Dear Mr. Secretary: I’m Afraid to Call in Sick

Read this article in Spanish. Lee este artículo en español.



Editor’s note: Alex Hernandez Jr. is a dad from Chicago who wrote to Secretary Tom Perez about the need for paid leave. Here is his letter. Read letters from other dads here

Dear Mr. Secretary,

I am writing to you today because I believe that everyone in our country should have access to paid sick days. I live in Chicago, and work in a warehouse, where I take care of clients, stock shelves and clean bathrooms. When I am ill, I have to go into work because I am afraid of losing my job if I call in sick.

The only time I will stay home from work is if my children are sick. I have two wonderful kids, ages 3 and 5. As much as it pains me to say it, it’s still hard to make the decision to take time off, even for them. But I feel more comfortable doing it because I have “evidence” − a note from their school or the doctor’s office − that it was necessary. But even then, I can’t afford to take a full day off, so I have to rush back to work. My family relies on me and the paycheck that I bring home. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Every penny counts, and even a few hours away impacts us and how we live.

Alex Hernandez

My wife left work to have our first baby because she didn’t have any paid time off, but found a new job after three months. And then after having our second child, she took a part-time night job so she can take care of our children during the day because child care is too expensive. She hardly gets any sleep. I work during the day in order to take care of the kids in the evenings while she works.

If I had paid sick days, I would be able to take an entire day off, to care for my children or for myself. I think that having paid sick days also would mean that I wouldn’t have to be afraid of losing my job. A paid sick days law would help a lot of workers like me and my wife.

Thank you so much for all that you do to support these important laws. It’s only right to be able to take care of your children. It feels horrible to have to go to work and not be home with your sick child. Everyone who works hard deserves to take time for themselves and their families when needed.


Alex Hernandez Jr.

We want to hear from other dads (and moms): How would having paid family leave make a difference for your family? If you have paid leave already, how does it help you now? Share your story at


Señor Secretario: Tengo miedo de llamar para decir que he enfermado

Por Alex Hernández Jr.

Nota del editor: Alex Hernández Jr. es un padre de Chicago que escribió al Secretario Tom Pérez sobre la necesidad de bajas laborales remuneradas. Aquí está su carta. Puedes leer otras cartas de otros padres aquí.

Señor Secretario,

Me dirijo hoy a usted porque considero que todos en nuestro país deberían tener acceso a días pagados por enfermedad.

Vivo en Chicago y trabajo en un almacén donde atiendo a clientes, lleno estanterías de productos y limpio baños. Cuando me enfermo tengo que ir al trabajo porque tengo miedo de perder mi empleo si digo que no voy a poder ir por enfermedad.

La única vez que me quedaría en casa es si mis hijos se enferman. Tengo dos maravillosos hijos de tres y cinco años. Por mucho que me duela decirlo, incluso si se trata de por ellos se me hace difícil tomar la decisión de ponerme de baja. Pero con ellos, el hacerlo se me hace un poco menos difícil porque tengo  la ‘evidencia’ de que era necesario: una nota de su escuela o de la oficina del doctor. Pero incluso en esas circunstancias no me puedo permitir el lujo de tomarme todo el día, de manera que tengo que regresar rápidamente al trabajo.

Mi familia depende de mí y del sueldo que llevo a casa. Si no trabajo no me pagan. Cada centavo cuenta, e incluso un par de horas sin trabajar nos impacta y afecta la manera cómo vivimos.

Mi esposa dejó de trabajar para tener a nuestro primer bebé porque no le daban nada de tiempo de baja remunerada. No obstante, encontró un nuevo trabajo tres meses después. Y después de tener nuestro segundo hijo, agarró un trabajo nocturno a tiempo parcial para para poder cuidar a nuestros hijos durante el día porque el cuidado infantil es demasiado costoso. Apenas tiene horas para dormir. Yo trabajo durante el día para poder cuidar de los hijos por las tardes mientras ella trabaja.

Si yo tuviera días pagados de baja por enfermedad podría tomar todo un día, y cuidar de mis hijos o de mí mismo. Asimismo, pienso que disponer de días pagados por enfermedad significaría que no tendría ya más que tener miedo de perder mi trabajo. Una ley de días pagos de baja por enfermedad ayudaría a muchísimos trabajadores como yo y mi esposa.

Muchísimas gracias por todo lo que usted hace en defensa de estas importantes leyes. Es simplemente lo razonable poder cuidar de los hijos que uno tiene. Se siente horrible tener que ir a trabajar y no estar en casa cuidando a tu hijo enfermo. Todos los que trabajan duro merecen tomar tiempo para ellos y sus familias cuando lo necesiten.


Alex Hernández Jr.

Queremos oír de otros padres (y madres): ¿Qué diferencia en tu familia haría tener permiso laboral pagado por baja familiar? Si ya dispones de este permiso, ¿cómo te ayuda? Comparte tu historia en

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I am not sympathetic to this situation as we have all been there at some point in our lives. I don't think it is appropriate for the government to mandate anything in the private sector. The government should set the example certainly. By mandating they are increaseing the cost of doing business and therefore, discouraging business development and growth.

I remember when companies used to compete for good working people. I believe that competition is still out there. So, if your employer is not treating you like you'd like, find another employer that appreciates their employees. It may mean leaving your current location. It may mean you get a loan and start a company that appreciates employees and employs all the great workers and become the best place to work in your area. BUT, there will always be someone who isn't happy about something. Then you'll see the union come in.

Why should someone get paid for being sick. You didn't work did you. I think this is wear being fiscally responsible with your money comes in. Set some back for times like this. Very unfair to employers to have to pay you for not working.

Companies are already telling their employees that the sick leave requirement will come from their vacation time so if this is allowed then we lost on this new (non) benefit. Sick leave time is not paid when you leave a company but vacation time normally is paid so that is another loss and most people do not work very long for a single company now. IF companies are allowed to use an employees vacation time for sick leave then we lost much more than we gained. I get about15 days now of vacation time and with the 7 days of sick leaving requirement now coming my vacation time is being cut to 8 days.
If companies are allowed to use the employee's vacation time for the sick leave then we LOST on this item and the companies won big time because they do not have to pay for sick leave time when an employee leaves.

Sadly, many people including Alex are under the gross misconception that when a company grants you paid sick leave and/or vacation pay, that you also have the RIGHT to use it - or that because the company brags about its generous benefits, that it wants you to use it. NOT SO FAST!

The majority of companies have HR/employee manuals, the rules of which ususally require that the employee obtain advance approval to use sick or vacation leave for any reasons including medical appointments and illness. Now how exactly does one get ADVANCE approval for sick time? Using it for a medical appt is the only way I know so what about waking up with a fever or spending the night in or near the bathroom? that's as unscheduled as you can get.

So, in regard to UNSCHEDULED use of paid sick leave, many companies have policies that provide for termination for "excessive unapproved abscences". Getting sick unexpectedly and having to stay home is an unapproved abscense that you may or may not have a paid sick or vacation day to use to cover your pay.

But seriously, many companies give generous amounts of sick pay anywhere from 6 days to 6 weeks -- but what is the point of granting this valuable benefit if the company plans on firing the employee for using it mor than once or twice? Granted, it might come in handly if you need surgery or get hit by a bus and are laid up but what if you're just unlucky enough to get the flu 3 times in one year? If the policy is enforced you could be outa here!

Then there's the generous paid leave policy that solely up to your boss' discretionary approval. Why common sense dictates that vacation comes AFTER the needs of business, what about the supervisor that doesn't BELIEVE that his direct reports need or should take vacation, but in the same department the other supervisor beleives that vacation is good and everyone should take as much as they can.

I can tell you that this exists, that 2 people in the same department with similar jobs, different bosses, where one person can take a full month off every December to go home while the other person is not allowed to use a single day of vacation for anything including to care for a sick dependent, and HR has to intervene and mandate using FMLA to stop from being fired for taking time off for a serious illness even though you have never used 2 yrs of vacation yet while others are working from home, going to lunch, calling in sick - all because they have a different boss. It's truly the company everyone wants to leave . . . and does.

While we all hate govt interference and no business owner wants interference, one thing that needs to be fixed is that IF and WHEN a benefit such as paid vacation or sick time is implemented, it needs to be UNIFORMLY administered to ALL employees, especially when it comes to the health and welfare of family members. We profess to be this great country, to have Christian values, to value our families and our children -- but why then is it like pulling teeth for any caregiver to use an EARNED benefit to care for the family member? Human nature dictates that we will always run into the bad bosses with issues, with agendas and who knows why. All I know is that no parent or caretgiver should suffer due to the inability to do what is right for their family.

Thank you for sharing your story, Alex. We all need paid sick days!

I agree with Alex. It's a shame that workers get penalized for taking a day off. You can't plan when to get sick, you can't schedule the flu, you can't plan when youre going to get a call that your child is sick. Losing a day's work is one thing, getting penalized is whole other thing. Workers deserve that basic ounce of dignity, many higher earning/union workers enjoy these benefit. Unfortunately, its the lower earning/non union workers (which make up the vast majority of the population) that don't get these benefits. Workers deserve that basic amount of dignity, I'm sure the majority of the country feels that way, because these laws are being passed nationwide like hot cakes.

Thank you for sharing your story Alex. I wish you and your family the best.

My company gives us 40 hours of sick leave. We cannot take it without being penalized for each day we are out. For instance, if admitted to the hospital for 5 days for a highly infectious disease an employee will be penalized for each day of that absence regardless of the circumstances. If an employee is staying home because they have a positive influenza test with all the active symptoms and are highly contagious they may choose to take the penalties and possibly be fired or they may come to work and infect many people who will also become ill and infectious. How is this to the best interest of any company? The philosophy that promotes this type of thinking views employees as "cattle" and not humans; a work them till they drop mentality. Community acquired illness is fostered by this harsh policy in the workforce. The Center for Disease Control has attempted to implement workplace disease control initiatives to curb the threat of infectious diseases spread through workplace communities and then carried out into the general populace to no avail. Unfortunately, large employers in particularly are giving mere shoulder shrugging to these programs. Penalties for absences without any regard for spread of infectious diseases is irresponsible. Influenza, pertussis (whooping cough), tuberculosis, various strains of hepatitis, rhinovirus and norovirus affect millions of people every year and could spread throughout an organization in a relatively short time. People will choose to expose others to the disease in order to earn money to "live" and support their families. Soon we will be seeing these disease breeding grounds becoming the the red zone generation points for deadly outbreaks leading to epidemics and perhaps pandemics. I think we are beyond the point of requiring federal legislation to mandate non-penalized paid sick leave for American workers. We must consider the role of employer responsibility concerning the health risks of close contact workplaces in closed environments.

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