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Without Workplace Justice, Parents Have No Good Options for Sick Kids

5:50 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Originally posted at In These Times

Every working parent knows what it’s like to have one of those days: a child suddenly comes down with an illness, gets sent home from daycare due to health concerns, and without a back-up care arrangement, the rest of the day has to be taken off, thus toppling over the tenuous work-life balance. Such emergencies happen all the time, but for low-income families, neither the typical workplace, nor government welfare policies, give working parents the leeway and the time they need to care for ill family members.

According to a recent survey of parents using childcare by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, about six out of 10 parents said that a child’s illness prevented them from attending their regular childcare in the past year, with four in 10 reporting that occurred “three or more times during the year.”

When dealing with children’s sudden illnesses, parents run into myriad barriers, according to the study:

One-half of parents with children in child care report that finding alternative or back-up child care for their sick children is difficult. In addition, about one-third of parents say taking time off of work with a sick child is difficult because they may lose pay or lose their job, and a similar proportion report that they do not receive enough paid time off from work to care for their sick children.

The lack of options might lead parents to seek more immediate, alternative forms of care, such as the emergency room, rather than regular doctor care. That could cost the entire healthcare system more in the long run. Read the rest of this entry →

The Right to Be Healthy: Supreme Court Weighs Sick Leave for State Workers

12:04 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

SCOTUS (image: debaird, flickr)

SCOTUS (image: debaird, flickr)

Cross-posted from In These Times.

One day in August 2007, Daniel Coleman, an administrator in the Maryland court system, decided he should stay home to recover from an illness, as his doctor had ordered. But the day after he requested time off, he suddenly had more to worry about than his health; he was unemployed, too.

In many industrialized countries around the world, taking time off from work to deal with a medical issue isn’t just a benefit; it’s considered an entitlement, as much as an eight-hour day. But in the world’s richest nation, a worker who claims that right has had to appeal to the highest court in the land.

So the Supreme Court will now weigh the rights of public employees to seek justice under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The case, Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, is based on Coleman’s lawsuit alleging that he was unfairly terminated following a dispute with his supervisor over leave time. Pitting Coleman, together with many civil rights advocates, against Maryland and 26 other states, the central question is whether a state can be held accountable under the law as a private employer would.

The FMLA basically allows workers to take 12 weeks of unpaid time off to deal with either a personal or family health concern. Although a worker at a private company can clearly sue for monetary damages if she is fired for taking time off for pregnancy or to care for a sick child–some courts have ruled differently for state workers’ rights. A lower court found that Maryland is shielded from legal liability in this case under the Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity clause.

The issue before the Court isn’t just a question of workers’ medical rights when they fall seriously ill, but of the state’s obligation to to its employees. Gender matters, too; the FMLA, under the Equal Protection clause, was designed to counter employment discrimination based on women’s medical issues, like childbirth. (But the “self-care” provision in the Coleman case covers both men and women.)

A coalition of groups, including the National Partnership for Women & Families, unions, and the ACLU, argued in a friend-of-the-court brief: Read the rest of this entry →