By Jillian Gilchrest
Almost any working parent (in the Northeast) can relate to the feeling of receiving an early morning call on the day of a snow storm and hearing the news that school is closed. Panic ensues as you attempt to figure out childcare for the day because you need to work but you also need to take care of your children. Now, imagine that the phone call isn’t about school being closed but it’s about your child having a serious illness, and, the time you’re going to need out of work isn’t just for a day, it’s indefinitely.
Paid family and medical leave is about so much more than maternity and paternity leave (although I wholeheartedly support that too). A statewide system of paid leave is about planning for the unplanned. Being able to have some sense of security when everything you thought you knew changes in an instant. Beyond the pain of learning that a loved one is seriously ill, you are immediately confronted with medical decisions and treatment costs and the unfortunate reality that life doesn’t stop. Your work and household responsibilities continue, as do the day-to-day expenses.
Paid family and medical leave is one way to ensure that when a family is faced with a medical emergency, the income they depend upon and the work they are committed to can remain stable, when life as they knew it has all but fallen apart.
I am fortunate that I have never received that call. I did however, receive a call that my dear friend had been in a car accident while driving home from work. She was only 25 and she’d had a seizure. We soon learned that the seizure was caused by a brain tumor and that she had grade three anaplastic astrocytoma…brain cancer. She fought the cancer for nearly three years, but after brain surgery, radiation, chemo, remission, and more chemo, she passed away in her home at the age of 28.
During those final months of her life I watched as her mother and sisters juggled work, children, bills, laundry, medical decisions, college loans, figuring out how to get a hospital bed into the living room, and so much more, all while taking care of my friend and spending as much time as possible living what little life she had left with her.
Unfortunately, my friend isn’t the first person to get seriously ill and she certainly won’t be the last. Paid family and medical leave provides financial relief to families and to employers, who want to support their workers in a time of crisis, but can’t afford to pay for the time out of work. Fortunately, for those of us in Connecticut, the state legislature is currently considering a bill to establish a system of paid family and medical leave that is employee funded, sustainable, and will allow for up to 12 weeks of paid time to care for yourself or a loved one with a serious illness, or the birth or adoption of a new child.
When illness strikes, at the very least, families should be able to maintain their income and their connection to the workforce. Connecticut’s policy of reacting to crisis must change. Now is the time to prepare. Now is the time for paid family and medical leave.