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.