What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Wed, March 14, 2007

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Why, in our self-proclaimed “family friendly” administration, should families have to campaign for job protection when they are sick?

And why is the U.S. the only major country in the world that doesn’t guarantee that workers will have paid sick leave and not face losing their jobs if they take time off to get well or to care for a sick family member?

These questions are on the minds of the people over at the National Partnership for Women and Families as they are lobbying to add more guaranteed leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act, as well as getting the Healthy Families Act reintroduced in Congress.

I’m all for laws that give our families (read: mostly working mothers) job protection if they need to take time off to care for sick children, elderly parents, or even, God forbid, themselves.

But here’s my question — are laws really going to get us anywhere until there is a seismic cultural shift in how employers view employees?

It seems to me that our much touted work ethic sometimes overshadows our common sense.

Sure, we’ve all pushed our way through a work day with a little head cold or even a touch of the flu. But if your seven-year-old is in the hospital with pneumonia, should we really be expecting a parent to be negotiating deals from the hospital room or risk losing their job? That seems like a no brainer, but the bottom line continues to win out over cultivating work environments that would create loyal employees. Call me crazy, but give me some time to take my child to the doctor when she’s sick (and not hold it against me) and I’m more likely to stay in that job and be loyal to that employer.

As one blogger recently noted in a comment to one of my posts, once she became a mother, even though she was entitled to time to take her baby to the pediatrician, it wasn’t long before she started getting “the look,” and realized that that particular workplace wasn’t going to be a good fit and changed employers.

Was that employer obligated to let her take the time? Sure. Legally obligated not to hold it against her down the road? Yes. Would they? If she was already getting the “you’re-not-taking-time-off-again-are-you” look, I’m betting the answer would be a resounding yes.

So, on the one hand, I’m encouraged that organizations like NPWF take on the work of tracking and lobbying for legislation to make it easier for families to deal with the reality of being families without penalty. But I had to ask myself this week:

If President Bush, on his most recent trip to Latin America, was trying to show the world the “humanitarian face” of America, why doesn’t his administration want to show that same face to Americans?

What would be more humanitarian here at home than to fully support true enforcement of the Family & Medical Leave Act, which is “celebrating” its 14th anniversary, or declare the real need for the reintroduced Healthy Families Act, that would protect employees’ jobs if they needed to take time off because they are too sick to work, as well as calling for employers to follow the spirit, as well as the letter, of these types of laws.

Of course, I know the answer, but it’s not really a good one, is it?

I’m betting that if Jenna had lost her job for taking time off for being sick when she was teaching in the D.C. public schools, things would look a little different for the rest of us.

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8 Responses to “What’s Wrong With This Picture?”

  1. Oh, The Joys Says:

    I feel the need to always yell “AMEN AND HALLELUJAH!!!” when I come here.

  2. Sarcasta-Mom Says:

    Wow, this post is SO relevant to me and my job right now. I recently had my “pre-review” and comments were made about my absenses. I was floored. Not only do I still have plenty of PTO time left, but all of my absences have been due to sick children and have never lasted more than a full day. Now, why isn’t my co-worker being reprimanded for her week long trip to Montreal? I’ve taken less than a week total!

    It all boils down to the fact that I’m the only person in my department with children. I work at a faily “young” marketing firm, and I get “those looks” everytime that daycare or school calls me with a need to go collect one of my sick or injured children. It’s so frustrating that my sporadic absences over rode my work performance at this meeting.

    I’ll be behind this act fully. Bring it on!

  3. impromptublogger Says:

    Parents and caretakers need all the help they can get! When my daughter was a newborn, my Dad got sick with cancer and we had to take care of both of them at once. My dh was a SAHD, and it wasn’t so bad when I was still on maternity leave, but once I got back to work…

    And the co-workers who were parents were very understanding if my dd was sick, or I stayed home becuase I’d been up half the night with her. But I got crap one time for leaving on time because of a so-called deadline mailing that wasn’t when my dd was sick (at age 2).

    As for Jenna Bush, will they give her extra leave for hang-overs? ;-)

  4. Lawyer Mama Says:

    YES! I just love this post (and not just because I’m mentioned)!

    Well, I’m betting you can already guess what I think. We definitely need a “seismic” shift in views but, unfortunately, I don’t know that we’ll get it without putting the laws in place first. I remember the vehement opposition to FMLA 14 years ago. But now it is pretty well accepted that women who can afford to do so, will probably take off their 12 weeks when they give birth or adopt. For some reason it hasn’t worked out quite as well for the men, but it is getting better.

    I do think that your joke about GWB’s daughter kind of touches on a trusim though. The sick child or family member problem simply hasn’t been all that personal to most legislators. Hopefully, as Congress gets a little younger and a little more estrogen floats in, this issue will be more prominent.

  5. JudesMommy Says:

    You know, PM. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned a seismic cultural shift and our much touted work ethic practically in the same breath.

    My belief is that this goes far deeper than employers changing attitudes and office mores regarding flexible work schedules for parents. Although, that is a problem and it needs to be addressed, it’s more of a symptom, I think. The tiny bit of perspective adjustment we’ve seen in the recent past is just that. Tiny.

    But here’s my thought. We won’t see a major metamorphosis in corporate and small business America until we experience an enlightened shift regarding this insane and unrealistic work ethic that everyone seems to be buying into. And I can’t say that I haven’t been quite guilty of this myself in the past. Sadly.

    I believe that until such time as our own awakening as a mass of humanity living on this continent occurs, well, maybe legislation is the best way to make people aware and push companies toward a more friendly attitude when it comes to work-life balance.

    Fortunately, my company is good about this sort of thing. In fact, my husband and I both work for The Big Telco and I just asked him recently if he had witnessed this sort of attitude in the office on his side of Dilbertville. He said no. I’ve not personally experienced it and I thank my lucky stars. But I do know that even our company had to be clubbed over the head and dragged back to the cave kicking and screaming before they relented and encouraged an attitude and policy shift.

    Really great post…love it.

  6. karrie Says:

    So strange how you can call in with a a hangover when you’re 23 and bosses (or professors in my case) are generally sympathetic, yet call in because of a sick 2 or 3 year-old and suddenly you’re irresponsible.

  7. Gunfighter Says:

    Essentially, as long as the administration (and Congress) is in the pockets of big business, ehich it will be until wecan get some meaningful campign finance reform, nothing will change.

    What a shame.

  8. Andrea Says:

    Recently, I went through a battery of tests because my doctors couldn’t find the source of a persistent abdominal pain I was suffering. From September 06 through most of November, they didn’t know what was wrong with me. I went to a multitude of doctor visits as well as plenty of tests in the attempt to find an answer, for nearly all of which I had to take time from work. I was finally diagnosed as having a failing gallbladder and scheduled surgery to remove it. My company handbook states that salaried employees are allowed to take personal/sick time “at their supervisor’s discretion” without any provisos or limitations. However, after my maternity leave a few years ago, my boss was summoned to the higher ups’ offices to discuss my absenteeism (I was pregnant, not playing hookey!) where he was summarily told that his generous “discretion” was not to exceed 40 hours per anniversary year, the same amount given to hourly paid employees. My boss is an accommodating man who knows with my gallbladder problems (and before with my pregnancy) I was not trying to milk time off, so he helps in any way he can. By the time I made it around to the surgery to have my gallbladder removed, I had used up my allotted 40 hours and had to take almost a week’s worth of vacation to have the time off to recover.

    I know I could fight this legally and the language of our employee handbook is in my favor, but I don’t necessarily want to soil where I eat, so to speak. Not only that, but my awesome supervisor (who tries to help me out still in any way he can) is nearing retirement and I’m afraid were I to take the argument to the next level, once he left I’d be facing a different supervisor who would frown upon my fighting for the language of that clause to be enforced and I would have a rougher time of it if I were to have a health problem in the future. Maybe I would be given the time off, but “the look” of which you speak isn’t something I feel I should have to endure.

    Needless to say, I’m paying particular attention to this bit of legislation to see if things improve or if I should just try to find a more family friendly environment in which to work. But considering my previous experiences with having health concerns, my loyalty to my current situation has waned as has my patience with the level of scrutiny my personal time requests have garnered since my pregnancy. I only hope something more serious doesn’t happen to me in the future, or I’m in trouble.


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