Can You Get Fired for Taking Care of Your Sick Child?

“Geez what did the doctor call it? God it sounded like something a cow would get. Hand something. Hand, foot, and mouths disease. That’s it. He’s been driving me nuts in the house. We just had to get out.”

This is the response I got eight years ago from a mom in a mall play area when I made a comment about how cute her son’s rosy cheeks were (my attempt at mom small talk).

In the time it took for her to come up with the name for her son’s affliction, he managed to give my two year old a big hug and a slobbery kiss on the cheek. And lick the slide.

While I scrubbed my kiddo raw with baby wipes, but it was too late. Within a couple of days, she had the tell-tale fever and blisters. A miserable week during the most miserable time of the year for transactional attorneys, the end of the year. Made even more miserable by the fact our beloved nanny was on vacation and our back-up sitter backed out when she took one look at my daughter.

Can’t say I blame her.

Fortunately for me, I had an understanding boss who was okay with me working from home that week (and a job that could be done remotely).

But most working parents are not that lucky.

Balancing work and childcare is challenging on the best of days. Throw a sick kid into the mix and it can become downright impossible.

The Modern Family Index, sponsored by Bright Horizons Family Solutions, reveals that 48 percent of parents are afraid their family commitments and obligations, like taking a day off or leaving early to take care of a sick child, could get them fired.

And they are right to be fearful.

There is no federal law that requires employers to allow employees to take time off to take care of a sick kid who’s not hospitalized. That’s right, the FMLA isn’t going to help if you’re taking care of a kid with a bad cold or a fever.

Unless you have a vacation day you can use, your employer can fire you for missing work to take care of a sick kid.

So what can you do?

I’ve been doing this working mom gig for 13 years and I’ve learned a thing or two about how to handle work when you child (or children) are sick.

Plan ahead

I don’t care how many months (or years) you breast fed your child or how many times an hour your kid washes his hands, kids are going to get sick. According to the National Institute of Health, small children get 8-10 colds a year. That works out to about one a month, folks.

Make sure you have at least two back-up babysitters you can call on if your child is unable to go to daycare or school.

As I learned the hard way, even back-ups can fall through or may be unable to watch your child for the full workday. One habit I got into when I had young kids was to always bring home whatever documents I would need for work the next day just in case I needed to stay home.

Call your boss…right away

As soon as you know your child is too sick to go to daycare or school, call your boss. If you are able to work remotely, great, but let your boss know that while you will need flexibility that day, you will be taking care of your work obligations. If you don’t have childcare, be honest, but also let your boss know that you are available to talk on the phone and will be responding to emails.

All bets are off when it comes to screen time

Those rules you have about screen time? If your child is home sick and you have work to do, forget about it. Your child’s brain isn’t going to rot from one or two days of unlimited screen time.

Stay off of Facebook and Twitter

If you are working remotely, your colleagues may be assuming you aren’t actually working. Don’t add fuel to their fire by posting on social media. If you are trying to work and take care of a sick child, your only means of communication with the outside world better be your cell phone and email.

Do you have any tips about trying to work while taking care of a sick child? Leave a comment or send an e-mail.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.

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