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Lake Stevens Journal: Do Healthy Schools Depend on Parents’ Paid Sick Leave?

lake stevens journal logoFrom the Lake Stevens Journal:

SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council will soon vote on a provision that would make it easier for working parents to cope with sick children, heating the debate about requiring employers to offer paid sick leave.

The issue takes on new significance at the start of the school year. Sick children pose a challenge to working parents, but also to other students and staff members if they come to school with something contagious.

From school nurse Robin Fleming’s perspective, the requirement makes sense.

“I feel really sorry for the kid, because the kid’s the one sitting there feeling bad that they’re sick and causing all this trouble for their parents, and the nurse is calling other relatives to get them to come pick them up. It’s a bad scene, the whole way around.”

Supermarket employee Bridget Ramsey is watching the debate carefully. With a 7-year-old who has been hospitalized for illnesses in the past, Ramsey says she’s concerned about the trade-off workers face when company policy doesn’t include time off for illness.

“What you’re made to do is decide between being able to care for your child, and being able to provide for them financially, sometimes. And I see this as an issue of basic rights, and more so just an issue of respect for workers and families.”

Fleming says school nurses soon learn that not all companies are reasonable about letting parents leave work when children get sick.

“Every year – I’ve been a school nurse 13 years – it happens multiple times, where I call a parent and they are not able to come. They can’t. I’ve had to write letters for people. I’ve had to call and talk to employers myself, to convince them this is legitimate.”

More than one in four Seattle schoolchildren have parents without paid sick leave, for themselves or family members. Opponents say making it a requirement sets an expensive precedent for companies, but supporters of paid sick leave say it improves productivity because people don’t feel pressured to go to work or school when they’re ill.

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