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No Paid Sick Days: Stories of the Burden on NC Families

PHOTO: Over 1 million workers in North Carolina do not receive pay when taking time off to care for a sick child. And some families are calling on state lawmakers to support policies that would require employers to offer earned paid sick days, and expand family medical leave. Photo credit: Elin Luna/Morguefile.
PHOTO: Over 1 million workers in North Carolina do not receive pay when taking time off to care for a sick child. And some families are calling on state lawmakers to support policies that would require employers to offer earned paid sick days, and expand family medical leave. Photo credit: Elin Luna/Morguefile.
July 10, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. - While state lawmakers enjoy time off during their summer recess, some North Carolinians are continuing their work to fight for earned paid sick days.

State law doesn't require workers earn paid sick days or receive legal protections when taking extended leave to care for a sick loved one.

Outside the General Assembly Thursday, Jeannine Sato, member of North Carolina MomsRising, was among those sharing their stories about the burden their families face without paid sick time. She says while she is fortunate to have paid sick days, her husband does not.

"There have been a lot of times where if I wasn't able to take a sick day my husband, if he had to stay home, just wouldn't get paid and there's always a risk that you could lose your job," says Sato. "So that's a pretty scary place to be when you're simply trying to take care of your family."

Two pieces of legislation introduced at the statehouse would address the problem. The Healthy Families and Workplaces/Paid Sick Days Act would allow workers to earn paid sick leave and the Caregiver Relief Act expands eligibility for protected unpaid family medical leave.

Some businesses are concerned about the impact of paid sick leave, claiming it's an expense they cannot absorb.

Allan Freyer, director with the NC Justice Center's Workers' Rights Project, says the benefits outweigh the costs.

"Sick workers hurt businesses by being less productive, getting their fellow workers sick and getting customers sick. Providing paid sick leave is common sense good practice for businesses," he says. "It improves their bottom line far more than the costs associated with having to pay for that employee when they're out sick."

The U.S. is one of the few developed countries in the world that does not mandate paid medical leave. Sato argues it's an issue that should be important to everyone in the state.

"I don't want my server sneezing all over my food if they have the flu, I don't know about you," she says. "But it's a public health issue and it's a basic worker's rights issue."

President Obama has called for national paid sick leave policies, but momentum has not grown for such proposals at the federal level.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NC