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MomsRising: All parents deserve paid sick days

Nearly half of North Carolina’s workers, 1.6 million people, lack a single paid sick day that they could use to take care of themselves, their sick child, or go to a doctor.

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Beth Messersmith of MomsRising

The long, lazy days of summer have wound to an end and school’s back in session. And we all know what that means…along with the homework assignments and library books, our kids will be bringing home germs. We knew it was coming when back-to-school lists included Kleenex and hand sanitizer!

Most children average between six and ten colds a year, which can go up to 12 colds a year for kids in school or day care. And we all know that while kids may be totally unwilling to share their toys, somehow they always share their germs! With those kind of odds, it’s no wonder that workers occasionally need time off to care for themselves or a sick family member.

Unfortunately, in North Carolina the common colds that every family with school-age children will certainly face can place working families in real financial jeopardy. Nearly half of North Carolina’s workers, 1.6 million people, lack a single paid sick day that they could use to take care of themselves, their sick child, or go to a doctor.

The routine back-to-school physicals and immunizations can be anything but routine for parents forced to choose between the preventative care required to keep their child healthy and the pay check they need to bring home to keep food on the table.

Because they lack paid sick days to care for themselves or their families, parents are far too often forced to choose between a day's pay and caring for sick kids. This has negative impacts on the children’s health, as well as negative public health impacts as sick children are sent to school or day care. North Carolina parents can be (and have been) fired for staying home to care for a sick child. Other parents report coming to work sick themselves so they could use their limited earned sick days for their children or bringing their sick child to work with them to sleep on a blanket under their desk. Paid sick days would make a major difference.

In seeking more family-friendly policies, North Carolina parents aren’t asking for a handout. We are asking for the tools we need to be both productive employees and parents. It shouldn’t have to be an either/ or. What’s good for families can also be good for business. For example, SAS, the Cary-based firm, has continued to be quite profitable while also becoming the No. 1 ranked company on Fortune magazine’s "100 Best Companies to Work For" list in the United States.

There are solutions to these shared problems. A state legislative committee has been appointed to study reforming a variety of work-family balance policies, including legislation that would guarantee all NC workers a modest number of paid sick days. This proposal is backed by a diverse coalition of North Carolinians, including NC MomsRising. We are hopeful that when the study committee makes its final recommendations in early 2011 paid sick days legislation will be among them.

North Carolina is a state that prides itself on family values. This starts with valuing our families and supporting the kind of policies parents deserve to reach their full potential as parents and as employees. We’re counting on our legislators to provide the leadership necessary to make workplace policies meet the needs of today’s families.

Beth Messersmith is a mother of two in Durham, NC and a member of MomsRising.