In addition to this being a tough choice for an employee, there is also a health risk to the rest of the workplace. The next time you are having lunch at a restaurant, hope that the cooks and servers who prepared and brought you a meal weren’t suffering from a cold or struck with the swine flu. The food service industry is especially unforgiving with under-the-weather employees. People often load up on cough syrup and head to work sick because they need every penny.
Every mom knows the feeling of your stomach falling when you get a call at work that your child is sick. You’ve got to drop everything. The only worry in your mind is rushing to care for your child. The last thing you want to worry about is whether you will be reprimanded, lose pay, or even be fired for leaving work.
Sadly, in America, this is a worry many families bear. Many in the American workforce know they can still pay their rent or utility bill if they call in sick, but for people living paycheck to paycheck, sometimes that isn’t an option. Not only do they lose a day’s pay, some workers can be inappropriately fired, suspended, punished, or threatened for taking time off due to a personal illness or to care for a relative.
It should be obvious that when people are sick, the best place for them to be is in bed. This was especially true last year during the spread of the H1N1 virus when earned sick time was so important. The CDC recommended that if people contracted the disease, they should stay home and away from others. H1N1 is only one of the many illnesses spread in the workplace. Unfortunately, the workers who spend the most time with vulnerable populations – our nursing home providers, healthcare workers, and child care educators – are those least likely to have employers that allow them to earn paid sick time.
As a working mom myself, I know the feeling I get when my son is sick and I need to leave work to care for him. This is why I am working in Congress to make the Healthy Families Act a reality. The bill requires employers with fifteen or more workers to allow them to earn seven days of paid sick leave annually for their own medical needs or to care for a family member.
Around the world, 145 countries guarantee some kind of paid sick leave for their workers. Guess which country is not one of them? The United States of America. Are Americans families better off because moms can’t stay home with sick kids and feverish dads dutifully punch in on time?
Passing the Healthy Families Act would do right by moms, but would also help all American workers, families, and businesses. Kids deserve to have their moms and dads look after them when they are ill. And Americans deserve the flexibility to care for themselves or a sick relative when they need to. It’s not only a question of right and wrong, it is health insurance for the rest of us.
Congresswoman Linda T. Sánchez represents the 39th Congressional District of California.