Swine flu and parental discrimination

Anthony Radwan

With an outbreak of swine flu expected to re-appear in the winter months as the schools and universities re-open, there is at least one major obstacle to stopping the spread of this deadly virus in Britain and it comes in the unlikely shape of working parents.

Many parents who have jobs often send their sick children to school largely because the majority of them cannot afford to stay at home and nurse kids with the sniffles, cold or flu until they have fully recovered.

This became more apparent to me recently when one child walked into my daughter’s class on the first day of the school term and had to be stopped by a teacher who asked: "Are you ok, you look hot and unwell?" The child replied: "I have a headache and a sore throat". It was clear that this child was poorly.

The ill youngster’s mother, who by this time was on her way to work, was called into the school. So I asked myself, why does a parent send their child to school knowing they are unwell? Surely this parent must have noticed that their beetroot- red faced kid was burning up with fever.

This led me to look at the limited options available to this parent and many others like her.

A worried mother or father might decide to call his or her employer to inform them that their child is ill and state that they will need to be off work for a few days to nurse them back to full health. This, I am sure, would not be received well by most employers, who would no doubt cry "get into work I need you here, we are snowed under". Understandably, some parents would not want to put their jobs at risk, especially at this time of economic gloom.

A lot of parents simply decide to send their sick child to school and hope that teachers do not notice that they are unwell. This behaviour undoubtedly puts the health of other children, school staff and parents at risk. Potentially catching, dare I say it, an illness like swine flu.

UK law states that a parent of a child under the age of five can have 13 weeks parental leave for a sick child but no more than four weeks in any one year, and you must have worked for your present employer for a year to qualify.

When I questioned parents, many were unaware of this entitlement and to be honest most seemed to be of the opinion that their employer would not agree to such a request.

Malcolm Wallace, from Bromley, south east London said: "You must be joking. My boss would not listen to that".

Companies put an extraordinary amount of pressure on parents to attend work no matter what the circumstances.

And if your sick child is over five, officially you are not allowed any time off no matter how critical the illness. When I asked a group of parents if they thought this was right, their resounding response was "no".

There needs to be flexibility in how these cases are dealt with, particularly when there is a lethal pandemic in our midst. Parents would like to nurse their children when they are sick but some are restricted by law and the actions of heartless bosses.

1 Response to "Swine flu and parental discrimination"


Wed, 10/07/2009 - 10:52
I think that some parents may send their sick children into school knowing that the school will call them at work. Some parents may feel that their employer will think they are pulling a fast one when they call the office to say they can't come in because their child is sick. If the parent gets a call from the school asking them to take their sick child home it is obviosly more believable.