Parents with school-aged children quickly learn to expect the unexpected. Yet too many working parents find themselves in impossible dilemmas when a child falls ill, or when school-related meetings and events arise, due to a lack of paid time off and inflexibility in their schedules. That’s why we’re fighting for policy solutions that ensure parents can be there for their children when they need to without risking their economic security.
Lack of access to paid sick days is one major obstacle working parents face. Fortunately, more and more jurisdictions—including 12 states and dozens of localities—are passing paid sick time. And The Healthy Families Act would, for the first time, create a nationwide legal right for millions of working Americans to earn up to seven days of paid sick time, which would allow parents to stay home with their sick child rather than being forced to send them to school sick or miss out on a day’s pay.
Working parents also need access to flexible scheduling and paid personal time for things like parent-teacher conferences, sporting events, recitals, graduations, and other school-related needs that may arise. Unfortunately, these rights are still elusive in the U.S. for low-wage workers especially: only 50% of low-wage workers have any paid vacation, and they risk facing retaliation for merely asking for flexible work arrangements. Some states do allow parents to take leave specifically for school related activities, albeit unpaid. But Maine recently passed a general paid time off law, to be used for both sick time and other needs, and New York City currently has the opportunity to pass paid personal time and set a new national standard in supporting working families.
We also must take the needs of parents of children with disabilities into account. In a recent victory, the Department of Labor affirmed the right of parents to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to attend meetings about their child’s Individualized Education Program.
So as kids around the country head back to school, let’s remember that in order to support their education, health, and well-being, we must fight for policies that support their parents!