Back in 2011, when her son developed a rash on his skin, Jessica Cox wasn’t taking any chances. She took the 7 year-old to see a doctor, who diagnosed Roseola, or Sixth disease, a viral illness developed in childhood.
As a result, the school asked Cox to keep her son home for a week. And when she couldn’t find anyone to take care of him so she could go to her job at a grocery store in Renton, Cox inquired about using sick time.
She knew her boss was tough, but was still not prepared for the harsh response.
“She literally told me that I could not make up a disease because I didn’t want to come in to work,” said Cox, who lives in Kent.
“She said I couldn’t use my sick leave because it didn’t involve me and if I wanted to, I could take days off but not get paid for them.”
Sponsors of a measure to establish paid sick leave for workers in Washington, say such policies are far too common.
Initiative 1433, set for the November ballot, would not only increase the minimum wage over the next four years, but provide up to seven days of paid sick and safe leave for workers to care for themselves or a sick family member. (Safe leave allows victims, such as domestic violence survivors, to find a secure living situation without losing a paycheck.)
The provision would benefit more than 1 million workers in the state who currently lack sick leave.
Many are minimum-wage or other low-income workers who earn their living in the state’s burgeoning service and retail economy and can’t afford to take time off when they or a family member becomes ill.
It’s a two-fold problem, said Jack Sorenson, campaign spokesman for Raise Up Washington, the initiative sponsor.
“No one should have to choose between staying home when they are sick or losing income,” he said.
“Families shouldn’t be put in a positon of sending a child to school sick or not being able to afford groceries at the end of the week.”
Women make up the majority of low-wage earners in the state and are therefore the least likely to have paid sick and safe leave, according to the campaign.
At the same time, mothers are 10 times more likely than their male partners to stay home with a sick child.
There are no federal laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave for workers. Five states, including neighboring Oregon, have such laws in place. In Washington, the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham and Spokane are among some 30 nationwide with similar laws.
Back in 2011, when her son became ill, Cox said she ended up taking more than a week off from work, losing over $400 in wages.
She and her co-workers, represented by United Food and Commercial Workers union, can access paid leave only after they have been sick for three consecutive days.
Sorenson said given that most people usually take no more than one or two sick days at a time, “if you can’t access it until the third day, that’s pretty much like not having it at all.”
Ariana Davis, who works at the same store, said that because of that policy, she’s gone to work sick on many occasions and ended up staying sick longer as a result.
“That’s unhealthy not just for co-workers, but for customers and communities,” she said.
Paid sick leave “is essential to making life better for every hard working family in America.”