how to deal with an employee who takes too much sick leave

A reader writes:

I am a relatively new manager, and would love your help. I have an employee who, in my opinion, has a sick time problem. Or, alternatively, my workplace has a sick time problem.

Our work environment is such that my employee not showing up for work means someone else needs to carry the weight, and since it’s a very small staff group, that person is me. This involves spending half of the day doing their front-line work, as well as rearranging my schedule (unexpectedly, at the very last minute) to start my day earlier.

We have a set number of sick days for the year (12 at one day earned per month), but no other guidelines on how they can be taken, when, or with what documentation. Each year, including this year, the employee has used all their sick time, and has then started using vacation time they are “reserving” for use as sick time as they know they’ll go over the allotted amount. Sick days are always used as one-off days here and there, never as multiple days in a row. To our knowledge, there are no chronic illnesses involved, they are young, without children, and without any known-of substance abuse problems.  I think she’s just “fragile” and calls in over a lot of headaches and stomachaches. If the rate of use were evenly distributed, it would be a sick day every three weeks (and that’s actually pretty much what it has been).

The only thing that seems to be truly concerning my boss is that the employee has used more than they’ve earned for the year, so if they leave, they owe us back money for time (though this is shifting, as I’m heading out on vacation and my boss has waken up to the reliability problem).

So, obviously, something needs to be said, or the policy needs to change, or both. My supervisor and I are planning on meeting with this employee soon, and I’m concerned about saying the right things. But at root, is this simply that the policy has to change and she’s done nothing technically wrong? I know you favor of a system where there are a pool of days, not simply sick days versus vacation days, but I think you’ve also mentioned that that much unplanned time off wasn’t appropriate either. What is an appropriate policy for a small staff group where an absence in a key player means that someone else has to cover their work? No one wants to be difficult about sick time — if you’re sick, you’re sick, so don’t come in — but is the policy too lenient?

First and foremost:  Assuming this isn’t covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Family Medical Leave Act, don’t get into adjudicating her reasons for being out so frequently. What matters is the end result — the fact that she isn’t reliably at work.

What often happens in this situation is that the manager thinks, “Well, how can I really tell her that she’s going to be fired for getting a stomachache and staying home? She can’t control that she has a stomachache.” (Or, “I can’t prove that she isn’t sick, even though it seems awfully suspicious.”)  But what matters is that the employee is not able to be at work reliably, and that’s where you need to focus.

You shouldn’t get into the business of deciding whose sick days are legitimate and whose aren’t, or whose headache was really severe enough to stay home and whose was minor enough to come in. That’s not your job. Your job is to ensure that you have a reliably present workforce. And right now, you don’t.

So you need to do the following:

1. First, it’s important to note that in some jobs, you’d be able to work around this. But in others, reliable attendance really is a must-have. It sounds like this job really does require her to be there more reliably than she currently is, so sit down with her and say this:  “You’ve been missing about one day every three weeks. We need to be able to count on you to be here reliably because of (explain reasons). While certainly things come up from time to time and we want to work with you to accommodate that, right now the frequency of these unplanned absences is too high. Going forward, we really do need you to be here reliably, every day, except in rare circumstances or with time off that’s scheduled in advance. Is that something you can do?”

2. If the employee says that she can’t predict when she’ll get sick, then say:  “I understand. But because of (actual workflow reasons), we can’t function as well as we need to if you’re unexpectedly missing work every few weeks. We need someone in your role who will be here more reliably. If you’re not able to do that, I understand, but this particular job really does require it. If you continue to have unplanned absences at this rate, I wouldn’t be able to keep you on.”

That said, in this conversation be open to the possibility that there might be something going on that you could try to accommodate if you knew about it. For example, if she has a medical issue that tends to hit every three weeks or so, is there a way to plan around that so the impact of it being unanticipated on your side is less? Also, is this something where FMLA might help or where the ADA could be in play? But if not…

3. From there, stick to it. If she continues to have unplanned absences at a rate that you find unacceptable (meaning a rate that genuinely causes work problems, not just one that “feels” like too much), you need to decide whether or not you can keep her in the role.

Now, obviously you use some judgment here. If this is a long-term employee whose work has always been good and this is a recent problem, you express concern and ask what’s going on, and you’d go the extra mile to try to find a solution.

4. Stop letting people take paid leave time that they haven’t earned, so that you don’t find yourself in a situation where an employee “owes” you time — because you probably can’t collect on that money if they leave before it’s been paid back. If someone needs time off and used up their sick leave, it’s okay to have them take that day unpaid, or to put limits on how far in the red they can go with not-yet-earned paid leave. (Make sure to enforce this consistently across the board, so that you’re not letting one person do it and not letting someone else do it.)

The issue here isn’t your sick leave policy — it’s that this employee is being allowed to abuse it. Put a stop to that.

{ 202 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    If you’re not in the States, then it’s likely that the laws of your land are more strict and I suggest you go out and learn about them in addition to the recommendations above.

  2. Jamie*

    The only other thing I would recommend making sure the employee is aware of FMLA and what their rights/obligations are in regards to that (if it’s applicable to your company.)

    It’s just covering all your bases in case there is a chronic illness or something they are dealing with they can’t say they weren’t informed of their options in the area.

  3. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I should note that the OP is not in the U.S. and does not think that any laws in her country come into play here. (I had that in the original post but then realized she’d added that in a separate note, and I was looking for places to trim for length.)

  4. Joey*

    First, get it out of your head that it’s a “sick” problem. That may be true for her, but for you it’s more accurately an “attendance” problem. Also it’s important to keep in mind that the absences cause what sound like lot of heartburn in your workplace so it’s reasonable (and justified) for you to be fairly strict on attendance. Id also go further than Alisons conversation. I would also list in writing the absences, that it’s unacceptable, and that a continued attendance problem may result in her firing. Seeing the problem in writing has a way off adding to the seriousness of the probllem.

    1. Jamie*

      “First, get it out of your head that it’s a “sick” problem. That may be true for her, but for you it’s more accurately an “attendance” problem.”

      Really well put. It’s a slippery slope for management to judge on a case by case basis whether it’s valid or not.

      It’s the amount of absences that are reasonable or not – not the causes of them.

      That’s why the only response I would have to pleas of constant/recurring illness is outlining their options with FMLA. When they decline, and they always do, then it’s back to being all about the absences.

      FMLA can be a good thing and I’ve seen it used appropriately – but they come to you with that…it’s rarely pulled out of a hat because someone is caught abusing sick time.

  5. Josh S*

    I hate this discussion. And for the first time, I disagree with AAM.

    If you, as an employer, want to give an employee the benefit of X number of sick days, you also have to commit to allowing them to take X number of sick days. If you have 8 people in your office, and they each get 12 sick days a year, you need to also be prepared to have 96 absences in your department per year. Yes, that means that you are short-staffed almost as often as you are fully staffed.

    If you (or your company) are not OK with that, then you either need to staff up to the point that you are OK with it, OR reduce the number of sick days you give to people. If you can only afford to be short-staffed on 20 days each year, your 8-person department only gets 2 sick days per person.

    The PTO days that you offer to employees are a benefit to them. If they cannot take advantage of that benefit, it might as well not exist.

    Addressing a performance issue is one thing–marking someone down for taking the benefits you’ve given them is entirely different. It’s like saying, “Yeah, I know we agreed to give you $1500 per paycheck, and that’s what we owe you. But if you don’t refuse $300 of that and let us keep it, we’re going to mark your performance as ‘unacceptable’ for the year. And next year you won’t get a raise. Or maybe we’ll fire you in the mean time instead.” It’s just a crappy and inconsistent way to set policy.

    /Disclosure: I had a call center job where we were given a number of PTO days each year. However, each day had only so many PTO ‘slots’ that could be approved. On our team, more PTO was awarded than was available to be taken in any given year. So it was, quite literally, impossible for everyone to get the ‘benefit’ that they were told was available to them when they were hired.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve been waiting for someone to say this!

      Here’s why I disagree: There’s a reason that employers split sick leave from vacation leave (if indeed they do); it’s because it’s intended to be a safety net, there in case of emergency. Which means that it might not all be used. It’s why vacation leave often gets paid out in cash when you leave, but sick leave doesn’t.

      It’s completely reasonable to say “yes, we’re giving you this benefit, but you need to use it with common sense and in a way that doesn’t impact the business too negatively.” Just as a manager might turn down a vacation leave request if the person was trying to take a day off every three weeks, or wanted to go away during a big project, it’s also reasonable to say, “hey, we’re not okay with you taking a sick day every three weeks.” The benefit is there, but you’re expected not to misapply it.

      1. Clobbered*

        This is a problem of statistics. The fact that workplaces allocate 12 days of sick time per year (this is not unusual) means that on average people need about 6 days a year, with some needing none and some needing 12. I agree with Josh that implicit in the allocation of leave is the acceptance that someone may very well need the whole thing.

        While I also accept the slippery-slope argument that AAM makes, I also can’t bring myself to treat the employee with terminal cancer the same way as the one that parties too hard over the weekend and is always sick on Monday mornings. Context differs, and while you do not want to get into diagnoses, I put it to you that you can tell from the bigger context of the employee’s work ethic whether the system is being abused or not. Someone who takes “sickies” doesn’t bust their ass the rest if the week.

        If this employee was mine and was above average in other respects, I would worry more about their absence not falling onto just one person, and live with it. So what if you fire them, what are you going to advertise for, “person who doesn’t get sick”?

        It is interesting also how many people asked about relevant laws. Laws protect sick people because it is the right thing to do – so let’s not shrug off their absence if the OP is from another country.

        By all means talk to their employee and share the fact that their sick time is above average and that it is creating a problem. But the real question is “is this someone you want working for you”, and if the answer is “no” you must have other issues to address too.

      2. Josh S*

        Then why give that many sick days at all? If you aren’t OK with people using a sick day every 3 weeks, don’t let them accrue or roll-over. If you aren’t OK with people using a sick day once a month, don’t give one each month.

        If you give me a benefit as part of the compensation plan for my employment, don’t penalize me for using that benefit. If you don’t want to give me one day for every month worked, that’s fine. But don’t claim “We give so much in sick time” with one breath, but then prevent me from taking it with the next.

        Consistency is all I ask for. If it’s severe enough to warrant FMLA, fine, the sick-leave policy goes out the window for the sake of federal regulation. But if you give a benefit, don’t count it against me if I want to actually, you know, use that benefit.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Because, as Joey said, it’s an insurance policy. But these are unplanned absences, and it’s reasonable to object to them happening with this kind of regularity. There’s a way to use sick leave that minimizes the impact on the business (which is how most people use it) and there’s a way to use it that doesn’t, and it’s reasonable to expect employees not to abuse it. One day off every three weeks, regardless of the reason, is a big deal — especially if the employee hasn’t proactively raised a particular issue and asked to work out an accommodation.

          1. Katie*

            I have to agree with Josh, though. If you’re not okay with people taking that much time off–if your office *can’t handle* employees taking that much time off–you shouldn’t offer it. Period. Even if she were out for legitimate reasons, this would still be a massive strain on the office and would not be an ideal situation. If you’re offering a benefit to employees you can’t feasibly live up to because your office can’t function if people take full advantage of them, you need to rethink your benefits. It’s a bad policy. The only reason her use of her allotted sick time is viewed as “abuse” is because the office can’t accommodate ANYONE taking their allotted sick time. Fix your sick time policy, and you won’t have to worry about it anymore.

            1. Kara*

              The issue here is the frequency. It’s much more disruptive to have someone who misses work every few weeks than someone who, say, misses 3 days for the flu in Feb., 4 days for pre-planned medical treatment in August which the office plans ahead for, and another couple of days here and there throughout the year.

            2. Jamie*

              “If you’re not okay with people taking that much time off–if your office *can’t handle* employees taking that much time off–you shouldn’t offer it. Period.”

              I can see how you are looking at this – but I think there is a difference in those viewing this as a benefit and those viewing it as an insurance policy.

              If it’s a benefit then I agree with you 100%. In my view for it to be a benefit it would be PTO (regardless of the name) which you could take at your discretion and for which you would be cashed out if you were to leave the company, etc.

              I, like Joey, look at it as an insurance policy. They have 12 days in case they are unfortunate enough to need it: get the flu a couple of times and have a root canal in the same year could cash that out and then some. But like an insurance policy the payout (in this case sick days) is calculated based on potential use spread across employees – not based on every employee maxing out. As he pointed out you don’t get to cash out your insurance policy just because you didn’t make a claim…and if you have too many claims they will drop you. That’s pretty astute – because there isn’t an insurance company in existence who could survive all of their policy holders maxing out their claims.

              One Machiavellian way to go with this would be to have one pool of sick days for everyone and what isn’t used gets cashed out and divided evenly at the end of the year. Co-workers would be policing each others use of time for sure. That was tongue in cheek – the reason we don’t do it that way is that employers want their employees to be able to deal with life’s emergencies. We don’t want flu ridden people in the office touching stuff, or for someone to go without needed medical care because of appointment scheduling. But there has to be a check and balance in place. Because it does happen. You don’t want to take away the sick time from those who genuinely need it to prevent abuse from those using it to create their own 4 day weekends on the fly.

            3. alan*

              You are an idiot! Sick leave is intended to use if you need it, like insurance. It is there in case you get in a car accident or get a serious illness and need it. Or the occaisional flu and can not work that day. It is not an extra vacation day. It should only be used when you are too sick to work that day (and if you are that sick 12 times a year, you need to go on disability because that is way above the average of 4 days a year)

              1. shiroduckie*

                Do NOT just throw disability into this. You have to be totally unable to do ANY work in order to get disability. If you can show up 4/5 days a week, but you don’t know what that one day off is going to be, you don’t count as disabled. Period.

          2. Josh S*

            If you want to treat it as an insurance policy, fine. Establish the ‘average’ number of absences below which there are no problems. Say that’s 1 absence every 8 weeks–6 per year.

            Establish the policy as “You can have up to 6 days of paid sick time each year. Beyond that, we will need to examine whether you are capable of meeting the expectations of the job.”

            But don’t set the policy as 12 days, and then say, “You can have up to 12 days of paid sick time each year. But once you hit some unclear, undefined standard within that limit, we’ll start looking down at you for taking the number of days we allow.”

            If you can’t afford 12 days/year, don’t tell people they can take that much!

            1. Anonymous*

              First I agree with Josh – in that if you give X sick days, then the employee can use X sick days. However, if the nature of how they’re using them is a problem – there’s a different way to address the policy.

              Where I work, we received 16 sick days per year. However to use those days (either one at a time or 5 in a row), we need to submit a doctor’s note stating that we’re ill. What this serves to do is create a working relationship between the employee and their personal doctor so that if the employee has a one day stomach flu/migrane/headcold – then a doctor’s appointment doesn’t need to be scheduled and the doctor will give the note to the long-term patient after seeing an email/voicemail request. For a longer absense, a doctor’s visit is required.

              What this serves to do is that employees need to have a primary care physician that they see at least annually. Also, if a doctor starts seeing one day requests too frequently for one day, most doctor’s will demand that the employee come to the doctor before any more notes are given. This serves in a practical way that employees see their doctor regularly (including when they are actually ill), and also to keep random days in check.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Lots of great employees wouldn’t work somewhere that required a doctor’s note for a single sick day. I wouldn’t. How about trusting people as long as their behavior isn’t aberrant?

                1. Anonymous*

                  The reason for the note due to policies set out by law where I live – so it’s not related to the culture of the particular organization where I work. Some companies don’t make it an official policy for one day, but it’s legally on the books. So no one thinks it’s a strange or unreasonable request.

      3. Josh S*

        Here’s the crux of the issue: Are sick days a part of compensation & benefits, or are they a means of managing the risk of illness for the company.

        If you want to treat them as a part of an employee’s compensation & benefits package, you need to be prepared for them to use it. Whatever the cost to this is in terms of man-hours, the necessity of hiring a temp, or dealing with being short-staffed, you need to suck it up as a boss or as an employer.

        If, on the other hand, you want to give employees a benefit of vacation days, but use sick days as a means of hedging against the risk of illness, you need a less rigid, less absolute standard for that. It can be as simple as “Company XYZ doesn’t provide a formal sick leave policy. Take as much as you need, but don’t abuse the privilege or let your work suffer or there will be consequences.” That’s totally fair, and I think most employees get it.

        But once you move to “Company XYZ gives its employees 12 days of sick leave each year”, you’ve moved it into the part-of-compensation-and-benefits category and remove that leeway.

        If you want to leave it up to the discretion of the manager, fine. But don’t claim otherwise when you’re hiring or setting policy.

        1. Joey*

          Sorry,that’s a weak argument. That’s like saying I shouldn’t include medical insurance as part of my comp package because you won’t ever max out the benefits. Do you think insurance companies budget for every single person to max out their plan all the time?

          1. Katie*

            For one, this isn’t a great analogy because an insurance company and paid sick time aren’t the same thing. For another, most companies offer their employees only what they expect MOST employees will use within a year, not an “insurance” amount for the rare cases. That’s what extended disability leave is for. Furthermore, even insurance companies plan to have some people max out their policies. They don’t plan that NO ONE will max out their policies. If they did, they wouldn’t stay afloat. If your office has a policy that it can’t handle if even only one person takes full advantage of it, you need to correct your policy or expect to go under.

          2. Josh S*

            I think you misunderstand. If you want to treat sick leave like an insurance policy, that’s fine. Tell your people, “We expect you to be here, but we understand that from time to time you won’t be because of illness. We won’t take issue with any amount of sick leave up to X days. After that, we will consider your ability to perform the functions of your job.” X should be the ‘average’ for what the office can handle. If the average is 6 days, expect that most will stay below that, and only 1 or 2 will go above that. It will be rare for people to approach 12 days, and if/when they do, you can identify it as a performance and/or attendance issue.

            But when a company identifies X as the upper end of that range, and then tries to create a performance/attendance issue before reaching X, it’s a problem.

            1. Pam*

              The other issue mentioned in the original letter though, is that the employees has already used more days that she’s accrued. It’s October, and she’s already used 12 days, even though she’s only accrued 9 at this point.

              So while I agree with what you’re saying, the employee is still abusing the policy. If she had already used up all of her accrued sick days and then needed to be out of the office again, the appropriate action would have been to take a vacation day OR speak directly to her supervisor about “advancing” some of the sick days she had not yet accrued.

          3. Jason*

            It doesn’t matter if they budget for it. They’re legally on the hook for it. Not budgeting for maximal usage is pretty stupid. But being stupid isn’t a crime. Not honoring a contract is.

      4. K*

        Has anybody considered that this response may risk stirring up a potential disability issue? The OP states that they don’t think the reason for taking time off is really valid, but if the response that comes back is more information about the reason for absences, you may now be looking at accommodating a disability you weren’t previously aware of. That case may not be an appropriate fit with AAM’s approach. It is not that the conversation shouldn’t be had, but be prepared for the response you get to derail your plans entirely.

      5. Lucy T*

        I absolutely disagree with this comment and wholeheartedly agree with Josh S. You cannot give someone a ‘benefit’ and then retract it to suit you, in a nutshell – you can’t give with one and hand take away with the other.

        My adivice would be to change the company sickness/asbence policy altogether and make it entirely discretionary. The absentee should have a ‘Return to Work Interiview’ on the first day of their return to a) make sure they are ok and fit to work, b) show them you care, c) ask what medical advice they sought d) find out if it is likely to reoccur and THEN you can make your judgment on whether to pay company sick leave, statutory sick leave, or neither (depending on their rights and the circumstances).

        You cannot judge an employee simply on the basis of your suspicion and you should not have a company policy that you are not willing to honour. You really are making a rod for your own back.

      6. Dave*

        I disagree with you, if you do not allow employees take their benefits when they are sick you may find yourself in a lawsuit. The employee will win if you fire her and you will have to pay for her unemployment. Just wait until they do not have any leave period and then you will have justifaction for getting rid of them because they will be on leave with out pay.

      7. alisha*

        What if the job dosnt over sick pay no matter what. And also employee is highly contagious and has Dr. notes to prove it. In 8 months came in but left early 6 times to go to dr. Would that be considered unreliable? Also it is a grocery/retail store would it be against health and safety code to keep employee at working, working contagious 102.2 temp, as a cashier handeling food/produce etc.

        1. Anonymous*

          Unreliable ? The short answer is yes. Once a month there is at least one shift someone won’t show up is not reasonable. I don’t know who has a policy like that,

    2. TT*

      I agree with Josh. If sick days are for “emergencies” only then the policy should/would be unlimited number of sick days but with “discretion”.

      By giving a limit to the number of sick days you’re essentially agreeing to budget this number of days out of your annual planning, in this respect it’s literally equivalent to your vacation days (think of them simply as additional vacation days if you must).

      If you don’t want to intend sick days as a benefit rather for emergency use, then have unlimited sick days but with medical documentation etc etc.. When you budget out medical leave on the same basis as vacation days, then you should treat them exactly the same.

      In this case, treat the employee as if she’s just using her vacation days and not make an issue of “sick” days used. If you have a problem with her consistency because she’s not doing her share of the work, then that’s the area you want to focus on.

      There is no difference in the end if the employee is using her “sick” days and not doing her job, or taking her vacation days and not doing her job, or showing up every day and not doing her job. Your conversation as a manager should be exactly the same in all above circumstances.

      1. Natalie*

        There’s a bit of a difference – vacation days are typically approved in advance. The vacation can be denied if coverage is going to be difficult – a particularly busy time of year, for example.

          1. Katie*

            I think the woman using vacation time as sick time is more of an issue. In my office, you have to request vacation time at least 5 business days in advance. Some rare exceptions are made for true emergencies (at the managers’ discretion), but generally, 5 business days must be allowed or it’s not approved. If she’s saving up vacation time to use at will, without any advanced warning, it should be addressed.

            Not that it will make much of a difference. If someone being out causes this much disruption in your office, and they have 12 sick days, it’s probably not going to help much if she’s only out once every four weeks instead of every three. I still think the sick policy needs to be amended in this situation.

            1. K*

              I think this is a great way to look at the situation to start to limit some of the absences. Enforcing notice and setting up policy that would prohibit the taking of those extra days without warning may be a good stick to back-up your point regarding the inappropriateness of the absences.

        1. TT*

          There is no difference because you stipulated the terms and conditions up front, one of which allows the employee a set number of sick days (call them instead not-planned-in-advance vacation days if that will make you feel more comfortable). If the employer is not comfortable with that policy, then either shorten the number of allowed sick days, or pose more restrictive terms such as requiring a doctors note.

          But there is no difference here between vacation days and unplanned vacation days here, since it was budgeted and specified up front. Just like planning a project you need to reserve a certain amount of slack time to cover for emergencies, so should the manager reserve some slack time for employee sick day emergencies.

          Your entire issue rests on the fact that the employee according to op cannot accomplish all her work on time, thus requiring you to pickup the slack. This is equally unacceptable even if it’s b/c she is going on a preplanned vacation. I don’t see what “sick” days which were offered by the employee and specifically allowed has anything do with the issue.

          1. Natalie*

            I got the impression that the staff member in a question has a job like answering the phone that simply can’t be ignored, rescheduled, or done to a minimal level, so the unplanned absences are *the cause* of the performance problems.

    3. Maddy*

      Well said!! You shouldn’t “promise”, in this case offer, something you can’t deliver. Maybe she really does have an illness that requires her to see her doc office every 3 weeks… Some people are better at hiding their pain than others- and she could be one of them. So instead of assuming that she is taking advantage of this, why don’t you try to find out if there is really something wrong with her and then work from there…

      Anyway, I think you should rewrite your policy so that both parties have a clear understanding of what is acceptable and what is not…

      1. Joey*

        You guys are living in dreamland. It’s an insurance policy. You don’t get to cash out your insurance policy if you don’t use it. And if you use it too much you’ll get dropped.

        1. Maddy*

          we’re not living in a dreamland… So, lets say you get sick and the insurance policy decides that they don’t want to pay for your medical bill because you’re actually using it :-0… so they then drop you from their plan.. then what? Is that fair then? It’s just an empty promise. Yea, didn’t think so.. i just think you shouldn’t offer something you can’t afford/give.

          You know you can’t control whether you have an illness or not right… Who knows maybe she has something horrible but still drags her butt out of bed every morning to go to work… but takes one day off to go see the doc… who knows..

          Like i said, to solve this whole problem, just rewrite the policy so that both parties have a clear understanding of what is acceptable and what is not..

        2. Maddy*

          anyway, i’m just giving my two cents. I understand it from your point too… it’s a tough situation…

      2. Lina*

        What if she’s in therapy, physical or mental, or pregnant and needs check-ups every three weeks but doesn’t want to share that information with you?

        This is really a tough situation but I think it is something management can solve by changing the policy. It’s quite normal to feel ‘kind of tired or sick’ every month, just not 100%, and if the employee thinks that she has a sick day a month she’s not going to show up on that day.

        Plus, do you really want someone who is beginning to get sick come into the office and get everyone else sick?

        Maybe a possible solution is to cover the least amount of her work when she is gone–only what is required to get other people’s work done– and when she gets back tell her she needs to make up the work she missed ASAP. If she doesn’t make the work up by the deadline, then a manager can have a talk with her about her performance. Otherwise, I think you are going to ruin her morale.

        1. Natalie*

          If it’s a recurring appointment, wouldn’t she just say she has a medical appointment and leave it at that?

          I leave my office in the middle of the day once a week to see a therapist. It’s not public information, but at a minimum I had to tell my boss it was a recurring medical appointment. (I cover reception, among other issues, so I can’t just leave when I want).

        2. Jamie*

          If she has a regularly recurring medical issue, such as the appointments you describe, and doesn’t want to share that with her boss it’s her right. And it’s her bosses right to find someone who is more reliable.

          A boss can (and imo, should) work with a good employee if they have these kind of medical/scheduling issues. However, it’s not up to the boss to be a mind-reader and you can’t expect someone who is just calling in sick frequently to get the same accommodations that someone would if they initiated the discussion about needing this time and working out coverage.

        3. Nikki*

          If it’s a recurring appointment, the least she could do is share that there is a regular appointment. The manager could at least plan ahead for the absence. This person is being unreliable. That seems to be the point.

          Whenever I have a doctor’s appointment, which have been quite a few over the last couple months, I put it on the calendar. My team plans around it. Methinks my team would be highly upset if I just wandered off/didn’t show up at random intervals.

          1. Pam*

            Agreed, 100%. If she’s out of the office for a *recurring* appointment, she shouldn’t be calling in sick at 6am and making her colleagues scramble to cover her work.

        4. K*

          Thank you Lina for your point!

          It really looks like more information is needed on this issue. One of the functions of giving people sick leave is that no one wants to share the office with someone who is sick! You don’t want to change the policy such that people who are legitimately contagious are coming in to the office so as not to inconvenience anyone – and getting the rest of the office sick.

        5. Anonymous*

          It will definitely ruin her morale.

          Back in 2009, I became very ill and suddenly had to start going to the doctor a lot. (Partial days, a couple of hours here and there, missing a full day only occasionally.) It turned out that I DID have a health issue that required extensive testing and then ultimately surgery.

          I was treated as if I was just a bad employee, even though I planned my doctors’ appointments carefully and kept my managers up to date on what was going on with me. This included bringing in doctors’ notes and eventually writing a two-page letter about my health condition, which went to my managers and HR.

          Eventually, I had the surgery and was able to make use of FMLA; however, the way I was treated when I was just trying to find out what was going on was horrible, and it has permanently damaged my relationship with my work group. I have been looking for another job ever since.

          They even actually wrote on my review document “She did not tell us she was sick when she started with us.” I was flabbergasted, and I’m not sure if that’s legal! (I was not sick when I started with this group about four years ago.

          Now, while I do my best to turn out excellent work, I do the minimum, and I collect my paycheck. I feel the way I was treated, simply for getting sick and needing surgery, was inhumane.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            You’re talking about a very different situation. You had appointments that were planned in advance, doctors’ notes, etc. Very different than calling in every three weeks and saying it’s for minor things like a headache or stomachache.

    4. Trisha Pena*

      Unfortunately I am in a call center purgatory as well. While the company in theory gives you what is actually a generous amount of sick time, you’d better not use it. Once I was sneezing my head off, sore throat, etc., plus had caught up on my work for the evening. Being new (within my first year) I asked the supervisor if PBA (the company’s acronym for personal business time) was to be used for sick leave as I was hoping to go home early and he asked me if I had been late or had any attendance issues. When I told him I had not, he stated, “Well, it shouldn’t hurt you too much then.” Needless to say, I did not go home early that night. You can ask for the same leave with 48 hours’ notice with no problem, though as Josh above states, you are at the mercy of there being enough “slots” available, but “unplanned” use of the same time (as in calling in sick) counts against you.

  6. Beth*

    I understand that her absences are causing a problem, but if she actually is legitimately sick then isn’t this strategy a little harsh? Also, if she gets something contagious like a cold, do you really want her coming in to work? Would it be possible for her to take unpaid time off if she’s used up all of her sick days? It sounds like a lot of the problem is having a small staff, so that her absences really affect everyone else.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As Joey said above, the issue isn’t why she’s out; the issue is that she misses too much work. If the role requires someone who can be there reliably (and it sounds like it does), then it’s reasonable to say, “Hey, we need someone who can be here reliably. Is that you or not?” You’re not required to continue to employ someone who misses work all the time, even if it’s because they get a lot of colds or whatever.

      1. Katie*

        But if you make it your policy that people CAN miss that much work, you should be able to back it up. That’s the thing that annoys me here. If you can’t support a policy you’re offering, why offer it at all? I agree that her missing so much work is an issue. But the problem is that her office explicitly allows her to miss this much work. If you need someone to be there reliably, don’t CREATE a policy/situation that allows people to flake out.

    2. Lina*

      Hire someone part-time to pick up some of the slack if you think people deserve the current amount of sick days.

      This is why unemployment is so prevalent–so many companies are trying to get the most out of their employees to the point where they can’t get sick! :) (Not necessarily the case here.)

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Lina, I love you! Back in the olden days, when offices were properly staffed, people were cross-trained and the occasional absence was not a big problem. Now office staffs are leaner, people are only qualified do to their own specific tasks, and there are problems when one person is gone.

        It also sounds like OP’s sick day policy needs to be tightened up. When my former company was giving sick days (in addition to vacation and “casual” days for doctor/dentist/therapy time), EVERYONE made sure they took each and every sick day (and casual day). They were informally called mental health days.

        1. Lina*

          Thanks! I love you too!

          I don’t know why what I said is being torn down. Either change your sick day policy so that people are required to come in more often or hire/cross-train people to pick up the slack when they use their allotted days. If she is in charge of the front-desk then this should be easy.

          I don’t think you are legally allowed to punish someone when she is within company policy.

          By the way, just because I have this opinion on this case doesn’t mean I would behave like this in the workplace. I’m just talking about employee rights, employer rights, policy and reprimanding. I’m too much of a workaholic to miss work unless I’m contagious or really, really, sick.

          That said, I if I was someone who was sick often I would like my employer to allow me to take advantage of my allotted sick days without judgment, especially when I’m good in all other areas.

      2. Anononymous*

        Hiring someone part-time to make up for the fact that an employee is out every 3 weeks is not a realistic solution for most small businesses. And Long Time Admin these are not “occasional” absences, they’re every 3 weeks which isn’t reasonable by most people’s standards.

        It’s easy to say things like this when you’ve never been responsible for running a business and making payroll. Those of us who have know that you can find people who are willing to show up for work regularly and who won’t require you to hire a part timer so that they can miss work all the time. Why does this woman deserve a job when so many unemployed people would be glad to commit to showing up on a more regular basis and not disrupting the work place?

        1. Long Time Admin*

          We used to have employees called “floaters”. They were trained in many different jobs, and would go where ever they were needed. Employers don’t have them anymore, and don’t usually hire temps, either.

          When employees are properly cross-trained, at least one employee can jump in when needed and do what needs doing. People are going to get sick, have other emergencies, and some die, all without notice. Some employers have contingency plans for this and some don’t. That’s the way it is.

      3. Kara*

        It’s clear who here has run a business and who hasn’t. Hire someone part-time to come in without notice about one day a month, who will be able to pick up projects in the middle without having been there the rest of the month? That’s not realistic. And why would you do it anyway instead of hiring someone who can be at work regularly and reliably? Businesses aren’t charities.

        1. Katie*

          But if you were running a business, and you knew your sick policy was allowing people to be out way more than your company could afford to lose in productivity, wouldn’t you just change the sick policy and shut down the problem across the board?

          1. Lina*

            Well said! Either change the sick day policy or find a way to cover the work. I don’t understand why this is complicated. It seems simple to me.

            For example, at my school we used to cover each other’s classes when a teacher was sick. No external substitute teachers. The teacher would send lesson plans through email and her co-worker would teach the lesson instead of her. And it goes around and around. A workplace is a community, not a strict ‘you do A and only A’ and ‘you do B and only B’. Help each other out! Pay it forward!

          2. snobalz*

            I find many good points in here. My initial reaction was exactly as proposed- either the employee is reliable or isn’t. Further, in our case we had a hearing judge confirm our belief. But I can also understand the idea of not penalizing an employee for using an offered benefit. STOP OFFERING THE BENEFIT.
            At the end of the year you have two employees. One uses 2-3 sick days a year. The other uses 12 sick days a year. On Dec 31st, which employee has worked more for the company? If you do not have some way to make keeping sick days banked in case needed (needed vs. wanted) then the company will always have at least 1 employee taking an extra day off every month.
            This is why we did away with sick leave. We utilize personal time which can be taken during vacation or sickness. When it runs out, the paycheck runs out. We have not had a problem since. We did as suggested – we changed our policy. I am not so sure employees, especially the ones not using every available sick day, are going to be very happy when they lose the benefit because 1-2 employees view it as a company offered extra day off a month to be taken whenever I choose.

  7. RKT*

    I have to say I agree with Josh. If a company isn’t prepared for employees to use their allotted sick days, they shouldn’t offer them. If, as you say, the total number of sick days available are to be used ‘only in extreme circumstances’ then how are you NOT in the business of judging an employee’s level of sickness?

    If it’s that crucial all employees are there every day then offer 3 sick days a year and grant additional leave on a case by case basis. Doctor’s note required, whatever.

    There are a lot of jobs out there that really suck, and have zero perks. And I don’t mean just fast food. Being able to use sick time for ‘mental health’ days is the best some people get.

    And if a company doesn’t differentiate sick days and vacation do you still say employees shouldn’t be able to use all they’re given?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      When it’s all lumped into one pot of PTO (which is my preference), there’s still an expectation that unplanned absences will be the exception, not the norm. It’s the unplanned part that causes the problem.

      The solution isn’t to offer fewer sick days, since if someone gets the flu once, that could be 4-5 days gone right there. The solution is to set expectations that, in general, unplanned leave will be an exception rather than something routine. Most employees don’t need to be told that; this one apparently does.

      1. Jamie*

        PTO is a fabulous idea and solves so many problems:

        Covers cases of illness, but doesn’t require employer to police every sniffle.

        If you don’t have time in buckets (vacay, sick, holiday, etc.) people can use them as they see fit and openness of scheduling would make it easier to accommodate all but emergency illnesses which will happen anyway.

        If it’s PTO a parent can use it if their child is sick, they don’t have to feign the flu themselves.

        Why don’t more companies do this?

      2. Katie*

        But nobody gets the flu 3 times a year. My company offers 4 sick days a year. Almost no one uses all of them, and we have a lot of elderly people, people with small children, and people who have been or are pregnant in our office who use a fair amount of sick time. Personally, I think 12 sick days is absolutely ridiculous. Unless you are staffed entirely by senior citizens or are running a facility filled with small children, the overwhelming majority of your employees aren’t going to need anywhere near 12 sick days a year, and regardless, if it’s not a policy you can support, it shouldn’t be an option.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree that 12 days a year is a lot – I’ve never heard of people accruing sick time like that outside of government workers.

        2. Long Time Admin*

          The OP is not in the United States. In Europe, employees get a lot more vacation time, and apparently, a lot more sick time, too.

      3. RKT*

        But you see that if an employee is allotted 12 sick days a year, but is only able to use them in an emergency/extreme circumstance- that IS judging their level of sickness.

        I didn’t suggest employees not be allowed to take more than 3 days, I said the number allotted at the beginning of the year should be lower, and additional/longer absences could be granted on a case by case basis.

        I know you think reasonable employees SHOULD see this issue from an employer’s point of view and thus, only take a sick day if they are debilitated in some way and absolutely have to- because that’s what’s best for the company. But a lot of employees (call them selfish) will see allotted sick days as a benefit they can use, and will use them.

        It just seems easier to change the allotted number of days than to hope employees will adhere to some unwritten rule of workplace etiquette.

  8. Jenna*

    See, this is why I love my job. We get unlimited paid sick days (not in the US). Our company does not expect us to take every sick day we get, so you can take the time to get better if you are sick but it becomes obvious if you are abusing the privilage.

    1. Anonymous*

      And you will have some people who will abuse this privilege.

      Just because a company “allows” a certain number of days to be ill, doesn’t mean they will be used as such. Some dishonest employees will cheat the system, looking at those days as that many more days off, not as a means to retain their job should they become ill and have to be out.

  9. Cookie*

    In a staff of 5 where one person every day had to cover a customer call-in number, I had one employee who was out at least once a month. I sat down over lunch and asked her about her absences. It turned out she had severe menstrual periods with migraines. I solved it by scheduling around when I expected her to be out. And by the way, as a manager you should not pick up the extra work all of the time. Ask others to step in.

    1. Liz*

      So you communicated with another adult in a straightforward fashion, and the problem was resolved with a minimum of fuss? Where’s the fun in that? ;-)

    2. Indie_Rachael*

      My first thought when Op mentioned the female employee missing work “about every 3 weeks” was hormone-triggered migraines. They can be debilitating.

      The company needs to revise their policy and consider whether they are adequately staffed. Maybe rotate some interns or part-time help, but it reflects poorly on a company that is this severely understaffed.

      1. Anonymous*

        In a office of 5 bring in #6? Sure and explain to the employees they will take a 20% pay cut to fund this person ? I think 20% might not set well on the 4 who show up all but two or three days a year.

  10. Anonymous*

    So wait, I’m confused…so before I say anything, am I reading it correctly, this employee is taking 1 day off every 3 weeks – therefore, obviously going over the allotted 12 per year?

    Ok, so how come no one realizes what she is getting “sick” from?

    1. Anonymous*

      Yup, someone had the same idea I did, but we were entering our comments roughly around the same time.

      Before jumping the gun on this employee, make sure she’s not dealing with a menstrual cycle that is hellish. If she’s young, she can be dealing with debilitating cramps to the point where she feels like the flu would be a vacation. And not every girl is the same – 3 weeks for some are the norm. But instead of changing policy, she might need someone who understands and is willing to understand. It’s already embarrassing; don’t make her feel worse by changing policy because she doesn’t feel as if she can admit what’s going on.

      1. OP*

        I’ll be honest and say that it hadn’t really occurred to me that it could be cramps or other related menstrual maladies. I am a young woman myself, so I very much get that as a reason to call in. However, it hasn’t always been a consistent every three weeks (of course, though, not that is has to be), and I would have assumed that since we’ve talked about some of her other medical issues, if that were the case she might have mentioned it already. Of course, mind you, assuming makes an ass and so on.

        1. Anonymous*

          Well, the only thing is she might not see it as a medical problem even though if they are debilitating enough, it technically is. But there’s medicine (ie the pill) that can make it manageable.

          The only other thing I can think of is she has something going on in her personal life that is bizarre, but yet it requires her to take all of these days off.

          So unless she’s playing hooky, I’d try to find a way to find the real reason why she’s taking off without doing anything illegal or overstepping boundaries.

          1. Anonymous*

            I have a close friend and former coworker who had endometriosis, and no you can’t just take the pill for it. She spent a whole year trying to find treatment or someone who would listen to her!

            1. HELP ME PLEASE!!!*

              I spent more than two decades trying to get doctor after doctor to tell me what was causing me such horrific pain. For years I resigned myself to the fact that I would always be in pain and that no one would understand or help. And for years I was fired from job after job due to taking more sick days than were given. I was treated like a whiner and liar by every manager I ever had. My career suffered, my health suffered, my finances suffered….I suffered.

              Then I ended up in an ER for uncontrolled pain and bleeding so severe I was anemic. And I finally found a doctor who gave me the answer to the mystery: I had Endometriosis. After having a very painful laparotomy the surgeon confirmed I had stage four endometriosis. My entire pelvic cavity was filled with it and my organs tethered together by it. But even this painful surgery was no cure. I still take harsh painkillers and strong hormonal medication to induce menopause. I will need a complete hysterectomy soon.

              While I’m glad I finally have validation for all my years of suffering, I am angry. I am angry at every single jerkwad who treated me like garbage for being ill, even though my production at work NEVER suffered. Even though I was willing to do ANYTHING to make up the absences, including working evenings, weekends and holidays. But nope. It wasn’t good enough. I’m not good enough. My career has been ruined by this horrible disease that most people don’t understand. I am unemployable. I have lost EVERYTHING: my home, car, financial security, employability, friends, family…you name it, I have lost it.

              Now that I am somewhat on the mend…at least the disease is more stable for the time being until a hysterectomy…I need to find work again, but NO ONE on this lonely planet will give me a chance. They look at my work history and run the other way. If I can’t find work, then I cannot live. Endometriosis is not eligible for disability, which is not enough to live on any way. So, what do I do? If I cannot find work, I cannot live. I didn’t ask for this to happen to me. All I want is to work, contribute and live my life. I am so sick of being judged by something that was out of my control!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      2. Jamie*

        “Before jumping the gun on this employee, make sure she’s not dealing with a menstrual cycle that is hellish. ”

        I strongly disagree. If someone is dealing with this, or any other recurring medical issue, it’s up to them to bring it up to their manager to work out a reasonable accommodation and coverage.

        Those are absolutely legitimate reasons for the timing and frequency of these absences – but in no way is it the employer’s responsibility to “make sure.” If someone is responsible enough to have a job they are responsible enough to address their issues.

        The can of worms that would be opened by asking an employee about her cycles or any possible menstrual issues would be enourmous. That is not a conversation that should be initiated by anyone but the employee themselves.

        If I were taking too many sick days for whatever reason and my boss asked me if it was because of my cycle? Yikes!

        1. Anonymous*

          Don’t read things that aren’t in what I wrote. You took one sentence out and interpreted it completely wrong.

          The OP should take into consideration that this might be an issue and perhaps start a conversation in a comfortable, secure environment in which her employee can say she has a medical condition (which this could be). She doesn’t even have to say what the condition is – just the fact that it gives her grief every so often to the point where she can’t function and it is at times unpredictable. I’m sure there are a few medical issues that arise.

          And consider this – the employee might be extremely embarrassed and hopes to fly under the radar by using the sick days, albeit that isn’t working since we have this question in front of us. Sure, it would have been better if she disclosed this ahead of time, but not all people think the same way.

          As for “making sure,” if I were the manager, I would rather make sure than to come across as looking like an ass.

          1. Jamie*

            The way I read it was exactly how you just reiterated it. You stated that the OP should take into consideration that this might be an issue and open the conversation about medical issues.

            I’m in agreement that it would be fine for a manager to tell the employee that if there is an underlying medical issue causing the excessive absences they can try to work out an accommodation.

            However, for the manager to have to take this into consideration on their own is completely overstepping their boundaries. Managers have no business speculating on medical concerns of their employees whether it be menstrual issues, or if they are lactose intolerant and need a day off to use the bathroom after their monthly milkshake, or anything else.

            There are boundaries and responsibilities that should be respected at work, imo. If an employee has a medical issue which is causing problems at work they can either disclose it and try to work it out or deal with the consequences of their absenteeism – we all have that choice.

            The flip side is that managers have a responsibility to inform an employee of their right to accommodation (if any) for medical issues, should they wish to discuss that. Beyond that their only responsibility is addressing the work related issue – in this case absenteeism.

            You seem to be coming at this from the point of sympathy for the employee in case she is dealing with an issue which is sensitive and can be embarrassing for many women. While it seems that you are well intentioned I personally think any manager speculating about the unknowns of an employees health – especially related menstrual issues – to be a huge violation in and of itself.

            For me it’s less about what the specifics could be and more about how it’s none of the managers business if there are medical issues unless/until the employee wants to discuss it. It’s their business to address work related issues.

            If an employee has health issues and doesn’t want to disclose, that’s fine and totally within their right to privacy. Just expect to be immune from the consequences.

        2. Maddy*

          some people are just more private than others.. maybe she doesn’t like talking about it or doesn’t want sympathy.. maybe she doesn’t want to be judged by her illness….

          I know people who have to announce every single pain they are feeling- she just got a paper cut and it hurts sooo bad and it is bleeding too much.. omg she’s going to faint…. and then those who never complain even if they just got their finger cut off… people are different.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If she has a condition that means she needs to be out every three weeks, it’s unprofessional not to address those needs with her manager. I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone I’ve ever worked with who was good who in that situation wouldn’t have said, “Hey, I’ve been missing a lot of work lately, there’s something medical going on, let’s talk about how to work around it.” It’s the professional thing to do. Acting like it’s not happening signals that you think it’s no big deal. You don’t have the option in this case of saying nothing about it, if you want to be thought of as reliable and professional.

  11. OP*

    OP here – thanks very much for the feedback, both Alison and commenters. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been in the monkey house too long and am missing what’s really the issue here. Alison is very right in that it’s a position that requires reliability, which is a problem here. There is simply no funding available to hire more people (and we don’t need more people when we’re at our full complement), and were I able to pass this work off to someone else I would, but there just isn’t anyone due to the specialized knowledge for this job. With that being the case, I think checking in with the co-worker, clarifying expectations, and tightening the policy are definitely the next steps.

    1. Gene*

      And some cross training for your entire staff. No job below upper-upper management should only have one person able to do it. Would you be stuck doing your job and hers if she got hit by a bus tomorrow (or resigned without notice)? OK, specialized knowledge is required, teach someone that knowledge. How about others’ jobs? Are team members able to fill in? The lack points to a planning issue on your part.

      Yes, you need to have a reliability discussion with her. But you need to do some disaster and succession planning and training.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t see that in the letter. The OP says that she ends up covering for the employee — not that no one knows how to fill in. But when one person covers someone else’s work, that means their own work isn’t getting done.

        1. Gene*

          It’s not in the letter, it’s in her comment directly above mine.

          Agreed, if an office is staffed with no slack, any time someone isn’t there, someone’s work isn’t getting done. The question is, should it be the manager doing it or soeone she manages? Whose time and function is more important? In our case we have 4 people and a manager in the office doing different things, but any one of us can do the others’ jobs in a pinch. Not as efficiently, but enough to get the job done.

  12. Another Anon*

    We had someone like this once. She just felt yucky about one day a week, usually Friday. We as her peers got pretty fed up. Our manager did what a manager ought: put her on probation so she *had* to show up or else. Imagine all our surprise to find that our now present coworker had a particularly communicable type of hepatitis. While I can see the value of saying, “It’s not an illness problem, it’s an attendance problem,” I can also see the value of making sure that an employee who thinks they’re that sick gets care and doesn’t spread something around.

  13. Anonymous*

    “If someone needs time off and hasn’t accrued the leave yet, they need to take that day unpaid”
    I think there can be some flexibility there if employees in general aren’t abusing it.
    I’m not in the states and our leave accrual is on a yearly basis. Ie if you have taken all 2010 leave then u will start with 0 in 2011
    Being flexible allows one to take a 5 day vacation in march or 2 sick days in January

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes — what I used to do with my policy was say that you could get X hours in the red (I think it was 30 or something like that), but then you’d need to take additional time unpaid. It was for exactly the reason you stated.

      Of course, if you let people roll over time from year to year, then it’s not an issue.

      I used to just approve it on a case by case basis until someone abused it — and then I put in place one policy for everyone so that I didn’t run into trouble by treating some people differently.

      1. Jamie*

        If this policy is in writing does it circumvent the law on having to pay exempt people in full if they worked for part of a week?

        I know it’s much simpler with hourly employees. If they don’t have time on the books they are off without pay.

  14. HRanon*

    For the most part I agree with AAM. I would like to add a couple of points- 12 sick days, particularly for a small employer, is on the high side- I am in the States, but here outside of the public sector 5-7 is much more typical (or a PTO system as Alison mentioned.) Additional leave time can always be granted when warranted, but it is hard to get away from the idea that using every sick day is an entitlement- whether sick or not. Particularly if there is no incentive not to use them all, i.e. being able to bank them or paying unused days out periodically.
    Second, not only should you stop allowing the use of sick days before they are accrued, but since you separate out sick and vacation, I would NOT allow her to use vacation days to cover for additional sick days. Vacation time is planned and pre-approved, period.

  15. Jaime*

    It definitely sounds like in addition to the absence, the big issue is that it is unscheduled. Even though the main issue for you, the boss, is reliability and productivity, perhaps you can speak with this employee and try to plan these absences a little more. I know it’s not exactly every 3 weeks, but it seems like there is some predictability here even if it is headaches or stomache issues. If she’s a valuable worker otherwise, then I would try to work with her to minimize the inevitable impact of her absences.

    If, however, you think (or know) she’s just taking the days to “recharge her batteries” or something like that, then you need to encourage her to schedule that out ahead of time. It should be that difficult for her to know herself well enough to know she’ll need to use a vacation day every month and a half or something to maintain her personal work/life balance.

    Please don’t change your sick policy, at least the number of days. Speaking as a non-manager, I wish my company was so human. I see nothing wrong with tweaking the policy so that you set the expectation that sick days are for when you’re really sick and you encourage the use of vacation time to avoid burnout and get downtime. So they acknowledge that we all need a few days with the flu or a cold, that we might *gasp* get the flu more than once or have a surgical procedure in the same year as an asthma attack, etc. I think it’s great you really, truly plan for life to happen for your employees.

  16. Anonymous*

    Wow, let me just say that I’m so glad I’ve for the most part had managers who treated me better than this.

    I think part of the problem here is that some people don’t know what it’s like to get really sick frequently. I used to early on in my career. I would always run out of sick leave and would only use it when I was really sick. My rule for myself was that if my fever was under 102, I would go into work, if not, I’d stay home. And I still ran out every year. You talk about someone getting a cold like it’s no big deal, and for some it’s not. I can work through the sniffles, I can’t work through a 104 fever, believe me, I’ve tried many times and the brain does not cooperate. Luckily my managers always looked at the bigger picture, saw that I often worked while very sick, and didn’t make it an issue. Honestly, what are the options for an employee who legitimately gets seriously ill very frequently? Just not work?

    Fortunately my immune system is much stronger now and this isn’t really an issue for me anymore, but it still kind of bothers me to read this. I worked as a nanny for a few years where I had 2 sick days a year, but a family who literally told me “the only time any of our nannies has called in sick was the day she miscarried and that’s pretty much how we expect it to go” It was horrible. I firmly believe that all employees should be entitled to stay home when they are legitimately sick.

    However, like others mentioned above, taking one day every 3 weeks doesn’t really sound like a serious illness, it sounds more like cramps. I’ve never really understood needing to skip work for cramps, but I have friends who do, tough friends, and I believe them when they say they can’t work through them.

    1. Anonymous*

      But Allison’s not saying (I don’t think!) that people who get sick frequently shouldn’t work anywhere. I think she’s just pointing out that in some jobs, reliable attendance is a must, and if you know that you’re the type of person who’s going to be out unexpectedly at some point every month, you should find a job where that will be least disruptive. Some jobs/situations require people who aren’t going to be out unpredictably and frequently, and some jobs require people who can lift over 75 pounds on a frequent basis. You just have to find a job that fits your capabilities.

      1. Anonymous*

        I do see your point, however, what you describe here applies to most entry level jobs. How do you suggest a person early on in their career get around this?

        What is unfortunate is that this kind of heavy-handed managing usually only applies to the lower class so much of this discussion plays out like those who have done well are telling those who haven’t been so lucky to suck it up.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It applies to tons of jobs, particularly entry-level jobs but not only those. It’s not a class issue. And no one’s telling anyone to suck it up; they’re saying that some jobs require showing up on a regular basis. Very few people here are disputing that; they’re arguing over whether you should give 12 sick days if you don’t want them all taken.

    2. K*

      I agree that there does seem to be a lack of empathy among some of the commenters. My brother is someone who it seems is always sick – with days of compulsive vomiting, no less. He is also a very private person who wouldn’t share the details around at work. I know that if he worked in many of the work places I have been a part of, people would think he was ducking out without reason until an attack hit him at work. It just goes to show that while the conversation regarding expectations of reliability is necessary, you must be prepared to receive information you weren’t expecting as a result. That information may put some added burdens on you as the employer to accommodate.

  17. Rose*

    Wait, so why not have a policy that says you can call in sick 3 times without a doctor’s note (or once every three months, or something) and after that you need a note? Or even “supervisor may request doctor’s note at discretion” and just be sure not to single her out for that “discretion”. How about a work from home option as well?
    I also have debilitating cramps and migraines despite being on the pill. I just take a dose of prescription pain medicine + a triptan. I’m higher than a kite but I’m still at work and performing at 40-50%….

  18. Anonymous*

    Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I find it really odd that a company would have an attendance policy which involves people ‘earning’ or accruing 12 days sick leave per year. It seems to me that only encourages a mindset whereby one feels entitled to claim one’s due, and makes it more complex for managers to challenge how the ‘entitlement’ is used, and get sucked into conversations about ‘I am genuinely sick and I am allowed to ring in’. When I was first managing I also got hung up on the idea that if you challenged someone’s absences it meant you were implying they were a liar, but AAM is as usual right – it’s not the reason for the absence but their effect that you, as a manager, need to address.

    In the UK, at least when I last worked in this area, HR best practice was to allow unlimited paid sick time (other than in longterm absence cases, where sick pay runs out eventually) but to set a ‘trigger point’ – a number of days of permitted absence in a given period – and require the employee to attend an interview with management if that trigger is hit. That interview should cover the reasons for the absence pattern, what the employee is going to do to improve it, and the consequences if he or she does not.

    It’s also good practice to require a return to work interview with the staff member after every absence. Building in these meetings creates opportunities for managers to discuss absence with staff and explore whether there are any work-related reasons (such as bullying) which need to be addressed organisationally. It also puts an onus on managers to make clear to employees who are over a trigger threshold that – regardless of the reason for absence – they can be disciplined and, if necessary, dismissed if they do not improve attendance. You can also have your policy distinguish between the treatment of repeated short-term absence (such as this case) and long-term absence (such as cancer treatment, bad car accidents etc). Not to say you cannot dismiss for long-term absence but this is usually a completely different matter from the person who has three-day weekends or is too quick to ring in when she has a migraine, etc. The trigger system also allows you to direct staff to occupational health services, if your company has those arrangements.

    Think the advice here is generally good although I would also be inclined to ask the member of staff if there is a work-related reason for her absence. You never know, there may be a supplier or client who comes in every few weeks and is sexually harassing her? A lot of the time, though, people tighten up pretty quickly on persistent short-term absence as soon as they realise there will be consequences.

    Finally, if the OP is in the UK you need to watch out for the Disability Discrimination Act as disability-related absences can sometimes be discounted from the total of sick days (within the trigger system).

    Given the overlap with disability legislation, absence management is a tricky topic – perhaps consider bringing in a HR professional to revamp your policy and procedures, as it does not sound as if they are meeting the organisation’s needs? Also check out the CIPD guidance:-

    You could also google for the Bradford Factor (a formula for calculating absence triggers).

    Hope this helps.

      1. Anonymous*

        ;-) Yes, I am constantly horrified by what I read on this and other blogs. Although we’ve got the European Union to thank for most of our worker protection laws, not the UK Government (which would just love to adopt more US-style labour practices!). Better enjoy our rights while we have ’em…

  19. Wilton Businessman*

    Never let them get into the red. Two unpaid absences and you’ve got a problem.

    We had all personal days where you could use them for sick or vacation. With the recent changes in Connecticut law, we’re not sure if some of them are going to have to be designated as sick days or not.

  20. Personal*

    I thought I would share something personal… first of all YES this employee should say something if this is a medical reason, but I can tell you that a lot of people with serious medical issues don’t bring them up for risk of discrimination.

    I was diagnosed with a very serious and permanent neurological disorder my first year at my new job. I had a lot of testing to do, doctors to see.. I was ALWAYS open and honest, even covering shifts during the holiday’s to help my coworkers out. I never missed more than allowed.
    Guess what happened to me? I was FIRED.

    Now at my next job I am being discriminated against, made fun of.. etc etc due to my medical disability, because we are under 15 employees there is nothing I can do about it either. I am starting a new job and am planning on keeping my disability a secret.

    If you think I am somehow an exception to what goes on you are mistaken, happens all the time.. just hope it doesn’t happen to you.

    As for the 12 sick days… you have them, people are going to use them. End of story. Fire them, change the policy.. do whatever you need to, but it will happen.

    1. Nikki*

      What is WRONG with people? I have a friend whose coworkers made fun of him. Is this the sixth grade? I hope your new job is wonderful and that you don’t have to hide it or that it is not too difficult to do so.

      As a manager I would not tolerate such foolishness. Here’s to your next manager having a higher mentality and better sense!

    2. KellyK*

      I’m really sorry you’re being mistreated, and you bring up a good point. For an employee to be willing to bring up a medical issue, they need some reason to trust that that information won’t be used against them, or make them the subject of mockery or water cooler gossip.

  21. Dawn*

    My opinion on this is that sick time is there for a reason, and if you need it you should use it. Key word here is *need*. I have no problem with someone using up their sick time as long as they don’t abuse it. I have a problem with the people who look at sick time as additional vacation time. That’s not what it’s meant for. It’s meant to be used as *needed* when you’re sick or a loved one is sick.

    And if someone has a medical issue that will cause frequent illness or trips to the doctor I expect that person to let me know. I’m not a mind reader.

  22. Anonymous*

    For those who say it is a banefit and a right to take sick leave, I thnk it is important to remember that “sick leave” is usually done on an honor system–employees are often trusted to use it when needed. If someone abuses that then they are not using the benefit appropriately–it is not a take a day when you feel like it. Second, in addition to the OP, what about the effect that occurs on the remainder of the office when that persons work falls on everyone else? Let me give you my scenario: we are on a compresed work schedule, and we have a person who has every other Friday off. This is exacerbating a previous issue wherin whener this person had a three day weekend, they took a scik day either the day before or the day after that weekend creating a four day weekedn. Now that compressed time is here, this individual is not only taking four day weekends every other week (for reasons we will not go into here, this individual has a lot of sick leave built up). This only only harms everyone in the office, senior managment is considering ending compressed time for all employees as this indiviudal is illustrating how it can be abused and they now see it as dangerous–which will punish all employees. Those who say it is a benefit nad their right would seem to imply that this is okay and legitimate for this individual to do, despite the damage it does to everyone else.

  23. KellyK*

    I definitely like the idea of making it more about her attendance and the effect it has on the other staff than on whether she’s “really sick.” That’s not a road you want to go down.

    I didn’t see anything in your original letter that indicated that you’ve explained that her absences are a problem. Granted, it should be obvious to someone whether they have a job where others are picking up their slack or whether they just end up doing twice as much the next day. But, if you haven’t said anything, and she hasn’t violated a policy, you really need to let her know that it’s an issue, and why.

    You definitely shouldn’t pry into her personal health, but you should let her know that if there are doctor’s appointments, she needs to schedule them in advance as much as possible, and that if she has medical issues, you may be able to arrange something that works for everbody.

    I think it would be worth looking into how you can get things done when there is a crunch, since you don’t have the ability to hire floaters. Even if she becomes infinitely more reliable, or you hire someone with an immune system of steel, things will still come up. Are there people who can be cross-trained? Do you have tasks clearly prioritized so that people know what can wait a day if you’re short-handed? Are there tasks people can do from home if they’re sick? Also, is your sick policy in any way encouraging people to take a full day when they could use half a day (for example, docking them a full day if they’re out a couple hours)? These are all a sideline to the attendance issue with one employee, but they’re worth thinking about.

    Also, accept the fact that if you tell someone they’re calling in too often, you forfeit any right to complain if they come in while sick and give you their miserable cold. You asked for it, literally.

  24. Anonymous*

    Would this company be impacted by FMLA? If so, the conversation should start with “I’ve noticed you’ve been taking 1 day off every 3 weeks. Is there something going on that you’d like to share, with me or perhaps HR?”

    Put the ball in their court by opening the door for the FMLA conversation before going down the disciplinary path. Make no mistake, if there’s a pattern and no proof, this staffer needs to move closer to the door, as in goodbye.

  25. Invisible Illnesses*

    I have a chronic, undiagnosed medical problem that does occasionally cause me to miss a day. I work if I am at all able; however, there are some days when I am in too much pain or too tired to function, let alone move around much. Most days (the days I’m not out sick,) I deal with constant, low-level pain in my hands/arms, stomach, and other parts of my body. Sometimes, no matter how much sleep I get, I am tired. Sometimes, my mind gets foggy, and I have trouble foucsing or remembering things. (I write things down a lot to work around this.)

    I have tried to get a diagnosis for this condition, but my bloodwork is fine. My doctor told me it is most likely sub-clinical fibromyalgia–I have the symptoms, but my bloodwork is normal.

    How do you sit down with your manager and tell them, “Listen, I know I don’t look sick and you might not understand, but sometimes I’m too tired and/or in too much pain to come in and do my job” without fearing that you will eventually be pushed out the door? This is the type of illness that COULD happen as frequently as every month or every three weeks.

    Are people with conditions like this supposed to just not work? It’s a really tough place to be. (I don’t qualify for disability, and I’d rather work anyway.)

    1. Personal*

      Yes.. I get where you are coming from. Prior to my Ms diagnosis I had symptoms that were brushed away, and I would come in to work feeling horrible or having to leave early etc.

      Ps. My BFF was just diagnosed with fibro.. can’t give medical advice but she works out for 10-15 min a day, eats right, gets B12 shots etc and has been doing a lot better.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, this is exactly the right way to handle the situation. It’s professional, responsible, recognizes there’s an impact that needs to be managed around, etc. (It’s still possible that this job is still one that does require more reliable attendance and there’s no one who could cover that frequently — there ARE such jobs — but it at least raises the issue for discussion so that both sides can figure out what makes sense.)

      What the OP’s employee is doing is very different and much more cavalier.

      1. KellyK*

        That is the professional, most responsible way to handle the situation. But I think the actual answer to Invisible Illness’s question of how you do that “without fearing that you will eventually be pushed out the door?” is that you can’t. You’re taking the risk that your boss will think you’re making it up or are a hypochondriac, or that they’ll make other negative assumptions about you based on your illness (or what they assume it is if you don’t divulge the details) that will mess up your career. It just has to be balanced against the risk of looking flaky and irresponsible for just taking sick days left and right.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, you can’t know for sure, although you can look at what kind of track record they have for handling difficult situations, what the culture is, etc. But I’d argue it’s a way bigger risk to just look flaky and irresponsible, could harm future references, etc.

  26. Anonymous*

    It sounds to me like this employee needs or wants a part-time job, not a full-time job. I have several people with similar absence history and cutting as well as closely-monitoring their hours has helped tremendously. Then absences are expected rather than unexpected, and you can manage your business around them.

  27. diana b*

    This post addresses the absent employee, but what if you are the employee and it is the manager who is always absent? When the manager is out of the office most of the time and leaving the employees to do the work; and taking credit for their work, is truly demotivating. The workplace of an absent leader (who is not held accountable for attendance) costs the company much more than “paying” for the loss of time and performance.

  28. Anonymous*

    I just wanted to add that what if this is true and she is actually sick. I am going through a sickness right now that is taking me away from my workplace at unexpected times…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not really about the reason for all the absences; it’s about the overall reliability issue and how that impacts what’s needed in the job. (But again, for a longtime employee who has a good track record, when something like this comes up, you’d work with them to the extent you could.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Alternately, you have a misunderstanding of what the point of running an organization is: It’s to get things done, and in order to do that, you have to be realistic about who is able to give you what you need and who isn’t. For instance, look at this from the standpoint of a nonprofit organization (which is the sector I come from): In that context, you have an obligation to your donors and the issue you’re working on to have the strongest team possible in place.

      1. Anonymous*

        To rephrase your organizational mandate: to reduce human relations to memos and meetings so we can more effectively function on behalf of a twisted system. No thank you and bullocks to your managerial mindset, I’ll not be corrupted, I am human and these are my brothers and sisters.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Not sure where you’re getting that. These are just organizations trying to get things done. In the case of nonprofits, they’re trying to get good done in the world.

  29. Sick-o*

    I think the manager can get into some serious problems with these comments. I had a manager deal with me this way and I continued to come to work for 6 weeks with a life threatening problem because I felt I would be penalized for taking time off to go to the doctor and get the tests to diagnose my illness. I was finally diagnosed after fainting and spent two weeks in the hospital and had a very complicated, major surgery because I was told in no uncertain terms that I was taking too much sick time.

    I also want to mention, this same manager came to work deathly ill with a virus that several people caught and were out for days. This manager had no business being at work while that ill and contagious.

  30. Another Anon*

    It does bring up the question: how does a manager avoid the opposite errors of letting someone use sick time to slack off, wasting his company paycheck, underserving customers, and demotivating his fellow workers, and on the other hand, demanding that the actually ill be present, risking their health and that of those around them? It can’t be easy.
    As someone honestly sick at the moment, how do I decide how much heroism I should show, and when I should be sensible (what’s sensible, anyway?) and stay home? (Fortunately I have an out: PTO allows me to take a day at home, and then I can log in remotely and do a little work now and again with a lot of rest time between, taking it easy but showing my diligence. Since I mine is not a job where physical presence is truly necessary, as AAM believes may be the case in the original post, it’s a good workaround.)

  31. Kim Stiens*

    I think one helpful lens through which to view this situation is one where no official sick days are offered (and none are paid). In that case, if a person called in sick every three weeks, it’s sometimes because they’re really sick, but it’s mostly because they don’t want to work. Whichever is the case doesn’t matter, the point is that instead of counting against an arbitrary number of allotted sick days, you’re counting against your manager’s goodwill: how long before you get fired if you’re pulling that? Having paid sick days doesn’t change the metrics all that much. If you aren’t willing to stand up to the rigors of the job, you’re out.

  32. Editor*

    Another avenue to explore that was never explored much is changing the job.

    If the employer has limited resources and needs 100 percent coverage, maybe the one job should be two part-time jobs where the two people cover for each other and have to agree to be flexible, with some kind of “trigger” review provision for unreasonable behavior. (This is important — I once worked with a clerical worker who did a good job covering when the second clerical worker was out sick, but the day after always called in sick in retaliation. Don’t let two people sharing a job get into this kind of cycle.)

  33. Tent*

    At the start of this thread, I have to say I was very pro “if you can’t be reliable, your out”, but I have to say, seeing both sides of the story, I do want to be more apathetic as a manager. I do want to work with my subordinates to see if there is some sort of reason for absentees. But, I’m afraid I have a staff member that has exhausted all the good will of this organization and her fellow co-workers. I am realtively new to the organization and haven’t witnessed the history of abuse by this staff member, but looking at how much sicktime she receives (12 days per year) and how much she has accrued in the 20 plus years she’s been with the organization (15.5 hrs. left in the bank) I have to say this has been a serious issue that hasn’t been addressed in a long, long time. It’s now effected my staff so much , that they complain to me on a daily basis about this absent staff member and how nothing ever gets done about it. I don’t think it’s fair to the staff that this staff member abandon her full time position that much. If she has a medical issue, she’s had it for 20 plus years and never said a thing. I have to stop the madness, weather it’s the mean thing to do or not. Thankyou AAM for the great advise.

  34. john*

    I work in a hospital and people call off all the time and I end up working double shifts…. It isnt just one person who abuses the sick policies. We have a problem staffing the night shift… and I work 3-11 and end up the one having to stay over. A solution to the staffiing issue would be to reward the people who take up the slack working extra and who never call off (like me). Give us a extra day off or extra $$$$ over and above what is offered in crisis situations.

    1. Anonymous*

      Just pay sick days at .5 salary and give the other .5 of that person’s pay to the one who has to cover!

  35. john*

    It is always the new staff who abuse the sick time policies…they do it until the manager tells them about it and then they quit…then the next new staff hired begins to do the same thing. I noticed it is the younger people who abuse the sick time. The younger generations work ethic sucks anymore, they act entitled.

  36. john*

    It seems that the ones who take up the slack and work the extra hours and who complain about the unreliable staff are looked at as the ‘troublemakers’ for complaining about it….

  37. Anonymous*

    QQ managers, QQ. So funny, you can easily tell who is a regular employee and who is a middle manager in the comments.

  38. Sharmil McKee*

    I think it’s sad that no one identified the problem as stress. The employee is calling out because she is under stress, and the job is creating this stress. It’s time to closely examine her job duties, her work environment, and her competency to determine the source of the stress. Then have a deep discussion with the employee about a plan to mitigate the stress. You can also talk to your worker’s compensation insurance carrier about ways to mitigate workplace stress; its their job to reduce workplace injury claims. In America, review the Department of Labor’s website for helpful articles about reducing employee stress. Also, talk to your lawyer; in America employee injuries are protected by many federal and state laws. Good luck.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Admittedly it’s been a while since I’ve read all the follow-up to this post, but I don’t remember seeing anything that indicated the issue was work-related stress. What are you basing that on?

  39. Sharmil McKee*

    I base my conclusion on the poster’s following statement:

    “Sick days are always used as one-off days here and there, never as multiple days in a row”

    “calls in over a lot of headaches and stomachaches”

    “If the rate of use were evenly distributed, it would be a sick day every three weeks”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s also the same pattern someone might display if they were simply taking days off when they didn’t feel like coming in. I’m not saying there’s no chance that it’s work-related stress, but I certainly wouldn’t assume that it is with any certainty.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ll also add: If it IS stress, a really good employee would raise the issue herself because she’d be concerned about how she was missing work. In my experience, any good employee would be concerned about missing work this much and would raise it with her boss.

      1. Anonymous*

        Curious thought (and not exactly related to the original question) but how would a really good employee do that? I’d expect to hear, “If you can’t take it you can get out. We can always get someone else.” Our IT senior talent manager says retention isn’t a concern as long as we can hire. Why should a manager care if someone is stressed?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          A good manager will be able to look at the workload and determine if a good employee would be stressed out by it or able to handle it. If the manager sees that indeed the workload is unreasonably high, she’ll do something about it. But it’s also possible that a good manager would conclude that the right employee would be able to get it all done without undue stress — and that’s a worthwhile conversation to have too.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh, and your IT senior talent manager isn’t quite right. It’s true that you can replace people, but retention is an issue when it comes to super stars. You want to retain your super stars, because they get more and better results than others, and they’re hard to find.

        3. Sharmil McKee*

          I agree with @AAM. In addition, in America, the law sometimes dictates that an employer make reasonable accommodations for certain disabled employees. Failure to do so could lead to fines, penalties, and lawsuits. In addition, an employer has an obligation to provide a safe workplace. If an agency determines that the job-related stress could have been mitigated or avoided, then the employer may be liable for fines and penalties. There is also health-care costs to consider. If the employer offers group health insurance, the group will share the cost of excessive medical claims; everyone’s rate could up next year. Your IT manager is only looking at the problem from one angle. But there are other angles to consider. So, the employer should be concerned about employee stress.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’ve never heard of any employer being successfully sued for workplace stress. Many jobs are stressful; it’s part of the deal, and it’s not considered part of an unsafe workplace under the legal definition.

            Can you provide any back-up on that assertion?

          2. hey now*

            Your comment makes me feel for US small businesses. Work related stress is ground for the firm to be sued?? Ridiculous.

            1. Jamie*

              No kidding, if you can sue for workplace stress I’m stopping by an attorney on my way home and will name every place I’ve ever worked in the suit.

              Funny, I always thought my stress was my problem.

  40. Sharmil McKee*

    The employee may not be aware that there is a link between her headaches and the job. The company doesn’t want to wait until she files a worker’s compensation claim or a disability discrimination lawsuit. I think the best plan is to confront the conflict.

  41. xyz*

    A colleague of mine is being excessively absent on account of being sick, and more often then such days were next to a weekend or other planned annual leaves. Last year excessive sick leaves+total lack of punctuality resulted in raising of official mark against her by then manager – however because she was moving to another office location at the same time hence somehow the issue was dropped out of any disciplinary action.

    In the new office location (I also moved along with), I can observe the same pattern – excessive (sick) absences + work-from+home (a new benefit available in the new office location). Mostly she does not seem to do “much” work when she works-from-home.
    Rest of colleagues rarely takes sick leave, if any. And never a work-from-home. She always utilizes her full quota of sick leave (and I guess more than that even).

    As a colleague, I do not have right to question her behavior, nor I want to complaint to the manager explicitly against her.

    I assume the company would take action only if this is observed for a continuous long period – however because of “transfer” case, her timeline of such behavior is split it into two disjoint office location (and two managers!!).

    With your experiences, what do you see in this case? how likely is she abusing company’s policy? Should I bother about such things, when I am not the manger at the first place?

  42. Sharmil McKee*

    Like a lot of the other posters stated, your co-worker could have an illness; and management may be aware of her situation. They would not be allowed to discuss your co-worker’s health situation with you. However, if her situation impacts you, then I think you should talk to your manager about your work. Good luck.

  43. Katie S*

    You need to let your employee know that the absences are causing an issue with the quality of work and are causing a hardship on the business. It’s reasonable to state in the policy that 12 sick days are allowed per year, but that it is at the manager’s discretion whether or not a note from a doctor will be required. Your employee does not have to get specific with you about what her medical issue may be, but if indeed there is a medical issue causing her to miss work on such a regular basis, it’s reasonable to let her know that going forward if she is going to be taking a sick day, you will need to be provided with a doctor’s note upon her return. But please do show concern for the employee’s well-being. If indeed there is an issue, a little bit of compassion will go a long way towards establishing boundaries and better communication. If she refuses to provide a doctor’s note going forward (which does not have to specify the reason for the visit or even the type of doctor that is being seen), then it’s reasonable to take further steps to correct the issue, up to and including termination.

  44. hey now*

    This is a difficult issue for new employees. Here is how its handled.
    12 Sick days a year is excessive and you will not be able to function if you are a smaller company, especially if you have clients that require front office work. If someone has an illness they need to file disability and stop hurting the rest of the company.

    Maybe in a Real Estate office this sort of thing can be tolerated but not in most sectors.
    A good policy is two to three weeks vacation a year – sick days will deduct from that vacation (accrued monthly). If someone calls in sick often, especially for those annoying last minute – one minute emergencies then you need to warn them and then fire them. Simple as that.

    If the employee position cannot be easily filled, then you must prepare yourself to replace them as soon as possible and demote them for ongoing infractions. Say it with me now, I sympathize but I am trying to accomplish and run a business.

  45. Betty*

    ok I am going to use myself in this situation. I have been at my job for 6 months. I have missed 2 weeks in 2 different months for a stomach virus., 2 days because of the arthritis in my shoulder acting up which is when I actually found out it was arthritis and am on meds for it now and I missed 2 days because of a hurt knee… I have a doctors note for every day I have missed because I was actually sick or hurt. I am being evaluated the end of this month to see if I have Crohn’s. Before just assuming that this person is just using the sick days she is givin just for the sake of using them… why not sit dow and ask her if there is a medical problem in which she needs to be seen about. I am only 29 years old and I have medical problems… and yes my boss was aggrivated with me for missing work… but I work in fast food and cant be at work with a stomach virus and she was not as irritated when I let her know I am going to be tested for Crohn’s… If its not a medical issue you should establish a rule as to when people can use the sick leave like saying since she has missed so many days she is required to have a doctors note. Yes someone missing work is a hassle I know cause I have covered shifts for others who have missed work, but when there is something actually wrong losing their job over a medical issue is not goint to help them or your company.

  46. Anonymous*

    I can’t believe you offer management advise like you just have. Don’t listen to this person you will end up with a law suit. Respect your staff and give support and they will return the same. It is time to move on from bully tactics from bosses.

  47. Hardworker*

    My , OH is retired now now but in the 60’s one of the firm he worked for said their staff could take up to 2wks a year in sick leave as well as their annual leave, 2 people for 2yrs actually booked holidays and took those days as sick leave, his employer drew up contracts clearly stating that if staff had days of without a doctor’s note, these days would be considered to be taking annual leave,
    He also introduced an attendance bonus for good time keeping, the bad time keepers were not impressed but the good ones were thrilled.

  48. Anonymous*

    first of all they are not your employee, is it not your business, with profits to you. Do they get the pay check from the same people you do..Know where you belong first… You are there to manage the office……not think you are a owner of the business with your employees. You should know why this person is out so often, then tell your manager what you are up against…………..when you realize you don’t mean two craps to anyone, you won’t call them your employees, look the word up in the dictionary, and find out where you stand. Don’t feel you are someone……they can replace you also, then you won’t have employees

  49. Amy*

    The issue, in all actuality, is the frequency IN ADDITION TO the fact that they are unplanned. Go ahead and use the time, sure….but having to scramble the day of to determine what coverage is needed for that one person who was expected to be here is overwhelming at times.

    Keep in mind, someone can take a day off every three weeks, hell, they can take a few days off every three weeks, and if they’ve given notice of it, that makes a whole world of difference. Having someone frequently call off an hour before, or even a day before, is what causes a problem. Now there’s no time to properly prepare for the coverage that is needed, and people become stressed and feel burdened. Even with the same workload applied to the same peeople with the absence, when there’s notice, the word burden is out the window, and it all seems more manageable.

  50. Lilya*

    for me, the solution was an off-time/leave management system: , I tried it online freeeeeee!

  51. Anonymous*

    Im just shocked by how little compassion is demonstrated in this thread. ‘Its a slippery slope to judge situations like this on a case by case basis….’ WHAT?? Because we’re all exactly the same arent we, we all react to things, in exactly the same way, its perfectly acceptable to just generalize….

    Are you all really so jaded that you just assume the worst of people, if they dont fit this general rule exactly? These are real people, whos life, your decisions affect, and your prepared to make your decisions on some general stats without finding out precisely whats going on in the individuals life? Just cold, fucking cold.

  52. Kelly*

    For those of you wanting to have compassion for the repeat offenders, ask me about it. I’m ENRAGED every time my co-worker misses work and it’s about every 3 weeks. When she misses work (and then tells me later that she went out and did this or did that) that means I have to work an 11 or 12 hour day to cover her. Nothing happens to her. Logic and workplace rights fly out the door with me when I have to go through this constantly all year long, every year. I’ve had to cancel more of my own personal plans more times than I’d like to admit because of her. Compassion? What about compassion for those of us who show up to work regularly but get no kudos or thanks for it?

  53. Anonymous*

    I got through about 30 or 40 of the comments and I’ve got to say the whole article can be summed up with those few lines that are in bold. it does not matter why she is out, it only matters that it’s happening. I’m not cold, I’m running a business that requires dedication. There are people who will be underperforming employees who are not so special that the rules don’t apply to them. I don’t want to fire anyone but the position requires person A to do this at this time. There are jobs for people who don’t rank work important but luckily most do. I am not a charity that enables the 1% that mooch daily.

  54. Jay*

    First, you need to ask yourself this. What are the real reasons someone continually calls in sick? more often than not they just dont want to come to work. PERIOD!
    Second, rarely in the above replies/comments did i see the word “abuse”. The fact is ladies and gentlemen, that if you have an employee that regularly uses sick time, whether its for a tummy ache or head ache, its abuse. It affects the entire team and these individuals just dont care. Been to school regarding FMLA and nowhere in that law does it say ” yah, go ahead and take some time off whenever you just dont wanna get out of bed”. Maternity leave is a whole new ballgame though. In my line of work we cant afford to run with less people. We all know who the abusers are and talking to them did nada.
    So, knowing they dont really want to be there and the fact they were talked to in my books equals termination of employment.

  55. robin*

    I think a far better method of dealing with this ‘problem’ is rewards for employees that do not take any sick leave — kind of like a no claims bonus.

    If say there is a £500 pound bonus for not being off sick in a whole year — with a £2000 pound extra bonus for going 3 years , I garantee the number of people ‘sick’ will be dramatically reduced.

  56. Tara*

    I agree with robin…a little bonus offered every year for never calling off or missing a shift would work far better than threats…although those work in almost every other restaurant I’ve worked at.

    Employees need a monetary bonus for not calling off….I mean some days, if you are scheduled to work a slow shift and you’re sick on top of it, there’s no motivation to go in to work and make yourself sicker cause you aren’t going to make anything anyway.

    I disagree with Gringo…he sounds like the kind of manager who goes through employees every 3 months cause they can’t stand working for him.

  57. Julie*

    I have two thoughts about this topic:
    (1) When I was in my first corporate job, I didn’t understand how sick days were supposed to work, and I was taking a day off here and a day off there because I was feeling vaguely unwell. After my boss told me that I couldn’t do that anymore, I stopped feeling vaguely unwell so often. I wasn’t faking it, but somehow knowing that I had to go to work every day had an impact on me physically, making it possible. It didn’t feel like a big deal to me at the time.
    (2) I managed an employee a few years ago whose father was sick, and she would call in sick very often (if she had been up in the night with him, or he had a medical appointment, etc.). It was a big problem because her work had to be covered by someone else on the team, whether it was me or someone else. It was quite disruptive, and it wasn’t fair to the other team members. I was still a new manager, and I let this go on for way too long. She had used up all of her sick days and was taking unpaid days, so you can imagine how often she was out. I brought it up with my manager a few times, and he mentioned FLMA, which I wasn’t familiar with at the time (I had zero training to be a manager, and in the beginning I did everything by the seat of my pants). After talking back and forth with HR, my boss finally told the employee that she couldn’t be absent for the rest of the year. A few days later, she gave notice.

    On top of this, she gave me two days’ notice, saying that it was really two weeks’ notice, but that she would be on vacation for the next two weeks – that really made me angry. I ran into her recently at an industry organization event. I’m not angry anymore, so we talked generally for a bit about how things were going. However, a few days later, she contacted me through LinkedIn and asked if I would be a reference for her. I had to ignore that email.

    I did improve as a manager, and I’m still learning by reading AAM’s blog.

  58. Anonymous*

    I’ve seen only a couple of comments on this thread address FMLA or disability. If you have already been diagnosed a long time ago with a chronic and debilitating condition, then you and your doctor know that you might have a certain pattern of disability related absences and appointments that FMLA will supposedly protect your job with. Although your job is protected on paper, it will not change the rumors, insensitivity, and career suicide the absences create.
    In the real world, chronic illnesses usually don’t show up in a clear and consistent way. The road leading to diagnosis of common conditions of the “working sick” typically takes a year. These are conditions like multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, endometriosis, lupus, scleroderma, etc. I assume that most readers know somebody with one of these illnesses. Think of that person. Were they fine one day, diagnosed the next, and happily either cured or went on permanent SSD the following week? Probably not. They held onto their jobs and sanity by their fingernails while managing symptoms, meds, and doctors appointments.
    That’s how it plays out in reality and why frequent absences are hard to pin down. Hopefully all readers here are gainfully employed, relatively healthy, and will never find themselves on the medical merry-go-round. But if they do, it won’t be neat, clean, or understood by your employer.

    1. Anonymous*

      Thank you so much for writing this! I was on the medical merry-go-round for more than 20 years before finally being diagnosed with stage four endometriosis. I held on as long as I could, but now I’m unemployable because years of sick day absences which led to firings taint my resume. It’s like the modern day version of having leprosy. If you have a chronic disease that no one can see, others will judge you and treat you poorly, and the work world won’t forgive you for it. It’s the way this nasty, cruel world works.

  59. LovesHR*

    12 days is awfully generous. We get 5. And that is up from 3 when I started & begged for people to get an additional 2 days. One case of the flu, and you’re out.

    1. Noah*

      First off, I want to tell you…. you guys are not smart and here’s why.

      All the key important details haven’t been included.

      What you need to be able to really observe and comment is how this employees productivity rates and how the department overall rates. Also you guys are unbelievable in that you talk about firing someone without taking into account things like that. What if this is a star performer? What if this person is often doing more than their share and that’s why they keep getting exhausted?

      Also if someone is that upset about someone being out one day have you thought about that might mean not that its such a big deal on the books but because this person might be pulling more than their share of work all the time and when they suddenly aren’t there, it’s just noticeable because they are the real talent and the others weren’t pulling their share?

      I am aware also of sick patterns like this one often happen to people who are extremely aggressive at work in terms of productivity. Someone who is doing the work of 2 people, its not unusual for them to go through a periodic cycle of burnout and need for regeneration needed at cyclic intervals that just happen to match the situation described above.

      If this worker is doing more than their share most the time and you don’t take that into account then shame on you.

      Also when is it OK to just think it’s fine to just fire people all the time? Maybe you should all be fired instead? What you really need is a policy to put supervisors on probation or fired for firing and putting people on probation above the average for other supervisors doing the same job. Plain and simple you guys need to just look at the math and stop nit picking over stupid stuff that doesn’t matter.

      The fact that you didn’t take into account the employees productivity and the productivity in general of the department by averages is proof you are addressing this in the wrong way.

      Also when you cut your departments benefits…which is also the wrong approach then you are going to have to do new math on comparing the new and old averages of your employee turnover when your good employees go to companies that ‘honor’ their benefits.

      One guy above brought up the fact that if you can’t honor things you promised on hiring ….in other words, said benefits then you are under-staffed already.

      Also all of you above are promoting a new type of work idea…it’s called SLAVERY. A down economy unfortunately companies start stripping rights away.

      If you work hard you should be able to not live in fear of losing your job if you call in sick if you are pulling more than your weight the rest of the time.

      Part of the issue also is you guys think that someone has no rights and shouldn’t be able to call in sick. This type of thinking chases your good employees out to other companies that will treat them better. When you come up with lame policies the bad employees will stay. The good ones have confidence and already know they are doing more share and know someone else will like that. They will also be hesitant about gambling their future on a place that is quick to chop heads even if it’s not their own.

      My department at work just lost 4 people in 5 weeks and there are only about 14 people total, 3 of which are supervisors. Of the 4 that left, 3 of them were the top performers in production and quality. The difference here is that you guys need to think more in terms of what is the cost and what is the alternative instead of just thinking ‘I need to lay down the law!’

      Everything, every decision has a consequence. Why can’t you setup a temporary worker account and have a temp come in for half a day when a key player is sick instead of chasing away good employees?

      My work just invented a new policy where you can be fired if you get 25 points….but 1 absence is 20 points. You also can only gain points back for good behavior very slowly. The national indexes also cite that the average number of sick days per full time worker at an average of nearly 9 days per year. This employee was only quoted as missing about once a month…that really is only barely above average. So the real issue is you are ready to take away everyone’s rights just because you have 1 worker taking almost the average time off. Once per month isn’t that bad.

      Also you wouldn’t be having this problem and making such a big deal out of it if you weren’t spending everything as fast as you earn it. This is the real issue of where fear comes into play. Managers and others think they have to be a head hunter and chop heads because you aren’t planning for emergencies and having a surplus and back up options for when things go wrong. Rather than have no options its good practice for a manager and managers in training to have lots of these little real life examples to teach them how to deal with BIGGER, more threatening emergencies later.

      Also in the above example, of replacements and firing, how much time does it take to get a new replacement up to speed? That amount of time that it takes to get them up to speed times their wage per day is your daily cost. Then take that figure and times it by (top producer production rate/average producer production rate) and now you are getting an idea if you are being stupid or not.

      There is a cost to everything and sometimes the little cost you are looking at is much better than the other cost that it could be if you mismanage and be a hothead about this. Too many people rush into this thinking this 1 person having a sick issue is such a big deal and don’t consider the big picture.

  60. CA Labor Code 233-234*

    What terrible advice AAM. In California, where surely many of your readers are located, your suggested approach — that the manager give the employee an ultimatum and/or fire her — violates the law.
    The employee is entitled to use the sick leave, even if she herself is not sick.

    California Labor Code § 233–
    (b) (4) “Sick leave” means accrued increments of compensated leave
    provided by an employer to an employee as a benefit of the employment for use by the employee during an absence from the employment for any of the following reasons:
    (A) The employee is physically or mentally unable to perform his
    or her duties due to illness, injury, or a medical condition of the
    (B) The absence is for the purpose of obtaining professional
    diagnosis or treatment for a medical condition of the employee.
    (C) The absence is for other medical reasons of the employee, such
    as pregnancy or obtaining a physical examination.

    (c) No employer shall deny an employee the right to use sick leave or discharge, threaten to discharge, demote, suspend, or in any manner discriminate against an employee for using, or attempting to exercise the right to use, sick leave to attend to an illness of a child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner of the employee.

    (d) Any employee aggrieved by a violation of this section shall be
    entitled to reinstatement and actual damages or one day’s pay,
    whichever is greater, and to appropriate equitable relief.

    (e) Upon the filing of a complaint by an employee, the Labor
    Commissioner shall enforce the provisions of this section in
    accordance with the provisions of Chapter 4 (commencing with Section 79) of Division 1, including, but not limited to, Sections 92, 96.7, 98, and 98.1 to 98.8, inclusive. Alternatively, an employee may bring a civil action for the remedies provided by this section in a court of competent jurisdiction. If the employee prevails, the court may award reasonable attorney’s fees.

    (f) The rights and remedies specified in this section are cumulative and nonexclusive and are in addition to any other rights or remedies afforded by contract or under other provisions of law.

    234. An employer absence control policy that counts sick leave
    taken pursuant to Section 233 as an absence that may lead to or
    result in discipline, discharge, demotion, or suspension is a per se
    violation of Section 233. An employee working under this policy is
    entitled to appropriate legal and equitable relief pursuant to Section 233.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      California is often an exception to what we discuss here. There’s basically a California exception hanging over every post I write.

  61. Brent Hancock*

    I used to work for a company that gave you 10 sick days a year. Around Christmas time they would review how many days each employee had used. In my case, I hadn’t used any of the 10 days so they cut me a cheque for those 10 days, right around Christmas. Somebody else had 3 days used so got a cheque for the 7 days not used. I laughed as the habitual people who always used those days and always missed weeks in the year on top of that would complain and say. “Well I didn’t get anything.! That’s not fair!” Just a little reward as you carried their ass for the entire year.

  62. Dolores*

    Honestly, it sounds like she has issues with her period. Stomach ache + headache every 3 weeks or so? Deffinitely her period. I can say from experiance that you CAN get sick enough to miss work because of menstrual pain, nausea and migraines. She may be too embarrassed to say what the issue is.

    Just a few suggestions…
    Is it possible for you to allow the employee in question to work from home on her sick days? Could she make up time on the weekends? Does she do good work and is reliable on non-sick days?

    Does she have the ability to take time off to see a doctor? If not, how can she address any health issues she is experianceing and get back to work?

    If your company gives 12 sick days, and she uses those sick days, she is following company policy. If you can’t afford to give people that many sick days, then reduce them.

    And lastly, have you talked to her at all about this? If you have never before brought up this issue, maybe give her the benifit of the doubt. Tell her you are concerned about her and ask what is going on. See if you can work with her to come up with a plan that will reduce the number of sick days she needs to take. You could even ask that she go in to see a doctor if it is the same issue over and over again. Treatment may well cure whatever issues she is having. Judging people, esspecially becaues they are “younge” and “don’t look sick” is a horrible thing to do. Lots of people have invisble illnesses, including young people. You don’t know what is going on, so just ask and discuss it with her honestly.

    If you feel uncomfortable having a talk with her, have a trusted female co-worker or HR representative talk with her. Just don’t fire her out of the blue without having this disuccsion.

  63. Denise*

    AAM says that the issue is not why she is using the days, but rather that there is a reliability problem. But I agree with those who’ve said that it is incumbent upon the employer to craft a policy that will ensure that employees taking sick days does not disrupt workplace productivity. And the reason she’s taking the days is entirely relevant to the concept of a sick day. If she’s genuinely too ill for work and has been allotted a certain amount of days, then it would be wrong for the employer to suddenly decide that they are inconvenienced by the policy *they* crafted and thus need to get rid of this employee who is acting within the bounds of the policy.

    Again, if she’s genuinely sick, she’s genuinely sick, and her taking the days is not an abuse of the policy. It seems that they need to decide what exactly they mean by “sick” and how many times they can afford employees to be out with pay. They might begin requiring doctors’ notes, or get rid of sick time altogether in favor of pure PTO days.

  64. The hard worker*

    I have read through a lot of this and I’ve gather a lot of useful information. However I don’t agree with a few things.

    If someone called out sick when they aren’t really using it for themselves (family member, snow day when kid don’t have school and doesn’t have a baby sitter) shouldn’t be allowed. Sick day should be for SICK and unable to work.

    This person that I am working with constantly taking almost a day every single week. Besides that she just came back from a 3 month maternity break. UGH!

    I am not saying she shouldn’t take the time she actually have, but being called out every other week and taking vacation every other week meaning she’s only working part time. And I had to make up all those hours each week for her.

    My establishment has long hours. We are suppose to cover the long hours days by one of us coming in early and the other one leaves late. So we will get a normal 8 hour work days. But because of that, I have to constantly cover the full day myself and a 10 hour day almost 1-2 times a week. Plus I have to catch up with the work that had to set aside when I had the chance.

    So when another member of the team is out, another suffers. Manager should look into it so everyone can get along working with each other.

  65. Samma*

    My goodness, the poor girl is off once every THREE WEEKS and you are saying you can’t carry the load? What an ineffective workplace! One day a week, I could understand the issue… but if your setup is structured that someone not coming in ONCE in 15 workdays throws off the entire system, she is not the real problem.

  66. Mirko*

    Giving a benefit to an employee and then trying to inflict a penalty if they use it is very bad leadership. As a manager you should show some respect for the rules you are (partly) responsible for.

  67. Chelsea*

    Statistics show that employees use less sick time when happy with their work environment. I think more managers need to think about what they can do to make their employees want to come to work.

  68. Jason*

    The OP needs to get a chronic illness, one that acts up randomly and is poorly controlled despite her efforts. This is the only way to fix the problem of the OP ignoring the reason for the absence.

    The problem is a work environment that is structured to be fragile and sensitive to the RELATIVELY MINOR perturbations in schedule. Why do I say it’s RELATIVELY MINOR? Because the company won’t die. The products won’t be a catastrophic failure. The employee, however, might actually be facing LIFE THREATENING SYMPTOMS during the period of absence. What is certain is that the employee is UNABLE TO FUNCTION. The company is still ABLE TO FUNCTION.

    The company has a responsibility to be successful. This is not measured solely in money. It’s also measured in ethical treatment of the employee. I seriously hope the OP does suffer the way I have.

    The OP is a waste of oxygen. Too bad it’s illegal to prevent further waste.

    1. kanzakii*

      Why so angry?
      What about this.
      An employee of mine has consistently taken a sick day before and after a long weekend, to make it an extra long weekend. Does that seem acceptable?

      What’s more, he sometimes would request for a vacation day just 2 days before, which was too short of a notice and would be rejected, and then came the day he’d be sick instead.

      If someone has chronically illness and needs to take a day off every now and then, he should notify management and I’m sure things can be arranged in most places.

      For this Christmas eve, I actually half jokingly asked my staff if they’re going to be sick.. because I need to know who’s going to be here. That’s all I want to know. As long as I know, I can plan for it.

  69. Anonymous*

    I am a Manager as well I have been managing for eight year employees will go as far as you allow them to if they find that its ok from the beginning they will intern do it again because I was not enforce to the …A businees must run with our with them you must first coach the employees and explain I understand that thing happen but I need to have a solid commitment from you theat you will be here on time and performance at your highest level document the conversation you sign they sign….next is a cousleing session review what you all talk about previosly renforce what you are saying documet that as a written warning and if issue presist higher a replacement and explain to the employee we have review this more than one and I still have not recieve a solid comitment from u moving forward I have no other choicr but to terminate you I appreciate your service best of luck and move on

  70. BQ*

    I have read through all the comments – quite the debate.
    I was hoping to find advice:
    I am not a new employee to this organization. But the work I did previously was minor and inconsistent. I took on a full time position in a new venture with this business and in a short time was promoted to a manager. Through this short 4 month period I have had a stomach flu, roofied, tonsillitis with an abscess for which I was hospitalized for 2 days, and now pneumonia, and I have always provided doctors notes. My boss has talked to me about it, he needs someone reliable – and I get it it’s a small business with tight margins and two employees ‘holding down the fort’. I work extremely hard (a lot of it to prove I am worthwhile to have around. But I am so afraid. I I seem to just have a poor immune system. The doctors say I have poor luck. How can I cope knowing my head is on the chopping block – despite having no control over this and busting my ass working 10 hour days ?

  71. Manager Steve*

    Maybe it has something to do with the fact that your running an unfair unjust place of work. If its anything like a call centre where the workers are forced to meet quotas with intend pressure the worker will be zapped of confidence and will be unable to justify herself beig part of your corrupt system.

  72. Paul*

    This is an interesting debate. I have read everything and what I come up with is the following:

    12 sick days are 12 sick days. You offer it? Live with it. As a business owner and a long-time employee, it bothers me to no end to hear managers trying to have it both ways: attract the best talent with good policies, but then hope and pray nobody uses them. And complain when people do. Are the employees productive? That’s all that matters. Enough of the principled debate. If they do the job, they do the job. End of story. If they don’t? Get rid of them, also end of story. You could hire someone who never takes a sick day, but is otherwise rather useless. It’s the eternal “seat time” over productivity debate.

    Next, nobody addresses a potential underlying problem with the workplace itself. We take for granted that the employer is good and righteous. A staff of 5 running a business? That’s tough. I worked in a place where we were 5 and had thousands of members. Taking a sick day was not an option, even though it was policy to allow for it. The stress alone ensured a turnover of 30-45% (that is to say, most employees did not make it past one year of the nonsense).

    Stress is much more debilitating, but it’s bad to take a stress day. So you lie and say “yeah, I’m *cough* sick.”

    Anyway, fundamentally, you can rationalize why it’s ok to fire people for doing things you “feel” is “unpleasant” to you (especially that it is policy), but understand that it is a rationalization, and not, in itself, a rational argument. You CAN be sick 12 days = you CAN use 12 sick days.

    To test your theory of “an insurance policy only”: try writing “we offer 12 sick days, but we get really ornery if you use them all, and you might lose your job as a result” in the employee handbook. See how many new candidates laugh in your face, ask “so how many days can I ACTUALLY use” or find another job, toute suite. That should speak for itself.

  73. Mark*

    In the State of California, If you use sick time, then your boss can’t discipline, demote, suspend or fire you for using that sick time, according to Section 234 of the California Labor Code.

    1. Alex*

      Yeah, California is where it’s at. This thread is kind of ridiculous, what kind of a company can’t function if one person calls in sick every three weeks for one day, seriously. The people in my office don’t seem to mind being run into the ground without any real vacations or time off at really low pay, it’s horrible, everyone needs time off to decompress or to be sick guilt-free.

  74. Lyly*

    I think you are seriously being ridiculous. Once every three weeks isn’t the end of the world. And one day a month is rather low. People are not your slaves and you should not put so much pressure on them. If the person was missing a week in a row every month or at least once a week, it would be different but people have lives and condition. Have you considered she might be in menstrual pain? Obviously not. Or maybe she has a bowel problem that is unpredictable.

  75. Supervisors Nightmare*

    What about employees that use up ALL of their sick bank 6 months before it renews, uses vacation which accrues monthly the minute it’s in her bank and then cries ” but i’m due this benefit” when disciplined about her attendance. I feel that using sick time up 6 months in advance and still calling in sick or making doc appts during the day and then “making up the time” later in the day is abusing the policy. HELP!

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