Who cares? 5 tips for working parents to navigate your child’s sick days

Who cares? 5 tips for working parents to navigate your child’s sick days

Does your heart sink every time your child gets sick, not just for them, but because you work? Emma Walsh of guidance hubs parents@work and mums@work talks through the options for making the situation less painful for you and your child.

It’s inevitable that working parents will, at some point, have an unwell child and need to take time off.

Often when a child is sick, parents can also feel exhausted or unwell, so it can be a tricky time on both a physical and emotional level. But what about the financial implications of having to miss work to care for a sick child?

A 2014 report found Australian workplace absenteeism costs the economy $33 billion a year. The need to access carer’s leave is increasing, and employers know it’s an issue they have to resolve for everyone’s benefit.

1. Prioritise health

Firstly and most importantly, seek any necessary medical attention before deciding on the appropriate care plans. Take the time you and your family need to recover. Above all, accept that you’ll have days where everything does not go to plan! A sick child and a stressful workload can be very demanding, so take special care of yourself and your child at this time.

The following services offer great free support to help you care for your child:

After hours GP helpline
Caring for your child support

2. Carer’s leave is sick leave is personal leave

Australia’s National Employment Standards state that an employee may have time off to care for immediate family and household members who may be sick or injured. Under these minimum standards, this carer’s leave is included in your sick leave (also known as personal leave); it’s not an add-on. So, you have to manage your sick days wisely.

There are both paid and unpaid carer’s leave provisions available, so educate yourself on what you have access to.

3. Understand your childcare’s sick-day policy

Childcare centres will generally charge you for sick days if you’re enrolled. However, you may also get charged for casual days if you don’t give sufficient hours’ notice.

Don’t forget, the government’s Child Care Rebate and Benefit are only paid for a certain number of absent days per year (be those whether your child is sick or on holidays). After these absent days are used up, you’ll be charged the full day rate for that centre, which could be up to $150 per day.

Most childcare and family day care centres are very strict on allowing sick children to attend, and often require an out period of 24 to 48 hours before you can return with a medical certificate giving the all clear. Understandably, illness puts other children at risk, so it’s a good idea to have a ‘sick day plan’ for those unavoidable times when your child needs to be at home. 

4. Have a sick day plan for home

Make a plan with your partner, parent or child’s guardian about what to do on your child’s sick days and in emergencies. If your partner has more flexibility or a family member is available (and willing), use their support.

Could you and your partner work a half-day each, or from home? Do you take it in turns to take leave? Who goes to medical appointments and who takes care of the other kids and dinners? You could perhaps use some of your annual leave if necessary.

Find backup for when you really can’t miss work. Have a trusted nanny’s number on hand or ask a relative to be an emergency backup. Night Nannies are useful if you’re in need of sleep and an extra pair of hands. If affordable, consider hiring a house cleaner, which can reduce your overall workload.

5. Have a sick day plan for work

Ahead of time, discuss with your employer possible arrangements that could be made if your child gets sick. For example, could you work from home, accrue time in lieu, or make up for it by working later each day the following week? Better yet, investigate emergency or sick-day childcare programs for your organisation and present them to your employer. There’s a strong business case for offering employees access to backup care, so don’t be afraid to put it out there.