Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
Many parents are faced with the dilemma of having to go to work but needing to take care of a sick child
By Rob Levey
Children are especially prone to illness, but new research by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire suggests more than half of employed parents lack adequate paid time to care for them when they are sick.
According to lead author of the study Kristin Smith, family demographer at the Carsey Institute and UNH research assistant professor of sociology, this lack of paid sick leave creates a tough choice for parents.
“Parents can either stay home and care for their child — and possibly lose wages or their job, or they can send their sick kid to day care or school and jeopardize the health of other children,” said Smith. “Since the majority of children miss at least one day of school each year, access to these paid sick days is critical for employed parents.”
For State Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, who is chairman of the New Hampshire Legislative Task Force on Work and Family, this choice is unacceptable.
“We need to support our parents, especially families with young children who don’t have paid sick leave at all,” said Gile, who sponsored 2009’s House Bill 662 that would have required businesses to provide five paid sick days to full-time and a pro-rated number of days to part-time workers employed at least six months.
“We felt five days was a reasonable amount — sensitive to employers and responsive to the needs of the family,” she added. “I plan to reintroduce this bill again in the upcoming legislative session.”
Noting lower-earning parents have the least access to paid sick leave, Smith said another key research finding is that employed parents with paid sick days to care for a sick child are 1.9 times more likely to report high levels of job satisfaction. She said other benefits include a decrease in work-family conflict, lowered absenteeism, higher morale, and greater employee loyalty, which can reduce employee turnover and positively affect an employer’s bottom line.
“Replacing workers is costly to employers,” added Smith, who cited research that shows the cost of turnover is 150 percent and between 30 and 60 percent of an employee’s annual income for salaried and hourly workers, respectively.
According to Jay Smeltz, human resources coordinator at Gilsum’s W.S. Badger Company, their mandate as employer is to provide staff, including parents and family members, with “the opportunity to keep the balance between work and family.”
“We don’t offer the traditional form of paid sick time, rather we prefer to offer health days,” he said. “It is very important to us to offer health days so our employees don’t share an illness with others if they feel they must come to work…This would also apply to elder care as well as children.”
Noting they do not offer flexible scheduling options per se, Smeltz said they do allow employees to either come in or leave earlier or later.
“Communication with team leader and employee is important to make sure that this works,” he added.
Smeltz said the company also offers a unique Babies at Work Program in which parents may bring their baby to work until he/she is six months old or begins crawling.
“This program greatly increases morale, employee loyalty, and job retention,” he said. “Plus, it promotes our family friendly work place. It is a great program in many ways.”
As for other key findings from her study, Smith noted 74 percent of employed mothers report staying home from work when their child is sick compared to 40 percent of employed fathers.
“Nearly one-half of these parents who miss work when their child is sick do not have paid sick days to compensate,” added Smith, who noted this lack of access is similar among employed mothers at 50 percent and fathers at 46 percent. “What we see is inequality in who stays home with a sick child, but equivalent problems with access to paid sick day workplace policies.”
Citing Smith’s research as critical to the future success of any proposed legislation regarding paid sick leave for employees, Gile said there is a practical component to the issue aside from the public health implications.
“You don’t want other kids exposed to communicable diseases, but no little child wants to be left alone when they’re sick or placed in the sick room at day care either — they want their parents,” she said. “We need to be responsive to the needs of families.”
To learn more about paid sick leave policies and related work and family issues in New Hampshire, Gile suggests people attend the third New Hampshire Legislative and Business Summit on Work and Family on Oct. 1 at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.
“It’s an opportunity to talk with others and learn about some of the issues affecting families around the state,” said Gile, who noted the Summit is held in cooperation with the UNH Cooperative Extension. Registration information has yet to be released, but may be accessed at extension.unh.edu when available.
To read Smith’s report in full, go to carseyinstitute.unh.edu/publications.
Rob Levey is the director of development and communications at Seacoast Mental Health Center and a freelance writer.