We All Do Better with Earned Sick Days
By Ariana Mozafari
A new report sheds light on the challenges working parents face when their children get sick. According to the 2012 C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 33 percent of parents with children under age 6 say taking time off work when a child is sick is difficult because they may lose pay or even their job.
A major reason that so many parents face such difficulty when they have a sick child is that there's no federal law requiring employers offer their employees paid time off for illness. The lack of a law makes the United States an outlier nation -- among 22 developed countries whose policies were reviewed, ours is the only one to be completely silent about private sector workers' ability to earn paid time for sick days. This puts parents in a real bind. In fact, the report says that 8 percent of parents are forced to take their sick children to the emergency room instead of to a primary care doctor. Why? Because taking time during business hours not only can mean losing wages but also losing a job. Many low-income children also lack a primary care provider.
Low-income families are disproportionately affected by a lack of earned sick days. A full 80 percent of low-wage jobs offer no earned sick days whatsoever. Child care employees are some of the lowest-paid workers in the nation. Because of the extremely low pay and lack of benefits like earned sick leave, child care workers often leave their jobs for better-quality jobs in public schools or other institutions. See more about the struggles of child care employees here >>
Child care employees are, of course, also often parents, who both need to take care of their sick children and stay healthy themselves. What's particularly challenging is that they are often exposed to illness from the children they work with, and they have the ability to make these children sick too.
In recent years, states have turned to Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) as a strategy to raise child care quality. These typically voluntary systems assess the quality of child care programs, offer incentives and assistance to programs to improve their ratings, and give information to parents about the quality of child care programs. QRIS assess child care quality through various standards such as staff education and classroom environment, but may also include a measure of a child care programs' administrative and management practices, which can include employees' benefits packages.
According to CLASP analysis of available QRIS data, as of 2010, 10 states encouraged paid leave for child care employees by including paid leave among QRIS indicators. Most often, this translates into child care programs receiving "credit" toward higher ratings for offering paid leave to their staff. The inclusion of paid leave as an indicator of high quality child care recognizes that giving child care workers the benefits they need improves the quality of care and decrease the chances of children also getting sick. Conversations with child care center directors participating in QRIS underscore the need for financial supports to providers to meet higher standards, including paid leave.
Ultimately, if all workers have the resources and benefits to meet their personal and work obligations, we all do better. When earned sick days are available, parents are able to care for their sick kids when they need to. And child care workers are able to go to work without the risk of making their colleagues or the children they care for ill too. Earned sick days are a win-win.