Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Lindsay DesLauriers, an advocate at Voices for Vermont’s Children, who lives in Charlotte and has a 5-year-old daughter entering kindergarten this fall.
A new school year is just weeks away and once again our children will be mingling together to learn, grow new friendships, and make each other sick! That thought, plus the battle over immunization laws that was waged last spring in the Legislature and all the buzz about health care reform in general has me thinking about a serious health gap in Vermont’s public policy.
To take care of our health, we must get regular preventive screenings, go to annual appointments, have time to get well and respond to the first sign of illness before it turns into an emergency. Unfortunately, many of Vermont’s working families don’t have time to take care of their health in these ways.
When people go to work sick, they infect those around them. Co-workers and patrons alike contract illnesses when people are unable to stay home from work. Children who go to school sick spread disease to other children.
According to the Vermont Department of Labor’s 2011 Fringe Benefits Study, half of Vermont workers do not have access to paid sick time. While Vermont law protects workers who take up to 24 hours of unpaid leave per year for medical emergencies or to take care of family responsibilities, Vermont employers are not currently required to provide any paid time off benefits to their employees. For many employed people in Vermont who lack the economic flexibility to miss work unpaid, this results in overwhelming pressure to go to work sick or, even more troubling, to send their children to school sick rather than miss a day or two of work.
The implications of this scenario stretch far beyond individuals.
When people go to work sick, they infect those around them. Co-workers and patrons alike contract illnesses when people are unable to stay home from work. Children who go to school sick spread disease to other children. Because illness and disease are often contagious, Vermont’s lack of paid sick days is not a problem that we should leave for each individual employee to negotiate with their employer. Rather, the reported lack of paid sick days for half of Vermont’s workforce directly impacts all of us and our children. The lack of paid sick days in Vermont is a serious public health concern.
Public policy has a role to play. It is election season in Vermont. Let’s hope that the incoming class of elected officials will help solve this problem by supporting legislation that will ensure every working Vermonter has some paid sick time. It’s up to us to elect those who will.