should be no surprise then that parents without paid sick days are more than twice as likely as those with paid sick days to send a sick child to school or day care – and the consequences for student and school health are clear. When sick children go to school, their own health and the health of other children, teachers and administrators suffer. Contagious illnesses such as the flu actually spread more quickly in schools than in workplaces.

The current situation is untenable for schools and families, but there is a solution. Now before Congress, the Healthy Families Act would establish a national sick time guarantee. It would allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year. Workers in businesses with fewer than 15 employees would earn up to seven job-protected unpaid sick days each year. Nearly 40 places have, or will soon have, paid sick days laws in place and more state and local campaigns are underway nationwide.

So, this school year, join parents and working people across the country in taking action to advance paid sick days. To help, the National Partnership has updated our back-to-school toolkit, which includes key facts, sample letters, discussion questions and other easily customizable resources. Together, we can spread the word in our schools and communities that no parent should have to risk a paycheck or a job when a child gets sick. 

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