Guest op-ed: A sick situation demands a cure

In 2016, New York State passed a law requiring all private employers to provide their employees with new benefits, including paid parental leave. This guarantees new parents —mothers and fathers, adopted parents, foster parents, etc.—the right to paid time off to bond with their new child.

In late 2015, Mayor de Blasio announced that New York City would offer paid parental to public city employees. However, many city employees, including our public school teachers, have yet to see results. To this day, no public school teachers have this common sense benefit.

So what does a new mom teaching in a public school do when she gives birth? She hoards her sick days. The city currently allows new mothers working as teachers to take six weeks of sick days to care for and bond with her new child. This means hoarding and saving sick days for multiple years.

If you have not accumulated enough sick days by the time you give birth, you may “borrow” sick days from the Department of Education, but that means not getting to use sick days for any other purpose in the years that follow.

If you need longer than the six allowed weeks (or eight, for mothers who give birth via c-section), tough luck. You’re off payroll. Same goes if, for one reason or another, you can’t hoard or borrow sick days.

But wait, there’s more: This practice of using sick days for pseudo-maternal leave is only available to biological mothers who have given birth.

If you’re a biological and/or single father, you get no parental leave. If you’ve adopted, no parental or maternal leave for you. If you’re a foster parent, sorry, no parental or maternal leave. If you’re a gay couple who had a child with a surrogate, you guessed it: no parental or maternal leave.

This system is unsustainable and cruel. In a time when New York State is recognizing the need for new parents to care for and bond with their children, public school teachers are being forced to choose between their newborn baby and their next paycheck.

Meanwhile, other cities like Atlanta, Seattle and Austin are eating our lunch and leading the way when it comes to paid parental leave for city workers.

I’m calling on my colleagues in the City Council to work together to make paid parental leave for public city employees finally a reality.

In New York City, we count on teachers to care for our children, and to help give them the tools they need to take on the world. Teachers deserve the right to care for their own children as well.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. You can email me at or call my office at 718-748-5200.

Justin Brannan is the councilmember of the 43rd Council District.


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