Photo of Melanie Clark from Today's Omaha Woman magazine.

Melanie Morrissey Clark

Caregivers Deserve Paid Sick Leave

Photo by Ben Semisch

The young mother working full-time for a package delivery service told me her story anonymously, fearing she would lose her job for speaking out publicly. She had two young children, and she was struggling. Her employer didn’t offer any paid sick leave, so every time one of her kids got sick, she had to choose between losing a day’s pay or sending them to school. Usually, she sent them to school, but worried this could make her children even sicker. She also felt guilty knowing they were spreading illnesses to other children.

Well-check visits with doctors and dentists were almost impossible to schedule, which made her feel like she wasn’t doing her job as a mother. The stress was weighing heavily on her, but she needed her paycheck to pay rent and put food on the table.

When I wrote this story on paid sick leave for Today’s Omaha Woman in 2001, the company this woman worked for wasn’t required to offer paid sick leave. So, they didn’t. Unfortunately, not much has changed in more than two decades.

Although nearly 80 percent of school-age children in Nebraska have working parents, most of them don’t have access to any paid sick days. Parents are forced to choose between losing pay and sending sick children to school, over and over again.

Paid sick leave policies improve the health of families and advance gender equity. Women are still typically the primary caregivers for children and aging parents. Yet 43 percent of working mothers don’t have access to paid sick leave. This includes 54 percent of Latina mothers and 42 percent of Black mothers.

In November of 2024, Nebraskans will have the chance to vote on whether businesses should offer paid sick leave to their employees. If voters pass this initiative, Nebraska businesses would be required to offer paid sick leave. But employees would have to earn these hours: One hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked and employers cannot retaliate against employees who use paid sick time. The law wouldn’t go into effect until October 1, 2025.

This is a change that is long overdue, and one that will make a significant impact on the health and well-being of entire families living in our state.

Advocating for positive changes that impact the lives of our neighbors is what this magazine, and the work of the Women’s Fund, is all about. On these pages, we feature women who are leading change in a variety of areas in our community, detailing their journeys and celebrating their wins.

But these women aren’t the only ones who can make a difference. Nebraskans from all walks of life make their voices heard when they vote in elections. Your vote matters—on ballot initiatives like paid sick leave and in every political race.

We live in a time when it’s easy to feel defeated and despairing. The challenges we face sometimes seem daunting. But never give up hope, and never stop trying. The seemingly smallest act can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. Or even in your own.