Tanya Frazier, the office manager of a 50-person payroll management company in Burbank, Calif., received a call last September from the elementary school her daughter attends, telling her to pick up her flu-stricken 9-year-old.
But when she stayed home from work the next day to care for her daughter, she was fired.
Just why is a matter of dispute. Ms. Frazier said she was shocked, because she had missed work only a handful of days that year. Her boss, Jerry Schwartz, said in an interview that he was tired of her taking so many days off.
Now Ms. Frazier's case and others like it are being used by a Seattle-based coalition known as Take Back Your Time and various advocacy groups to argue for more paid time off for American workers. Saying that too many workers feel overstressed by demands on their time, the groups are calling for a broad shift in attitudes that would allow Americans to devote more time to their families, to spirituality and to their communities.
The law now is that small employers (less than 50 employees) do not have to allow leave time to an employee to care for themself or an immediate family member. Employees of larger employers (who have worked at the employer for at least one year) may be allowed up to 12 weeks leave but that leave does not have to be paid.
Take Back Your Time and its allies are seeking legislation in 21 states to give workers paid sick days or paid family leave to take care of infants or seriously ill family members. In Washington State recently, the group earned a preliminary victory when committees in the House and Senate passed a bill calling for five weeks' paid family leave for workers, which would be financed by having workers pay a tax of two cents per hour worked, about $40 a year.
Women's groups are also promoting paid family leave and paid sick time. Spurred by the National Partnership for Women and Families and by 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women, several dozen Democratic members of Congress are planning to introduce a bill this month that would guarantee workers seven paid days off each year for when they or their children are ill.
"A lot of people are shocked when they hear that almost half the work force doesn't have paid sick days," said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. "There's something about paid sick leave that's almost as American as baseball and apple pie."
We don't have to get 12 weeks paid each year, but assuring people living on the edge a couple weeks paid time-off to care for sick kids, that shouldn't be so hard should it?