Back to School: 3 Protections Working Parents Need Now

As we begin to recover economically from the pandemic, we must recognize the struggles parents balancing work and care have always faced and prioritize supportive work-family policies.

As children across the country begin heading back to school or planning their return, it is more important than ever that we fight for protections working parents urgently need, so they can care for their children and support their transition back to school without being forced to jeopardize their family’s income or their health.  

It is an uncertain time: Communities are preparing to return to “normal,” a vaccination timeline for children remains up in the air, and new variants of the virus are emerging. But it is also a period of hope, with an unprecedented opportunity to address the care crisis that has left too many working parents in dire straits for too long. As we recover economically, prioritize public health, and recognize the struggles parents balancing work and care have always faced, these are 3 of the most important protections we can enact now to support every working parent in the country. 

1. Paid Sick Time, Including Paid Vaccination Leave 

No parent should ever be forced to choose between risking their paycheck or sending a sick child to school—but that is the reality for millions of families across the country. The Healthy Families Act, which is currently pending in the U.S. Congress, would create a permanent national right to paid sick time for the first time, guaranteeing workers across the country seven days of paid sick time to care for oneself or a sick family member. 

The ability to take paid sick time is also essential in ensuring workers can get vaccinated or get their teenagers vaccinated and recover from any side effects. Experts agree that our recovery depends on making sure everyone who is able to get vaccinated can do so, but research shows that many unvaccinated Americans hesitate to do so without access to paid sick leave. Ensuring every parent and teacher can take the paid leave from work they need for them or their teenagers to receive the COVID vaccine will help keep our school communities safe. Workers in certain states may be able to take paid leave to get the vaccine under permanent or emergency sick leave laws, but we must continue fighting for comprehensive, permanent sick leave nationwide. 

2. Paid Family and Medical Leave 

Paid family and medical leave means parents can be there to bond with a newborn, newly adopted, or new foster child or to care for a child who is suffering from a serious illness or undergoing medical treatment, and that parents can take time off if they themselves are seriously ill. In light of the ongoing effects of COVID on so many, including children, it is more important than ever to pass a national paid family and medical leave program. We are urgently pushing for Congress to enact three months of paid family and medical leave for every worker in the country as part of a bold, inclusive paid family and medical leave plan

3. Fair and Flexible Workplaces

Parents know all too well that caregiving duties can necessitate adjustments to their work schedules. But too many employers have rigid systems of scheduling that cause workers to fear punishment for requesting changes, including flexibility to meet child care demands. New research also shows that inflexible and unpredictable work schedules have negative effects on children. The proposed Federal Flexibility for Working Families Act would ensure that workers are able to request schedule modifications to balance the demands of their jobs and their home life without fear of retaliation. Additionally, the Schedules That Work Act would include a right to receive a schedule change for child care needs in certain circumstances, and guarantee certainty of scheduling for many working in industries that rely on hourly workers. 

Various states and localities have passed supportive work-family policies into law, many of which A Better Balance is proud to have helped draft, pass, and enforce. Federal laws may help some parents as well. We are continuing to fight for paid leave and workplace flexibility at all levels of government, and remain committed to empowering workers with knowledge of their rights. For more information about your rights under state, local, and federal laws, consult our Workplace Rights Hub, or contact our free confidential legal helpline at 1-833-NEED-ABB.

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