Sharon, a registered nurse with 39 years of experience, wanted to be there for her father when he began his battle with cancer in 2007. But his condition was difficult and unpredictable. He was in immense pain, had fainting spells, and sometimes required unscheduled emergency medical treatment. “Sometimes he needed to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. We had to be there to talk to the doctors to know what was going on. That was our dad.”
Then in November 2007, Sharon was involved in a serious automobile accident, and the stress began to mount. “I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. As I was laying there and talking with my son, I became afraid of losing my job. My accident was on a Friday, which meant I would miss my shift. I started crying.” However, Sharon was able to contact her boss, who assured her he would not fire her.
After the accident, Sharon’s father continued having health problems, and he passed away a few months later. Despite Sharon’s 19-year employment history with the hospital, and lots of support from coworkers, she was warned numerous times by her employer. “I was told in an evaluation I was using too many sick days, and as I was a weekend supplemental nurse, they could just not use me if I continued to ‘abuse.’ They would remove me from the schedule.” Her total offense? 10 sick days over a 16 month period. “I could only reply, ‘it was when my dad was dying.’ ” Though Sharon was never fired from her position, she eventually left for a new job because of the stress and negative effect on her personal and professional life.
Balancing her work and family obligations would not have been so difficult for Sharon if her employer allowed more workplace flexibility and did not penalize her for using the sick leave she had earned. Without that added job stress, Sharon’s own health would have been better and she would have been more productive when at work during her father’s final illness.
Editor’s note: We want to hear from you! If you have a story about how you have been affected by a lack of paid sick time or family leave, please contact Gabriela@eoionline.org. Your stories can help legislators understand the importance of paid sick days and family leave.