Waking up to a vomiting, sniffling or croupy kiddo every few months is one of the stresses of parenthood if you have a job. Unless you have live-in help, there are bound to be days where you and your partner are drawing straws to see who stays home with Mr. Sick and uses up their own sick days. If your little one has a serious health problem that requires frequent days off, you can fall back on federal programs that allow you to take time off work, but there’s a catch — you don’t get paid.
Using Your Sick Time
Every workplace has its own set of rules about sick time and, as a parent, you need to memorize them. Some places forbid use of sick time when it’s your kid who’s sick and not you, but unless your boss shows up at your house with a thermometer, how will your company determine this? Some workplaces demand a note from your doctor if you’re off for a certain number of days. If you have paid time off, where vacation time and sick time are lumped together, you have the option to take off more time, even though you might hate to use precious potential vacation time to stay home and watch cartoons with a kid with a cold.
When You Have No Benefits
As many as 25 percent of working parents have no sick days or any other type of paid time off; 52 percent don’t have paid sick time off to care for a child, according to a University of New Hampshire study published in the spring 2012 “Carsey Institute.” Although bills are often proposed that would give everyone in the workplace access to sick days, none have passed. Having a back-up plan — like your mom — is wonderful in this case, but it’s a luxury many parents don’t have. Twice as many parents without sick time take their sick kids to daycare anyway, while five times as many go to the emergency room after hours with a sick little person rather than taking time off to go to the doctor’s during working hours, the National Partnership for Women and Families reports.
Family Medical Leave Act
If your little person has a chronic health problem, suffers an injury or gets sick suddenly, the Family Medical Leave Act can save your job. A federal program, FMLA allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a seriously sick relative, including a child, without the risk of losing your job. You don’t have to use days consecutively; you can use a day at a time. There are a few caveats to this program; your workplace has to employ at least 50 people, and you have to have worked there for at least 12 months, putting in at least 1,250 hours. Many workplaces make you use up all your sick and vacation time before you can start using FMLA.
Knowing Your Rights
Your workplace might not be required to give you time off to care for a sick little one, but they are required to tell you their sick time policies in writing. Every state can also make its own regulations about sick time for employees, which might be more liberal from FMLA regulations. When you’re a parent, you’re inevitably going to have to use sick time for your little one at some point, so know your rights on all fronts before you have to use it.