May 2, 2014 7:34 pm

Would you donate your days off to a co-worker with a sick child?

A law passed in France this week allows workers to donate their days off to a colleague caring for a seriously ill child. (Stock photo, 2005)

Stock Image/The Canadian Press

Having a seriously ill child can force a parent to make some tough choices when it comes to taking time off work.

A law passed in France this week aims to make that kind of decision-making easier.

The French parliament will now allow workers to anonymously donate days off to help co-workers dealing with a seriously ill child, Radio France International (RFI) reported.

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The bill was first passed in the National Assembly two years ago, but only made it through the Senate on Wednesday.

The story of a water-bottling plant worker whose son died of cancer in 2011 inspired MP Paul Salen to propose the bill.

Christophe Germain’s co-workers donated a total of 170 of their days off to so he could care for his cancer-stricken son.

According to RFI, some private companies already allow the donation of days off.

In Canada, a parent can take up to 37 weeks off work if his or her child is critically ill, but the employer isn’t required to pay the worker during that period of leave.

Instead, you’d have to apply for Employment Insurance special benefits for Parents of a Critically Ill Children (PCIC), which the federal government announced in 2012.

READ MORE: Parents with sick children can make employment insurance claims: Harper

The Dept. of Employment and Social Development said 2,100 applicants have received the PCIC benefit since it became available in June 2013.

If two parents wish to take leave related to a child’s critical illness, they can only take a combined total of 37 weeks of leave in a 52-week period. Similar to the period of leave, two parents are only eligible to receive the benefit for a combined total of 35 weeks.

The decision to give up work to care for a child suffering from a life-threatening illness weighs heavily on parents, said Kathy Netten, a social worker with the Toronto Sick Kids Hospital’s Complex Care program.

She works with families who have “medically fragile” children or are dependent on technology to live.

“The pattern that we typically see is that only one parent can stay employed full time,” she said. “Often the care needs of the child and the coordination of all of the service providers are so extreme that one parent needs to stay home [or at the hospital].”

The loss of income comes when financial resources are “exacerbated,” she said: The cost of medications, hospital parking, equipment and therapy pile on top of everyday expenses.

Some families have even had to declare personal bankruptcy as a result of such situations, she added.

Netten said allowing people to donate their days off to colleagues in such a situation “would be enormously helpful.”

Some workplaces do continue to pay employees who have exhausted their sick leave or vacation time to care for their child, she explained.

“We’ve had some families where a child is dying and if the workplace has been supportive it has totally changed the experience of the child’s death for the family. … It’s enabled them to really be present and enjoy the final days and minutes that they have with [their] child.”

But parents who don’t have a supportive employer must deal with the fear of not being able to make ends meet or just as they’re coping with one of the most difficult times of their lives.

Dr. Julia Orkin, a pediatrician and a clinical lead for the Complex Care program, said the program followed about 400 children a year through Sick Kids Hospital, plus hundreds more through affiliated healthcare centres throughout Ontario.

“If you spoke to any of our [patients' families] they would all agree there is just not the support that’s needed,” Orkin said.

While she said the idea of day off donation would be “wonderful,” she pointed out it wouldn’t benefit everyone.

“[It] has to be a family who has a job, who has a steady income, who is in a position that they have some flexibility in their current employment,” she said.

There was some similar criticism of the day off donation among left-leaning members of the French Senate.

Communist Senator Dominique Watrin said the law could also “create intolerable situations of injustice between those who can collect days off and those who can’t.”

RFI reported him saying it would also “completely free employers from their responsibilities.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

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