how much sick leave is reasonable to use?

by Ask a Manager on December 7, 2012

A reader writes:

I work for a company that provides two weeks’ vacation and two PTO days to employees to use as they see fit. Toward the end of the year, the manager of our department will alert each person who still has unscheduled time available and ask that they schedule it.

This company also provides 2.15 hours of sick time each pay period; that means people can accrue at least 55 hours of sick time over the year. That sick time will roll over at the end of the year if it is unused; I currently have 160 hours available. But out of 40 people, there are only 10 people who have more than 10 hours sick time built up by the end of the year.

Do I have an unrealistic picture of how often a normal healthy person/child gets sick in a year? Over the last three years, I have used sick time three times for my children (I am a single parent) and once due to an elderly mother in the hospital. When I review some other employees’ (married parents) attendance, I see they use up all their accrued sick time due to a child’s illness. (Of course, Facebook shows them at the park or taking a long weekend trips.) What can a company do to regain control of abused privileges from people who have a lack of work ethic?

Well, first I’d stop monitoring your coworkers’ use of PTO, since that’s not your job, and the fact is, it’s none of your business. I do understand why you’re frustrated — it’s frustrating any time you feel like you’re pulling more weight than someone else is, especially if you’re not being recognized for it. But sick leave is a little different, because it’s hard, if not impossible, to tell from the outside what’s going on (particularly when you’re not someone’s manager, who might have more details about a situation).

Plus, even in cases where you think it’s clear abuse — like the Facebook examples you mentioned — you have no way of knowing for sure if what looks like abuse on the surface really is. Someone might take a sick day because they have a medical appointment, but that doesn’t require them to stay in bed the rest of the day (or report the details of the time off to anyone).

The reality is, different people use different amounts of sick time, and have different standards for what justifies using it. Some people will stay home with a cold because they know they won’t be productive, feel awful and figure that’s what sick leave is for, and don’t want to infect other people; others will always come in to work unless they’re projectile vomiting or covered in blood. Some people have chronic medical conditions they’re dealing with or just get sick more than other people. Some people have weekly or biweekly medical appointments — for anything from marriage counseling to kidney dialysis. Some people have kids, parents, or others who they need to take sick time to care for. And while different people make different choices with all this stuff, it’s reasonable for people to assume these things are all okay unless the company or their manager tells them otherwise.

What’s more, some people strongly believe that sick time is a benefit that there’s for them to take and that it’s appropriate to use it all up, just like they would with vacation time. I happen to disagree with that (I think sick leave is a safety net that’s intended to accumulate when feasible in case you’re hit with something serious), but it’s not an unreasonable viewpoint.

Now, that doesn’t mean that people don’t abuse sick leave — of course some people do — but unless you’re their manager, you’re asking for problems if you attempt to police it or judge it. (And believe me, if the time you decide to say something ends up being the time you discover your coworker has a painful and chronic illness that requires time off, you’re going to feel horrible.)

If someone is abusing their company’s policy by calling out sick when they’re aren’t really sick, then the company should address that — by laying out clear guidelines for what sick time can be used for and how often, and by talking to people who seem to be abusing the system. But that’s for them to handle themselves — you’re best off staying out of it.

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{ 251 comments… read them below or add one }

Ask a Manager December 7, 2012 at 11:05 am

I wanted to kick off the comments by saying this: I think this post is probably ripe for people to take offense, since it might sound like implied criticism of their own behavior … so consider this a request to treat the OP’s question as a genuine attempt to understand what’s going on and not as a personal attack on anyone. Thank you!

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Josh S December 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Here’s a previous thread that has hashed over much of these same issues. (I’m linking specifically to the disagreement I voiced with Alison’s point in that thread.) It might be useful for preventing a lot of the same arguments from repeating all over again?

http://www.askamanager.org/2011/09/how-to-deal-with-an-employee-who-takes-too-much-sick-leave.html#comment-25339

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Long Time Admin December 7, 2012 at 11:15 am

I know that in some work places, employees don’t get paid medical leave. They build up their sick time and hold it for emergencies or scheduled surgery. I think the OP is being wise by letting the sick time accumulate.

Other people think a mental health day is a perfect use for a paid sick day, and use up every minute of paid sick time each year.

Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to.

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Malissa December 7, 2012 at 11:29 am

Everybody has different opinions of how and where to use leave. I can still remember the moron boss who actually had the nerve give me crap over using all 3 days of my sick leave and my whole week’s vacation in a one year time period.
This is the same boss that was demoted shortly after I called his boss and told him that if really wanted me to work for his company he’d find me a different store to go to the next day as I was not spending another day working for the moron.

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Soni December 7, 2012 at 11:29 am

Considering how significantly correlated stress and other mental health issues are to both acute and chronic illness, I think the latter view is perfectly justified as a preventative health care alternative. Taking a day off to go to the park can allow you to blow off steam, diffuse built-up and very harmful stress, refresh your mind and body and come back to work far more productive than you would otherwise be. It also lets you enjoy a small slice of the quality of life that you’re working for, beyond basic life support. Without those breaks, work can begin to seem like your entire life, which for most of us is not healthy. It also revitalizes your attention and focus, which is key for avoiding workplace injuries due to inattention and boredom. And finally, I do know that there have been some days when a mental health day off has prevented wide-spread workplace injury to others in my immediate vicinity (I’m *mostly* tongue-in-cheek about this one for myself, but it can be a real consideration for others).

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nyxalinth December 7, 2012 at 11:42 am

That’s how I think of it too. An occasional mental health day (vital especially in call centers)helps me to be more productive and happy at my work. I started doing this–sparingly!–after working in a bank call center led to severe burnout and a borderline nervous breakdown. We were the bread in a reverse crap sandwich–crap from customers, and worse, crap from management, and I didn’t know how to care for my mental health properly.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 11:55 am

I’m not disputing the value in taking time off – even in single day increments – that’s completely valid.

Isn’t that what PTO or vacation days are for, though? I don’t take vacations, I use my time (when I do) when I need a break to have a long weekend or something. But that’s scheduled PTO. Maybe that’s what everyone is talking about and calling it sick time?

Because if it’s waking up one morning and feeling like you need a mental health day and calling in – are you lying about why you’re out? Because most employers I know would tell you to use PTO for that and not call the day of and make people scramble to cover for you.

If I wake up with the flu that’s one thing, you can’t schedule that, but if I wake up and just can’t go into work because I’m stressed and it’s such an emergency that I can’t wait to schedule a PTO day. That sounds like a pretty big problem to be addressed.

If I’m misunderstanding and you’re all talking about mental health days as pre-scheduled PTO then disregard.

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The IT Manager December 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I agree with Jamie. In a lot of ways, “mental health day” to me seems to be a way people who use sick days inappropriately justify their lying about being sick. True occurances of needing to take a mental health day should be rare because as Jamie said if you’re feeling worn down and worn out, you should schedule a day off in advance. Rare is the occassion that things exploded so badly at work, a person can’t face going the office.

But it also up to the company to define their benefits. If sick days don’t roll over and lots of people are suddenly “sick” at the end of year, well maybe something needs to be done – disciplinary action? change in policy? – so it is used fairly across the board. That’s something the LW can;t really control though.

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Lils December 7, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Jamie and IT Manager–I usually agree with your comments but you’re a bit off-base on this one. Obviously we are all against rampant abuse of time off. However, surely after reading this column for a while we can understand that not everyone has a great work situation. “Rare is the occassion that things exploded so badly at work, a person can’t face going the office ” + suggestions to re-evaluate the job or “get help” or speak to your boss (below) are unrealistic.

A person can easily get slammed with depression and anxiety overnight…whether it’s about work or personal issues…and taking a day off can help immensely. This happens even if you are “getting help”. I might trust 1/10 of my previous bosses to have handled it compassionately, so no, I don’t generally share. People don’t want to call in to ask for that PTO day because there’s a chance the boss will say no or guilt you into coming in. Calling in sick guarantees you space to calm down, take meds, talk to a trusted friend, etc. I *certainly* wouldn’t share with coworkers why I was out.

Policies should demonstrate trust in the employees and respect mental health (formally diagnosed or not), and other employees should MYOB. I guess it’s my business how I use the benefits I accrue. I absolutely encourage my employees to use the leave they’ve earned, even if it puts the rest of us in a bind. We can handle it and they can get the rest they need.

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The IT Manager December 7, 2012 at 2:34 pm

IMO if “a person is slammed with depression and anxiety overnight” that they can take a sick day with no qualms. That’s legit, but I think authenic cases of this are somewhat rare.

I’ve mostly seen/heard of “mental health day” used with a wink, wink by people who want to take break to catch a movie, go the a baseball game, run errands, or just don’t want to go to work. That should be a personal or vacation day.

“Mental health day” seems to be used as a joke to convey the idea that this workplace is driving me crazy. Symptoms of an actual mental illness or condition definately fall under sick days in my defination.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Actually, I don’t think we disagree on this.

If that’s the case and someone has stress or anxiety and need the time they should take it. My feeling though is that if you are having issues like this a day off can be a short term solution – but if someone is that stressed and unhappy they need to look into how to address the root cause.

I would even add that if you’re in a toxic work environment that is actually causing or adding to your problems – survive it how you need to as the way out isn’t overnight either – unfortunately.

My problem is with the people who are using the word “mental health day” as being interchangeable with “I don’t feel like going in today.” Those are two radically different reasons for calling in and I don’t think people should use the term mental health day when they really mean they are essentially playing hooky.

But if I came off as if I was insensitive to people struggling with either their own psychological issues or a toxic workplace I didn’t mean to. I absolutely understand that those are legitimate and serious things – I just see a day off as a band-aid and I would hope they would be addressing the cause so they weren’t constantly under that level of stress. But that doesn’t mean that there is no value in a band-aid – sometimes you need one, for sure.

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Lils December 7, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Ok, I’m glad to hear that we all basically agree. I didn’t mean to imply that either of you don’t care about mental health.

A point I should have made more clearly is that nobody else can really know whether a “mental health day” is legit or not. In the one workplace where I did have a trusting relationship with my boss and colleagues, I knew that all of our mental-health days were legit. I hope that others give me the benefit of the doubt that I really do need my sick days when I take them.

Jamie’s point about a single day being a band-aid is a good one. I would 100% support anyone who needed the band-aid because it can be a part of a good overall plan for maintaining mental health…or it could be all that’s necessary at that point in time.

Likewise, Jamie’s comment about addressing the root cause is good. I’m also very practical and results-oriented about mental health care and encourage others to get help. It’s easy to forget how lengthy the path to mental health can be…it can take a lot of therapy, stress-reduction work, medicine, etc., and that’s not even counting the start-up period at the beginning in which you’re shopping for a therapist and dealing with the insurance. I have found that my “mental health days” have reduced as I’ve progressed. Sadly, some people never get beyond that short-term solution of taking a day off here and there. I still don’t blame them, because they’re probably shuffling along the best they can. I feel sorry for them because they may not understand how beneficial real mental health work can be.

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Katie December 7, 2012 at 10:11 pm

So, I’m a new manager but my perspective is that mental health days are fine if not abused. Part of the problem we have in government is our leave options are vacation or sick leave. Vacation must be scheduled in advance, sick leave doesn’t have to be.

What I’ve told my people is that if they really feel they need a break, they can take leave with no notice, as long as I don’t need them for something urgent. To me that encourages them to be honest about it, and allows them the flexibility to take a breather if they need to. But I also want to know if it’s something at work that’s bothering them so I can make adjustments so they’re not feeling the need to get away from work all the time.

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Katniss December 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm

I’m not sure if this will help clarify at all, but here’s how I treat mental health days, at least.

First off, to me a mental health day seems pretty legit since I have an anxiety disorder that is often centered around socializing, so being overwhelmed by just being around people can be pretty stressful.

However, a mental health day for me doesn’t mean waking up so upset/overwhelmed by work that I decide to call in. Usually when I take a mental health day it’s when work is LESS busy and stressful, but I could still use a refresher by just being in the office. I avoid calling in on days when I know things will be busy and my team will have to struggle to cover me. Anyway, on those days I’ll call in a sick day. And yes, I’m lying in that case but I think if society and corporations in general were more understanding of the need to just have a refresher, I wouldn’t need to fake a stomach bug, I could just say “I could use this day off”.

Also, hi everyone, this is my first time commenting but I’ve been lurking after I discovered AAM a couple weeks ago.

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KellyK December 7, 2012 at 1:30 pm

I think that there’s a difference between taking a sick day to help with an actual mental illness and taking a sick day on the general principle that work is stressful. Not that outright lying is okay, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone with anxiety disorder (or clinical depression or any other mental illness) to take a sick day for that reason.

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Katniss December 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

That’s fair, though I also have no problem personally with people taking “work is stressful and I need a day off” types of mental health days either.

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KellyK December 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Oh, I don’t either as long as they’re honest about it and not unfairly dumping their work on other people.

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Katniss December 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Exactly. To me it’s all about whether or not you’re making the day a pain in the ass for someone else. If I know my team will be fine without me that day, an occasional “not really sick but still taking a day” sick day shouldn’t be a huge deal.

Mints December 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Yeah, sometimes anxiety causes insomnia, and you can wake up at 6am realizing you only slept two hours, feel exhausted, and call a sick day. “I don’t feel well” is vague enough it’s not a lie.

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Laurel December 7, 2012 at 11:44 pm

I suffer from diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder. When I have a night so bad that I have hi ves I call in and simply say I’m sick. I give no reason because that just makes the anxiety worse because I fear what others might think or fear they won’t believe me. It actually took my therapist to tell me that saying I’m sick is all I have to do.

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Anne December 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm

For me, it varies. I’ve used them both ways. I think the important thing is letting your manager/HR person know that you’re struggling before it gets to the point

When I’m just feeling super-stressed at work, getting close to burnout, I will schedule a day off just to play video games. And I’ll usually tell my manager that’s what it’s for.

When I feel that my actual anxiety/depression issues are flaring up, I will very occasionally just call in sick. I think I’ve done this once this year. When I call in sick it’s usually just an ambiguous “I feel like crud” phone call to my manager. She’s aware that I do have anxiety problems, and appreciates that I schedule time off to deal with them when I can, so yes – if she asked me how, specifically, I felt like crud, I would be comfortable answering with either “I’ve been throwing up all night” or “I need to take a day for my mental health to stay productive”.

When my fiance was struggling with depression, he also made his manager aware of it, and also called in a mental health day or two, and that was fine.

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RecentGrad December 17, 2012 at 9:03 pm

+1

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Rodney December 7, 2012 at 11:21 am

In other places, such as the place that I work, there is a low cap on the amount of sick time that one can roll over from year to year. In situations such as that, I think that it makes perfect sense to burn extra time towards the end of the year. If you have X hours that you’re going to lose, why not go ahead and use it?

Of course, that might be more of a criticism of the policy regarding how much can be rolled over year to year than towards the original question. A followup question that I would like to know for OP is: If you seperate from the company, for whatever reason, are you paid out the sick time? Or does it evaporate? That would also influence my decision on how much sick time to let accrue.

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Miss Displaced December 8, 2012 at 10:45 am

I’ve never worked anywhere that allowed “sick” or time to roll over into the next year. So, if you got 40 hours sick time, and you didn’t use it up, too bad. And yes, sometimes people WOULD use this in order not to use their vacation days for any variety of appointments or personal things with their kids. Also, sick time was NOT paid out if you leave the company as vacation time would be.

What concerns me most is the fact that the OP actually was checking people’s Facebook pages to see what they were doing on such “sick” days. Yikes!

To me, if some takes a day’s absence, it is their business what they do with it. Period.

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The IT Manager December 7, 2012 at 11:24 am

AAM’s right that it’s better for your mental health not to compare how many days you take compared to your co-workers. (And I have to say your kids sound very, very healthy because my co-workers with young kids seem to deal with a sick child much more often than an average of once a year.)

I think your co-workers who burn it up are setting themselves up for problems with less than two days of sick leave accrued. I’d need at least a week to make me feel safe and prepared for something as simple as the flu.

I’m agree with your thinking. OTOH I hope you’re not dragging yourself in sick. I’m like you, though, I rarely get sick and rarely take sick leave. I am using it for my medical appoints though.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 11:30 am

OTOH I hope you’re not dragging yourself in sick.

Thank you. I know I’ve posted about this before, but I hate perfect attendance policies be it work or school. When my daughter graduated from high school some kid got an award for perfect attendance K-12. Infuriated me because they were either rewarding him for perfect health (in which case nature already rewarded him) or for coming in and sitting next to my kid and infecting her.

Yes, not playing hooky (work or school) is virtuous. Never getting the flu is luck, not integrity.

For everyone reading this, on behalf of your co-workers, please keep your germs at home when you’re sick. I’d much rather pick up the slack for you than run a fever for you.

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Ellie H. December 7, 2012 at 1:31 pm

I have a new coworker who has been sick pretty much since she started, with sinus issues, migraines etc. She hasn’t accrued any leave because she’s still in her first three months (meanwhile, I’m not benefits eligible and just lose money whenever I have to be out, but whatever) so she has come in while sick a lot, and talks about it constantly. I’m the rare person who is not really bothered by “TMI” or gross medical details so I don’t care about that in and of itself, but the issue is that I am flat out of sympathetic-sounding things to say that don’t sound insincere. I don’t want minute to minute reports on how clogged her sinuses are or how it’s “moved into her glands” or how she thinks she’s going to throw up, simply because I have nothing to say in response, and I also think that she should go home instead of resting on the basement staff room couch, because it’s weird and nobody does that. There are only so many times I can say “Feel better!” or “I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well,” suggest taking Tylenol, inquire after her health, exhort her to let me know if there’s any of her work I can do for her so that she can go home, etc. etc. and I have already burned through many repetitions of these suggestions and expressions of sympathy. I just feel like if you’re going to come in to work when sick, you should try to minimize the fact that you are sick as much as possible . . . else you really should stay home. I really like her and working with her but I have a hard time dealing with the constant discussion of sickness. Among other things it makes everyone else feel bad, too!

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Katie December 7, 2012 at 2:07 pm

You know they do this because schools get funding based on attendance, right? You’re right that it’s absurd, but as my dad likes to say, “if it doesn’t make sense, it makes dollars.”

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KellyK December 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Wow, I never knew that. That explains so much! And your dad’s saying is excellent and applicable to lots of things.

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KarenT December 8, 2012 at 2:15 am

I’d much rather pick up the slack for you than run a fever for you.

I want this on a poster on my office door.

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Lisa December 7, 2012 at 3:01 pm

“OTOH I hope you’re not dragging yourself in sick.”

+100

Earlier this year a coworker came in sick on a Wednesday; by that Friday, I was sick. I asked him why he didn’t call out sick; his response was “I don’t like to call out too much”. I was thinking, that’s what sick days were invented for!!!!

During a conversation today, it came up that he was the coworker who took time off (whether it be a sick or vacation day) every month. So now I guess to keep from being “that employee” anymore, he never takes time off. I’d rather be short one person in the office than catch whatever germs they’re harboring because they don’t want to take too many days off.

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Jubilance December 7, 2012 at 11:24 am

I’m one of those people who doesn’t get sick very often, so I use my sick days for mental health days. I keep it to one a month, but I do need those days to de-stress, get away from the office, etc. I don’t see it as a lack of work ethic – I go above & beyond in my office, I often work late or come in early depending on needs, etc. Having 1 working day off a month so that I don’t crack under the stress is a fair trade in my mind, especially since my company has a “stay home if you need to, just don’t abuse it” system anyway.

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Anon December 7, 2012 at 11:30 am

Agreed. There’s also the “errands that have to be run during daytime hours” day, that I think it’s okay to take from time to time, or just the “I really didn’t sleep well and don’t want to get up at 6am”. Most definitely, there are days I could go in, but after checking my calendar for meetings/deadlines and seeing none, it just improves my quality of life to stay in bed.

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The IT Manager December 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Personally I would think that you should be using vacation days for your once a month days off, but as long you’re in line with your company’s policy and not abusing it who am I to judge?

It’s the abuse of the policy and the unfairness that it creates that can be a problem. If everyone else at work uses it the same way (because company policy is clear), then that seems fair and unlikley to introduce anger and jealousy into the work place.

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clobbered December 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm

But here’s the problem I have with all this. If you “go above & beyond in my office, I often work late or come in early depending on needs” you should (ideally) be able to just say “I won’t be in on Wednesday, I need to run some errands” and it should be okay.

To me, sick leave is sick leave – but what I am seeing in this thread is people using that as a way to get flexibility from an inflexible enironment.

Yeah I am a geek and get hung up on word definitions…

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Katniss December 7, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Well, yeah, I think it makes sense to use it as a way to get flexiblity from an inflexible environment, as you say, if the environment is illogically inflexible.

IMHO at a good workplace a good employee SHOULD be able to call and take PTO or whatever they’re given to say “I just won’t be in Wednesday”. But there are plenty of workplaces that are completely inflexible about time off (even when you are allowed time off according to their own rules), no matter how good an employee is. In that case taking the time where you can find it and using means that seem “dishonest” makes sense to me.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm

You think you can take 1 day off a month for a mental health day LOL!! You should definitely be using vacation time for this….

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Amouse December 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm

don’t you guys get Personal Days? We do and that’s what mental health days and errands are for.

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Long Time Admin December 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm

A lot of people don’t get those any more.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Aren’t these the same as vacation days? My company calls them vacation days but you can take them one at a time or in half day increments – so same effect as a personal day.

For those who have vacation separate from personal days – what’s the difference?

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Frances December 7, 2012 at 1:51 pm

At my work, the difference is that personal days don’t accrue or rollover from year to year — you get 2 at the start of the year. For people who do use up all of their vacation time each year, this gives them a couple of days they can use right at the beginning of the year before they accrue any vacation. I almost always roll over days, so I just try to remember to add them in to a vacation request so I don’t lose them.

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KarenT December 8, 2012 at 2:17 am

Ditto

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human December 7, 2012 at 2:27 pm

A few years ago I had a state job that had vacation time, personal days, and sick days. Vacation time accrued, I think like half a day per pay period for me, so you had to wait a while to store it up. Personal days and sick days, you got a set amount per calendar year. There were only maybe 2 personal days, and they were more flexible in what you could use them for (errands rather than illness). You got them when you started, and then they would reset on a specific date. So that was the main difference– they were there from the beginning, and renewed each year, rather than having to wait to store them up.

Once you had vacation stored up it really didn’t matter if you used your vacation time or your personal time, but it was a way of making sure everyone had a couple of days from the very beginning that they could use to deal with personal life stuff. Pretty nice!

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Not So NewReader December 7, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Another thing about personal days is that the rules let you give shorter notice. You can ask a week ahead, in emergencies you can ask for immediate time, for example. But vacation days are more formal- you have to ask months in advance, you might not get the request granted and so on.
Where I live, I am seeing systems that use a pool of time that includes personal, sick and vacation. It involves a formula that Einstein would not be able to comprehend. So you ask the boss “how much time to I have?” And you pray that the number is correct because you have no idea how they calculated that number. But the one good thing is – no one cares how you use the time. And when you are out of time- that is it for the year.

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Esra December 7, 2012 at 10:37 pm

For some reason, the organization I work for is ridiculously rigid granting vacation days, but fine with people using their sick/personal days. It’s all about notice. Also, sick/personal days don’t get paid out or carried over.

As to the mentions above about whether you lie or not when you are taking them. I just say I’m not feeling well. There is a stigma at my office about ‘sick’ being purely physical. They would react pretty poorly to mental health issues, or even just those rare days when you wake up and think “I can’t do this today.”

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Depends on company policy for leave. Not all companies draw the lines in the same places, nor do all managers care.

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AnonA December 7, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Do you realize that this means that you are taking TWELVE WORKING DAYS A YEAR off for time you’re not sick!?!? That’s more time that most people get as vacation for the whole year. I would have a problem with this if you were my employee. I need people to be at work. That’s not an unreasonable expectation.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 3:33 pm

If her company does think it’s a problem, then it’s not a problem. Personally, I think it’s A LOT, but if I could get a day off every month, I would do it too.

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Flynn December 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

*looks at six weeks of accrued leave and three months of accrued sick leave*

*edges away from the crazy anon*

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 11:25 am

As an aside – I think it’s nice that the employer lets them roll over sick time – I’ve never heard of that before. Could come in handy if you have a healthy year followed by one where you need a lot of dental appointments or something.

And that was what came to my mind about people needing time for appointments, etc. I had a root canal this year and it took way too many freaking appointments – but my dentist hours start at 6:00 AM so I was able to schedule them all early and still be in the office at my usual time. If my dentist had different hours, I’d have taken more partial days off for appointments.

I agree with Alison that sick time is like a safety net – I think of it like car insurance – I like knowing it’s there, but I don’t want to have to use it. But places I’ve worked where there is designated ‘sick days’ I did know people who saw them as interchangeable with PTO which bothered me because if it’s a sick day there is no scheduled warning, which sucks for co-workers unless it’s legitimate. (Well, sucks when it’s legit, too, but understandable.)

If I could give the OP any advice it’s to really heed what Alison said and stop worrying about what your co-workers are doing. It sucks when things don’t seem fair, and I’m kind of a hypocrite since people gaming the system get under my skin like few other things – but it will drive you crazy. I try really hard not to sweat about stuff over which I have no control – because it only hurts you.

And if you have co-workers who are calling in truly sick and then posting on Facebook that they are at a ballgame or whatever…trust me, this kind of stupidity catches up with them eventually. Maybe not as quickly as you’d like, but it does.

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books December 7, 2012 at 11:52 am

Your dentist opens at 6am? That is insane!

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 11:57 am

It’s actually good for me on two levels – one I can get a root canal and head into work (and yes, people knew to avoid me unless something was on fire that day) and I’m actually phobic about the dentist and if it’s later in the day 90% of the time I will talk myself out of going.

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books December 7, 2012 at 11:58 am

To me, root canal is a perfect reason to not go to the office.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I’d be nervous about the dentist not being fully awake yet!

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Marie December 7, 2012 at 11:55 am

I’m currently at one of those places you mentioned, where people use sick days and PTO interchangeably. I do it, and I feel no guilt for it, because of one very stupid policy: we can only rollover 16 hours a year, and those can’t be sick days. If you use up all your PTO and have 16 hours left of sick days, oh well, that time disappears.

So the general office idea is to use up your sick days as soon as possible and use PTO for the rest of the year. This way there’s very little possibility of losing those hours. Of course, you can only roll over 16 hours anyway (absurd) so everyone always ends up taking off most of December. This is more a product of bad management and unreasonable corporate rules, not employee lawlessness or malcontent.

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Laura L December 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm

We only have PTO, but it can be used for anything (illness, appointment, vacation, etc.). It’s nice because if you don’t get sick often, you can take a little extra vacation. But at the same time, if you’re getting sick a lot or need to get a root canal or whatever, you know you’ll have plenty of time and will just not be able to take as many vacation days.

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unsan December 8, 2012 at 8:11 pm

The stupid part is they’re either friends with their co-workers on Facebook or they haven’t securely locked down their profile
When will people learn that their co -workers/boss are not thir friend!

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Dan December 7, 2012 at 11:26 am

I once was offered a job that gave its employees unlimited paid sick time. [i]That[/i] was a policy that could easily be abused.

But other than that, if an employer gives you a finite amount of time where they pay you not to be at work, if I was a manager, I’d expect people to use it. I wouldn’t care, either. IMHO, it’s just really icky to dangle out the carrot of paid leave and then hold it against people for using it. (Note that at some employers, using all of your vacation is frowned upon, too.)

My company solves the problem by giving us a rather large pot of PTO — I get 5 weeks — to use however I darned well please. Sine I don’t get sick, I can burn it all on fun stuff, without feeling guilty about it.

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Anon December 7, 2012 at 11:32 am

I had unlimited paid sick time at my last job, and nobody abused it, at least not in my department. If someone was taking too much time, I guess his/her manager would deal with it accordingly, but I don’t know of any time that it was a real problem.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Ours is unlimited also – and it’s not abused. If someone were to have an issue their manager would talk to them about what’s going on – but it’s just not an issue. They expect you to call in if you’re not well – work from home if you can – if not it will be there when you feel better.

I don’t know if it’s not abused because we’re not that big a company, or because I work with an unusually dedicated group of people.

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AdAgencyChick December 7, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I also worked at a company that had unlimited sick leave, and people didn’t abuse it. I think that policy is great if it is paired with observant management who are willing to take action against people who abuse the policy — it encourages people not to come in and be Typhoid Mary just because they want to save their PTO for something more fun, yet management keeps people from malingering and taking a bunch of “sick” days in December because they’ll lose them all otherwise.

Another policy I thought worked well was at my first ad agency, which would not allow sick time rollover, but they did pay out a bonus of 1/2 day’s pay for every sick day you had left at the end of the year. So there was an incentive not to use sick days just for kicks, but it wasn’t such a huge reward that people came in when they were really ill.

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Kate2 December 7, 2012 at 12:33 pm

I’ve had unlimited sick time at previous jobs as well. I was told that they found people actually use less sick time when it’s unlimited than when they have say a week of sick time and feel like they should use all 7 days before the end of the year. It definitely worked for me.

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Frieda December 7, 2012 at 2:13 pm

My company has unlimited sick time (after 5 consequtive days it becomes short-term disability), and I’ve seen no problem with it. Yes it makes it easier for someone to call in when they aren’t “really” sick, but the idea around here is as long as your work is getting done no one is going to hassle you about the little details of your schedule.

I’ve heard of some companies (ZocDoc I think?) who have unlimited paid VACATION time–basically, as long as your work gets done you can do that work whenever you feel like. I think it makes sense, but with both of these the important detail is that you have good management who is willing and able to deal with people who abuse the policies.

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AdAgencyChick December 7, 2012 at 2:35 pm

My last job had an unlimited vacation time policy. Never again. Unless you have REALLY awesome management, “unlimited vacation time” means “whatever amount of vacation time your boss thinks is okay.” This meant, in practice, that I got less time off than I got when I had a pre-set allotment of days.

After all, it’s a lot easier to say “Can you not take that time off? We’re going to be really busy then,” to someone who theoretically has unlimited time to use later, at some fantasy date where there’s not so much work to do, than it is to say that to someone who has X number of days that have to be parceled out during the year.

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Natalie December 7, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Plus, if you live in a state that requires vacation be paid out when you leave, you get jack.

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Maris December 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm

My employer has a virtually unlimited sick day policy – but with a couple of caveats. As a manager, multiple days at one time off I can request the employee provide a doctors note if I suspect its not “sick” time being taken. >2 weeks we start considering if its really short term disability – which is a more rigorous process requiring doctor completing a form and an independent health professional reviewing it. After something like 72 days, then it’s long term disability which is a whole other issue.

All that said – this is the company where I’ve seen the least abuse of sick days. Perhaps mostly because our employees work from home. The majority of my staff haven’t taken a sick day all year (and they have been sick/injured). I think not having to shower/dress/commute makes it much easier.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm

I’ve read several times that companies that give employees unlimited leave actually se FEWER absences overall. In fact many places have instituted policies like that on purpose to reduce absences. Because people tend to use the amount of time they’re allowed as the amount of time that’s reasonable; if you’re allowed as much as you want, you have to guess at what’s reasonable, and if you don’t want to look like a slacker your estimate will probably be quite low.

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BW December 7, 2012 at 11:28 am

How is it that this LW knows how many people in the whole dept have X number or hours or less? Is the manager of the department sending a blanket email with everyone’s leftover hours listed so that it inadvertently becomes everyone else’s business? If so, that seems really inappropriate.

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Tim December 7, 2012 at 11:33 am

AAM, a quick follow-up: Do you think it’s legit to use sick days for the proverbial “mental health day”? (Assuming this is an occasional use, maybe 3-4 times/year.)

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Ask a Manager December 11, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Sorry for the delay, just getting to this while getting caught up from vacation!

I’m actually all for mental health days, particularly among people who generally work hard and are productive, and I know that they’re not always something you can plan for — sometimes you just wake up and realize you really hate the idea of going in that day and it’s a day when your absence wouldn’t be disruptive. As long as the second part of that is true, I think it’s fine to do on occasion. It’s really crappy to do it when your unplanned absence will cause problems though!

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 11:39 am

I just get SICK OF WORKING and I will use a sick day, if I have accrued the time, as I see fit. If going to a theme park will make me feel better, so be it. I don’t go on a full out vacation and I rarely call out more than 2 days in a row. However, to answer the question, I almost never get sick. I have a freakishly strong immune system. If I only called out while I was actually sick, I wouldn’t have taken a day off in…. 3 years.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 11:46 am

Curious – why wouldn’t you just take a vacation day so it can be scheduled?

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

I guess I could, but how do I know when I just don’t feel like it ahead of time?

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Same anon
I worked in a call center before so that’s an explanation in itself. Also there’s 60+ people who do the same job as I do… so there’s nothing my absense really impacts.
Where I work now is much less pressure. take a day off if you need it. There are things ONLY I CAN DO, but they can wait a day

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Anonymous January 7, 2014 at 3:48 pm

I took mental health days when i worked at a call centre, too. Its the only way to survive a place like that.

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aname December 7, 2012 at 2:31 pm

A lot of companies will not allow a holiday day to be booked and redeemed on the day. So therefore what could be a quick call saying “hey ya, nothing urgent today for me, do you mind if I take a holiday day?” turns into a sick day/mental health day instead.

Somehow the latter is more acceptable than short notice holiday in some places.

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Erika December 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I took a sick day once after a particularly nasty day at work. It couldn’t be scheduled because no one could have predicted that this would be the day that all the terrible things would happen, but I genuinely needed it. If I’d had to come into work the next day, I probably would’ve lost it and quit.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Exactly, when can you predict you’re “sick of this sh-t” and if you do come in— nobody is gonna have a good day.

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Elizabeth December 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I had one of those. I held it together through the week, then I scheduled Wed/Thurs/Friday off the next week. That Wednesday, I didn’t get out of bed until almost noon, and then I lay on the couch reading until 5. Not touching a computer after having had to rebuild our time & attendance system from scratch was heaven.

I have taken a couple mental health days over the years. Usually, they come after the end of major project pushes where I have given virtually every bit of physical & emotional energy I can generate for a sustained period. One time, it was because we completely revamped our PTO system over year’s end, and I was responsible for training nearly 100 people on how record time in the new manner.* The second was because I had just finished a major system re-implementation 2 years after implementing it the first time.

I can usually tell that I need to schedule a day away from work by how I’m dealing with people and how close I am to deliberately making myself ill to have an excuse to not be at work. Since consuming dark chocolate will cause me a severe migraine every time, and since dark chocolate is one of my favorite foods in the world, I have a barometer on how quickly I need to be able to say “Okay, I have got to get out of here.”

*Yes, I know the irony of being the person who set up the PTO system being the first person who used it. Leaving work at 6 after the second day of training, falling asleep in the recliner at 7, stumbling to bed at 10 and not waking up until after 10 the next morning was a good indicator that this had pretty much done me in.

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Cynthia December 7, 2012 at 11:46 am

I’m a firm believer in taking mental health days, and I think it’s one of the reasons I don’t need to take much sick time. I rarely get sick, but I know when I just need rejuvenation. And the rare times I’ve gotten sick have usually followed long, stressful stretches of work.

Thank goodness I have generally worked for bosses (and companies) who trust that I care about doing a good job and understand that if they let me take a day here or there, it helps me be a better employee.

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Parfait December 7, 2012 at 11:57 am

I once had a boss who actually ENCOURAGED this. “If you’re ever having one of those days, just call in and say you’re having one of those days. That’s TOTALLY fine.”

One of many reasons he was a great boss.

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Not So NewReader December 7, 2012 at 9:23 pm

I see nothing wrong with mental health days. In the last five plus years I have called in three times. A mental health day every 18 months roughly… and I do stay home and do low key activities (sleep, read, play with the dog). I am actually using the down time to rest and recharge.
I agree with you, Cynthia. I have watched over the years and the employees who never call in are the ones that end up in tragic situations. They finally do call in and we never see them return to work.

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Wilton Businessman December 7, 2012 at 11:52 am

As long as they’re not going over their allotted time, who cares?

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Kelly O December 7, 2012 at 3:32 pm

+1 BILLION

(As someone who gets zero “sick” time and only five days total in a calendar year for anything.)

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Mike C. December 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm

That’s what I’m wondering myself.

The word “abuse” keeps popping up, and I wish someone would define it for me.

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Wilton Businessman December 7, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Abuse to me is you go over your allotted sick time, regularly. Say you get .5 days/month or 6 days a year. If you’ve taken 6 days by July and are still calling in sick then that is a problem. Different people handle it different ways.

In my company, you get X days on January 1st for whatever you want them for. If you don’t use them by December 31st, you get a check in January/February for your unused PTO. Next January 1st, clean slate. If you call in sick in December and you’ve got no PTO left, we’re going to have a discussion and you’re probably getting one less day next year.

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Kelly O December 7, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I tend to agree with this.

If you continually go over your time, or always have some sort of extenuating circumstances and need to “bend” the rules to suit a need, then it needs to be looked at more closely.

The other thing is that if you’re continually causing a problem for your coworkers, then the situation needs to be looked at more closely by the management.

But I guess I don’t get the problem. If someone takes all their sick time, why does someone else care so much? Around here, we get no time, but people still take unpaid time. For the most part, as long as the work gets done and phones are covered, it’s not a huge deal.

And if it IS creating an issue for coworkers, someone just needs to explain to the manager that we can’t get X, Y, or Z done because Jane has been out – how would you like us to manage this?

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Seriously. That’s the thing I don’t get when people go off about this– if they’re getting their work done and staying within their time off and everything, why in the world would anyone care? What’s the problem? The people OP is talking about aren’t even using up all their time, they’re just left with very little at the end. What a bizarre thing to be upset about.

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Lisa December 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm

My opinion is that PTO abuse is only when you are taking more time than allowed. If I get 5 vacation days, 5 sick days, and 5 personal days. I consider all 15 days mine that I can use as I choose. If I take 16 days or if there is no rule of how many days are allowed and then I take 50 versus the 15 my coworkers average then THAT is abusing the system.

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The IT Manager December 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm

But why are there three categories? I am genuinely curious. The fact that there’s a category called sick days seems to imply that you should be ill to use it.

And what’s the difference between a vacation day and a personal day?

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Liz in a Library December 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Everywhere I’ve worked, vacation days were pre-planned/approved, but personal days could be taken unplanned for non-sick reasons (i.e., I woke up this morning and my car wouldn’t start!).

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Lisa December 10, 2012 at 10:02 am

I know, and in my office, I am required to be sick to use those days. They claim that I have 15 days paid time off, but 5 additional sick days. Very odd. I am required to use vacation time, if i go over my sick time, but can’t use sick time to add to my vacation even if I have to use it or lose it before the end of the year.

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jmkenrick December 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Well, sick days can be last minute, versus vacation days, which are something you plan out ahead of time usually. That’s definitely something that affects your coworkers.

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Erika December 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I generally use up all my sick time each year. Sometimes it’s for medical appointments or when I have a cold/the flu (I work with kids, so I am exposed to all the germs and illnesses that go around). But yeah, sometimes I take a mental health day.

On the other hand, if I don’t use my sick time by Dec. 31, it’s gone. We don’t accrue year to year, so if I feel under the weather, I feel justified in taking a couple hours here or there.

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Evan the College Student December 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Does your vacation time also vanish at the end of the year? If not, I wonder how many people mysteriously get sick around Christmastime…

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I’m actually curious as to how common it is to roll over vacation time.

Where I’ve worked it’s always been a use it or get cashed out at end of year – so always starting with 0 accrual heading into the new year.

I like the idea of rolling over – do a lot of you have this option?

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NDR December 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Both mine and my husband’s jobs allow us to roll over both sick and vacation time. His has a cap (I think you can’t have more than twice your annual accrual saved up at any time).

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Samantha December 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm

At my organization, unused vacation time rolls over to the next year so you can accumulate up to 2 years of vacation time. Sick time rolls over up to 240 hours. Also, once you reach 120 hours of stick time, any sick time over that amount can be donated to other employees in need.

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KayDay December 7, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Everywhere I have worked (and had benefits) allows rollover. If it gets paid out when we leave the organization, there is a cap on how much we can accrue; if we don’t get paid out there’s no limit. We don’t have any other option for paid medical leave; we would need to use sick and vacation time to get paid for surgery, etc.

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moss December 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

we can carry 40 hours of vacation over.

unused sick time gets converted 3:1 into vacation time (3 unused days of sick time gets converted into 1 day of vacation time.)

I use every damn hour off they give me. I have only been unscheduledly sick once this past year but I use a sick day for a doctor’s appointment or whatever.

I don’t call in randomly. Most of the days I take off are up on the calendar, usually many days in advance. If I had to be out and it was a big problem I would log in from home to take care of what I could. I don’t leave my team in the lurch.

But I use that time.

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The IT Manager December 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Thanks kind of sucks not having any days in January (for example). What if you want to take a week’s vacation in January.

Both the military and government allow you to carry over some leave into the next year so I never start from zero except when I first started. In both jobs, I had to limit my leave at the beginning to build up a cushion, but then I could plan to travel to my family home for Thanksgiving and Christmas with no concerns. Very important when your job by its very nature moves you far away from home and then moves you frquently after that.

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Malissa December 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I have that option I can roll up to 960 hours of sick time and 200 hours of vacation time. Sick leave can also be donated to employees who have blown through theirs if they have a “life threatening” condition. The definition of “life threatening” get looser every year, which I like. Personally I think if we are given the option to donate, we should be able to donate to whomever for whatever.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Now that’s civilized. Much as I covet time off, I would gladly have passed days to the IT guy who broke his arm, and was clearly suffering at the keyboard, or the coworker who had to have emergency surgery and came back looking like a ghost. Just because someone has enough hemoglobin to leave hospital, doesn’t mean they have enough hemoglobin to take to the office. Stupid absence policy imposed from head office outside the country meant between PTO and long term disability there was nothing except unpaid leave. Someone in our HR was asleep at the switch when that came in.

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ES December 7, 2012 at 11:09 pm

My stepdad had time “donated” to him when my mom was going through surgery/chemo/radiation treatment for breast cancer, and he was taking care of her and my three younger sisters. He had sick time saved up, but it just wasn’t enough for the overwhelming amount of stuff he had to do. They are also super flexible about when you get your work done (so long as you attend meetings as necessary) and working from home, which was also useful during that time.

His company always ranks high on local top employer list, and I think that flexibility/trust is a big reason why.

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KellyK December 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Ours rolls over, and we have a bank of “leave” –there’s no distinction between “vacation” and “sick.” There’s a cap for how much you can roll over; I believe it’s 60 hours. I’ve never even been close to having that much left after Christmas, but high-level managers (who’ve both been here forever and have trouble scheduling time off) often sell leave.

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Elizabeth December 7, 2012 at 3:31 pm

We accrue both PTO and EIB (Extended Illness Benefit) across financial periods. There are maximum accruals, based upon full-time versus part-time, salaried versus hourly and length of service.

PTO is vacation, sick, discretionary days & holidays, all in one package. Hourly personnel can take it in 0.1 hour increments to make up hours to their allowed status. We have a lot of 72-hour-as-full-time nurses who get sent home due to low census at about 65 to 70 hours who will take a couple hours of PTO in order to get a full paycheck.

EIB is for illnesses beyond 40 hours of work time. If you are out long enough to trigger FMLA, you can dig into EIB. I was out this summer for 4 weeks after surgery, and the first 1 was on PTO, while the next 3 were on FMLA/EIB.

Even after using 120 hours, I still have nearly 500 hours of EIB accrued, with a maximum allowed accrual of 800 hours for my current role & length of service (18 years in October). When I reach 20 years, my maximum will go up to 1000 hours. 25 years will allow me 1200 hours and 30 years will allow 1500 hours.

We are strongly encouraged to take time off. From an organizational financial standpoint, the accrued PTO liability we have is pretty serious, given how many long-term employees (I’m an infant compared to a lot of them) almost never take time off. Being able to fill out a short paycheck with PTO has been useful in helping decrease that liability, as has doing a buy-back at 70% (10 hours of PTO bought back for 7 hours pay).

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Natalie December 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm

My job used to let you hang on to all of your vacation. About 3 years ago, they finally put a cap on the amount (you can have up to 6 weeks banked). The company is based in a state that requires vacation pay-out so I think they must have audited their books and realized that unlimited vacation banking was a terrible idea.

I work with one of the people I imagine is responsible for the policy change. He’s worked here for 13 years, and in the five years I’ve been here he’s only taken one day off.

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zemkat December 7, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I get my full amount of vacation for the year on July 1, and have until the following June 30 to use it all. No roll over, no cash out. Unlimited sick time.

I haven’t seen anyone abuse the unlimited sick time, but a lot of people save up their vacation until the end, so the office is sort of a ghost town around June.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I like that system – I prefer the anniversary dump of vacation time to the pay period accrual. It’s just cleaner.

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Laura L December 7, 2012 at 4:28 pm

We get PTO, which combines vacation/personal and sick leave, and it rolls over each year, but only up to a point. If you have more than the maximum allowed to roll over, you lose it. The max is pretty high though.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm

We only have PTO and can roll a week of it over every year. I have 28 days of PTO, so it’s a rare year that I”m not rolling some over and losing a few as well.

We have a PTO bank that we can donate unused hours to. Co-workers with a documented, long-term medical issue (theirs or family member) can draw PTO from the bank if they use all theirs up. As I understand it, there’s a pretty strict regimen of documentation that has to be provided to get the benefit, and HR works with the family and Dr to gauge whether or not it’s a legitimate claim. Hopefully for those of us who donate hours to the bank, they make it hard for anyone to cheat the system just to get a few extra days at the beach.

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Jen in RO December 12, 2012 at 7:49 am

In our US offices, they can roll over 5 days. In our Romania offices, we’re only allowed to roll over 3 days. Anything above that gets “deleted” – it’s not paid out, it just disappears.

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Jen in RO December 12, 2012 at 7:51 am

Also, I think they have sick days in the US, but we don’t have them. (It might be something in the local laws, I’m not sure. To take medical leave, even for a day, we have to get a stamped and signed doctor’s note.)

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Erika December 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm

It does, which is why I use it as needed without worrying about it. Generally, most of the people at my work seem to do the same thing, although we always end up with people who have left over vacation, which does result in a bit of ghosttown around the holidays.

On the upside, they will allow the people with a ton of vacation – sometimes a week or more – to pass the time they can’t use along to someone else who might be able to use it, so that’s nice.

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Liz in a Library December 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Wow…that’s a really nice policy. I’ve never heard of anything like that before, but have wished I could offer a sick day to a colleague before (when I had many and she was ineligible for any).

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Elizabeth December 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm

We have a leave pool.

Someone who has accrued PTO can donate up to 4o hours (they have to be able to maintain a minimum of 40 hours for themselves). Then, a committee of employees evaluate the applications for leave pool use. To be eligible to apply, an employee has to have exhausted their PTO, their extended illness benefit & FMLA. The employee’s supervisor has to sign off on the request, and they may be asked for their opinion on approval.

Examples where the committee allowed it: someone had a college-aged son who was diagnosed with a rare form of aggressive cancer that required fast treatment right after the employee had been seriously ill herself. Another employee was diagnosed with cancer, and the treatment caused him to become diabetic, which was discovered when he became unconscious while driving. One woman was pregnant and delivered extremely prematurely, and the baby was still in the hospital nearly 100 miles away when she had exhausted all of her leave.

Example where the committee has decided not to allow it: a couple (both work here) had been undergoing infertility treatments that ended up exhausting all of their paid leave. They were taking unpaid time to do the last round, when they discovered she was pregnant. She had a fairly normal pregnancy & delivery, but she didn’t want her maternity leave to be unpaid. Her supervisor signed off on the request but refused to support the application when it went before the committee. She didn’t get approved.

You get to see the best & worst of people during the committee meetings. We never ask immediate coworkers of the applicant to be a part of the discussion, because it isn’t supposed to be a popularity contest. It can get ugly, but at the same time it can be pretty uplifting, too.

When an applicant is approved, they are allowed to draw on the pool enough to keep their health benefits and any disability insurance, which is about 20 hours per week. It isn’t designed to be a replacement for full wages, but to help a colleague survive what it almost always a harrowing experience.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 4:40 pm

We have something similar (see my comment above), and it is a nice benefit to know that it’s there to fall back on in a dire situation. And it’s a good feeling to donate time that I’m not going to be able to use anyway. At least someone will get some benefit out of it.

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Katniss December 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm

I’ve been doing the same thing! Though honestly I end up using more sick time instead of vacation time because my partner’s family takes a big trip every year that I’m invited on, and they often book the tickets without me knowing. So I’ll just randomly find out that, hey, I’ve got to take off 8 days 6 months from now!

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LL December 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I don’t worry about employees’ absenteeism until it starts impacting productivity and affecting my own work.

Personally, I’m probably up for my company’s attendance award this year.

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mel December 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm

It’s a bit of a hit to morale when other people aren’t pulling their weight, I guess. I think I get sick maybe once every 2-3 years? My coworker, despite leaving at lunch every day, can’t seem to schedule his many appointments outside of work and so that screws up my schedule a lot and it irks me.

But we don’t have sick leave or benefits. I’m more angry about having to decide whether or not staying home with a fever and laryngitis the day a close relative dies is worth having yet another chunk of my paycheck vanishing into thin air. I think I’d rather deal with sick leave abuse.

Already some of my coworkers like to leave early or not show up at all without explanation and leave us with the mess. Nothing bad happens to them for that, either. But at least they don’t get paid for it.

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Happy Friday December 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I take a sick day once a quarter, whether it’s mental health or real illness. I don’t use vacation time because it’s one of those last minute “I really can’t do this today” kind of things.

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NDR December 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I don’t use a ton of sick time, but I am definitely a fan of taking a day if I feel like I’m getting sick, in hopes of heading it off. I usually succeed and have only taken one day instead of the whole week because I let myself get too run down.

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Sandrine December 7, 2012 at 12:16 pm

In France, you can have “as many sick days” as you wish, but you ALWAYS need a doctor’s note. Or a legal document or whatever that would justify using “one of those days” . Vacation days are completely separate… I’m using those right now and woosh does it feel good to be ten plane hours away XD

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Paralegal December 7, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Ugh, I had professors in college who required a doctor’s note if we were sick. Most of my illnesses would have cleared up on their own (flu, food poisoning, etc), so it was just an unnecessary same-day appointment when I should have been at home in bed.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 7:33 pm

I had an issue with this once as an undergrad where I missed a lab because I was sick but couldn’t get an appointment that day. I called that day and scheduled an appointment for the next day. The doctor that was in the health center that day confirmed an infection, wrote me a prescription for antibiotics, etc. But when I said I needed a note to cover the day before as well, she refused. I asked how she thought I could have been healthy the day before despite needing antibiotics that day, and pointed out I’d called and tried to get in but could not.

She didn’t relent, and when I went to my professor with my prescription and note for that day later in the week, she said it didn’t count since it was the day after and penalized me for missing the lab, and didn’t allow me to turn in a late lab report.

People are silly.

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Not So NewReader December 7, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Sounds like you were being used as a pawn in a bigger and unseen battle.

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Kate December 7, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I’m one of those people that uses sick time liberally (though I never even come close to using it all up – I have looooots of hours accumulated still). By “liberally”, I mean that if I was up late with the baby and I got one hour of sleep and I wake up feeling like death – I use sick time. If I have a cold that I can’t shake – sick time. Last month I had laryngitis and I couldn’t speak…it HURT to speak. Sick time. In all of those instances I weighed whether or not I thought my condition would affect my performance and determined in each case not to waste the company’s time and money by spending a whole day putting out distracted and sub par work.

My second point is that it will not serve you to tattle, because even if you are a crack Facebook detective, you don’t REALLY know what’s going on. Case and point: in a meeting with my boss recently he let me know that I had a “reputation” for abusing sick time. The evidence? Someone at work had complained that on one of my sick days I had posted on Facebook that I was going running. The argument? If I was sick enough to stay home from work, I shouldn’t be running. Couple of reasons why I take issue with this. First of all – the truth. I log my runs on MapMyRun.com which automatically posts them to my facebook wall. However, in order for the run to post “live”, my wifi on my phone has to be working, and it never, ever, EVER is. Therefore, I log all runs days after the fact. Which means the run in question didn’t even take place the day I was sick. All that bother from my nosy coworker for nothing. Secondly, what if I was home, say, with horrible menstrual cramps? Or a bad headache? Or just general malaise. There are a lot of illnesses that don’t warrant parking your butt on the couch for 12 hours straight. Exercise and fresh air is as good a treatment as any…and you can’t get that sitting in your office.

Bottom line: mind your own business. You can’t possibly know enough to be stringing other people up.

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The IT Manager December 7, 2012 at 12:58 pm

I know I take a pretty harsh stand in comparison to others here, but I actually think the example listed in your first paragraphs are legitimate uses of sick days. My problem is those mental health days where people are perfectly fine but just want not to be at work or, even worse, used up all of their paid time off already and are using sick days to take more.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 1:19 pm

My stand seems harsher than most as well.

I think for me, there is a huge difference in a ‘mental health day’ and an ‘I have better things to do and don’t feel like working day’.

If people are truly so stressed from their jobs that they cannot make it into work, and it’s so sudden that they can’t schedule time off in advance – that’s a legitimate issue they need to address. Maybe they need some help, or to re-evaluate their job, or to get different coping skills…but if I wake up and I cannot face heading into work even though I have not taken the day off because it’s too stressful for me that would scare the crap out of me and would need a longer term solution than a day off.

If people just don’t want to go to work that day and will feel more refreshed with a day off…well, wouldn’t everyone? There are responsibilities incumbent with having a job and imo paramount is showing up when you are supposed to and scheduling your time off. And using the term ‘mental health days’ for this minimizing the time people need who are trying to come to terms with their mental health issues, stress, etc.

I pretended to have my period constantly in high school because I didn’t want to participate in gym. I sometimes had more entertaining things to do than go to class…but to pretend it was about my mental health would be silly. I was ditching my responsibilities.

That said I don’t think employers should police what people do when they say they are sick. If people have issues with responsibility or attendance that will manifest in other ways as well. And if people take advantage within the bounds of company policy then shame on the company for not having better policies where people can use the time they need in the way that would serve them without having to lie and call in at the last minute and inconvenience their colleagues.

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KellyK December 7, 2012 at 1:57 pm

And using the term ‘mental health days’ for this minimizing the time people need who are trying to come to terms with their mental health issues, stress, etc.

Very good point.

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Esra December 7, 2012 at 10:54 pm

If people just don’t want to go to work that day and will feel more refreshed with a day off…well, wouldn’t everyone?

I think the point a lot of people are making here, and a point I would make, is that if you’re on top of your work, nothing will burn down, and you wake up feeling like “Ugh, I just can’t do this today” for whatever reason and you have sicks days available, then why not? It’s a benefit accorded to you with the job, and I think that it’s a slippery slope to say that people need better coping skills or serious help if this is working for them.

I mean, the occasional mental health day works for me and I continually get great feedback at work about my performance, attitude, timeliness etc etc.

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KellyK December 7, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Yeah, I agree with you here. “Sick” doesn’t have to mean “has contracted a viral or bacterial illness.” Exhaustion certainly counts.

I do think calling out over anything that’s both self-inflicted and reasonably avoidable is irresponsible (like getting hungover).

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KellyK December 7, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Good point that the “crack Facebook detectives” don’t always know the whole story and that not everything requires bed rest. I have sciatica. The fact that sitting at my desk for 8 hours is painful doesn’t mean I can’t go walk or run. (I don’t really take off for it, though I do sometimes work from home.)

I think the only way I would point out suspicions that a coworker was abusing sick time would be if a) they blatantly admitted it or I had enough info to be 100% certain they were flat-out lying (e.g., they claimed to be home puking their guts out and posted on Facebook about the amusement park half an hour later) or b) the company had an unlimited sick time policy primarily because people *didn’t* abuse it.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I’ve seen this up close and personal.

Someone should have told them that if you call in because you’re in bed with the flu and can’t possibly come in you shouldn’t post in real time to Facebook (and talk about it the next day) how you were at the Crosstown Classic.

For you non-Chicagoans it’s Cubs vs. Sox – very big deal – seriously if you’re going to lie stick to the lie.

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KellyK December 7, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Wow.

You know, I’m actually okay with people who are dishonest being stupid about it and getting caught. Maybe that way they’ll learn not to do it at all.

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Cathi December 8, 2012 at 1:40 am

Hilariously enough, I did exactly that once. I was legit sick, but a buddy called with an extra ticket to a Crosstown game. I’d never been, I *was* home…I figured I could pack a box of tissues in my purse and get stupid on Dayquil.

Was it the greatest game ever? I didn’t enjoy myself very much, but I did get to see the Pierzynski and Barrett punch each other to pieces.

Cool story, me.

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some1 December 7, 2012 at 2:40 pm

At my old job, the receptionist called in & said her mom was in the hospital (she had used all of her paid leave). While I was covering the front desk, her mom called for her.

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-X- December 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm

The Facebook detective is both a busybody and sloppy BUT it does look really bad to be out doing sports when supposedly unable to work. You should not allow status updates like that to happen.

A walk maybe, but a run? That looks bad.

And I do like sports myself.

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KellyK December 10, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Sure, it looks bad, but the person wasn’t actually out running on their sick day–their phone posted when they connected. The only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to either log all runs manually the day they happen (and lose track of your miles if you forget), unfriend all coworkers, or quit using the app at all. Any of those seem a little paranoid and more trouble than they’re worth.

Honestly, the busybodies will tattle no matter what you do. For example, when my brother and I were young, we went through a period where we would get strep pretty much every year. After one doctor’s appointment, my mom took us to McDonald’s and ran into the mom of one of my classmates. The next day, she got a call from the principal informing her that we needed doctor’s notes for any additional absences. And no, showing one for this one wasn’t sufficient. Apparently if you’re eating fast food, you must be playing hookey, even if you’re running a fever and sucking cough drops like candy.

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KayDay December 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm

When it comes to sick time, I think it’s really important for employees to make their own decisions regarding what is needed and what isn’t. I don’t think it’s right (ethically) for people to play hooky, but I also don’t think it’s something that employers should be policing obsessively. And if you have some personal business to take care of, and if thinking about it (or trying to do it) while at work will affect your performance, I think it’s very reasonable to take a day off to take care of it.

My employer gives 10 sick days per year, which can be carried over without limit. However, no one ever uses the full amount normally. But if you have a long term medical issue (surgery, baby, etc) you can use sick leave to get your full salary (instead of FMLA unpaid leave).

In the context of my job, it is slightly disruptive if someone is out frequently; but not a big deal at all if it’s occasional or short term. For single day absences, no one needs to cover for the employee, they just do their work when they get back. Longer term absences are a bigger deal, but we (me and my coworkers) understand that s**t happens, and can happen to anyone, so people are willing to cover for others who are in need as a way of “paying it forward.” But if we feel like we are being taken advantage of by someone who doesn’t need our help, we would be pissed. A couple of years before I began, someone was fired for abusing the leave policy (after receiving a warning giving her three months to improve)—she left with a negative vacation day balance.

To the OP—don’t obsess about how everyone else takes sick time. Unless it is really affecting your work, mind your own business. But also don’t play hooky just because your coworkers do it.

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Construction HR December 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm

“Hello, boss. I’m sick at the thought of coming in to work today. I’ll be better tomorrow. I have already rescheduled the two things I had hard scheduled for today. Hasta Manana.”

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Malissa December 7, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I call that rectal glaucoma..as in I just can’t see my butt coming into work today.
Which my boss will allow 1-2 days per year, if you are caught up on everything.

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Nikki J. December 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm

At my last job it was known we could “call in crazy” if needed. Life happens, work is stressful and they valued our hard work and recognized if we needed to step away for a moment. Funny how that company is on those “best companies to work for lists” and very successful…hmmmmm. Shocking that correlation!

*walks away kicking myself for leaving said company*

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Cody C December 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm

That’s much better than ours we called it anal glaucoma as in we can’t see our butt coming to work today.

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Flynn December 8, 2012 at 9:45 am

My manager ordered one of my co-workers to stay home for pretty much that reason a couple of weeks ago (as a sick day).

They were just completely overworked and stressed (both at work and had home – they had major stuff going on that month) and never take sick days of their own initiative.

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Gemma December 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Our company doesn’t have a separate sick bank and vacation bank – we just have 4 weeks PTO per year, to use as we like. On the one hand this is good, because it sidesteps the whole issue of different sorts of paid time off, but in practice what happens is that no one ever wants to use their PTO for sick days unless they’re really dying, so everyone comes in sick and infects everyone else.

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KellyK December 10, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I actually have the opposite thing with combined PTO. It relieves a certain amount of “am I really sick enough?” guilt, because it’s my time to use.

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Mela December 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I feel like an old man waving a stick here, but I’ve been a contractor for 8 years, and I haven’t had a paid day off in that time. Sure, I can schedule myself off with no problem at all, but I get paid for what I produce, not for having my butt be in my chair. Alas. As such, I haven’t had a sick day in … 8 years.

A real job with vacation and sick time and maybe even a 401(k)? I’ve heard such things exist; I just can’t seem to get one.

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KayDay December 7, 2012 at 12:27 pm

BTW, I recently very seriously consider staying home because my cat was sitting in my lap, purring and wanting attention. I eventually moved him and dragged myself to work, but it was really hard. He was just so cute! What are people’s thoughts on taking a crazy-cat-lady day occasionally?

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm

My thoughts are that it’s totally wrong – both morally and ethically.

But the most understandable sentiment I’ve seen expressed in some time and if you’d like to campaign to get ‘cat days’ (and dog, your pet of choice as it were…) I will join that fight! :)

(although no fish days – no boss would buy the whole fish cuddling on your lap thing. And they don’t purr or lick your face.)

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Oh I actually saw people at tv hand feeding and getting licked by and gently touching their koi fishes. :p

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I stand corrected!

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Crazy-Cat-Lazy sounds like it could be something mental… better take a mental health day just in case.

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Kelly December 7, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Been there!

“Can’t come in today, trapped by cute.”

I have not actually done this, but it’s so tempting.

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Ivy December 7, 2012 at 12:33 pm

I get sick about 2-3 times a year (I think it’s a combination of office air circulation, university germ circulation, stress, and *cough* feminine monthly issues). I usually only need a day or two off at a time, but I’ve been fortunate enough to work in places that understand the need to stay home and rest instead of coming to work and being useless.

OP, I think you’ll be happier not looking at what others are doing. Take the sick day when you need it, and trust that others are doing the same. Period.

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LCL December 7, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Disclaimer: I am aware that there are companies that offer little to no leave benefits, this is completely legal in the US, and I am not talking about employees that work for that sort of company.

I completely sympathize with OP. My workplace has generous vacation and sick leave policies. Vacation and sick leave are separate types of leave, and you are allowed to keep all of your sick leave until you retire. When the workplace has this setup, yes, I do think it’s sleazy to use a sick day because you want to go skiing. Or to use a sick day because you spent all of your time off on home improvement projects and wrecked your body. Or for a mental health day.

Advice to the OP is to not spend too much time minding the other people’s sick leave, because it will just make you crazy and you have no control over it. The sick leave abusers are the same people who will have to beg for donated sick leave in a personal crisis, because they wasted all of theirs on work avoidance.

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doreen December 7, 2012 at 2:23 pm

‘The sick leave abusers are the same people who will have to beg for donated sick leave in a personal crisis, because they wasted all of theirs on work avoidance.”
Which is when coworkers at my job start paying attention to other people’s use of sick leave. We can accumulate up to 1500 hours of sick leave. We get between 8 and 13 days per year of sick leave. I am not going to donate my vacation time to someone who has very little sick leave because they took every sick day as soon as it was earned.

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Amouse December 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm

My office has unlimited sick days and it gets completely abused. I personally would like to rationalize taking a “mental health day” as unscheduled “sick leave” but I just get this twinge in my gut that tells me my conscience thinks it’s wrong. Because of this, I would spend the entire day stressing over the fact that I was potentially leaving my co-workers in the lurch and lying about my reasons for being away which would be the opposite of nurturing my mental health.

I think Jamie asked the question above of ‘what are you telling your boss and co-workers when you take the mental days?’ because any place I’ve ever worked, if someone takes a sick days they need to actually be physically sick. We can get into the gray areas of mental health affecting physical health but I really think we can all feel when we need mental health days from a few days away and it is just far more considerate to schedule the day off.

My view might be different if I worked for myself or in an environment where my not being did not impact anyone else’s work. But as much as I want to I can’t reconcile it. I just think it’s wrong.

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Victoria Nonprofit December 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I don’t like this plan; it penalizes those with health conditions (who therefore end up with fewer days to take as “vacation”) and encourages people to come in when they’re sick so they can save up the days.

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Victoria Nonprofit December 7, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Whoops, totally replied to the wrong comment. I meant to say that I don’t like joint sick/vacation PTO policies.

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Becky December 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm

My company just moved from separate sick and vacation banks to a lump PTO bank, and I think it helps immeasurably. You can use the days for whatever you want, and the only parameters are that you can only use a certain number of “unscheduled” days within a given period. There’s no incentive to lie, no explanation is needed, you can just call your boss and say “I won’t be in” regardless of whether you’re sick, you’re child is sick, didn’t get a good night’s sleep, there is a movie you want to go see, or you’re too sad to play dodgeball. Being able to manage those days as needed helps prevent stress and burnout, which probably improves physical health as well.

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Amouse December 7, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Love this idea!!

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moss December 7, 2012 at 12:58 pm

i think that’s what we’re moving to, also. Yay to being bought by the French!

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KayDay December 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I like this. From a job standpoint, the big difference is if you need emergency/unexpected leave–because your car broke down, you got sick, your dog got sick, or your fridge is leaking Freon and a bunch of attractive firefighters showed up ;-) –or planned leave, whether that’s for vacation, a doctor’s appointment, or to get delivery for your new refrigerator.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm

bunch of attractive firefighters showed up ;-)

Kay Day I must say that between this and the cat you do come up with the most compelling reasons for needing a day off.

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KayDay December 7, 2012 at 1:13 pm

:-)

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Becky December 7, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I, for one, will be calling out to observe Kay Day.

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Ellie H. December 7, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Ha! :)

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Diane December 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I’m taking a mental health day to go to KayDay’s house.

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LL December 7, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Yep, my company does a combined PTO bank with similar policies. I like this so much better than my previous company’s approach of giving generous sick leave and stingy vacation leave.

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Laura December 7, 2012 at 12:44 pm

All I can say is that an employee needs to know their office.

I get 6 days a year, and I would be stupid to use more than 1-2. It would be frowned upon big time and considered with promotions. Is it right? Probably not. But I know that I am in a high stress corporate environment where only some survive! A colleague took 3 days in a row once (for a legit condition) and had to speak to senior management about it. Of course, if you are legitamately sick or need weekly dialysis, etc, it would be okay, but you would be expected to tell your manage exactly what was going on. No mental health days.

So if you start a new job–tread lightly for a while.

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Amouse December 7, 2012 at 12:46 pm

That’s true. Also aligning yourself with a company whose philosophy in sick time/personal time aligns as closely as possible with one’s own would probably help lead them to be happier in their work environment overall.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm

All I can say is that an employee needs to know their office.

Great advice and applies to so many situations. We can all give opinions based on our own experiences – which can be helpful – but nothing trumps knowing the unwritten codes in your own environment.

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Becky December 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm

But to answer the OPs actual question, I’m married with 2 school-age kids, and take probably 3 days per year due to actual illness (mine or one of the kids), and my husband probably takes the same amount (for his own or one of the kids).
I’m exempt, and can sometimes work from home, so if it’s a sick kid I can get him settled on the couch and do conference calls, so that may account for an additional 2 days per year or so.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Oh yeah, the original question of how often people get sick. :)

When my kids were school age and younger my eldest almost never got sick – honestly he’s had a cold like once in his life and has never had the flu. We should patent his immune system. My other two – maybe 2-3 time a year each? I was a SAHM then, but if I was working it would have been the time time off as they generally got sick at the same time.

In the last five years I’ve called in sick three times and left early once. Three out of those five years I didn’t call in at all.

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GeekChic December 7, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I’m out for around 2 months each year due to illness and I have a short work week for the same reason. Cancer does that to you (3rd go round).

Everyone knows about my altered work week but only some notice my absences thanks to colleagues that provide very good backup coverage. Only my supervisor and the CEO know why I’m away. That said, I was hired while in active treatment so they knew what they were getting into.

I don’t have kids so I don’t have personal experience with how they play into the sick leave picture. I did teach in a past life though and I recall kids being quite variable in their response to illness. Some kids were always sick and others were rarely out.

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KayDay December 7, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I don’t have kids, pretty consistently need 2 or 3 sick days per year total, but I can take off hourly increments. I think the most I’ve ever taken was 5 days. I take a lot of partial days, because I sometimes get migraines, but I’ll dope myself up with Excedrin and drag myself in for a half day.

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Natalie December 7, 2012 at 3:52 pm

I usually get a cold about once a year and take a sick day, plus probably one or two days a year where I just can’t get to sleep and thus would really suck at working the next day. My job requires quite a bit of attention to detail, so I really can’t phone it in on those post-insomnia days.

I also see a counselor bi-weekly. When my job included reception coverage and thus standard hours, I used sick leave for those appointments. Now I’m on a flexible schedule so I work 40 hours a week around the appointments.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I was out for a week earlier this year for a double ear infection that would not get better that hit me right as I went in for some planned dental work, so that was like triple whammy that just laid me out.

For my kids, I am very fortunate to have a work-from-home spouse that can do the doctor’s visits as well as kids that are mostly pretty healthy. I feel very lucky. So I have not had to miss any work for that reason.

Now if my husband got slammed with something I would and could stay home with him at least for half a day.

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Anna D. December 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

I haven’t really ever had a job where I had designated “vacation” time and “sick” time, so this is all kind of hypothetical, but:

- taking “sick” time when not really sick seems a little dodgy if your absence makes someone else’s job harder. But if your absence doesn’t affect another person’s work, I don’t think it’s the other person’s business why you’re not there. (And I also think it’s very hard for an observer to know exactly what’s going on with the “sick” absentee, so it’s best just not to worry about what other people are doing.)

- if your condition is such that you will make someone else’s work harder/more unpleasant, stay home. For me, this encompasses those days when you’re absolutely drained/fried/mentally toast, and are going to be a crap employee, even if it’s not a physical illness. (I realize this is kind of a slippery slope – there are a lot of days we don’t feel like going to work and have to just suck it up and go. But I also think there are levels of tired/burnt out that can’t be made up for by good attitude.)

- in the grand scheme of things, people in the US work way more hours than people in many other countries anyway. I firmly believe that most employees are actually more productive and happier with more time off. So while inequities are unfair, I think *everyone* should get more time off!

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Colette December 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Back when I worked for a company that was constantly laying people off, I had the occasional day where I’d wake up feeling awful. After I called in sick, I’d miraculously feel better. There would have been no physical reason why I couldn’t have gone to the park or the store or wherever. However, I didn’t do that, because I think that’s wrong – it was a sick day, not a vacation day, and I’m in the camp that believes sick days are for when you’re sick, not just because you don’t feel like going to work that day.

Having said that, I agree there are some things that are legitimate uses of sick days (mental health issues, three appointments with an hour or two between them, a cold where you feel better in fresh air, etc.) where hanging out in the park for a while might be helpful.

I’ve also had colds where I’ve taken a sick day but had to go to the store to get orange juice or something, and I could see where someone could have seen me at the store & thought I was faking being sick.

Long story short, I agree, the OP should not worry about what other people are using their sick days for.

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AnonEMoose December 7, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Some days when I’ve been pushing myself really hard for awhile, I wake up not exactly sick, but feeling icky. So tired I can barely drag myself into the shower, slightly achy all over, feeling like I’m trying to think through syrup, etc. It doesn’t happen often…maybe 1-2 times a year.

And on those days, I will call in sick. Because I know I need rest, or I will catch something really nasty and be down for 3 days at least, and I’ll be useless if I go in. So I guess it qualifies as a sick day, and I don’t feel bad about doing it for that reason.

I’m also a believer in not infecting my coworkers when possible. I don’t call in for every cold (although I do try to stay away from people, use tissues assiduously, and wash my hands frequently). But sometimes, I definitely do need to take Nyquil and go back to bed. My bosses at my current job have also been clear that if you’re sick, stay home.

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sick liar December 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm

What do you all do if you have a job interview? I always call in sick or dental emergency because it is usually within a few days that an interview gets scheduled, and I get asked too many questions if I just want a day off next week. My coworkers are just nosy I guess.

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Malissa December 7, 2012 at 1:50 pm

I take vacation/annual leave. I’ve told my coworkers more than once that why I was gone is none of their concern.

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some1 December 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I take vacation time

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Natalie December 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm

The last time I was looking, my managers knew so I was able to just tell them I had an interview.

All of my managers have changed, but the new managers are a lot more ROWE and less butts-in-chairs oriented. I would try for a first or last of the day appointment and not say anything, or if absolutely necessary just say I had an appointment.

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AdAgencyChick December 7, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I do my best to schedule the interview early in the morning, so that I can get into work without being more than 15-20 minutes later than normal. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview at places that understand that when you’re interviewing someone who has a job, sometimes that means coming in early, staying late, or interviewing someone when you’d normally be having lunch.

I’ve been interviewing a lot of candidates at lunchtime these days. So glad most of them aren’t like me, because I have to admit if I had to come in early to interview candidates on a regular basis I’d get crabby, because I like to work out in the morning and having to be in early would totally mess with that!

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm

The HR person in me wants to scream as I read the comments here.

I agree with the OP! I don’t think people should be using their sick time when they don’t feel like coming in to work, or to run errands. The days are to be used when you are sick, or a family member is sick, or you unexpectedly cannot come to work for a true reason (i.e. car issues, etc). And unless you are diagnosed with mental illness, a mental health day should be docked as vacation time.

And yes, I do practice what I preach…. I almost never use my sick time, and when I do it is because I am legitimately ill. If you wouldn’t be able to justify it with a doctor’s note (or a mechanic’s bill, etc), it isn’t sick time.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I agree with this 100% with the caveat that you can be legitimately sick without having a doctor’s note.

If I have the flu I’m not going to the doctor unless it turns into pneumonia – and I want people to stay home with bad colds and there’s really nothing much a doctor will do for them either.

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AnonEMoose December 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Jamie, maybe we should just follow each other around today? LOL!

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KellyK December 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Exactly! It’s silly to go to the doctor for a bad cold until it reaches a point where it looks like something more serious than that. There’s no reason to pay money and sit in a waiting room with other germy people just to be told to rest, drink lots of fluids, and take OTC meds.

If the universe were fair, companies that require doctor’s notes for sick days would be reimbursing the cost of those doctor’s visits for anyone who knows darn well they had a cold or the flu but had to go to the doctor solely for the purpose of proving they were sick.

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Lulu December 7, 2012 at 2:32 pm

+1 How am I going to prove a migraine, exactly? (How am I going to drive with a migraine, exactly? Oh wait, I can have someone else take THEIR sick time to drive me to the dr to get a note for MY sick time… And then they could get a note for their non-sick sick time… Aaaaagh!)

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AnonEMoose December 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I understand where you’re coming from, but I disagree to an extent. Not every cold, bad headache, or “woke up incredibly exhausted, achy, etc.” requires going to the doctor. That doesn’t mean one isn’t legitimately ill.

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Becky December 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm

I agree. My doctor isn’t going to write a note every time I have a migraine. During the swine flu epidemic, doctors in my area wouldn’t even see patients. If you had flu-like symptoms, you probably had the flu and should stay home.

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-X- December 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Taking time of when run down can also really make a big difference in pre-empting more serious illnesses. I can feel a cold coming on and make it much less severe or even a non-issue with a day in bed drinking a lot of good stuff. Then taking it easy at work or working from home the next day. But I certainly would be able to work that first day if I had to – and probably would end up getting really sick and needing several days off. Which seems like false economy.

I usually take vacation for those pre-emptive days off, but I have moderately generous vacation time. If I didn’t, I’d use sick days.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm

And aren’t you also contagious before symptoms start? So staying home early not only helps you feel better faster but protects your co-workers.

Win-win.

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-X- December 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm

I think you’re right for colds, but hadn’t thought of that. Good point.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 1:47 pm

What does the HR person in you think about the OP monitoring other employees’ time off and then correlating that with the FB activity? Or about a company that gives all? some? employees access to everyone PTO accrural?

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 3:52 pm

I don’t care if they dock my vaction time or my sick time. Whatever they want to do for me calling out is up to them, but I can’t schedule a 1 day vacation the morning of calling out. So… it’s sick time.

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De Minimis December 7, 2012 at 1:18 pm

A couple of the stories people have told here provide more examples of why you shouldn’t be Facebook friends with people at work.

I have abused sick leave in the past, at two of my prior positions. Both were mainly due to trying to deal with being in stressful jobs [one of which involved seriously nonstandard hours, at this job abusing sick leave was basically the norm for most of the workers.]

The other one was a case of me being very underutilized and during my last few months I had really checked out of the job mentally.

I’m trying to turn over a new leaf at my current position, and so far have only used sick leave when I was actually sick. It also helps that the job is a strict 40 hour daytime Mon-Fri position.

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-X- December 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm

“why you shouldn’t be Facebook friends with people at work.”

I take it more as don’t abuse sick days, and be careful who you are Facebook friends with from work.

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AnonEMoose December 7, 2012 at 10:09 pm

I have a blanket policy of “I will not friend coworkers on Facebook.” Because it avoids the whole coworkers reporting things they see on Facebook to the boss or gossiping about it, and it avoids the whole drama of “you friended this person, why won’t you friend me”? I don’t even mention where I work on my Facebook account. I use LinkedIn for professional contexts.

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ES December 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm

55 hours a year really doesn’t seem like that much…assuming you’re taking 8 hours, that’s a little over 6 days, right? I can easily see how people would drop low with that amount.

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ES December 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

My last boss was super-obsessed with how much sick time everyone took, and started in on me about it. It was so frustrating, because I really was genuinely sick/not feeling well when I took sick time. I have a number of ongoing health conditions that she was aware of, but she still made an issue out of it.

That’s one of the reasons I left that job. My new boss is much more understanding . I miss my old job a lot, as it had a lot of other really great things, but I don’t miss having to decide between taking care of my health and going to the doctor and going into work and pleasing my boss. Towards the end, I ended up going into work and barfing multiple times in my cubicle trash can because I was so paranoid that she would be upset with me.

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Lulu December 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Gonna have to throw conciseness to the wind on this one, but at least I will use numbers…
1) I believe that usually vacation days are considered part of compensation, sick days are not, although they are obviously still a benefit; I’ve never worked anywhere that sick days rolled over, so it was use them or lose them, but vacation always accumulated. I also got paid out for vacation days when I left jobs, but not sick days, and I only got 2-3 sick days to use a year anyway. Ultimately, they’re all “days off” – if you’re not in payroll/HR, how do you know if I’m using a Sick Day or a Vacation Day?

2) I also had a job with zero benefits – no insurance, no sick days, no vacation days, no pay for xmas day when everyone else was enjoying “vacation”. That was awesome. Not. Also awesome is working from home with a 103 degree fever because you can’t call in sick, although I’m sure my coworkers appreciated me not showing up to demonstrate my legitimate illness.

3) We talk about not wanting people to come in with communicable diseases, but then evaluate whether or not they’re using their sick days “appropriately”. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re really sick or just feel like crap – when you know that unless you have evidence you’re bleeding from an eye, staying home will look suspect, you’re more likely to bring your germs to work or drive in when you can’t see straight because you figure, hey, I can still stand up if I lean on this wall, I must be good to go! When we make it a badge of honor that we haven’t used a sick day in 5 years, we just encourage this kind of thing, and make people feel like they’re bad employees because they just can’t push through that walking pneumonia like everyone else or they need PT for that broken ankle.

3b) “Communicable diseases” to me could also include extreme stress/anxiety/exhaustion that will cause me to start weeping at my desk if I force myself to go in.

4) IMO calling in sick or “sick” is different from shirking your job duties. If you’re a shirker, you don’t have to call in sick to be a poor performer. If you’re not, you can take a planned or unplanned day off and still make sure things are covered & take into account it’s impact on others. Or evaluate whether or not it’s worse to show up in whatever state you’re in vs taking a day. Plenty of people schedule vacation days and don’t bother to share that info with anyone until the out-of-office email, anyway. Plenty of people take sick days and still check email from home. I tend to feel like if you need to micromanage your employee’s use of time off in this way, you have bigger problems with your employees.

5) TL;DR Mind your own time off! If someone’s absences are causing you problems in your job, address that issue. Otherwise, it’s their business when and how they use it, and their responsibility to be aware of the business impact. (And their manager’s responsibility to have a conversation if there’s a real problem.) If there’s an official policy on how to handle taking vacation & sick days in terms of getting work done, that needs to be made clear to everyone. There is no “normal, healthy adult/child” – some people have chronic health problems, some people call those their children ;), some people get mono after being a Picture Of Health for years. Sadly for employers, the cyborg revolution has not yet taken place, so sometimes we need rest, sometimes illness happens, sometimes we need to use that insurance. (And even computers get viruses on occasion!)
/endrant

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Ellie H. December 7, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I really agree with all of this, Lulu.

I don’t have benefits at my job so I simply lose money whenever I am out due to being sick or having to miss part of the work day for a doctor’s appointment, or when I want to take what someone with benefits would use a vacation day for. It’s a double edged sword because on the one hand, I don’t have to calculate sick days/vacation (my workplace is relatively flexible about your not having to be in the office 9-5 everyday) because it only affects myself, but on the other hand, I feel guilty because this means I never feel legitimately entitled to time off. I was very sick with pneumonia for almost a month in October-November and missed a bunch of work due to that and the many medical appointments it engendered (though I managed to come in for at least part of every day) and now I feel extra guilty to be out of the office for any reason.

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KarenT December 8, 2012 at 2:36 am

Agree strongly with 3and 4!

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Stacie December 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm

My company has a PTO policy – no separate vacation and sick time, which I like since I am rarely sick. And we can work from home so if I have a cold I don’t have to go in. However, it can be a little frustrating because even if I am legitimately sick I can’t really get that as a day off. Take yesterday – was up from 2 am with horrible chills, coughing, and general weakness with a fever of 102. Cold medicine helped but makes me feel very foggy. I didn’t have to go into the office but I still slogged through a full day at home. Today I felt a little better, but had to go into the office in the morning. Luckily I get the afternoon off (and no time taken from PTO because I’ve worked more than 40 hours this week).

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BCW December 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I’m really not trying to judge the OP or anyone else, but really, why the hell do any of you care what people do with the time THEY have. I take my days when I feel like it, hungover, mental health, or legitimately sick. Could I work from home? Yes. But sometimes I just don’t want to. I’ve also been told I’m a very valuable member of the company I’m at. So taking sick days when you want doesn’t necessarily equal bad worker. Reading posts on here sometimes makes me wonder just why people are so much in other people’s business. Its like when I was a teacher and kids would ask about why this kid didn’t have to do something. I’d always tell them to just worry about themselves and what you were doing.

And as far as morals, ethics, and the like. I’m betting many of you (just like me) who are condemning people for taking sick days are posting on here from work. Whats the difference? If I take a sick day at least I’m not pretending to work. I think its far more “unethical” to sit in your office, use their resources, and not be doing the job you are being paid to do. But again, if my co-workers are on facebook all day, I don’t give a damn. As long as its not affecting me and what I need to do, why worry.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm

And as far as morals, ethics, and the like. I’m betting many of you (just like me) who are condemning people for taking sick days are posting on here from work. Whats the difference?

Fair point, but huge difference, imo.

I had over 50 hours this week before I walked into work yesterday morning. I worked both Saturday and Sunday last weekend and will do the same this weekend. Wednesday I worked 8:00 – 6:00 in the office, drove home, worked 7:00 pm-11:30pm remotely (in a panic) and was at it on a scheduled remote meeting with a consultant at 5:45 Thursday morning.

That’s not typical for me except for December – and I’m not posting because I think that’s a good thing (or to illustrate my particular brand of crazy). I do check AAM a lot while I’m waiting for other people to get back to me, while I’m waiting for things to load/run, etc. But if I put in 40 hours a week I wouldn’t be here except checking from home.

That said, do I post here and check too much – absolutely. Would I be more productive without coming here – sure – because except for work functions it’s the only place I go online during the day (except for the odd google). You are 100% right that it’s in the same ethics bucket as taking a day. In fact I would hate to add up the hours as I’d be ashamed.

But I also know I put in a lot of time over 40 for which I’m not comped or paid. I support two shifts and remote users so my availability is constant and – rationalization ahead – the mental breaks of AAM does make me slightly less stressed and a lot less bitchy than if I sat in my office alone dealing with people who seek me out 90% of the time when they have a problem they consider urgent.

But point taken – the time wasted is vast (in my case, I speak for no one else) but it’s still different than a day off because I’m available. As I was typing this comment I’ve set a static IP through our firewall, remapped a network drive, granted additional user permissions in our ERP to two users and, troubleshot a couple of locked files.

Each thing took a couple of minutes at best (some – seconds) but if I were out in the park because I didn’t feel like coming in I’d have an AR clerk unable to send an invoice, A Receiving Manager unable to train his employee in a module of the system, an outside vendor unable to configure his monitor we’re installing, and a user unable to access the ERP to process labor hours.

All minor stuff – but big inconveniences if no one is here to attend to them.

Sometimes being here and being available is part of the job…but yeah, I need to stop rationalizing and spend less time here.

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BCW December 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I get that. And it sounds like in your particular job, your absence affects your workplace. Mine isn’t necessarily like that. Yeah I may miss some emails or calls, but its never anything that really can’t wait one day.

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Another good point. Some jobs it’s less disruptive for the office to have you come in and be at less than 100% and some it’s better to take the day and come back and be full focused.

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Amouse December 7, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Physically not being at work for those eight or however many hours is way worse imo than taking a minute to read your e-mail, a blog or just an eye break which is what I’m currently doing for people who do very detail-oriented work. You’re available to contribute to your team.

I disagree with lying and taking a day off. By saying that, am I in effect saying that makes me the most perfect worker that ever was? No. I definitely do waste some time while at work. What I’m saying is I don’t appreciate it when I work on a small team of three people that handle walk-ins all day long and my boss allows the one of us who has a child to constantly be off work running errands, etc. It just isn’t right.

I genuinely only care when it affects my work which their being away and unable to answer questions and help out with the workload definitely does.

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BCW December 7, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Fair enough. And as I said, if someone else’s sick days or whatever are truly affecting someone’s productivity, I support them being angry 100%. But some people are just very concerned with what others are doing.

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Amouse December 7, 2012 at 3:38 pm

That’s true and other forms of co-workers micro-managing co-workers drive me nuts, but the sick days thing especially when it’s super obvious and impacts the rest of the office who don’t get that same flexibility or get grilled when they take a sick day, well, as you can tell, I’m not a fan of that :-)

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Jamie December 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I agree with that too, although it doesn’t sound like when I read my posts. I was just yammering on about how I perceive the situation and my take on it…I found it really freeing once I stopped caring about anything that wasn’t my problem in my real life.

For a time between HRs I had to fill in – this is exactly the kind of crap I knew no one could ever pay me enough to care about full time.

But that apparently that doesn’t stop me from opining about hypothetical situations on the internet.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm

+1 million

People need to mind it.

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some1 December 7, 2012 at 2:51 pm

In general I agree that sick time should not be used if you are not sick, but the last company I worked for had such an unfair system about leave I pretty much felt forced to use sick time when I wasn’t.

1) sick time could only be used in 4-hour increments. You made your dentist appointment at 8:00 am so you could make it to work by 9? Sorry, there’s no incentive to come in before noon if you want to use sick time for the appointment, because you are being paid with the 4 hours of sick time whether you are there or not.

2) personal or vacation days HAD to be scheduled in advance. If you woke up one morning and your furnace had burst and your basement was flooded, you had to call in sick if you wanted to get a paid day off, even if you had plenty of vacation time on the books.

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-X- December 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm

That’s messed up.

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The IT Manager December 8, 2012 at 9:12 am

In this case it seems to me, the compnay set us a system where you had to use it that. Maybe they meant to and used sick day to really just means any unscheduled time off but maybe just poor management.

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De Minimis December 7, 2012 at 3:50 pm

That sounds similar to one of my previous jobs, the one where almost everyone abused their sick leave….if you were late they counted it against you the same as if you had just been absent the entire day, so people usually just called in sick for the entire day if they were running late.

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Esra December 7, 2012 at 11:33 pm

I don’t know if I’d call that abuse. What a terrible policy. If you’re running 20 minutes late for whatever reason you end up working 8 hours for free?

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De Minimis December 12, 2012 at 12:07 pm

No, you would still work and be paid as usual, but it would count as “an occurance” on your attendance record. People figured if you were going to get a ding on your record anyway, might as well call in sick for the whole day.

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Elizabeth West December 7, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I’ve only worked one place that even had paid sick time. You got a half day a month. I don’t remember if it rolled over or not. We didn’t get it at my last job, and I don’t like wasting vacation time on being sick. So usually if I wasn’t sure, I would go to work anyway and work a half day and then go home and rest. Usually by the time the next day came around, I was better. Only a couple of times did I need to call in the next day.

All that sick time would have come in handy when I had my gallbladder out. I had to schedule it the day before Thanksgiving because I didn’t have enough time left to cover the days I’d be out. Grrr.

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Louis December 7, 2012 at 4:06 pm

The best policy I have seen so far was to pay the sicks days that were not used at the end of the years

Sure it cost oney but after that the policy police itself…. People who abuse their sick day end up paying for it themself.

It has the side effect of instoring a “good health bonus” but is beat the hell out of having to having self appointed health police bitching in my office :)

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I asked this original question and I would love to stay out of it- however I am their direct supervisor and I am privy to all the people who have FMLA/ADA issues and worse. We are most happy to work with these people.
The company I work for is an inbound call center and this does not affect me however it does affect the other employees (including moral issues) due to this abuse. It forces other to carry the weight.
There is a 6 month rolling attendance policy and these people are either always on one form of corrective action or another. I don’t like giving them these actions but due to my position I am in; I am forced to. The Manage and one of the supervisors are also forced to terminate the ones who miscalculate the corrective action or how many days they have taken within that 6 months. Yes, I said calculate…. This means they have the dates marked on their calendars and they calculate exactly when they can take their next “Sick day” off.
You said: What’s more, some people strongly believe that sick time is a benefit that there’s for them to take and that it’s appropriate to use it all up, just like they would with vacation time. (The entitlement mentality) Our company is clear on this with them in New Hire and the attendance policy they sign in New Hire that this is only meant for sick time and not meant for vacation days.
I appreciate that you agree with me in that I think sick leave is a safety net that’s intended to accumulate when feasible in case you’re hit with something serious. However I am beginning to believe that I should be like a duck and let the water roll off my back if the company allows them to steal/ abuse the system..….so be it.

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Britanny December 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm

“These people are either always on one form of corrective action or another.”
The issue, then, is not sick leave. There are bigger issues here.

“Do I have an unrealistic picture of how often a normal healthy person/child gets sick in a year?”

Yes, I do think you have an unrealistic picture of it. Everyone is different. If I get a cold, I need 2-3 days to get better. Normally I get a cold one time a year. But last year I caught foot-and-mouth disease from my kids and enjoyed the joys of two colds. I’m a normal, healthy person yet this year I’ve taken only one day off for sick leave and last year I took two weeks.

There’s the issue that some people may be normal and healthy, but they take a sick day to go to their doctor’s appointments, meet the dentist, go to the optician, etc. Could they take a half day for this? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s just not convenient. So you may have a perfectly ‘healthy’ pool of employees who still need to make it to health related appointments and won’t be showing up that day.

Sometimes you’re healthy, but life just interferes. If I had a bout of insomnia and I feel I’m too exhausted in the morning, maybe I’ll call in sick. Would I do this if I was out partying every other week? No. But it’s not ‘sickness’ per say. Same if I have a really bad menstrual period. It’s not really ‘sickness’, just painful and uncomfortable.

The point is, you can’t compare yourself to others and judge yourself as a measuring stick for what constitutes an acceptable amount of sick days. If your job’s policy is to give X amount of days and employees take them, that’s fine.

So either your company cuts down on the number of sick days allotted to employees, or you simply stop going on Facebook to check on employees to see if they are ill or not.

I have to say that the one time a supervisor complained I had probably abused a sick day because I didn’t “sound sick on the phone” I came back a couple of days later with a note from my doctor explaining I suffer from painful menstrual periods and I had been home because of that. He turned red and never bugged me again.

I also must say I dislike it when people go to work sick. You are going to get me sick, too!

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Mike C. December 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm

You also work in an industry that is notorious for high stress, high turnover churn and burn practices with employees. I’ve having a difficult time being sympathetic towards your view.

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Colette December 7, 2012 at 7:21 pm

If you’re they’re direct supervisor, the situation is different. In that case, it is your business, and of course you will need to continue to follow your workplace policies.

Of course people can be abusing their sick leave, but it’s also possible that they have legitimate health issues, so judging how often they’re sick by how often you’re sick isn’t a good way to measure.

Situations like someone taking a sick day the second they’re allowed to do so definitely point to abuse, and you will need to deal with those within your policies.

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The IT Manager December 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

Thanks for providing more context. I’m sympathetic to you. Kudos to your company for being very clear about what the policy means. Sounds like there’s no room for confusion. And it sounds like vacation and PTO are indeed generous especially when compared to call centers that seem to have bad reputations. 55 hours is a little over 6 days and that’s more than needed for healthy single people. That may not be enough for a single parent with young kids. My friend with two children in daycare was always running to the doctor and having to take off or take off early because sick children (or those apparently fine except still running a fever) can’t be in daycare with others.

Unfortunately despite the clarity of policy it sounds like there’s an enviroment of abuse so even though new hire training and manuals make it clear once someone stasts working they notice that “everyone else” is doing it. Do you want to live with that environment? You’re right, honest people get upset when the liars take advantage and get more days off than they do because they’re willing to lie. And these honest, good employees get upset with and tired of the poor management and quit. But I think the way to stop it is not pretty. After reminding everyone of the rules. and a few warnings, you may need to make an example of some people by firing them when they are caught in their lies or take a sick day the moment the rolling calendar allows them. Or demand notes from doctors from those who look like they abuse the system. Not really pretty.

Not doing anything is not pretty either. The abuse continues and those that are too honest to join in the abuse feel put upon and unhappy with management for letting it happen.

Here’s an interesting Planet Money report about how an Italian Pasta Plant dealt with it. You will note it took a firing, only one, and the threat of the business closing to get the message across. Not easy when the culture is at odds with the policy management wants to enforce.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/09/07/160748725/episode-400-what-two-pasta-factories-tell-us-about-the-italian-economy

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Becky December 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm

This whole thread is why I’m a fan of general PTO instead of separate vacation/sick time.

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Joey December 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Op,
Let me guess. Your job is timekeeping. If that’s the case it’s most likely not appropriate for you to conclude that people are abusing the system. Nor is it appropriate for you to compare how much time other people use to your own. What is appropriate is to read the policy, ask your boss, or HR if you don’t know when sick time should be used as it relates to you and you only. You shouldn’t be using that data to somehow justify what the practice or policy should be. At most you can ask what your role is as it relates to the information you see like should you be monitoring it. But even then you should probably still not be making conclusions, just reporting what the actual facts are.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Actually Mike- that IS our (The supervisors) job. We have to do the attendance log, time sheets, payroll transmittals, quarterly reviews and annual reviews. We get messages from people who call in sick or just call in. (Usually on days they know we will be busy) So far we have gone 2 yrs. w/o termination until this month when 2 people made an error on their calculations.
I understand: sick mental days and also sick because I am sick days (and I encourage ppl to stay home at least 24 hours after the last time they have a bout with the toilet or after the fever breaks) What I refer to is people who call in because that have too much gas…no one is awake to drive me to work…my finger hurts (cough cough) …my car is broken then the next day they call in saying they are still sick and when we remind them they called due to a car and not sick they say “Oh yeah” and the topper is those who call in on a scheduled day off…these are actual messages on my voice mail.
Supervisors are held accountable and must monitor and report the fact to HR through the corrective actions, time sheets and reviews we provide. I simply see that at the end of the year the majority of people have used 2 wks Vacation/ 2 days PTO and all of the 55 hours of sick time and I simply wonder if it is realistic to believe that 30 people who use it all the time are valid and how to encourage them to save it and use it for a time when they really need it.

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Ellie H. December 7, 2012 at 7:59 pm

If people are not exceeding their allotment I don’t get why it’s a problem. It sounds like those who do exceed it are terminated, which should be an effective deterrent to exceeding the allotment, so that doesn’t sound like it should be much of a problem either. Work on changing the allotment if you feel that the amount of sick time people are allowed to take is excessive.

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The IT Manager December 8, 2012 at 9:51 am

The OP mentioned above that the company makes it clear the 55hrs of sick time is not an entitlement but is only to be used when one is actually sick. (The vacation and PTO are an entitlement and they are encouraged to use them if it looks like won’t.) So yes, it is very suspicious that 30 people manage to use up exactly their limit of sick leave for the year.

Frankly the lack of effort made to tell an consistant lie makes it clear that the company has not been enforcing/policing the policy very well. It is a hard one to police, though, I’ll admit that.

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Joey December 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm

If that’s the case you really need to talk to your boss about the philosophy and intention behind the types of leave. It’s super important that you’re not doing it wildly different than the other managers. I would bring it up at a managers meeting so you can all be on the same page. There’s really no right or wrong way it’s just a matter of how it impacts business and the culture you want to establish.

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N. December 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm

My absolute BIGGEST issue in life reared its ugly head several times at my last job… I am a firm believer in KYSBAH (keep your sick butt at home) our company had a very generous PTO policy (no sick leave unless you qualified for temporary disability at three consecutive absent days) and everybody started with 21 days that rolled over, to do with as they pleased. There was absolutely NO reason that 3 people with confirmed cases of the flu, and who were allowed to work from home anyway, HAD to show up and cough all over the office. One lady was there all day with a 102 degree fever (she had brought a thermometer with her) dying in front of every one, getting absolutely no work done, until her third call home to her husband to tell him she still had her fever but she was “fine”, prompted him to borrow their neighbor’s car to drive over and literally hijack her to the Emergency Room (and she had the nerve to be mad at him later).

Pissed me off at her, and at her boss who had the power to send her home with impunity, but instead told us all that it wasn’t “her policy” to dictate her salaried (no less) workers’ schedules and that “Holly” was welcome to work as long as she wanted. Far be it from anyone to tarnish her work ethic, she was setting an excellent example after all.

Sorry, but if you have become a vector of filth and disease (and most of the time you know when you have) STAY-the-(expletive of your choice)- HOME and delight us all with your tales of your near death experience upon your return. Don’t force us to witness your slow demise first hand, I promise it will be awkward at the very least.

There are some of us who live with the elderly, are allergic to the flu shot, live with small children, or the immuno-compromised; anyone who has the means to stay home and doesn’t, should know that they could be killing someone.

Apologies if I sound touchy, but I lived in an apartment building for the elderly once. The ambulance was there once a day, and the body bag was needed once a week in a good week. If just one server at the cafeteria had shown up to work with even questionable symptoms, it could have wiped out half the building. Changes your perspective a little when you know the reason Mrs. Jones isn’t at dinner is because she is at the hospital with pneumonia, and the reason she isn’t at breakfast is because she died in the night.

I feel better when people stay home over a false alarm rather than coming to work because their cough, well, it is really nothing.

OP, I wouldn’t worry about it, maybe a few of those times your coworkers were out “sick” you were spared something icky (be it real or imagined on their part) on the whole I trust your discretion so do your best to trust others.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 5:44 pm

The downside of PTO – people don’t want to use it for sick days.

Years ago, I remember a rather funny article that defined two syndromes, the VIKING and the VANDAL. I can’t remember what VIKING stood for, but that was the heroic, crawl to my desk and die there types, and the VANDAL represented the opposite extreme, who turned helpless and had to be waited on hand and foot – I think it was something like “virus associated neurotic desire for attention and love.”

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N. December 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Sorry for using the “P” word Allison.

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Where I work we have separate sick and vacation times, both of which roll over, and there is a limit of how much you can accumlate. For vacation it’s only 1 more week that the time we get every year, but for sick time it’s like 20 weeks total. Vacation time gets cashed out if you leave, but sick time doesn’t. Even with a lot of time accumulated, I usually come into work sick, because sometimes I don’t have anyone available to cover me, or it puts someone behind – my being behind on my stuff can effect as much as 4-5 other projects, and multiple people. Which in the long run, makes more work for me, so I’ve got no real incentive to take sick time (I do take vacations, but they’re usually planned out a month or more in advance). I’ve actually used more bereavement time this year than sick time (2 vs 1 day). Not explicitly mentioned, but bereavement time is actually separate from sick and vacation time here (wish I wouldn’t have found that out the hard way).

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Anonymous December 7, 2012 at 7:47 pm

It occurs to me that those days where they’re home sick but posting photos on Facebook… Those photos might not be from that day. They might just be sitting around bored posting stuff online since they have nothing better to do at home. That’s what I do whenever I’ve totally run out of other things to occupy my attention: retroactively put up photos and stuff like that.

And seriously, people have varying degeres of health. Just because you only need one sick day every three years doesn’t mean I can do that. Especially considering chronic illesses are usually very well hidden, intentionally or not, and you can’t know which of your coworkers (or their kids) has such a problem unless they tell you. That’s why the big lupus/chronic illness support network is called But You Don’t Look Sick.

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Heather December 7, 2012 at 8:57 pm

I’m amazed of all the people that only need 3 days of sick leave for a year (especially those with kids). I used three days this week for a cold, and I usually get those 3-4 colds a year. I’m not even someone with any chronic illness or anything. But if I’m not going to be productive at work, could get others sick, and make myself sicker, I’d rather take the sick leave. I do go in if I had to, like I had to this week… but I know that doing so extended my illness for a day or two. That sucks but oh well.

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Heather December 7, 2012 at 9:05 pm

My main thing on the OP’s question is: are they getting their work done, and if they are not, does this affect you? When I don’t come in it’s a big burden on my staff… but, they know how to do almost everything without me there and I am just a phone call away if they need me. I feel bad, but I want them to stay home when they are sick so I figure I should hold myself to the same standard.

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fposte December 7, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Flexibility is a double-edged sword: it’s great that I can work at home most times when I’m sick, but it also means that I don’t really get to not do the work when I’m sick (or I feel the special joy of the exempt worker who just has to do the work on Saturday and Sunday instead). Often I decide I won’t come in and then judge afterwards whether I worked the day, took it off, or worked a half day and then fill out my report accordingly.

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KarenT December 9, 2012 at 3:15 am

Agreed. I do project-based work, which means no one fills in for me when I’m away. It’s nice because I don’t have to worry about coverage, but it means a mountain of work is growing on my desk. In other words, the person who suffers most for me taking a sick day is me!

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Cassie December 7, 2012 at 11:45 pm

We have both sick days and vacation days – sick days will accrue indefinitely whereas vacation has a max cap (between 240-360 hours, depending on how many years you’ve worked, what title you have, etc). I use sick days for when I’m sick (very rare) and doc appointments. I wasn’t sure if doc appointments could count as sick but I asked our HR and yes, it can. Sick leave over 3 days requires a doctor’s note, but no one has specifically said you can’t use sick time for a mental health day.

At my dad’s place of work, vacation days have to be used for planned days off and sick days used for sick or last minute absences). What this means, though, is that if your car doesn’t start and you can’t get to work, you have to take a sick day, even though you aren’t actually sick. If they accrue too many vacation days, they can cash out some. They can also “sell” back a few sick days twice a year (if they haven’t used any sick days for that 6-month period).

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RF December 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I have a chronic illness and used up 9 days this year. I have unlimited sick leave (I am not in the USA), but I have to present a doctor’s note every time. No doctor is ever going to write me a note for just staying at home one day, it’ll always be at least three days.

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lawstudent2013 February 6, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I know this thread is a little old, but I just wanted to throw in my two cents for posterity’s sake (and for the sake of those who think like I do and don’t want to be made to feel like a lazy slug for feeling that way). Sick days are NOT gratuitous. They are PART of your COMPENSATION. If an employer didn’t grant paid sick days, they’d pay you more so that you could save up and “self-insure” so to speak for when you needed to take a day. Therefore, sick days represent leave that you are entitled to, in the same way you are entitled to receive your paycheck every month.

I’m not saying you should run your days really low…I think it just makes good sense to save up for that rare chance you’re going to need a bunch, like a car accident, an unexpectedly high-risk pregnancy, etc. That being said, these sick are part of an employee’s compensation and to ask them NOT to use them is like saying, “I know we said we’d pay you X-dollars, but give us back 5% of that, unless you really, really need it.”

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SD Mirsky May 27, 2013 at 7:26 pm

sound like a bunch of lazy entitlement state workers

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Matty September 18, 2013 at 8:28 am

I don’t think when we die we are judged on the sick days we used . So maybe it’s not so important we show up everyday . I don’t know anyone who is good enough to know exactly how someone else is feeling physically or mentally . Maybe a burnt out employee that shows up everyday is not as productive as one who doesn’t ? Maybe the employee should get a big raise if it’s that important he/she is there everyday ?

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Christina October 23, 2013 at 9:33 am

We accrue sick leave and it rolls over every year, I currently have over 80 hours saved up and I’ve been with the company for over 5 years. I called in once last week due to a severe migraine that kept me from seeing straight, and today I seem to have gotten food poisoning from last nights chili dogs and I’ve had to stay close to the toilet all morning. I called in and my boss was upset saying that was “creating a pattern” and she was going to talk to upper management. Unfortunely I seem to get sick with several different things all around the same time, then go several months without missing a single day, but my boss wants to give me a hard time about the days I do call in even though I am really sick, our policy only requires doctors notes for being out more than 2 days in a row, and I usually overcome my illness within 2 days. And it seems silly to go to the doctor for something that time and pepto will clear up. I don’t understand why I get treated this way when I’ve got time saved up for this reason, yet other female employees can pop out a kid once a year and use their accrued time to be off 3 months at a time and use sick leave when one of their 3-5 kids are sick multiple times a month and no one says anything about it.

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