is it wrong to take a sick day when you’re not really sick?

A reader writes:

So luckily (?) I’m the kind of person who is never ill enough to take time off work. I’ve worked in my current position for 4 years and not taken a single day of sick leave. (I’m not coming in and spreading illness, by the way, and I’d take the leave if I had to — I’m just not ill.)

Everyone else at work seems to take 3 or 4 days of sick leave a year. So you can guess where this is going… I’d like another day or two of holiday as much as the person. And once in a while (rarely) I wake up and REALLY don’t “feel” like going in (but do anyway).

So… How big a crime is it morally/ethically to call in “sick” on one or two days a year? Do people “expect” you to use all your leave? Part of me feels wrong for thinking of this… But the other part of me feels like I’m missing out on something everyone else is benefitting from. Sorry if this seems naive!

Most employers do not expect you to use up every single allotted sick day each year. They expect you to use it as a safety net, so that it’s there for you when you truly need it. You’re not expected to look at it the same way that you look at vacation days — as a benefit that it makes sense to try to use all of. When they’re in separate buckets, that’s part of the reason why. (If your employer buckets vacation and sick leave into one overall PTO bucket, that’s different, and it’s much more common to expect you to use all of it.)

But if you’re not using any sick leave the rest of the year, I don’t think it’s a big deal to take a couple of “mental health days,” as long as you’re thoughtful about when you do it and don’t choose days that will cause problems for your employer or coworkers.

Anyone want to disagree?

{ 178 comments… read them below }

  1. The Other Dawn*

    I agree with AAM. I’ve taken “mental health” days from time to time, because I’m also someone who doesn’t really use my sick time. I always make sure it’s not a Friday or a Monday and discreetly check to make sure nothing important is going on that I would need to be there for. I think it’s OK a couple times a year.

    1. businesslady*

      this is my perspective as well–sometimes the psychological benefit of taking it easy one day (even if you don’t technically have a debilitating &/or communicable illness) can often improve your work performance as a whole. but you have to be diligent about ensuring that it’s not going to cause problems for your coworkers, & that you’re not doing it so often that you’re going to be out of sick time (or working up a suspiciously large track record of absences) in the event that you have some sort of medical issue.

      also, jobs where you can call in based on “enh, I feel kinda crappy today & no one will really miss me” are fairly limited (whether because of role, seniority, workplace, culture, or whatever), & it’s worth recognizing that it’s a privilege if you happen to be in one.

      to tie these two threads together, people with mental health issues often need days off even though there’s nothing “really wrong with them” from a physiological standpoint, & having a lenient attitude to sick time (with the usual caveats regarding overall performance, avoiding undue burdens on others, etc.) helps mitigate some of the stigma & other obstacles associated with self-care for mental illness.

  2. De*

    ” I’d like another day or two of holiday as much as the person. ”

    I don’t know about other people, but I’d rather spend a day at work than home with the flu or an arthritis flare that has me crying because I’m in pain. It’s not really a “holiday”…

    1. De*

      I don’t think it’s terribly wrong if people take “mental health”days, for the record. It’s just that the wording of it as a “holiday” is… very unfortunate, at best.

      1. belle*

        I believe the LW meant taking a day off when one is not sick. I doubt LW was referring to actually being sick as being on holiday.

    2. Adam V*

      I believe Brits commonly use “holiday” when Americans say “vacation”. I could be wrong (but I watch Sherlock and Downton Abbey and read plenty of British fiction nowadays!).

        1. tcookson*

          Yes, I think the word “holiday” sounds more festive to speakers of American English than is meant by speakers of British English.

          1. chikorita*

            I’m British, and my first interpretation was the same as De’s. I don’t know, I just don’t really conflate ‘holiday’ and ‘sick leave’, but maybe that’s just me

    3. EngineerGirl*

      I had the same reaction. If I’m at home, it isn’t a “holiday”. It’s because I’ve spent a sleep deprived night hacking my lungs out. Or my head is pounding. I might be able to get a few hours of work in, but the quality will be low and I certainly couldn’t do the whole day.

    4. Sara*

      Yeah, I don’t really like that the OP is assuming being sick is a holiday. I do suffer from bad arthritis flare ups and being in so much pain to just sit up sucks. And it crosses my mind often how much I wish I could just get up and go to work. That being said, I think taking a sick day to just recover from a stressful work period or project is completely understandable if you’re not taking much sick time for true illness.

      1. Mel*

        I really don’t think the OP is saying that a legit sick day is the same as a holiday. When I read it, I interpreted it to mean that the OP wants an extra day or two to use as a holiday since he/she does not have to use sick days for their actual purpose. Being sick is not fun, but when you are a generally healthy person and not using those sick days, I can understand wanting to use them as “mental health days” and enjoy a day off. I didn’t see anything to indicate that the OP views being sick as the same as a holiday at all.

  3. Kristin*

    I am of the same mind. There are some days when I’m not necessary “sick” but I’m exhausted – maybe I’ve had a few long days in a row, or just didn’t sleep well one night. Rather than come to work and risk making mistakes/getting sick, I take a pre-emptive mental health day and catch up on sleep. But I try and save them for when at least something is going on – sick, tired, etc. and not just call in on a random day when I’m feeling totally fine.

    1. JMegan*

      Exactly. Even if I’m not “sick” in the contagious sense, what’s the use of going to work if I’m just going to stare blankly at the computer screen all day because I’m too tired/ stressed to concentrate on work? Better to stay home and stare blankly at the tv screen instead, and come back to work the next day when my brain is switched on again.

    2. Natalie*

      Yep. For some reason I used to get colds a lot but haven’t in a few years, so these days I only end up taking my sick days when I’ve had a bout of insomnia. Honestly, unless there’s something very time sensitive I need to do at work that day, it’s better if I don’t come in – I’m not super productive or accurate when I’m sleep deprived!

  4. Feed The Ducks*

    I am in the same boat. I’m rarely sick enough to take a sick day. (I think I’ve taken three total in ten years.)

    My solution is to use them for doctor’s appointments, things medical in nature. Towards the end of the year I schedule appointments for the dentist, doctor, optomotrist, etc and let my manager know I’m using sick time.

    If you work on a team that will suffer a little that day for not having you there, then yes I think it’s unethical.

    1. Meg*

      That’s a really good idea, using them for doctor’s appts and the like. I’d much rather do that than use vacation time for something that’s not really a vacation.

      OP, I also don’t see anything wrong with taking a mental health day once in awhile. My coworkers and I will do that sometimes, and discreetly check with each other to make sure we have coverage set up. If those days help you relieve stress and mak you a happier, more productive employee, than I really don’t see why not.

    2. Anna*

      That’s how we were directed to use some sick time at one company I worked for. If I scheduled the dentist for lunch and it went over, I could use some sick time. Although I did also use some mental health days on occasion. My sick days were used in ALL contingencies. :)

    3. Lanya*

      I would love to use my unused sick days for annual doctor’s appointments…but my boss won’t let us use the time that way because he says “sick time should be used for when you are really sick”. But…I rarely get sick. The last time I had a cold was in 2009. It’s a frustrating policy, but oh well.

      1. Elaine*

        That’s strange! Every place I’ve ever worked recognized that sick time was meant for doctor appts, etc. Otherwise, employees must use vacation, and that’s meant to actually refresh/de-stress people.

        Sorry your boss doesn’t get it!

        1. Liz*

          I don’t need to use sick time for doctor/dentist visits unless they take up more than an hour or two, and as it carries forward I just let it roll over to next year unless I need it for being actually sick (or using a duvet day). People with children end up using them for days when the kids are sick, or when they’re in a 24-hr waiting period to go back to school/daycare.

      2. bk*

        Call in sick even if you arent once in a blue moon it is ok, use it for appointments, whatever mental health day required is in a way a sick day. Many will post rebuttals and say unethical, others say its wrong that honest people get screwed with extra work when fake sick calls come in, to them I say I dont care. I have never heard a person on their death bed say I wish I worked more. If you want to take a care for yourself why not, workers, bosses will not be there for you in the long run, they wont be the ones missing your kids school play, or helping you with the 100s of errands you are behind on, or help you relax when you wont have time to relax cause you felt it was wrong to take a sick day while not being sick. These companies if their stock goes down a quarter of a point will cut you loose so fast and all you will have to show for it was the fact that you had great attendance.

        1. JB*

          Agreed. Corporations have zero loyalty to their employees and will always do what is in their best interest. You should do the same.

  5. Erin*

    I was a pretty intense teenager and put a lot of pressure on myself, so my mom used to impose periodic mental health days on me (maybe one or two per school year) when I was to stay home and watch bad TV, or read fiction I wasn’t assigned to read, or do anything besides stress about school. I’m also one of those people who never gets sick, and so I usually follow my mom’s tradition and take maybe one or so mental health days and just watch TV or play online without feeling guilty that I “should” be doing work, or cleaning house, or whatever else. My husband would never take a mental health day, but then, he also gets sick a fair amount and ultimately takes at least 4x the number of sick days I do.

    1. Kate*

      I had a doctor who recommended to me to take random days off or just not do my homework sometimes too. I was a perfectionist who could not imagine not doing my homework. “Doctor’s orders” made it acceptable to me I guess.

  6. ExceptionToTheRule*

    I’m not opposed to mental health days or exhaustion days or the random “god I don’t want to go to work today” days, if not abused. But being sick isn’t a holiday and the only thing you’re “missing” is spending a day of hacking up green gunk, puking or the agony of a migraine.

    Let your conscience be your guide on this.

  7. themmases*

    As long as you’re not leaving your coworkers on the hook for something important of yours, or canceling on someone who planned to meet with you, I don’t really see a problem with this. I rarely call in if there’s nothing at all wrong and I feel great, but then I have one big PTO bucket that does not expire at the end of the year, and can get pretty much any time off that my coworker isn’t out of the office. Usually a “mental health day” makes me desperate to go back to work once I realize there’s only so much lazing around one healthy person can do on a Wednesday.

    My boyfriend does have a separate sick time bucket, and occasionally if he’s been having a really stressful time at work he’ll say to me, “Next time I wake up feeling not great, and don’t have any big meetings, I’m calling in.” And my boyfriend is someone I’m constantly telling that he needs to say no more, wait to be asked for help instead of jumping in and volunteering to do other people’s work for them, etc. Hardly a slacker.

  8. TL*

    I’ve only done that once – had a very mild stomachache and very slight nausea and decided to call in sick, even though I would’ve probably been okay (and I wasn’t contagious.)

    But then I ended up not being to keep anything down that afternoon so… penance?

    Either way, I think taking the occasional mental health day isn’t a terrible thing, especially if you’re normally physically hearty as a horse.

      1. TL*

        I really did think I was just making a mountain out of a molehill as an excuse to get out of work for the entire morning. :)

    1. tcookson*

      I don’t know about you, but I’ve made myself feel mildly ill before just through the power of suggestion after having called in.

  9. Marina*

    I don’t like lying about being sick. The way I usually phrase a request for a mental health day is along the lines of, “Hi boss, I’m feeling under the weather today. I could come in if there’s important things you feel need to get done, but if not I’d like to take a sick day.” That gives your boss a chance to let you know that hey, there’s a deadline next week that the team is behind on, or Shavon and Wakeen are both out and they need all hands on deck, so you’re not coming back from your holiday with a massive mess to clean up. And it means you’re not in the position of having awkward conversations the next time you’re in about how you’re feeling much better, must have been food poisoning, blah blah blah…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes. This is the best way to go. You definitely want to avoid lying, so be vague if you can — terms like “under the weather” are good; “coughing up a lung” is not.

      1. Anon*

        I had one immediate supervisor who wanted to know our symptoms when we were sick. I thought it was so invasive. Like does she really want to know about my digestive problems? Who cares as long as I’m feeling better when I return to the office!

        1. ExceptionToTheRule*

          I had a supervisor like that, drove me nuts. I was not feeling particularly compliant with one illness and told her that if she really wanted to know, I’d come into work and make sure she got to experience it first-hand.

          1. Harriet*

            “Well, I’m bleeding from the eyeballs and my weeping sores have joined up into one mega-sore that covers most of my body. WebMD says Haemorrhagic smallpox but I’m sure you’re right, I could come in if I really pushed myself.”

            1. Mike C.*

              Don’t worry, I’m taking care of this tumor myself to save the company health plan money.

              Oh man this is cool, it’s a teratoma! *Goes into deep detail about teratomas…*

              (Don’t wikipedia this unless you’re ok with medical oddities. Seriously, it’s messed up.)

        2. KellyK*

          Wow. I sincerely hope someone gave said boss a detailed description of their diarrhea, or menstrual issues, or something else icky to teach them why you don’t ask that question.

          1. Meaghan*

            I have the opposite problem – my employees always give me way too much detail! I would much prefer they just say they’re unwell, but instead I get emails detailing diarrhea, vomiting, etc – it’s so gross! Maybe my predecessor demanded symptoms…

        3. WFBP*

          I once had a boss force me to list all the medications I was on and made me detail my symptoms. She also would pull up her worker’s screens without them knowing as well as listen in on their phone calls silently. It was a nightmare.

        4. Julia*

          I had one who asked your symptoms and then emailed them to the whole office – “X will not be in today, his projectile vomiting is clearing up, but now he has severe diarrhoea and a twinge in his back”.

          I made sure to only call in sick when I knew I’d be able to leave a message with the receptionist.

        5. SevenSixOne*

          I had a supervisor like this too! She was the kind of person who was extremely proud of rarely taking a sick day (for example: She once had to get 12 stitches and came straight to work from the ER, and she only took ten days for maternity leave, etc etc etc), so whenever someone called in sick with, say, stomach flu, everyone at work would hear her snitting about how “I can’t believe Chris called off for stomach flu! I mean, I came to work with food posioning blah blah blah blah…” Infuriating!

      2. businesslady*

        I’d often go with “I’m not feeling that great, so I’m going back to sleep to see if that helps” which would have the added benefit of being 100% true. (also, often on these days it ended up being effectively a “working from home” day as opposed to a true day off–which is fine because my office’s sick time is pretty generous–but the point is that my colleagues knew they could get in touch with me if anything important arose.)

        again, though, all of this depends on the type of work you do, the extent to which your absences affect others, & your relationship with your manager more broadly.

      3. Feed The Ducks*

        I like this approach, but that also puts your manager in a somewhat awkward position. When I had direct reports, I never would have said no if someone was trying to call in sick.

        1. Marina*

          I’m sure this approach does depend a lot on the manager. I’ve been lucky enough to (mostly) have supervisors I trust, both to let me have a mental health day when I need it and to be honest with me if that day’s not good to take off.

      4. BCW*

        I don’t know that you necessarily have to lie and say you are sick, just say you are taking a sick day. Problem is the wording of it. If they were just called “unplanned time” or something, I think it would be easier. But since they are usually called sick days, it brings to mind lying, when it doesn’t have to be the case.

      5. Dick say Sick Day*

        This is of course reliant on your boss having the capacity for compassion and ability to read subtlety. I’ve had bosses in the past that wouldn’t consider anything short of an open fracture a valid enough excuse to come to work. Under the weather doesn’t cut it, under a bus maybe!

  10. belle*

    I miss having sick days in a separate bucket from my PTO. There is no way I’m spending PTO on a mental health day.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’m the opposite. I love having combined PTO because I’m rarely sick and the combined bucket has more days than the vacation day allotment did.

      And yes, I will spend PTO on a mental health day. I call it a SPA DAY, I can plan it in advance, and I don’t have to lie about it.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me too. I had a plumbing problem this morning and have enough PTO so I can just chill, instead of rushing around, back and forth, etc. I’m also caught up and made sure everyone has my cell just in case. Now just waiting for the guy to show up….

      2. TL*

        I love having combined PTO because…I get sick a lot, so it was nice to change “vacation days” (I can’t really afford vacations) into “okay to have 5-9 sick days a year.” :(

    2. EM*

      I’m with Ann! When it is separate, you usually get less vacation days and you can’t generally use all the sick days. When it’s all PTO, you can use it ALL without guilt!

      1. Rebecca*


        At my current job, vacation days are separate from sick days (and you can use half of you sick days for “personal” days… I don’t understand why there needs to be a difference). I rarely get sick, so my manager told me she understood if I needed to use those as “mental health” days, just to do it when things were slow.

          1. Anon*

            Actually, there is a very good and valuable reason why there should be a difference! With “sick days” only, you have only one use for the days, cannot plan them in advance, and your employer may require you to provide medical evidence/doctor’s notes for each day used (though they generally won’t unless you go over the days provided).

            Personal, or personal/sick days, however, can be planned in advance and do not require any medical evidence/doctor’s notes. You can simply tell your employer that you will need Friday off for an appointment or today off to supervise the plumber, and no further explanation is required. Personal or combined personal/sick days are valuable to an employee.

  11. Anon*

    I agree w/AAM.

    I’m one of those people who gets sick a lot. I wish I’d be able to take *only* 3 or 4 sick days a year. I was taking more like a sick day every other month, often more frequently when I worked for someone else.

    Thankfully I work for myself now, so I still work when I’m sick if I have a project going (one-person operation, so I’m not getting anyone else sick by my working), just pace myself and do what I can to meet my deliverables. Sometimes I work straight through the weekends and holidays and other times I’ll have a random weekday off. It evens itself out.

    1. Anonymous*

      I wouldn’t consider one sick day every other month to be being sick a lot. Maybe I’m just a really sickly person?

        1. Anon*

          I felt shameful when my earned sick time was close to zero, even though I was legitimately sick. It was awful.

          1. Anonymous*

            I have depleted my 7 allotted sick days for this year now, and required one unpaid day extra during a really awful illness that kept me out all week recently… I feel awful too, even though I was truly ill each time.

      1. fposte*

        It’s not so much the day count as the frequency of the sickness events that’s on the high side.

  12. SarahBot*

    I’m totally on board with mental health days, with the whole “as long as it doesn’t unduly inconvenience your co-workers” caveat.

    In the OP’s situation, the only thing that would stop me is if the sick days carried over or built up at all – if that was the case, I may be more paranoidly inclined to skip the mental health days and stack up the sick days in case of a big bad thing happening.

    (As someone with a chronic disease who needs every paid day I can get, such things are often on my mind.)

  13. PJ*

    I occasionally (maybe once or twice a year) have a bad case of “I Don’t Give A Sh*t.” (It’s a thing, really.) If I try to work through it, I usually do a crappy job and it hangs on for a few days. If I stay home and pamper myself for a day, I’m usually cured overnight. I save this for days when I don’t have meetings or deadlines. I think this is a valid use of sick time. It helps me, and it helps the company.

    1. businesslady*

      yeah, this is what I was saying above. even if you don’t have a diagnosed mental illness, human psychology is complex enough that there are days when giving your brain a break is the right thing to do.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      That is a particularly communicable disease. Best nipped in the bud with sofa-rest, a fuzzy cat & re-runs.

    3. College Career Counselor*

      You could even call it IDGAS. As in, “I’ve come down with a case of IDGAS, and I really should not be in the office today.”

      While that’s a silly example (and you probably don’t want to give a name that someone will possibly google), I do think it’s acceptable to take a day off once in a while when you’re not truly sick.

    4. Anonymously Anonymous*

      This! I pretty much use all of my sick time throughout the year. Sometimes I’m sick, sometimes I have appointments, and sometimes I have the “I don’t give a sh*t today”…

      I will take mental health days as needed! But I’m careful to only call it a mental health day on days when I’m not sick. My boss is pretty understanding about burnout.

  14. Jen*

    In my opinion, it’s never bad to take a mental health day here or there. No more than two or three a year though. BUT (and this is a big but) if you have a job that requires your shift/positiont to be covered by someone, that’s a dealbreaker. Pretty much if your being out is going to place an unfair burden on someone else, don’t do it unless you are really sick.

    I used to work in news and if you are the producer for the 10 p.m. newscast and you call in sick, this means someone is going to have to do your show. This meant someone would either have to come in on their day off and work 6 days that week or someone would have an extra long shift. No one ever seemed to really mind if they actually knew the person was sick.

  15. A Bug!*

    I agree that it’s okay to lower your bar for what constitutes a sick day, but with consideration to how your absence will affect your coworkers.

    But I also think you need to reassess how you’re looking at it, that your coworkers “get” something that you don’t. That sort of thinking is comparable to employed people who say “Must be nice!” to people on unemployment. You’re only looking at the pro (a day off work) and ignoring the cons that swamp it (spending that day sick).

    1. some1*

      This is what I came here to say. I had a summer cold at the end of August that was the worst cold I’ve had in years. I would much rather have been at work, feeling adequate, than at home sneezing & coughing all day.

    2. TL*

      To be fair, not every sick day is intolerable. In June I had a two-day bout of nausea so bad I couldn’t really move – but I was fine lying in my bed and reading/watching Netflix. It wasn’t my preferred way to spend the day but it wasn’t terrible.

      Though that’s a very rare exception – most times I would rather be healthy and at work than sick and at home.

  16. Laura*

    The corporation my mother worked for had a policy that if you don’t take more than 1 sick day (out of 6 possible days) a year, you get 1 extra “vacation” day the next year. She rarely took her days (and always had 1 to take as a safety net), so often got a free vacation day.

    THEN, one of her co workers kindly reminded her that 6 days is always better than one ;)

  17. EM*

    I feel like this debate as often been argued here on AAM and I am always a bit surprised when some people act like doing this is the worst thing in the world.

    I have no issues with it, as long as — like Alison mentions — you are not doing it to get out of a huge deliverable or sticking colleagues with a ton of work.

  18. Colette*

    I don’t have a problem with using a sick day when you couldn’t sleep or are just a little under the weather and want to spend the day lying around, or for medical appointments . I do think it’s wrong to use one just because you aren’t getting sick as often as your coworkers, or because you want to go skiing/on a trip, etc.

    I guess the key difference for me is that in the first two situations, you actually are not 100%, and medical appointments are obviously legitimate. If you’re just using it as extra vacation time, that crosses a line, IMO.

  19. Sourire*

    Depending on what your job’s rules are in regards to accrual and usage, you may find yourself very thankful to have a stockpile of unused sick time one day. If you need to be out for an extended period of time for medical reasons, FMLA is nice to have, but paid sick time is even better.

    Also, and maybe this is merely a personal flaw of mine, but I have found in the past that if I get in the habit of letting myself take “mental health days*”, I find each subsequent day easier and easier to justify. It’s easy to start letting your attendance slip that way. If you’re not the type of person who may fall victim to that, disregard, but it’s worth thinking about if you feel this could happen to you.

    *I put mental health in quotes because I do believe there are truly times when one needs a day off due to stress and other emotional issues, as opposed to a “mental health day” when used as the equivalent of playing hooky.

    1. Nichole*

      In one of my first jobs, I was shocked when my supervisor gently pointed out that my work was great, but I’d called in 10 days in 6 months at a part time job. Not the kind of employee I wanted to be at all! I was also poorly managing depression and anxiety at the time, so I didn’t mentally distinguish blah “mental health days” from actual mental health days. If I wasn’t feeling happy, I just called in to work. Now that my anxiety is better managed, I can take a day off when I’m genuinely low functioning without making it easier to justify calling off because I want to watch Supernatural instead of working that day. I think that’s a good point that while a recharging day off can make you better sometimes, you may have to actively remind yourself not to make it a habit.

    2. tcookson*

      you may find yourself very thankful to have a stockpile of unused sick time one day. If you need to be out for an extended period of time for medical reasons, FMLA is nice to have, but paid sick time is even better.

      I can testify to this from not-so-long-ago personal experience. Last fall, my then-16-year-old daughter’s appendix burst, and she was out of school for two months. I was able to take the entire time off work to be with her in the hospital and at home because I had that much (and more) sick leave piled up. It was really a blessing to be able to do that without worrying about running out of time or money. And my colleagues were wonderful enough to cover for me the whole time (a senior assistant supervised the distribution of my duties to three other assistants).

  20. Anonymous*

    Every time I “plan” on using a sick day, I end up getting sick! I figure that some kind of guilt thing going on in my brain translates to actualizing it in my body.

    1. Cait*

      The same thing used to happen to me. I figured it was because I would only plan for a sick day when I was running myself ragged, and a few weeks of that is generally enough to drive down my immune function.

    2. Mallorie, the recruiter*

      Me too – I totally psyche myself into feeling sick when I call off. The guilt eats at me until I actually have that “sore throat” after all.

      1. tcookson*

        I used to do the same thing! Now, if I’ve decided to take a sick day, I can talk myself down from making myself actually sick . . . but it takes a conscious effort.

  21. AGirlCalledFriday*

    Oh no anon, is the universe dishing out poetic justice? :(

    Personally I think that if as an employer you allot specific days out, it’s not your business if an employee uses them all and for what reason…unless of course you go over the determined limit or these days are taken where they cause undue problems for other coworkers and management. I think that we tend to work too much and should attempt to create more of a work/life balance though.

  22. Anon*

    Do it. Take a sick day. Relax. Sleep. Do whatever to get yourself in a good headspace for when you go back to work. Some might not agree but far too often ignoring your mental health will lead to deterioration of your physical health.

    As an aside, I have to say that I feel really lucky when I read about how much leave people don’t get. I earn about 6.5 hours of sick leave a pay period. You can accrue that stuff until the day you leave. (There is also rumor of a bank where you can turn in sick leave for other employees that have run out but need leave and can’t afford leave without pay.) We also get about 4.5 of annual leave a pay period and can carry over 400 hours from one year to the next. On top of the 3 personal days, 2-3 floating holidays that we must use each year. As much as I want to pull my hair out because of my job, I know I’m lucky in the amount of leave I get.

    1. Sourire*

      You get ~20 sick days a year? Or do you have very long pay periods? I work in civil service and our system is very similar (including that time donation bank), but we get more like 3 hours per pay period (26 pay periods a year). I am very thankful for it, and especially thankful that it carries over from year to year.

      1. Anon*

        Don’t some people get long hours of sick time like that because theoretically it would also include short-term disability pay? I thought I heard that somewhere along the line. So 20 days/year in that context doesn’t sound all that outrageous or generous.

  23. Mike C.*

    As long as you aren’t being a jerk about it, do it. It will make you happier and more productive in the long term.

  24. MissDisplaced*

    I guess I don’t understand, because what do you do when you have dental/doctor appointments? Typically, this is considered to be a legitimate use of your “sick” time, and with most places I’ve worked at it is deducted as such even though we are salaried.

    Agreed though that if you don’t use most of this time up, I would take a day or two and call in well. LOL!

    1. Kristin*

      I asked if we could do this at my first job out of college and was glared at like I was an insane person. I thought it was normal, apparently not at some places.

    2. BausLady*

      I’ve worked at places where you could schedule sick time for a dental/doctor appointment as well. But my current company does not allow you to use sick time for that purpose. It can be only used if you need to call out sick for a day or half day.

  25. Katie the Fed*

    I’ve taken a mental health day or two in my time. And it’s legitimately of the “if I go into work I will be no use to anyone and might actually slap someone” variety where I REALLY need to recharge. They’re very few and far between though.

    The argument that you’re entitled because others take them is a specious one. It’s up there with “well smokers get to take XXX amount of time off every day so I should get the same.” Just focus on yourself and your own work.

    1. Sourire*

      It’s funny because I totally agree with the sentiment regarding sick time, but the smokers thing always has, and still does bother me. It’s one thing if your workplace is generally pretty flexible about break time. So smokers might go out for a few minutes to smoke, whereas I might linger I bit getting coffee and chatting with a coworker while there. However I once worked at a place that was very strict regarding downtime unless it was on a scheduled break, UNLESS it was a smoke break – those were totally acceptable. Not a hill I wanted to die on or anything, but it was rather annoying nonetheless.

    2. snarkalupagus*

      +1. Do it sparingly, to benefit the company and your coworkers by using the time to improve your attitude and patience, and thereby your output. Don’t do it to “even the score,” because that’s a slippery slope toward obnoxious scorekeeping.

  26. TK*

    I work for a U.S. state government, and we have a frustrating leave policy. We have very generous amounts of both vacation and sick leave, but there’s a rule about sick leave: you can only begin using sick time after you’ve already used 8 consecutive hours (thus one full day) of vacation time. So basically if you get sick, you have to take a day of vacation, and then if you’re still sick a second day, that can be sick leave. The only exception is doctor’s appointments for a chronic medical condition. (You can also use up to 3 days of sick leave without using vacation first if you have a death in the family, which is the only reason I’ve used any sick leave at all in 15 months here.)

    This is my first full-time non-internship professional job, and this policy really threw me for a loop. The amount of leave is great, but having to keep some vacation time in reserve in case you get sick (not to mention for things like dental appointments) makes it less so.

    I’m just wondering if this policy is something common in government? It seems like there must’ve been some pretty drastic abuse of sick leave at some point to implement this policy for all employees statewide here. It just seems unnecessary and untrustworthy of your employees.

    1. De Minimis*

      From the federal side, doesn’t sound familiar to me at all.

      I will say though that sick leave abuse has happened a lot at other government workplaces I’ve been at [though mainly as a result of draconian policies regarding leave approval.]

      1. doreen*

        I’ve worked for both a state and a municipal government and this does not sound familiar to me at all

    2. Kassy*

      I work for the state of Missouri – that’s not our policy at all. We can use vacation time for sick leave if necessary, but it’s not at all required. (Of course, we can’t use sick time for vacation.) We have what I think is a generous amount of leave (5 vacation hours and 5 sick hours, twice per month).

      Then again, we are among the lowest-paid state employees (our agency trades off with Arkansas for lowest in the nation) so I guess in order to compensate, our benefits package is pretty stellar.

  27. Amanda H*

    I’m also someone who believes in the occasional “mental health” day. Honestly, I think it can help prevent more serious illnesses, as chronic stress inhibits the immune system.

    My company breaks out time into vacation AND PTO, not official “sick leave.” I think the idea behind still calling it PTO is that it can still serve for instances of doctor/other health appointments, caring for a sick child, dealing with housing emergencies, etc., and doesn’t have to be “sick leave.” So it’s nice, but considering that both have to be accrued, and both expire at the end of the year (though you can petition for carryover of unused vacation), the distinction seems somewhat pointless.

    Also, my workplace is pretty flexible in letting me work from home. So I’ve found that sometimes, all I need to recover mentally is the chance to work from my couch, under a blanket, rather than having to go into the office and deal with people. :)

    1. BCW*

      I think if more jobs did that, it would be great. Its like I said above, the fact that they are called “sick” days makes people feel they either have to lie and say they are really sick, or make other people think they have the right to judge whether or not they are really sick.

      I mean, people with kids take sick days when their kids are sick even though they aren’t, but thats mostly considered ok. Yet many people would have a problem with me taking a sick day for the repairman or cable guy to come in, or if I was hungover.

  28. Gilby*

    At my old department if we called in, we got a point against our attendence. They didn’t care why you called in. So taking a mental health day was not an option without having it go against you. They also took away PTO.
    So we could not do this without it screwing us in the long run. Our PTO accrued very slowly so you had to be careful to know what you had in the bank and if you can afford 8 hours taken away.

    I have also seen in other places, people just using their PTO so wildy that they had no time left when they really needed it. They got mad because they had no time left.

    I don’t disagree with taking a day off if you need a break because sometimes your brain just needs a break to rejuvinate. Just need to be careful to make sure nothing is affected by it.

  29. Anonymous*

    At my job we get more sick and vacation time every year we are here. Is that normal? I’m a person that never gets sick so around the day when the sick time expires she says, “I thought you had a cough today…” And I call out sick for 2-3 days.

    1. tcookson*

      We get more vacation time with more years on the job, but the annual accrual of sick leave is the same for everyone (8 hours/month).

  30. MousyNon*

    Hm, this is one where I’m going to absolutely disagree re: the informational part of Allison’s response (not the advice part, which I agree with). Why? Because treating sick-days as an ‘only-as-a-last-resort-because-of-this-unspoken-rule-that-you-should-not-use-all-of-them-because-if-you-do-it’s-assumed-you’re-abusing-the-privilege’ gift as opposed to a benefit factored into employee compensation just perpetuates this:

    I use all of my sick days, and I do so because I stay home when I’m sick enough to FEEL CONTAGIOUS (not sick enough to collapse, sick enough to require a doctor’s visit, or sick enough to need immediate hospitalization, etc). I find it very very difficult to believe that the majority of Americans are so unbelievably healthy they don’t get (contagiously) sick more than 2-3 days out of 260 AVERAGE BUSINESS DAYS A YEAR (and this is just assuming you’re an average white-collar worker working in an office five days a week with employee-subsidized health benefits, and doesn’t even address the dangers of this mentality with respect to industries like food service [no sick days, no health insurance, and direct contact with the food of hundreds of people a DAY], etc).

    More likely people ARE getting contagiously sick, but because it isn’t ‘sick enough’ to merit taking one of those jealously guarded sick days, or being judged by coworkers or employers as a slacker, etc etc, people just slog to work and spread infection via all of those delightfully prodigious office fomites (yes, even if you coat everything in purel). And thus the circle continues, knocking two or three (or more!!) employees out of the running (and out of producing) when it could’ve been just one. And, as an aside, when otherwise generally healthy people spread infection around their place of business, people like myself (the immunocompromised) end up taking more sick days because what would’ve been a simple cold for your average person turns into a major lung infection for me. And that can be deadly, unfortunately.

    So, that’s all to say this–if you treat sick days like they’re a part of an employee’s compensation/benefits package, then yes employees will certainly go out of their way to use them, but they are also less likely to come in to work sick enough to infect other employees (thus reducing productivity by a far larger amount than 1 person taking a couple of sick days). Same justification for keeping sick days separate from PTO buckets–employees will make damn sure they take their sick time, but they’ll avoid taking time off if their sick if it’s part of their PTO bucket.

    Here’s an excellent, balanced article on how different the US mentality on sick leave is from (overall healthier) northern European countries:

    Frankly, I think the best idea is to cap workers at 6-10 days a year of sick leave and encourage them to use them for sudden illnesses AND pre-planned doctor’s appointments (having the happy side effect of encouraging preventative care), and factor into your budget that employees will use ALL of those days, just as they would vacation days–I think that’s a perfectly balanced approach to mitigating the US propensity to go into work sick, without encouraging the abuses of, say, Poland (where employees average 26 sick days a year (!!!)).

    So that’s my argument. Bring it! ;)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I actually really like that idea and would fully support it. But I don’t think that’s how most workplaces in the U.S. currently view sick leave, unfortunately … but I agree it would be a much better system.

    2. Eric*

      We basically have that system at my current company. We get 12 sick days a year and are expected to take them for sudden illness and doctor’s appointments (in smaller chunks of time.) However, we’re not expected to use them all, and in fact, we can carry over unlimited (!) sick time.

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      Well, I’ve used 9.5 hours of sick time this year, and they were all for doctor’s appointments (for me and for family). I don’t think I have got contagiously sick in the last year, nor is that uncommon for me. Maybe I am incredibly healthy? I’ll get a cold occasionally, but not very often.

  31. Annoyed Anon for this*

    I’m not going to quibble about whether or not it’s okay to use a “mental health” day on occasion if it’s not causing problems for co-workers…but I am going to quibble with this:

    But the other part of me feels like I’m missing out on something everyone else is benefitting from.

    You do understand that taking a day off as a holiday as you put it isn’t the same as being home with the flu? It isn’t like your co-workers who are genuinely home sick or at the doctor are enjoying an extra day off – they’d much rather be healthy enough to be at work.

    This is one is hitting close to home since someone recently complained that “it wasn’t fair” I was getting to flex my schedule so much for doctor’s appointments. Seriously – until you’ve remoted into the server to solve a problem while wearing a paper gown and simultaneously dealing with another issue by phone with the internet/phone provider while in same lovely gown…let’s just say it really gives you an appreciation for the comforts of the office.

    (an aside – logmein for iPad absolutely rocks and it’s the most important and awesome app in the world. Just in the last week I’ve been able to remote in and work from my car, two doctor’s offices, Walgreens, and my bed in the middle of the night. Crazy and totally atypical busy time, but nice to know that when poop hits the fan an iPad and logmein make it just like being there. End of unpaid commercial.)

      1. Iain Clarke*

        I think we all knew it was you! I even pretended to draw a hello kitty with anonymising sunglasses on.

        While I’m replying on a pretext, even all-but-lurkers like me have you in our thoughts for all this “fun” medical stuff you’re having.


  32. Malissa*

    At my last job I called in with Rectal Glaucoma once and a burning case Ferris Beulleritis another time.
    But I did have a boss with a sense of humor and an understanding of mental health days.

  33. Brett*

    Be areful with mental health days if you are public sector below federal. A lot of state sunshine laws allow people to sunshine request your specific sick days. Provides great fodder for the news agencies to sunshine law everyone’s sick days and then cross reference with any information (like Facebook) that might indicate an employee was not really sick at home.
    Heck, they do this to people who even are legitimately sick (or even worse, who are taking sick leave because their kids are sick).

    1. Katie*

      I’d be careful about posting to FB regardless your employer. Just don’t make it obvious if you’re taking a mental health day.

  34. PEBCAK*

    Can we call these something other than “mental health days”? I understand it’s common nomenclature, but it reinforces the idea that mental health issues are not “real” sicknesses. Those of us who really do have to take days off due to depression or anxiety or bi-polar disorder, etc. have a hard enough time without the perception that these are less serious than the flu.

    Taking a day off because you are exhausted or burned out or whatever is fine, but it’s a personal day.

      1. Anonymous*

        I should clarify – that’s what I call them with friends and family. I would never call into work “sick and tired of all of you,” ha ha!

    1. businesslady*

      see, I actually think there’s a benefit to acknowledging the fact that “I’m not at my best & can’t come to work” can happen for psychological as well as physiological ones. saying your sneaky workday trip to a baseball game is a “mental health day” muddies the waters a bit (& I don’t use the term that broadly) but I’m all for removing the stigma around mental illness, & to me that includes remembering that even people without a formal diagnosis can suffer from those issues (anxiety, depression, inexplicably foul moods, excessive stress, etc.).

      but I totally agree that it’s poor form to claim self-care when you’re really just blowing off work.

    1. Anonymously Anonymous*

      This too!

      I’ve seen my ex husband go to work feeling like crap (unbeknownst to me he had re-injured his knee at work, (he had injured it a couple years before in a motorcycle accident). The infection was so bad that he was running a high temperature and hallucinating at work. I couldn’t convince him to stay home. He just kept taking theraflu and wondering why he couldn’t shake the flu! Finally his assistant manager called me and said either I come get him or he would bring him to the er. He finally decided to come home and go to the er. That’s when he showed me this swollen, fluid filled knee! It was soo bad, he had to go straight to surgery to get the infection out of the knee.

      Everyone is replaceable! Why go to work like that killing yourself and possibly others… Take the day or two!

  35. BCW*

    Like other people have mentioned, I really think it just depends on how much your absence affects others. If Im not in the office for an unplanned day off, for the most part, no one is affected, so I wouldn’t feel bad about it.

    My biggest problem is people judging why you are taking your unplanned days. If my car breaks down, if my dog is sick, if I just don’t feel like coming in, its really no ones concern. If everyone in the office gets those days, why do people care so much. Of course this is within reason. If you know the big office wide project is due friday, use your discretion and maybe suck it up. But if its just a random day, mind your own business. Also, don’t judge people based on the day. There is nothing more annoying than having to take a Monday off and have people assuming its not a valid reason.

    1. chikorita*

      +1 This is why I don’t tell some of my co-workers why I took a day off. Srsly, it’s no one else’s business whether I was off on Friday because I was horrendously ill or if I was just sitting at home playing video games.

      In my office all sick days and PTO have to be registered with the person who handles all of the paperwork for that, and unfortunately both the current person and her predecessor are snotty and judgmental about it. In the summer I picked a week to take off when I had nothing important or urgent at work to do, cleared it all with my boss (who had zero problems with it), and then went to go and notify the person who records the leave.

      Bam, instant judgement. That’s not good. Won’t you be awfully busy then? (Uh, no, I won’t be busy at all, it’s why I picked that week). Oh, well, I don’t think you should take that many days. (Well, I have an abundance of PTO stored up, so why not?) It’s not good for the office (uh, no one except you cares).

      Fortunately, there was nothing she could do about it (and my supervisor/ bosses were fine with it), so I spent a week sunning myself :D

  36. Anonymous*

    IMHO, it’s not a good idea to mention days off as ‘mental,’ particularly if you’re a woman. To me it sounds as though you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I recall a woman referring to days off as such, immediately after the announcement that she would become the first female sales manager leading a team of men. I’m sure people were already thinking she wouldn’t be able to handle the job. Huge mistake!

    1. Kelly L.*

      Sadly, I do always worry about how being a woman might affect how absences are perceived. Long long ago, I had the worst menstrual cramps of my life (before or since) and had to call out of work because I couldn’t stand up, they were so bad. I told my male boss it was a stomach issue–I figured at least it was in the same general bodily area so not quite a lie, and didn’t want to sound like I was going to call out every time I had my time of the month.

  37. JW*

    Here’s my issue. I work in a small, tight-knit office. When I want to use a sick day, my manager(s) constantly check in to see how I’m feeling, ask if I need anything, and try to analyze my symptoms. I end up coming up with exaggerated stories.

    Example: I took a “sick day” yesterday because I had an emotional night the night before. I felt okay in the morning, but from crying had huge, puffy eyes and was exhausted. I told them I “wasn’t feeling great” and needed to take some time and perhaps work from home after lunch. My boss replied with “Of course,” followed by, “What’s wrong? Anything we can do? Do you need medicine of any kind?”

    I wish I could take a mental health day with no questions asked. I’d be curious to hear what AAM suggests for nipping it in the bud.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds like they’re intending to be kind. When you say they’re checking in, are they continuing to contact you throughout the day, or is this only during the initial conversation about you taking time off? If the former, I’d tell them that you’re going to be sleeping and then let their calls go to voicemail.

      1. JW*

        It is out of kindness, but they do check in every few hours. Sweet, but overkill. I do need to ignore the calls or sign off chat.

        I didn’t feel comfortable explaining that I had an emotional night, though, so me saying I had a headache (not untrue) lead to more questions and advice. What I really wanted was – you guessed it – sleep, peace, and quiet.

    2. Lindsay J*

      If it is just one message like that I don’t see how that would be constant checking in and I don’t see any reason to come up with an elaborate story. Just reply, “I’m just feeling a little under the weather. A day of bed rest should fix me right up. Thanks for your concern though.” Or something similar.

      If they are actually probing for symptoms after that, or messaging you every hour offering to bring you soup or tissues that’s another story and I would be annoyed by that.

  38. FatBigot*

    Wow, I’m glad I’m not an American.
    In the UK in my company we get unlimited sick days, but they are tracked, and a return-to-work interview always follows any sickness period. Lengths of time above 5 days require a doctor’s note. Your sick pay goes down to half pay after 6 months sick.

    However, one point that may be applicable in the US is that it is possible for a UK employer to look at your sickness record when selecting people for redundancy. This may come back to bite you if you are in the habit of using sick days when you could have been working.

    1. Dustbunny*

      I was also wondering about this from a UK perspective. I’ve not taken a mental health day before, and haven’t heard of them apart from on this blog. But it wouldn’t surprise me if having more vacation days (which the UK usually does) means we’re less likely to need mental health days- because we’re less likely to work ourselves to a frazzle?

    2. Musereader*

      Yes, that is my experience here in the UK, unlimited sick pay but you can be disciplined or fired for taking too much. Also depends on the company but you have different policies on pay, in the private sector office you didn’t get paid for your first 3 days sick, (and if you called in sick on a friday they counted saturday and sunday as sick too), then you got half pay for any additional days. In the civil service you get full pay for all sick days up 6 weeks i think.

    3. glennis*

      It’s pretty typical in the US that you don’t get quizzed about taking a sick day unless you start showing a pattern – like always getting sick on a Friday or Monday, or taking too many days off. Then they can ask for doctor’s notes. I once supervised someone who would suddenly take in for about three days when it was time for her performance review – after a couple of iterations of this, we asked her for a doctors note. That was the only time I’ve done that.

      I was out on sick leave for a while to recover from surgery, and I didn’t have to show a note, but I think I had built enough trust in the relationship that they understood. The office sent flowers to the hospital!

      1. Jennifer*

        Hah. We used to have a manager here who was chronically ill with something (never knew what). The woman never, ever, ever, made it in on a Monday in her life, but she was a manager. And every time she’d go on vacation, she immediately got sick for weeks on end to recover from the vacation. She was genuinely ill as far as I ever heard, but frankly, if she was that ill all the time, I don’t think she should have been trying to work for as long as she did (or at least, before she finally left).

  39. Silver*

    In Australia we have a “tradition” called the sickie. If you’ve had a big night drinking and are too hungover to get to work – chuck a sickie. Sun is shining and want to go to the beach – chuck a sickie. And so on. Chances are most people will have done this at least once in their working career (most often when just starting out) but it’s usually frowned on when done repeatedly or brazenly.

    Note that many kids start working casually (service industry mostly) while still in high school to supplement their allowance.

    Certain industries have more of a sickie culture than others and you see newspaper articles at least once a year about how “chucking sickies” affects the economy and so on.

    1. Jennifer*

      One of my coworkers went home early “with a case of the blahs.” No joke, I saw it in the e-mail. He was blue about an election and I gather my boss didn’t care!

      Once in a great while I’d do something like this, but now I have to work shifts almost all of the time and then someone has to cover for me, so I can’t just be out for no good reason any more. Sigh.

  40. Liza*

    I too am a fan of the “preemptive” sick days (a couple times a year) if I know it won’t affect my department. For example, I FEEL like I would get myself sick going to work, stressing out, and not resting up that day. Maybe my throat is a little scratchy or I’m just overly tired and not mentally capable of handling my job that day. I feel like I am good listening to my body cues so I rarely ever get a full-blown flu or cold that lasts for weeks…I figure it is better for my work if I take one day off to rest up vs. getting extremely sick and missing a week of work. And if we had a major project due a day I wasn’t feeling good I would absolutely go in to help out then go home to rest, so I never let myself feel guilty about taking care of myself : )

  41. glennis*

    I had a boss who was a hypochondriac – she missed work all the time because of vague maladies – headaches, digestion problems, dizzy spells. She was exempt staff, so she often just put in the 5 hours required to make it a full day’s pay, and left the office.

    Because of this, it was really easy to take a “mental health day” guilt free – you could pretty much say anything was wrong and it would be believed. Bad headache, insomnia, menstrual cramps, anything.

  42. TBoT*

    I really, really wish “mental health day” hadn’t become code for playing hooky. It makes it so much harder for people who have actual mental health issues that require time off to be taken seriously.

  43. Cassie*

    At my sis’s gov’t job, they are allowed to “sell back” up to 3 sick days if they haven’t taken any sick leave for the previous 6 months. I’d love it if we could do that, or if we had combined vacation/sick leave. I have close to 1000 hours of sick leave. It’s good to have a safety net, but it’d be nice to have more options.

    I thought of calling in sick after I got back from my vacation but I had too much work to catch up on. Plus, I was just a little tired, not actually sick. (Although, do allergies count?).

  44. Leisabet*

    I’m a firm believer in the “sickie” (Australian – as Silver explained above). Stress has as big a productivity impact as any illness, and can lower your immune system. Nonetheless, I used to avoid taking them unless I was genuinely on the verge of defenstrating my monitor, because I have a chronic illness (managed, but occasionally surprising), a mental illness (handled, but sometimes I have flare-ups), and I’m prone to migraines, so I tended to hoard my sick leave. But if I ever wanted to take one, there were never questions asked. I’ve been blessed with some great managers over the years.

    At my current job, I get 20 days of vacation leave (paid), 10 days of sick leave (paid) and rostered days off once a month, which I can take whenever they’re due or save up for a later date. This is more generous than is typical (and I am SO grateful – now I don’t have to lie in bed with the flu fretting that I’m wasting valuable migraine time), but I’ve always had at least five days of paid sick leave per year. I don’t mean to be snotty, but I can’t imagine *not* having it – rocking up to work to infect all your colleagues and look miserable will only backfire, so why not nip the problem in the bud and ensure sick people don’t come to work?

  45. OP*


    Thanks for the response (and the same to the commenters, actually, which were really helpful… not to denigrate Alison’s own comment of course!). Well detected on my British origin ;-) The laws on sick leave are very different in the UK, so I was only really coming at this from a moral perspective.

    Having read the comments, it reinforces what I thought about it being a touchy subject… after all some people are unlucky enough to be very ill 3 or 4 days a year, and for those people there ARE no “days off”.

    Having read all the comments, I’ve sort of determined that I’ll take 2 convenient (…for the office…) days off later in the year, with the caveat that they get immediately consumed by “proper” sick days if I get sick. I don’t feel 100% right about it though… I’d like to think I’m a conscientious employee and I work a lot of extra unpaid hours for the company but then that’s the sort of argument used by larger-scale embezzlers. Plus I also sort of worry that once I’m taking a “couple” of days off, the temptation will be there to do “just one more”. And also, the (rare) days I’m most likely to feel unwilling to go into work are the days when I’m probably being neeeded or relied on the most!

    So, long story short, I just don’t know. But it’s good to know people don’t think it’s ABSOLUTELY morally reprehensible if I do wake up one day, feel “icky” about work for non-project/responsibility related reasons, but not “ill” per se, and call in “under the weather”. I definitely take the point about not directly lying, either.

    1. sicksadworld*

      Dear god woman, take the sick day! You have one life. One. Work should not be North on your moral compass.

      Someone else in the comments said it best – nobody who lay dying ever wished they had worked more. Reading through how many folks on this thread would hesitate to take a day or two off every now is depressing. How can you genuinely feel such loyalty to a corporation/business/organization that would replace you in a heartbeat if their profits were on the line.

      People are not machines. Everyone needs a break.

      I urge everyone visiting this threat to read up on the origins of our modern work ethic. Rooted in the puritan belief system that suffering is required to redeem our ‘original sin’ as human beings, this is exactly why so many of us report that “guilty” feeling when taking a day off – our entire work culture was built upon the premise that humans could be motivated by guilt.

      If you’ve done any reading lately on corporate culture, you’ll know that the science all points to the same place – the way we work is unnatural. Sitting in chairs for hours, staring at computer screens all day, the inability to disconnect thanks to the pervasiveness of mobile technology – these essential elements of the modern work day are having devastating effects on our physical and mental wellbeing as human beings and as a society.

      I’ve enjoyed incredible success in my professional career but have always made a point of making my career work for me – not vice versa. The value I bring to my organization is undeniable, but that comes from the quality of my work, not the amount of precious little time I give up every day. When your work is valued – you are valued and more importantly, trusted – and that is why I can take time off whenever I want, no questions asked.

      On average, we spend 60% of our lives at work. 60%. If you do what you do well, there is absolutely no reason to feel guilty taking a few days off here and there.

  46. Andy*

    I am actually flabbergasted that AskAManager would encourage people to call in sick when not sick, as she normally encourages honesty. I work at a place with very generous sick policies (15 paid sick days a year, all that is required is a signed statement from the employee stating they were actually sick or at a medical appointment), and I had always thought it was understood that they are not to be used unless sick. Were people to start using them as personal days, vacation days, whatever, I think management would have second thoughts about being so generous.

    Sick leave is a type of insurance for pay continuity. Would AskAManager encourage people to file a false insurance claim, if it was only for a few dollars, and if they never really used their insurance anyways? I see it as the same situation, and something very inappropriate.

    If you spend your whole career healthy and never use a sick day, I see it as having paid car insurance your whole life but never being in an accident. You are not owed anything, but a congratulations on your fortuitous life!

    1. OP*

      But being sick isn’t a black/white thing… there’s a whole gradient of “sickness”.

      If you never use sick days, would you agree you’re more entitled to take a day off where you feel mildly under the weather (including “just not feeling like going in”) than someone who always takes time off (and so should probably just face the bad days)?

      To extend your insurance analogy further, it’s not “fraudulent” to claim for trivial things and you’re completely entitled to do so. That’s counteracted by the fact that, in the UK at least, insurers financially incentivise you to not claim for trivial things (such as giving discounts to people who don’t claim). No such benefit exists with sick leave… just sayin’!

    2. bk*

      enjoying working every day of your life andy
      work each and every day without taking a day off to smell the roses
      work each day like it is your last and sooner or later you will be right.

    3. WG*

      I think times are a’changin. Like a previous commenter posted, newer generations might not have the same guilt complex of previous ones regarding sick leave. In their rationalist viewpoint NOT taking a sick day is akin to losing a vacation day or the equivalent day’s pay if the company doesn’t carry it over.
      At my workplace, one young man, who happened to be a valued employee, nonchalantly shouted out when leaving the office something like, won’t be coming in Dec 30th, “I’ve got a sick day to burn.” — Next month or so, management changed the pay structure (likely in reaction to this reality) and all sick days are now PTO days. This is happening across the DC region. Almost every company I’ve come across does PTO in place of the vacation/sickday tradition.
      Personally, I’m almost never sick, and when I look for a job, aggregate PTO rather than vacation/sick days structure is a no-brainer requirement. Unused sick days to me means throwing money away — a prospect that some like me cannot stomach.

  47. Anon*

    I am a manager in an organization that requires coverage of public service desks. So when someone calls in sick, that directly impacts everyone else’s work. If you’re feeling under the weather/possibly contagious/staying home one day so you won’t miss several, that seems fair. But if you just want a day off? Use your vacation time and schedule it advance to I can arrange for coverage of your hours.

    And if you’re dealing with a routine illness, less detail is much better than more, and please spare me the fake coughing. I will do my best to believe what you tell me, but that’s hard when you’re boring me with the world’s worst acting job on the phone at 6:30 am.

  48. totochi*

    Email from CEO about a year ago. We start new employees with 15 vacation days and 5 sick days; sick days don’t carry over across years.

    Something to be clarified here is that sick leave at [company] really is only for when people are truly sick. It is not vacation with another name. If someone calls in sick and that turns out to be a lie, the result will be immediate dismissal without severance for committing payroll fraud. It is also not cool to claim disability that isn’t real. [company] only has insurance for extreme disability cases, so everything else is paid for by the labor of fellow colleagues. The basic principle is: don’t lie.

    If there is a serious family emergency that unequivocally requires your help, please report it as such and that will be treated as sick leave even though you are not one who is sick. For example, if your child is injured and needs to go to the hospital, that’s no problem. However, if you hired the wrong babysitter and he/she didn’t show up, that can’t count as sick leave.

  49. Anonymous*

    A lot of people abuse there sick days…example a female took off a day saying she was coming down with something and in the next breath said I will definitely be in to cover you tomorrow…how can that be!!! You don’t know if you will be fit to come in with that dreaded something…that told me for sure she wasn’t even sick, probably had a late night or too much to drink. Not the first time this has been done so unfortunately I don’t have any trust there….sad when you have to feel like this. I can’t even say how are you feeling! are you any better! doesn’t cut it with me and wouldn’t have this individual working for me if I owned a company. too many of them around with no work ethics and morals.

  50. Tundraleigh*

    Take your leave! You will be a better, healthier and more effective person with enough rest and time to take care of yourself and your family. What are your priorities? Employers like to think that they own you. No. You rent a portion of your time, but you are an autonomous human being and that is leave time that you have earned. I don’t take many sick days because I’m not often sick. I do occasionally (maybe twice a year?) just take a sick day off because it’s too beautiful to go to work and I need to walk in the woods, or I want to give the day to my three-year-old daughter instead, because while I value what I do, work is not the first priority in life and sometimes time is better spent elsewhere. Don’t feel guilty if it isn’t excessive. Life is why we’re here. Keep perspective.

  51. itchy*

    i feel like if it has gotten to the point to where you feel guilty about taking a day for yourself you need to re-evaluate your life.
    We are not put on this earth to work all our lives away. A wise person once told me We should work to live, Not live to work.

    1. Claire*

      This is a good point. You should focus on your own life sometimes and if you can’t be at work you can’t be at work. Managers need to work around this because we are people and not machines.

  52. Scotthad it*

    I’ll admit it: When I needed a dental procedure, I didn’t give my boss any advance notice. I ust called in sick that morning, got my teeth pulled, and laid low the rest of the day – and I till had plenty of sick days left. It sure as heck was no vacation, that’s for sure!

  53. Claire*

    I take about 10-12 mental health/sick days a year. My boss knows I have anxiety issues and works with me to let me take the time I need to be at home and work through things. Most understand managers who value employees will understand taking days off.

  54. Jon*

    Can a manager force you to make up time if you called in sick a couple of times after used up all your sick days?

  55. Just Wondering*

    what if you are taking sick time that is not needed but you dont feel like going in to work and you get enough time off as is.

  56. system requirement*

    Nothing wrong with it. Don’t feel bad for taking time off. You’re not their slave, you’re free people.

  57. D*

    Honestly, I’m in the same situation I rarely take days off from work and I’ve been working at this place for three years. I never take a day off unless I feel like I need to rest because my body is tired from overworking as I’m doing today. My boss is the type of person that would dump everything in my lit and then pretend that she has a lot to do although she is a stay-at-home mom and usually gets things done in the morning and I come in that evening. So today I have decided to take a personal day because my body needs a break and I feel like I am mentally breaking down also physically. Sometimes it is OK to take those days off if you feel that you need to relax and regroup before the next day because you can become overworked and stressed, so I don’t really see anything wrong with it. I may sound naïve myself but it’s just how I feel.

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