04/11/2014 01:52 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2014

Paid Sick Leave for North Carolina's Women -- and Men

This post was co-Authored by NC State Rep. Alma Adams.

When women succeed, America succeeds. This is not just an aspirational vision for our boardrooms and classrooms across the country. For many families, it speaks to a reality they face every day, especially given that two-thirds of working women are either the primary or co-primary breadwinner for their families.

What policies do we need in order to foster that success? Paid sick days, as a start. In America, no one should have to choose between a paycheck and caring for a loved one who falls sick. Unfortunately, this freedom to care for oneself or a family member when illness strikes, without putting your job at risk, is denied to 1.4 million people in North Carolina. That's nearly half of the state's private sector workforce.

North Carolina is not alone, given that America -- alone among wealthy modern nations -- does not guarantee its workers access to a single paid sick day no matter where they live. The impact is significant for women, felt both financially and personally, as we are often the caretakers in our families and the majority of the 40 million Americans who aren't given the chance to earn a single paid sick day. As Angela, a MomsRising member in North Carolina, remarked, "having a bank of sick days allows me to be the kind of Mother my children deserve and no job/responsibilities should interfere with that."

Because the well-being of our families -- including our sons, fathers, brothers and husbands -- is intertwined with women's individual fates, the issue also is not just about one gender. As Valerie, another North Carolinian, put it, "Paid sick days? I wouldn't know what those were. They say you need two incomes to survive anymore... but two incomes are hard to keep when you get fired just for being a good parent." These issues are truly about everyone and the America we want for ourselves in the 21st century. They are so important to us that we chose to focus on paid sick days as part of our participation in the National Week of Action, a time when state legislators and advocates are lifting up the shared values and policy ideas that would secure a "Real Prosperity Across America."

In North Carolina, women and families should be at the heart of an agenda designed to secure this real prosperity for all, especially as we work to get the state back on track and reclaim its promising future. We can start by bringing the state's workplace policies in line with the 21st century, so that no one is forced to choose between her job and taking care of a sick child or elderly parent. That's what our values as Americans call for; it's what the people of North Carolinians want and deserve.

It's also good for businesses, which lose out when workers feel compelled to come in sick and interact with colleagues (or customers!) instead of staying home to recover -- and when workers have less money to spend if they're docked for being a good parent or following doctor's orders. In contrast, businesses that provide workers with paid sick days win with higher productivity, better employee morale, less absenteeism in the long-run, lower turnover. Add in the direct benefit to the state's women and families and that's what we like to call a win-win-win solution for all -- a policy reflecting the best of North Carolina. The time has come to guarantee earned paid sick leave for all North Carolinians.


Alma Adams is a retired teacher, current State Representative from North Carolina's 58th House district and candidate for the 12th Congressional District of North Carolina.