are my coworkers abusing their sick leave?

A reader writes:

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

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

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

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 282 comments… read them below }

  1. KR*

    Also, mental health days are a thing. A lot of times when I need to take a sick day, it’s not because I’m in bed and need to stay there all day. I need to walk around, relax, be outside, be alone, and/or do something to alleviate my anxiety/depression.

    1. Trout 'Waver*


      I successfully beat depression, and one of the things I learned was that I get burnt out if I don’t recharge. And recharging for me is a day in the mountains hiking and fishing. I feel absolutely no guilt (thanks to a great therapist) taking a sick day to recharge if I’m unable to do so on a weekend or holiday.

      Of course, my current job lumps all vacation and sick time together under PTO (which is a really stupid policy because it forces people to choose between coming to work sick or visiting family at the holidays) so it makes this use of sick days less of an issue.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I forgot to mention this is a once a month thing that I normally do on weekends or holidays.

      2. Temperance*

        I actually prefer the combination sick/vacation pool, FWIW, but I rarely get sick (with the exception of my hospital stay back in February), and I would hate to lose vacation time to a sick time pool.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Yes, it works well for those of us who rarely need sick time — we just get extra vacation. It works against those who regularly use sick time; they end up having to make the choice Trout is talking about.

            1. Jinx*

              The issue, as I understand it, is that if you a chronically ill person you effectively have less vacation than someone who is healthy. A day sick in bed isn’t really the same as a holiday.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          “I would hate to lose vacation time to a sick time pool.”

          But that’s exactly what happens. Every sick day is one less day of vacation with a combined pool. What happens in practice is everyone comes to work sick.

          1. sjw*

            Yes, but when a company goes to PTO, in my experience, it combines former vacation and sick time. So it’s the same amount of days — just treats employees like adults in letting them choose HOW they use their paid time off. You don’t “loose” anything, you just choose for yourself how to utilize this time. (or, sometimes fate choose for you!) But even where you have totally separate sick and vacation time, burning through the sick days usually means you have to take vacation days to be sick.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              Obviously you don’t “lose” anything in the scenario you described. However, it also depends on the number of PTO days. If the total PTO is still less than the local industry average for holiday days, it sucks.

              But, I’d suggest that the way you treat people like adults is to give them a set number of vacation days, and let them tell you when they’re too sick to work. If anyone abuses it, manage them individually rather than put stringent regulations on everyone.

            2. Ife*

              Old Job missed the memo on that. They gave new employees 5 days of PTO in one bucket (sick time plus vacation time). After you had been there a year, you got 10 days PTO. It took 5 years to get to 15 days. I’m guessing they just converted their vacation time bucket into a PTO bucket and forgot about adding in sick time.

              1. Clever Name*

                Wow, that’s makes my last company look generous. We got 10 days pto. It was pretty crappy. I blissfully get 15 days at my current company (been here 5 years) plus sick time.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  This is an area where I can give my company credit. I’ve been there since March and I already have 56 hours of PTO in my bucket. We get a little over 14 hours a month.

        3. peachie*

          Yeah, it tends to work well for people who never get sick and horribly for those of us with chronic illness / a tendency to get sick frequently.

          My work is changing to a similar policy and I’m bummed. :( I’m either going to have to force myself to work through conditions I shouldn’t work through, or feel the huge guilt of the vacation / family visiting I won’t be able to take.

          (but I also totally understand that it IS better for most people. I’m just grumpy.)

          1. Tau*

            I think this is absolutely fair and you’re not just being grumpy. It’s not about whether it’s better for “most people”, it’s whether the change in policy unfairly disadvantages a particular group. In this case, combined sick/PTO significantly benefits people who don’t get ill very often, have no chronic illnesses, no carer duties, etc., so benefits the people who are already better off and in a better position overall while disadvantaging those who aren’t so lucky and making it so people with chronic illnesses etc may barely be able to take any vacation at all. I’m not a fan of the idea and am glad it’s not how things are done here.

            1. Artemesia*

              I don’t see that. Doesn’t it depend on how much free days are involved. If the total adds up to the usual vacation and the usual sick leave then it is better for those with good health and a wash for those without. Thus on balance better.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                You’re missing the fact that when people can bank their sick days to take additional vacation days, they’re much more likely to come to work sick than if they have a dedicated pool of sick days. That gets other people sick who then have to make the same decision.

          2. coffeepowrrdd*

            Dear OP:

            Chronic illness is a thing for a large segment of the working population. Do not be a jerk, we already have a tough enough time getting out of bed every day and coming in to the office (in pain and suffering every day, you just don’t notice it), thanks.

            When a company has a policy that says “you earned this time away from work, and it’s paid time” don’t be a jerk by thinking they are “abusing” it by actually using their earned time.

            1. Chocolate Coffeepot*


              “Chronic illness is a thing for a large segment of the working population” (or their young children or elderly parents)

              Coming here to say exactly that. Migraines are no picnic, and when I have one, I’d much rather be at work & being productive than lying in bed all day with the light-blocking curtains closed and a pillow over my head to muffle the sounds from the street.

            2. Ruffingit*

              Yes, absolutely! I know many people who suffer with chronic illnesses and it’s horrible for them because they look fine on the outside, but are suffering terribly on the inside and no one believes them because they don’t “look sick.”

              Aside from that though, why in the world does the OP care if these people are using sick days for something other than being laying in bed praying for death because you just can’t throw up anymore? As others have mentioned, mental health days are important and necessary too.

        4. Canadian Dot*

          As someone with depression and anxiety, chronic pain issues, migraines, etc etc, I wouldn’t work anywhere that put sick leave and vacation time together. I need my vacation time to be only vacation time. I’m massively lucky where I work now – Vacation is a separate thing, there are certain things that merit a day of “special leave” (I’m moving soon, and I get a non-vacation paid day of leave for moving), and I don’t have a limited number of sick days, though I only get paid 75% on those days. I try to not abuse it, but my average is one day off per month, which to some people is, I’m sure, more sick time than they could ever imagine taking. For me, that’s using almost all my spoons with work, and not having much left for the rest of my life.

      3. LanguageLover*

        “Of course, my current job lumps all vacation and sick time together under PTO (which is a really stupid policy because it forces people to choose between coming to work sick or visiting family at the holidays) so it makes this use of sick days less of an issue.”

        This can be a stupid policy and it can be a smart policy depending on how it’s managed. As long as there is enough PTO allocated, it’s really not forcing an employee to choose between taking sick leave or visiting family/going on vacation unless an employee is sick a lot. Or at least, it’s not presenting additional complications. Smart PTO policies lump the typical vacation–let’s say 2 weeks for this hypothetical company with the typical amount of annual sick leave—let’s say 5 days for this hypothetical company. Employees would end up with 3 weeks of PTO. Not less than they’d normally have back when the policy split them up.

        The reason I say it’s not presenting additional complications is because, in the previous split incarnation, if an employee took more than 5 sick days they’d either have to eat into their vacation PTO anyway or they’d have to take unpaid days off. Combined PTO then eliminates the issues that arise with “she was sick but I saw hiking pics of her on FB” policing that can come up.

        Now, if a company is stingy and doesn’t combine the two then that sucks but I blame that more on management than I do on the idea of combining the two pots.

        I’ve worked both types of jobs. I prefer having separate accounts but I do understand the case for combining them all. And as long as it’s not a way for a company to be stingy, it’s good.

        1. some1*

          “Combined PTO then eliminates the issues that arise with “she was sick but I saw hiking pics of her on FB” policing that can come up.”

          Or, at a former company where we had sick leave & vacation separate, you could not take an unscheduled vacation day. So if you had an emergency come up and couldn’t come to work, you were forced to call in “sick” because your car got towed or your pipes burst.

          1. Sally-O*

            My old job had vacation time, sick time, and two “personal days” per year which were intended for spur-of-the-moment days off.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          At my company we get 9 federal holiday days and 13 PTO days to be used for vacation and sick time. Combine that with my boss whose attitude is “I’m flexible with time as long as you’re hear before 8:00 and stay after 5:00 every day.” Of course he uses way more than 13 PTO days a year (and doesn’t record them) and rarely works 35 hours, let alone the 40-45 he holds us to.

          If you treat white collar workers like elementary school kids, the good ones leave. And this is starting to happen as the local economy is rapidly improving. For the record, the average in our industry (according to industry magazine polls) is 12 federal holiday days, 15 vacation and 3 sick days.

        3. peachie*

          Yeah… my employer (generally a great employer!) is not combining them — we will have fewer days. I get it, but I’m really not a fan.

    2. Oryx*

      +1 I don’t get sick-sick very often. I’m pretty sure 75% of the sick days I took at ex job were mental health days.

    3. Lemon Zinger*

      Yes! Especially in high-stress work environments, it’s important that employees feel ABLE to take sick days for self-care. When I worked in sales, I had to take a day here and there because I just couldn’t face it that morning. It happens.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        THIS. At my old job, I was dealing with some serious depression and anxiety, but our hellion of a boss told us we basically had to come in unless we were bleeding or throwing up (her words). One day, when I knew the choice was between staying home and having a breakdown in the middle of the office, I scheduled a Boomerang email for 4:26 AM saying I had food poisoning and couldn’t come in. It was ridiculous, not least because she did not trust us to manage our PTO responsibly during what we all knew was a busy time of year.

      2. Christopher Tracy*

        Especially in high-stress work environments, it’s important that employees feel ABLE to take sick days for self-care.

        Agreed. And since my company does the combined PTO bucket, I’m now having to take week long vacations when I start to feel myself burning out (I transferred into a very high-stress, volume-heavy division). If we had a separate bucket, I’d probably take the sick days first because if I’m stressed, that’ll send me down into a depression spiral, which clearly wouldn’t be good for anyone. My mental health qualifies for sick leave IMO.

      3. anncakes*

        It is very important. Unfortunately, some places don’t recognize this or set up staffing for this possibility. At my high-stress workplace, we get ZERO paid sick days and only 40 hours per year of PTO. Any sick day you take means losing out on income, and more than 3 in a quarter is grounds for disciplinary action. I’ve taken maybe 2 or 3 mental health days in a whole year and have lucked out with other people volunteering to take my shifts because they wanted extra hours, but I’ve lost out on a good chunk of money just to keep myself sane. What’s worse is that the higher up you go in positions, the more difficult it is to take sick days because it becomes impossible to find coverage and it’s such a huge deal to cancel 16 appointments or whatever it is. Not surprising, then, that one of the higher ups had a stubborn upper respiratory infection for 3+ weeks that required more and more aggressive treatment. The stress plus compassion fatigue plus inability to take any sick time is a great combination.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        One of my favorite drums to beat on– high stress companies that do not understand the hundreds of ways they drive up their own health care costs. I would love to see a comprehensive list of all. the. things. that companies do wrong in this regard. I worked for an employer who would not allow employees to have water, even though they were outside in 90-100 degree heat all day. They had to wait for their breaks, when ever that was. Probably did not want them drinking too much water so they would not need bathroom breaks, which was frowned upon also.

    4. Master Bean Counter*

      Ferris Beuller-itis was a real thing at a former job and could be claimed one day a year.

    5. Amber T*

      Mental health days are 100% a thing! I remember when I was little all the way through high school, my mom could tell when I was stressed to the point of breaking. She’d either just not wake me up in the morning, or when I was old enough to set my own alarm, she’d sneak in and turn it off. These happened maybe once or twice a year, but were so necessary. Most of the time I’d stay home in my jammies and we’d have a movie day, but there were occasions where we’d go get our nails done or drive around.

      As an adult, usually reaching my stress limit causes a decently bad headache or an overall feeling of crappiness, so I don’t feel guilty about calling out sick for these. I try to schedule vacation days for when after big projects are done, but sometimes you just wake up and think, nah, can’t do it today (very, very occasionally!).

      1. Megs*

        My mom allowed us to take a couple of mental health days a year when I was growing up, too, and I think it’s a great way to teach kids that taking care of themselves means understanding when you really need a break and actually taking the time to recharge/

        1. Sparrow*

          Yes! I hadn’t thought about that, my mine did, too. I think it was pretty specifically a me-thing, though, since I can’t remember her ever letting my sister take a mental health day. I took school Very Seriously, and I think it was her way of teaching me to recognize when I was at a breaking point with stress and anxiety and to do something about it.

        2. MT*

          Our mother did that as well. It had the added benefit of being “just us” time (a prized commodity in a household with four children).

        3. Anne*

          When I was in elementary (4th & 5th grade) school I was bullied quite a bit. I remember my mother allowing me to stay home because she knew school made me miserable. Then I changed schools. Yay!! When I was in high school I was very, very serious about my studies and my grades. I remember that I even had perfect attendance in 10th & 11th grade. Anyway, I do remember that once in the 12th grade my mother allowed me to stay home to work on a research project that was due the next day. I know there was absolutely no way I would have been ready to turn in my paper/give my presentation unless I had had that day to prepare. My mother was always very understanding; but, I don’t think she ever let me ‘abuse’ or ‘take advantage’ of missing days.

          1. Unegen*

            Related but off-topic:
            Why the *^*& is “perfect attendance” a praiseworthy thing in school? All it means is that you were lucky enough to have your immune system fight off any diseases that were floating around without giving you symptoms. Not really something you can control, and you don’t want kids who do have symptoms in school anyway. Absurd.

            1. Mookie*

              Many states in the US withhold funding (often per student) from public schools for excessively low average daily attendance. Encouraging students to view attendance as mandatory and incentivizing it with awards seems like a reasonable policy, though I wish schools would do more to explain this to parents. I know in California, SB 1468 amended the 1997 bill that explicitly tied funding for public schools to attendance to make the language and intent of the law clearer, but it also required that students and parents be informed that grades cannot be docked over absences, excused or otherwise, alone. And it absolutely stigmatizes and harms chronically ill people. There needs to be exceptions to these guidelines, particularly when funding nationally is at an average all-time low and we’re experiencing the Uberification and privatization (investment and loaning of money by private, international firms to set up US-based charter schools and then outsource their operations for profit) of early education.

              1. Mookie*

                Also, because these aforementioned charter schools receive public funding, as well, local and state taxes are being used towards reducing their the start-up schools’ debt rather than invested in infrastructure, hiring, licensing, and acquiring and compensating well-trained faculty and staff.

      2. CR*

        Yes, my mom was great about allowing me to stay home a few times a year when I “didn’t feel well.” I really appreciated it!

      3. Pixel*

        I wish more employers would realize a warm body at the desk =/= an alert, functional and reasonably happy employee.
        In my very small office we have 10 vacation days (15 if you’ve been with the company for 5 years or longer) and 5 personal days I have used for anything from studying for exams, dealing with a sewer backup, doctors’ appointments, vacation and genuine sick or mental health days. No special concessions for moving house or family emergencies. The more days I use for life’s little emergencies, the less I have to use when I’m actually sick.

    6. pope suburban*

      Good god, yes, this. I know that I would be a lot more productive if I were able to take a day off every now and then (Once a month, maybe, if I felt the need) to recharge. My job is pretty flat-out abusive, and while I can handle it most of the time, five vacation days per year is not enough. I’ve been fighting through burnout for months now, and there’s no more vacation time left. It also sucks to have to choose between going home for the holidays, and literally doing anything else, ever. I know my anxiety and depression would be a lot better if that pressure valve was there, and while I am working to expectations now, I know I would be doing even better.

      1. Koko*

        Yes! I really like to take a Friday or Monday every month or two so I can get a short workweek, an extra day to sleep in a little, a chance to catch up on chores at home and all those errands that are hard to do outside of regular business hours, and just in general a chance to get a little bit more distance from work and clear my head.

        NB that this isn’t just for people with high-stress jobs and abusive bosses–I love my job and do it very well . And I do it better when I take the occasional mental health/recharge day. In fact, the old saying is true about how solutions to problems come when you stop thinking about the problem. I’ve often solved a problem that had me stumped over one of these long weekends just because I got up out of the weeds long enough to gain perspective and disrupt routine cognitive patterns that were preventing me from seeing the answer.

    7. Sparrow*

      +1 My boss at my first “real” post-grad school job actively encouraged people to take mental health days as long as it didn’t mean bailing on important stuff or depleting your sick leave cushion. As a depressed person, some days are just a no go. If I have no meetings or pressing deadlines, I’m calling in and won’t feel bad about it.

    8. Rebecca in Dallas*

      My boss has told me flat out that if I need to use any of my sick days for “mental health” days, I absolutely should. I pretty rarely get sick enough to stay home and we can only roll over so many sick days, so she would rather I not lose out on those. (Plus we have pretty crappy vacation days compared to other companies.)

      I much prefer a combined PTO bank. I know there are drawbacks (as mentioned above), but in my experience it has worked really well. Since I don’t get sick (and have no kids that I have to stay home with if they are), that means I can use more of that time as personal/vacation time. I had coworkers who either got sick more often or had kids who did, they were able to use those days without feeling bad about it or trying to force themselves to come in while sick.

    1. Middle Name Jane*

      Agreed. People don’t have to look sick in order to be sick. If you were to look at me, you would think I’m fine. But I’m battling serious depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. I’m in therapy and am on more than one medication. I am seriously ill. And I certainly would not appreciate someone scrutinizing my sick leave. It’s on a need to know basis. If my manager questions it (which she hasn’t), I am prepared to tell her I’m fighting a serious medical condition and am under the supervision of a doctor.

      1. Anon for this post*

        So true. I have leukemia, but I haven’t lost my hair or much weight, so you would never guess by looking at me. The oral chemo that I take has a side effect of extreme fatigue that comes and goes (it’s worse in the summer), so much so that there are days when taking a shower wipes me out so much that I have to go back to bed.

        I’m actually in a partial remission (which means the cancer cells in my blood are too few to count) and am approaching my 5-year marker (yay!), so doing much better than a lot of other patients. :) But for now, survivors who stop the oral chemo regimen have a >50% chance of relapse, so it appears I’ll continue to have to take it for the next 30 years and deal with the fatigue.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    Well, yuck. People using the sick leave they’re allotted as part of their benefit package is absolutely fine.

    I really hate reading this kind of thing. Surely people have enough to worry about that they don’t need to monitor their coworkers for no reason except to mentally judge them.

    1. Serafina*

      Amen to this. It’s incredibly wrong of employers (and co-workers) to take the attitude that an employee is “not committed enough” or “abusing” benefits when they simply use benefits which have been provided. It’s a “live to work” culture which is toxic anywhere and everywhere, and should be defeated.

      On top of that, this LW should simply mind his or her own dang business! There’s no indication from the letter that LW has any supervisory role or any reason whatsoever to even know the amount of sick leave co-workers are taking, so butt out! I wish Alison had been harder on him/her. This kind of nasty, judgey, gossip-mongering attitude should be slapped down strongly.

      1. Isabel C.*

        This. It’d be one thing if the OP said they had to do more work as a result of their co-workers’ absence–though even then, I feel like, if one person being absent for a day makes such a difference, you’re understaffed and that’s the problem–but otherwise? Mind your knitting, OP: they get sick leave, they can use it however they want; get a damn hobby and stop being everyone’s hall monitor. Nobody *likes* the hall monitor.

    2. Noobtastic*

      At my old job, we had combined vacation/sick leave in a big PTO bucket.

      I was struggling with chronic illness, and used up my PTO as sick days. I mean, literally all of the days I took off were sick days.

      However, I did not exceed my allotted amount of time off.

      But because I was using the PTO as “sick days,” rather than “vacation,” I got called on the carpet about it, and told that I was abusing the privilege.

      I always made sure there was coverage. Sometimes, I’d come in for an important meeting (I wasn’t contagious), and force myself to deal with all the vital stuff, and then go back home to take care of myself.

      But this was “abusing the privilege.”

      Legally, they couldn’t do anything, right? Because the PTO rules clearly stated that they could be used for sick days, and did not have to be scheduled in advance.

      But my boss thought that they should have been scheduled in advance, or that I should save up X number of days to be paid out at the end of the year, instead of actually using them. Therefore, he dinged me on performance reviews, for using my allotted PTO days, even though I did not go over my allotment.

      Then came the dreaded day. I had a serious health issue, and had to go on short-term disability leave. I was off for a month, before the doctor cleared me to go back to work. When I came back, I was greeted with the “One more absence, and you’re fired” memo. I was not the only one, either. A co-worker had a similar memo waiting for her, when she came back from the hospital after a organ transplant.

  3. Leatherwings*

    Question that I hope is not de-railing: I had someone tell me the other day that planning to take a sick day in advance (for a medical procedure) is wrong, and that’s what vacation days are for. Would that be considered an abuse by most workplaces?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No. Dealing with health stuff is usually fine to group under the sick day umbrella. There are offices that are exceptions to this, but they’re not the norm.

      1. Edith*

        At my office doctor’s appointments count as sick leave. I don’t know if it’s official policy, but early on I was told to stop classifying medical absences as vacation time.

        1. Middle Name Jane*

          Hmm. I had the opposite issue. Our company used to classify all medical/dental appointments as PTO time. You weren’t allowed to claim sick time unless you were out of the office actually sick or taking care of someone who was. They reversed the policy this year and now you can claim sick time for appointments.

        2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          Same here. We are flexible about doctor’s appointments (you can come in late/leave early as long as you make up the time), but if you chose to use time to do it, you use sick leave.

          1. Sans*

            And this is why I like PTO. Why is it any of the company’s business why you’re out? All this time spent classifying what kind of day of it is — who cares???? We’re adults. Treat us that way.

            1. Koko*

              One of the big reasons at my company is that sick time has no payout value and cannot be donated to another employee through leave-sharing. If we had one big PTO pool they would have to give us less because they couldn’t afford the financial liability on paying out the sick time when you quit.

              1. BananaPants*

                That’s exactly why my employer hasn’t combined vacation and sick time into a PTO pool, and we went from having our full annual vacation available on January 1st to accruing throughout the year. They don’t want to have to pay out a full year worth of vacation if someone leaves in February.
                All of our leave is use-it-or-lose it and this year I have 15 weeks’ worth of sick time available to me (note that using more than 3 consecutive days means your manager can ask for a doctor’s note, and 5 consecutive sick days requires starting a short term disability claim; you can’t just call out sick for 2 weeks straight and go to Punta Cana for fun). I feel no compunction about using sick time for doctor’s visits, taking my kids to the doctor, or even a mental health day if I’m feeling burned out. I do the last one maybe twice a year and it’s no one’s damned business if I do.

                We can’t donate sick time to other employees. Sick time is ample and

            2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              It’s like @Koko mentioned.

              Vacation and sick time have different payout and accrual rules. Using sick time rather than vacation works in my favor as we accrue a crap ton of sick time and it is almost unlimited, where vacation has caps.

      2. Leatherwings*

        Thanks for your feedback (and everyone else too)! I’ll take the sick day with a clear conscience.

    2. Cheetah*

      When I worked retail, any day scheduled off in advance had to be considered a vacation day. You could only count it as a sick day if it was unexpected.

      1. newlyhr*

        that is such a short sighted policy. I would much rather be able to plan for an employee’s scheduled medical absence as a retail manager than to have it sprung on me at the last minute. Bad idea.

        1. Cheetah*

          Funnily, no one that I’m aware of ever just waited til the day of a dentist appointment or something to spring it on the manager in order to claim it as a sick day. They either scheduled it in advance and used the vacation day, or they made sure to schedule it on a day they weren’t working. Most everyone had at least one weekday off, so 95% of appointments could be scheduled on an off day. I only knew a couple people during my time there that had to take an extended medical leave due to a serious surgery, but they had worked their way up the management/seniority ladder enough that they could qualify for short term disability.

    3. Oryx*

      Every where I’ve worked sick days are reserved for days when you are both sick and have to call off and for doctor’s appointments, surgery, procedures, etc.

      Basically, if it involves your health in any way, shape or form (including mental health days), then it was appropriate to use sick days.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I’ve retroactively changed vacation requests to sick leave because I got sick for a day or two while on vacation.

    4. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I have used sick days not just for myself, but for medical appointment for my family when I go with them (pediatrician, major medical procedure for an immediate family member, etc.). I’ve never heard otherwise, although I am guessing that the ban on planned procedures probably originated from people who lied about said procedures, and instead of addressing the real issue, the “management” (if you can call them that) decided to do an end-run around the problem instead.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I’m obsessed with the newish Massachusetts sick leave law, which explicitly states you can use earned sick leave to handle “physical or mental illness, in jury, or medical condition” for yourself, spouse, child, parent or spouse’s parent (and “child” doesn’t even have to be a legal relationship if you are caring for a child) OR preventive medical care for yourself or any of those people OR routine medical appointments OR to “address the psychological, physical or legal effects of domestic violence.” Which I think is especially great — I would be pissed if I had to use up my vacation time to go to court after domestic violence.

        1. Allison*

          Woah, really? I live in MA and I knew I could accrue sick time but I didn’t realize I could use it for mental health days. This is a game changer!

          1. Lily Rowan*

            Yep! There are restrictions on what employees and what employers qualify, of course, but if you do, home care for a mental illness is 100% allowed. (Myself, I probably would still tell my boss “I don’t feel well today” and leave it at that, but that’s another conversation.) It’s probably faster for you to google up the specifics than for my link to make it through moderation.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Wow, that’s a really good comprehensive regulation! My org has always had split vacation/sick buckets and has always designated sick leave for actual illness, illness of someone you’re responsible for, or medical appointments for yourself or said person, but I’m thrilled to see it codified and required that orgs allow that now.

        3. SarcasticFringehead*

          Seattle has a similar ordinance (if you’re googling, it’s called “Sick & Safe Leave”) where if a business has more than four full-time-equivalent employees, every employee (including part-time, etc.) must be provided paid time to deal with their own illnesses or medical conditions; care for family members (including domestic partners) with illnesses, injuries, or medical appointments; or for “critical safety” reasons relating to “domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.”

      1. Leatherwings*

        Luckily my employer is really flexible about this sort of thing and doesn’t have details like this written out in the handbook. They really defer to managers (and my manager is great). I was more wondering about workplace norms around sick leave :)

        1. BRR*

          Ahh. In that case it’s really normal to be able to take off for appointments or to care for a family member.

    5. all aboard the anon train*

      My employer has told me that too. I scheduled three days off to get my wisdom teeth out and then used another sick day for the follow up appointment a few weeks later, and was told to use vacation days or personal days instead since I can’t use sick days for appointments. There wasn’t anything in our employee handbook about it either.

    6. Roxanne*

      No, that’s not abuse! But what the sick days are for varies WIDELY between states, provinces, industries and companies.

      When I used to be with a large engineering firm, in a province known for being the most socialist in many of its policies, sick days were for sick days (staff only – not for kids’ illnesses) and I made up the time when I had an appointment. For medical procedures, people did use the sick time. They also allowed us to bank overtime so instead of being paid out the overtime at time and a half, I would use it to cover my appointments. (Banking too much overtime was a whole other issue as it affected vacation calculations, etc.)

    7. LQ*

      Our policy explicitly says that we can use it for procedures, and I think if your spouse or child has appointments too.

      When I’ve had medical appointments I wasn’t sure would go well (I needed a couple teeth drilled and I sometimes get migraines from the dentist drill) I’ve taken the next day after off so there is a cushion. No problems at all with that either.

    8. peachie*

      Not at all! I’ve never worked in an office where you couldn’t use sick leave for doctor’s appointments / medical procedures. But I suppose there’s nothing to prevent companies from not allowing that. Did you find out it was against policy, or do you just have a particularly shame-y coworker?

    9. JAM*

      Oh wow. My last job combined PTO + sick leave and gave old employees PTO (refillable and rollover for up to 150% of yearly max) + sick time (leftover pre-change) and a small emergency medical leave bank too. EML was only to be used after 2 days out and required a medical note (often used with or as a precursor to FMLA). The leftover sick leave was for any sick day, doctor appointment, dentist appointment, family member’s medical appointment/issue, even for pets to the vet. That was government too so it’s the standard I use when deciding the type of leave to use for other issues going forward.

    10. SS*

      I’m not sure where you live but in Australia, sick leave is only for days when you get sick unexpectedly and can’t come in. If it’s a scheduled appointment you need to take it as annual leave (which is like vacation leave).

      I know this because last year I was sick a lot and when I tried to put in a sick leave request for an upcoming appointment, our system wouldn’t let me. I called HR and they explained that it wasn’t possible to request sick leave ahead of time because I didn’t know yet whether or not I would be sick tomorrow. But I was too sick to come to work tomorrow! In fact, I was so sick I needed to see a specialist on a weekday morning, which would have made it impossible for me to come to work! (It was a chronic condition so there was no chance I’d wake up cured and cancel the appointment.) HR insisted that was annual leave so I googled it and they were right, it’s the law here. (Weirdly, if you have surgery and need time off to recover you take annual leave for the surgery day, and sick leave for all the days afterwards. But you can’t put them in the system until you’ve come back.)

      But in Australia everyone gets 10 paid sick days and 20 paid annual leave days a year so it’s not as onerous as it would be in some places.

      1. ReanaZ*

        The plain-language version from Fair Work is “Medical appointments and elective surgeries* that are pre-arranged can only be covered by sick leave if an employee is not able to work because of a personal illness or injury. It will depend on each individual circumstance.” They give an example of going to the dentist for a preventative check-up and cleaning doesn’t have to be covered by sick leave, but going to get a toothache checked out does.
        (*For non-Australian audiences, elective means ‘anything that isn’t an unplanned, emergency surgery’ not ‘truly optional like cosmetic plastic surgery’ like it does in the States.)

        I think your workplace has a particularly strict view of this. I have never had an employer in Australia who has not let me use sick leave for medical appointments, procedures, or surgery, and I have a lot of medical problems. (Although being salaried, they usually just tell me to not take leave for appointments that don’t take a full day.) Currently, I get a quarterly medical treatment that knocks me out for a day, and I put those into our system months in advance, as sick days if I have them. (Which I actually have now that I have this good treatment and am not just randomly sick all of the time!)

        I do think your employer is running afoul of the law if they’re making you take annual leave for the day you have surgery, particularly if that surgery makes you sick enough to need further days off. If it’s something like, say, a mole removal, where you could reasonably return to work after, maybe, but if your surgery is serious enough to render you unable to work immediately before/after and is due to illness/injury, you should be entitled to take sick leave for it. I’d call Fair Work and ask for clarification on your employer’s policy/legal interpretation.

  4. many bells down*

    Three sick days in three years as a single parent with multiple kids? I congratulate you, OP, because your kids have the best immune systems in the world. As a former single parent myself, with just ONE kid, I sometimes had to take 3 sick days a WEEK. Daycares are germ factories, and a common policy is for them not to allow a child back until they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours.

    I don’t mean for this to sound snarky, just that I think OP has been very lucky. Kids get sick a LOT and some of us don’t have backup care.

      1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

        I’ve used three or four so far this year for my one kid. Thankfully my work lets me WFH with her so I don’t actually have to dip into PTO if I can still have an honestly productive workday.

        The point being, OP, that your anecdotal evidence of your three kids resulting in a net of three sick days for you so far this year is definitely not the norm for most families.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I have to assume these are older kids. Otherwise, her kids are magical.

      1. Carolyn the Red*

        I’ve managed only 3 days in two years with a toddler. But it’s just dumb luck that my kid scoffs at germs (seriously, she gets a sniffle, I get hit by a massive sinus cold with asthma flare)

        1. Ros*

          I’ve used 3 days this year for my toddler, and my husband has used about the same (yay actual shared parenting…). And my daughter is generally super-healthy, barring the 1-week episode of re-infected ears and spiking fever.

          My point is: I can 100% understand someone with a toddler needing 10+ days a year out of the office to deal with toddler sickness. Now add sick and aging parents, and the occasional ‘oh crap I caught this hell-flu from the toddler’ days… yeah.

    2. Emmy*

      Yeah, my kid’s first year in daycare, he had roseola, pink eye, two ear infections, a respiratory infection, and countless colds. And man, that 24-hour rule is a beast.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        When we first took my daughter to daycare, she got sick a few times in the first month or so, which we were expecting. Then she was fine. On the other hand, my husband and I traded a cold back and forth for about 6 months. It was miserable.

      2. Roxanne*

        Yep. My kid was at home with me until he started junior kindergarten at age four; and before that, he was sick maybe three times in his four years. Once he started school, he was sick four times in three and a half months, one of which required a hospital visit. I just postponed the onslaught!

      3. Happy Lurker*

        And don’t forget the hand foot and mouth (or was it hoof and mouth). That they catch there, but can’t come back for like 4 days!!! That was over a decade, but this conversation brings up the feelings anew.
        Thank goodness daycare built up their immune systems, now they are rarely sick.

      4. Observer*

        That rule is hard. But, it probably kept your kid from getting sick even MORE than she did.

        So, it cuts two ways.

    3. Ann Furthermore*

      Yep, amen to that. My 7 year old is very healthy and I feel fortunate that she doesn’t get sick often. But she gets sick like all kids do. She’ll pick up some kind of bug, and the school will call and say, essentially, “Come get your sick, germ-infested child immediately,” and I’ll have to drop everything. And I understand. The people at school are trying their best to minimize things spreading to the other kids. A couple years ago it was a stomach virus that had struck down 6 kids in her class alone by the time I got there to get her. Let me tell you, I felt sorry for the poor custodial workers that day. It was not pretty. It was fast-moving, whatever it was, because she was fine in about 12 hours. But I had to keep her home the next day because you have to be fever/vomit free for 24 hours before you can come back.

      Last week she came down with some kind of strep-like virus, and we had to keep her home for 2 days. I’m pretty sure she got sick because I took her to McDonald’s and let her run around in the play area, and she probably touched something covered in some sort of funky andromeda strain.

      So yeah, a day here, 2 days there, adds up in a hurry. And that’s with my robust and healthy child, and being fortunate enough that my husband can share in the childcare duties, and that we have his mom as backup care since she lives with us too. So the OP’s kids must have some kind of super-human immunity. The alternative is that she’s sending her kids to school when they’re sick, which is definitely not cool. But I’m not going to assume that since there’s nothing stated here indicating that.

    4. TG*

      I pretty much burned up my sick leave as soon as I earned it during my kids’ daycare days.

      1. DMR*

        This is my life. I earn 3 weeks a year (2x what LR earns) and I think I have 3.5 days accrued after a year. My husband helps out with sick kid coverage, too, but we’ve picked up bugs going through daycare. Plus the 2 weeks vacation would be used up by daycare closure weeks (which is 3 weeks at some of the facilities in my town).

        1. JessaB*

          Heck I once worked a job where because of my asthma and lung problems, I usually got something during winter. They did reviews in Dec/Jan, and I had a boss put exactly one goal on my review “Please make it to February with sick leave left this year.” He wasn’t being nasty, and we had coverage so I wasn’t causing a huge issue, it was more cause he was worried about me not having any leave later. But we only got like 5 days and all I needed was one lung infection to burn all 5 with a lovely trip to hospital included.

          I envy people who have leave left over so much. Once FMLA became a thing, I became THE expert on intermittent FMLA claims. Some days I think breathing is overrated.

    5. DJ*

      That 24hr rule! Your kid might be better, but can’t go to daycare/school. If it is nice out, why not go to the park?

      1. Ros*

        This. I’ve totally done that. “Well, you had a horrible fever at 10pm last night, but it’s now 10am and you’re fever-free and ricochet-ing around the living room. Let’s go to the beach!”

        Beach sick-days are the BEST. :)

    6. Anna No Mouse*


      All it takes is one persistent infection to derail an entire month at work. When my son was a year old, he had consistent respiratory infections that caused high fevers and coughing (brought on by fluid in his ears, in turned out) and I was out A LOT dealing with that. When he was 18 months, it came down to getting tubes put in his ears. He’s now 2 1/2 and he’s only been sick twice since the tubes were put in, and one of those times was over a planned vacation anyway.

      1. many bells down*

        Mine got strep throat at age 4-ish. So there was 4 or 5 days at home caring for her … whereupon *I* got strep throat as well and had to spend another week at home.

        1. Bandit1970*

          Strep throat as an adult is absolutely no fun. Broke a 20 year streak when DD got it when she was 4 yo. She was fine after 24-hours, I thought I was dying. :)

          1. many bells down*

            I had never in my life had strep throat and there I was a 28 with it for the first time. I had to call a friend to come over and make my daughter food, because I couldn’t summon the energy to get off the couch and open a can of soup.

          2. JessaB*

            It’s so true, diseases that are nearly nothing in kids become really horrid messes in adults. Some even become deadlier in grown ups than in kids. And of course once you get the kid well, you get it, then if you have a partner or spouse, you pass it to them. NOT fun.

    7. Random Lurker*

      I normally use about that much sick time. However, I’m child free and am very health conscious. So, for me, this time seems normal.

      That being said, I’m completely aware that what’s normal for me may be extreme for someone else. It would never occur to me to compare my time away with a coworker’s.

      For the OP, I truly believe it all evens out in the end. Even though I’m rarely sick, I did use all my sick leave last year. I had my wisdom teeth out and got dry socket. I was in sooooo much pain. When I got back to work, one of my coworkers gloated that he had worked through the pain when the same happened to him. Well good for you.

      What I’m trying to say is people are different. A cold may work through you quickly where you don’t even notice the symptoms, while that same cold may level your coworker to the ground.

      1. BenAdminGeek*

        I believe federal law allows you to rip out a coworker’s tooth as punishment when they gloat about their dental work and pain tolerance, but IANAL.

    8. Murphy*

      Yeah, in the 8 months since I’ve been back from maternity leave I’ve taken 6 family sick days (god bless my employer for splitting those out from my own sick time) and 6 of my own sick days (from catching what the toddler has). My husband has also taken 6 family sick days.

      The thing is, often our kid wasn’t super sick so we may be out shopping or whatnot during a sick day. She was hadn’t hit the magical “24 hours” since she threw up or whatnot and couldn’t be in daycare. So yes, please don’t judge from the outside.

    9. pieces of flair*

      Seriously! I have 2 normal, “healthy” kids and have already used all 72 hours of my sick leave for the year for their illnesses. And that’s with splitting the time off with my husband and occasional help from grandparents when they’re available. The 24 hour rule is definitely a killer. That day you’re stuck at home with a kid who feels perfectly fine is sooooo frustrating! My kid had a random, low-grade fever yesterday with no other symptoms* and when she woke up today fever-free and feeling fine, we said f*ck it and sent her to camp so we could work. That won’t fly during the school year, though.

      In the past 8 years with my current employer, I have not taken a single sick day for myself outside of pregnancy/maternity stuff.

      *She gets these often, at least once every 2 months. She has a fever for 1-3 days but is otherwise fine, just low energy and low appetite. The pediatrician’s diagnosis is that she is “fever-prone.” Thanks, doc!

      1. Observer*

        Please follow that up. Fevers do NOT just come for no reason. Push your doctor, and if he won’t look further, take her elsewhere.

        I had something similar with one of my kids – but the fevers were high. It turned out she had a urinary tract issue. Once we started dealing with that, the fevers stopped.

    10. PT*

      My wife and I are always doing the sick roshambo – comparing schedules to see who can take a sick day to be with our daughter when she gets a cold/flu/etc. I was once about to give a presentation and I got a call from preschool that my daughter had explosive diarrhea and someone needed to get her. Luckily my wife could – that would have been an embarrassing way to bail on a presentation.
      Another day I was coming off of an insanely busy couple of weeks, and the first day I didn’t have jam-packed with deadlines and meetings I get a call at 10am saying my daughter had lice and please come get her.
      And more often than not, whatever my daughter gets my wife and I will get tenfold. My daughter will have a little sniffle and I will have a full on fever. For a week.

      I often won’t even call in sick when I am sick – I’ll just work from home so I don’t infect my colleagues and don’t have to deal with the commute, which is the hardest part. I’m rarely so sick that I can’t sit on the couch and work on my laptop, but if I am I take a real sick day, or a half sick day.

      And pre-kid I used to take the odd mental health day, provided my absence wasn’t leaving my org in the lurch and I wasn’t bailing on any meetings or deadlines.

    11. Retiree57*

      I’ll concur that LW and family are lucky and blessed with unusually good health. Also, LW is incorrect to assume fellow employees are abusing sick leave. My experience: I was a single parent with one child all my working career. My job gave one sick day per month and that could accumulate. I never had any significant accumulation until my child was grown and off to college. If your child is sick and under age to be left alone, you have to take the day off. There is no day care or other service that will take a sick child (short of a hired nurse, maybe?) So, I agree that using all/most sick leave is very normal. I also think LW’s employer is very light on the leave… 55 hours is about 7 days. That’s only one kid flu followed by one adult flu. On top of only two weeks vacation time. I’m surprised they don’t see more unpaid absences with that minimal a level of benefits. (I was blessed with more than one job offer back in the day and as a single parent, would not have considered working anywhere with such bare minimums.)

      1. Shortie*

        I thought 55 hours was light too, and I don’t even have kids. I get sick (fever, head cold, chest congestion, sore throat, the whole 9 yards) about 5-6 times per year. Granted, I can’t take off every time…if a big project that you are responsible for is launching then nobody cares about your fever…but even if I only take off for 4 of those illnesses, I might reach 55 hours.

    12. Swistle*

      This is what caught my attention too. Each of my kids usually has several days each school year when they are home sick with fevers and/or barfing. And it’s quite common for something to go around the household, so that one child is sick on Days 1-4, the next child on Days 3-6, the next child on days 4-8—and then I finally get it and am sick on days 8-11. And then someone brings home strep! And meanwhile my supervisor is sending out snarky emails about how she knows we’d all rather be out in the nice weather, but she really needs people to give adequate notice if they’re going to take “unexpected sick days”—as if most sick days arrive with advance notice.

    13. BananaPants*

      No kidding. Our older kid’s almost 6 and her immune system is freaking IRON. But the 3 year old does come down with bugs from time to time. Blessedly a fever or vomiting or the like is rare, but daycare really is a hive of contagion. It was not this good when they were babies, for the first year or so in daycare.

      Our older child has a medical condition that requires several specialist doctor’s visits a year. I use sick time to take her to those because I can. A coworker who wants to question me on something that’s none of her business in the first place will be treated to an explanation of our child’s condition and its impact on her and our family, and why it’s so important for us to periodically take her to the hematology/oncology department at the children’s hospital.

    14. Jaydee*

      The employer provides 56 hours of sick leave a year. That’s basically 7 days (assuming an 8 hour workday). If most employees have 10 hours or less left at the end of the year, that means they have used an average of maybe 6 sick days over the course of the year. One every other month. That’s…just not unreasonable at all.

      Also, just because a family has two parents in the home doesn’t mean they can equally share sick kid care. Maybe the other spouse doesn’t get paid sick leave or has a job that’s really inflexible or is hard to take time off on short notice.

  5. De Minimis*

    I like your answer. I know it can be frustrating when coworkers are often out and we think they are abusing the system, but it’s not the LW’s affair.

    I think in general even on the company side they should err on the side of letting things slide. It’s really bad for morale to be hassled every time you use sick leave, and in my experience people tend to abuse it even more.

    1. A Bug!*

      I fully agree. I’d much rather have a system that allows some people to play hooky by taking sick time when they don’t need it (by whatever measure), than a system that makes it difficult for people to use their sick time when they do need it.

      I wouldn’t expect to answer to my coworkers for my sick use and I’d be pretty irritated if I learned that one of them was taking it upon herself to comb through my Facebook to validate my sick day.

      1. Isabel C.*

        Yep! And honestly? When America follows the lead of other civilized countries and mandates 28 days of paid leave per year, then I’ll reconsider, but until (or until a company gives me same) I will use my sick leave any damn way I please, thanks.

  6. Edith*

    I’m always surprised by the number of people who seem to think people only post photos online at the exact time they’re taken. During a lull at work one day I posted a photo of me and my dog I had taken the night before. Ten minutes later my mom called to check on me because I was clearly home sick.

    OP, as a parent you know that being at home with a sick kid involves a lot of just sitting around. It’s boring. I think it far more likely that your coworkers are messing around on their phones and posting pics of their kids at the park from the week before than lying about their child being sick to take the day off and go to the park with the kid.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Also, if their kid got sent home sick from day care the day before – and the other parent handled that day – they will not be allowed back today _even if they’re fine_ (because sometimes they seem fine and they’re not; I do understand the reasoning). Unless you take them to the doctor and have the doctor certify the 24-hour waiting period shouldn’t apply, which is a waste of the doctor’s time and the patient’s/insurance’s money, and which in many cases they won’t / can’t do. In fact it’s only when they have something serious enough for a doctor that they make it back before the waiting period is up! (Ear infections and sinus infections, both serious enough for a doctor, but not contagious, for example.)

      The time I picked my kid up with a “fever” and found him burrito-wrapped in a blanket with multiple layers around him, in a perfectly-normally-heated space (just after nap time, so he’d probably been that way for over two hours) and the “fever” was gone within a half hour (probably less, but I was driving) of unwrapping him from the blanket, with no medicine given? I did speak to the day care about never wrapping him up that way again, but the 24-hour waiting period fever-free still applied, of course. I’m pretty sure I took him to the park on our mutual forced day off. I’m confident he was never actually sick in that case.

      1. pieces of flair*

        LOL, my daughter’s daycare once sent her home because she had “loose stools” twice within a few hours. She was a breastfed infant. Then she had to stay home the next day, too. *sprains eyes from rolling them so hard*

    2. aebhel*

      Yeah, I tend to upload photos when I’m sitting around and have free time… like when I’m home sick, or watching my sick kid. I very rarely upload them as they’re taken.

    3. Jady*

      No kidding. I find this idea baffling. You’re sitting at home in front of the computer on a sick day, why wouldn’t you be doing random things like that?

      I know when I’m sick I can never sleep. I end up in front of the computer most of the time.

  7. Bailey*

    Not all companies will let you “roll over” sick days to the next year. It’s “use it or lose it.”

    Of course, if you’re taking a sick day, it’s not really too smart to show yourself on Facebook having fun. Although perhaps that trip was taken at another time. I don’t always post things on Facebook right after they happened.

    However, if the OP is not in Human Resources or management, I don’t think it’s really any of her business, just as Alison said.

    1. justsomeone*

      “Of course, if you’re taking a sick day, it’s not really too smart to show yourself on Facebook having fun.”

      But as Alison said, sometimes people take a sick day for a medical appointment. If I already have the day off, why can’t I go to the park and have fun? I had to take a sick day on Monday to take my husband to the eye doctor for a minor procedure. I wasn’t sick at all. Once I dropped him off at home after the procedure I went to the park for a walk. He was asleep and could call me if he needed anything. You’re saying I should have stayed home and sat on the couch instead, because I was using “sick time”?

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        No, but you could go back to work. Does your company allow for “sick hours” instead of “sick days?”

        1. many bells down*

          If she needs to be available for her husband that day, she could very well walk 5 minutes to the park but it might be impractical to drive 30 minutes to work, possibly only to have to immediately leave again if he called.

        2. Lia*

          I’d only bother if sick leave was awarded in hours or partial days. I worked at one place where vacation and sick time were whole-day increments only, so yeah, in the case of the person above taking the husband in for a minor procedure, I wouldn’t have given my employer half a day of free work — I’d probably go the park, too!

        3. Alton*

          At my job, that would be more hassle than it’s worth. I would have to update my leave request, get my supervisor to sign off on it, etc.

          And why should I have to? If I ask for an entire day off, that’s my business.

          Also, there are so many variables–I recently took a whole day off because I had a couple different medical appointments and one of them was too far for me to go to from work. I had a couple hours between appointments, and I spent that time having a nice lunge and enjoying the time off. I wouldn’t have had time to work during that window of time, anyway.

        4. Mike C.*

          I have to charge in 4 hour increments, even though I enter my hours to the tenth of an hour. >.<

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I **hated** the 4-hour increment rule at my last job!

            I never understood why it was better for me to take 4hours off, rather than come in 30 minutes late or leave an hour early.

            1. Koko*

              At my job we have a half-day minimum for leave (3.5 hours since we have a 35 hour workweek). But we also have a really flexible culture so what it comes out to in practice is that people only record time off when it’s at least 2 hours. If you come in an hour late or leave early or take a long lunch you’re still considered to have worked enough of a full day that it doesn’t matter.

              1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

                Yeah, I don’t know if it was because Old Job was at a state university or if they just liked draconian rules…but it felt so ridiculous to take 4 hours of work to pick up my glasses.

            2. ReanaZ*

              My understanding is that this is companies being risk-adverse in regards to exempt/non-exempt classifications. There’s some legal precedent that allowing/making exempt, salaried staff take leave in 1 hour chunks is treating them like hourly wage/non-exempt staff, and it can threaten their exempt status.

              Granted, the intention of this regulation is that exempt, salaried roles should include the flexibility for workers to take an hour here and there, since salaried workers shouldn’t be nickel and dimed on hours, the focus should be on work getting done not exact office hours, etc. But some company stay equally strict on hours and just dick people arund with only being able to take half days.

        5. Jadelyn*

          Sometimes the appointment is not local or is at a bad time for setting work around – if I have to drive 1.5 hrs to get to my 12pm appointment, should I come in and work for 1.5 hrs before leaving? And if I then am ready to head back at 2, should I come straight to the office and work for another 1.5 hrs? That seems like a total waste, because frankly I’m not going to get crap done. So I’d take the full day, but then that leaves me able to go do other stuff from 2pm onward – if there’s a nice park on the way home somewhere, why not stop off and spend a little time outdoors?

          Can we not audit people’s decisions around nickel-and-diming sick time?

        6. Cookie*

          It’s easier for everyone if you inform you boss in advance that you won’t be in at all rather than promise to come in 2 hours late and show up 5 hours late due to an unavoidable delay due to double booking or a procedure that took longer than anticipated. Or you could plan on coming in 2 hours late and find yourself too exhausted after a treatment to come in at all. It’s easier for your team to plan as though you won’t be in at all today than expect you than deal with these foreseeable changes at the last minute.

      2. fposte*

        I read Bailey’s comment as being about the the wisdom of posting on Facebook, not about the rightness or wrongness of going to the park.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yep. At one place I worked FB caused more arguments, as some people policed everyone’s moves and then reported “LIES”, real or imagined, loudly at work each day. I shrugged. The complainer could stay off of FB or the person being complained about could watch what they are posting. It’s not that hard a problem to solve, YET some how the problem persisted and persisted……

      3. JAM*

        I definitely avoid going back to work for some appointments. I had cancer as a teen and it messed me up a little for going to the doctor. I stress all night, don’t sleep, etc. I went to therapy and my therapist told me to view my follow up appointments as a good thing. Reframe them as a celebration of the distance between me and cancer. So now I get a fairly early appointment, eat a nice lunch out, go shop at all the places I’ve been wanting to go when there aren’t crowds, and do a nice thing for myself. It’s the one time I really don’t try to get an end-of-day appointment and it has completely transformed my attitude for doctors and for going back to work after. I am so recharged the next day.

    2. Oryx*

      Not everyone uses sick days when you have the flu and can’t get out of bed. They are there for medical appointments, too, so if I take a full day but only have medical appointments scheduled for part of that day, it’s perfectly reasonable to use the rest of that time away from work like I normally would.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      How about they stop looking at people’s Facebook? Why are they even doing that in the first place? This crap is why I don’t friend coworkers and most of my posts are not accessible.

      I do wish we could roll sick time over like the OP though. We just have the PTO bucket.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        Exactly. Stay off your coworkers’ social media pages and then you won’t know what they may or may not be doing during their sick leave.

    4. BananaPants*

      I have to take one of our kids to a specialist at the children’s hospital several times a year, and I use sick time for it. We spend several hours there for her clinic visit and she usually has to have a blood draw or test. Given that it’s something of an ordeal for a child, I usually stop at the froyo place on the way home. I have no qualms about posting a picture on Facebook of us enjoying our treat after a medical appointment. If a coworker decided to tattle to my boss by showing said picture my boss would probably tell her that he knows about the reason for my absence and that the coworker needs to mind her own business.

      Note: only one of my coworkers is friended to me on Facebook because we’re friends outside of work, and she’s not in my group.

  8. MarCom Professional*

    Bravo, Allison! This is DEFINITELY not the OP’s business. Frankly, his/her sparse use of sick leave could be why the coworkers (and probably your kids’ classmates) are out sick so much. People should definitely stop pretending to be super heros and do the rest of us a favor and stay home when you (and your kids) are ill.

      1. Michelle*

        YES! I’ve had to use sick leave because a coworker came to work with a raging fever and strep and got me sick that I was out 5 days! Even after I was no longer contagious, I felt like crap and would not have been productive at all.

        OP, also really take the advice given- stop policing people’s use of time. It’s unprofessional and will make coworkers mad if they find out you are tracking their time. How would you like it if coworkers did this to you?

        Also, you can be vomiting at 6am and by 12pm you feel a little better but not well enough to work. Why not get some fresh air at the park?

        1. Lady Dedlock*

          A similar thing happened to me just recently. A coworker who has the office next to mine came in with what was “probably strep.” I got sick a few days later. I was sick for an entire three-day weekend, and two more work days besides! People need to be able to feel like they can call out instead of coming in and infecting everyone else.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Something similar happened to me as well recently when a coworker got sick thanks to her kid, came to work hacking up her lungs, and infected half our floor. I was pissed. I’m immunocompromised, as is someone close to me (my mom), and that illness turned into a three week ordeal for me and could have killed my mother if I’d gotten her sick. People need to stay their asses home when they’re ill.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I’ve got a superhuman immune system, but I try to be mindful that the people around me don’t. Example: I got strep when I worked in the call center. I was feverish by maybe a degree or two and had a slight tickle in my throat, but I thought about what it would be like to have strep go racing through the call center, and decided to stay home for the sake of my coworkers, even though I felt like I could absolutely work. I’m glad I did. And the work friends I confided in when I came back were, too! (My roommate, on the other hand, who had passed the strep to me, ended up ill for weeks when the strep turned into bronchitis. I was feverish for a day and had a throat-tickle for two. I didn’t even sound hoarse!)

  9. Gaia*

    If my company only gave me 2 weeks vacation and 2 days PTO, I’d be using every single moment of sick leave, too.

    1. Jady*

      Unfortunately, pretty standard in the US.

      At my company you have to have been here 10 years before you get 4 weeks vacation.

        1. fposte*

          But it sounds like it’s also @7 days of sick leave per year. So two weeks of vacation, over a week of sick leave, and two days to put toward either; plus the sick leave rolls over. I’m fortunate to have better, but that doesn’t seem below U.S. average.

          1. Gaia*

            Right, but my point is if outside of sick leave all I got was 2 weeks’ vacation and 2 sad days of PTO I’d use sick leave all day long. Because 2 days of PTO is insufficient.

  10. Lily in NYC*

    Dear Person: Mind your own damn business. I hate when people gloat about how little sick leave they use and then judge other people who use theirs. I’d be happy to give her my vertigo so she can see what it’s like to have a chronic health issue.

    1. Edith*

      And how. A coworker of mine takes more sick days than I do because she gets horrible migraines. Me gloating about not taking as much sick leave would be me gloating about not having horrible migraines. What’s the response to that? Congratulations?

      1. Anna No Mouse*

        As a chronic migraine sufferer (with a myriad of other mostly minor health issues) THANK YOU!

        I know I take more sick days than most people, and I do whatever I can to mitigate the impact that has on the work other people have to do. If I have to take a day off to go to sometime 2-3 medical appointments, and I want to meet a friend for lunch or take a walk or pick up my son early from daycare to spend more time with him, that’s my business.

    2. LCL*

      I believe you are being too hard on the OP. Yes, the OP should let this one go because they don’t have the power, and it is not their concern. But in companies that give time specifically for sick time, as OPs company does, some people are going to misuse their sick leave and their is nothing you can do to stop them.

      It is really frustrating to have to run repeatedly short staffed because someone has called in sick, and you know (because they TOLD you or another employee) what they are really doing. When you are doing extra work because of someone’s unwillingness to come in, that person has made it your business, and the business of everyone else who has to cover for them. Make no mistake, people do scam on sick time, but there is nothing you can do about it so you might as well let it go.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yes, it’s really up to their manager to deal with.

        That said, if absences are affecting your work, you can always go to your manager and ask what they want you to do instead. Like, “Taystee is out today and I need the TPS report; should I ask Piper for that instead?”

      2. Serafina*

        But the LW isn’t complaining about “running repeatedly short staffed because someone has called in sick” – he/she is complaining about other employees having the gall to NOT have sick leave left over at the end of the year! That’s ridiculous, arrogant, and meddlesome, and the LW needs to mind his/her own business!

      3. Observer*

        Yeah, but none of that applies to the OP.

        She says that her expectation is based on the fact that she’s only taken 3 days for her kids, one day for her mother and nothing for herself in 3 years. And she “knows” they are abusing the time because of the pictures on facebook. Oh, and she’s aware of how much time they use because she’s reviewing their accruals, not because she’s being affected by the absences.

        So, it’s absolutely NONE of her business. Beyond that, not only are her expectation out of kilter, her the basis for her claim of abuse is seriously ignorant.

        1. JessaB*

          I’d seriously like to know if the OP’s job involves looking at those accruals, otherwise why are they doing that anyway?

      4. Lily in NYC*

        I stand by what I wrote. OP was comparing people to herself and acting like she deserves a cookie for rarely taking sick leave. There was nothing in the letter about being short-staffed – it was basically OP patting herself on the back for her amazing immune system and judging people who don’t reach her unreasonably high standards.

    3. Cam*


      OP, it’s great that you and your kid are healthy and rarely get sick. Not all of us are so lucky. Try to have a little compassion. Believe me, people who are suffering from chronic health problems would much rather be healthy and at work.

    4. Jeanne*

      I’ll give her the damn kidney dialysis. Alison is realllllly underestimating how much time that takes. But good health is a gift or luck, depending on perspective. Maybe I can go back and not be born with kidney disease.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Oh Jeanne, I see my good friend have to deal with dialysis twice a week and I just don’t know how she does it. It HOURS each time. I am so sorry to hear you have kidney disease.

  11. aebhel*

    Allison was much more diplomatic about this than I would have been. OP, unless you directly manage these people, you should probably MYOB. And stop Facebook-stalking your coworkers, it’s crass.

    1. Katniss*

      Crass is the right word for it, and also for caring at all how other people use their sick leave unless it directly affects you.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      Even as a manager, the last thing I want to do is police my staff’s sick time.

      My team is made up of adults who I trust to manage their workload and time. If Tyrion wants to use sick time because he is hungover and doesn’t feel it would be productive to come in, or Cersei needs to stay home because Tommen is sick, or Jaime needs a mental health day — it’s their time to use!

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Jaime needs more like a mental health decade to sort out his issues, js.

  12. Jackie*

    OP – I was blessed with my 1st kid and her rock solid immune system. She NEVER got sick, even when she was in standard daycare. Like she had a fever once in the 2 years she was there before my 2nd was born. She had the occasional runny nose, but nothing stay home worthy.

    My 2nd? She made up for it. She would get sick and be daycare inadmissable for 3 or 4 days at a time. Most places have rules about fevers and the length of time the kid is excluded if the daycare finds out. Luckily, my childcare for her was a mom friend who was totally fine caring for her while she was sick. (She figured that since her kid and mine were together as toddlers before one of them showed signs of being sick, they’d already shared the germs.)

    Different people have different needs and how people perform at their jobs is really the only thing that matters at the end of the day.

  13. Gaia*

    Also, I tend to not take sick leave because I am lucky and don’t tend to get sick. But I don’t think twice about someone else taking theirs. First, because keep your germs at home. And second, because it is not my business. I manage a team and have two folks that have never taken a sick day in 2 years and one that takes a sick day every few weeks. Everyone falls somewhere in the middle and I really don’t care where they fall so long as they are not using more than allotted (without discussing FMLA or any other appropriate accommodation, of course).

    1. Menacia*

      I totally agree with this. There is one guy in my group who NEVER takes sick time, even when he’s fully, visibly sick, just so he can get the award for perfect attendance (yes, my company actually has a breakfast and gives out perfect attendance awards yearly). Needless to say, I’ve never been invited to this breakfast! My job is pretty stressful, along with a stressful commute to/from work, so hell yes, I’m going to take my sick and vacation time, ALL of it, as I need it. If someone has time to do this, either they aren’t doing *their* job, or they don’t have enough work to do. Find something productive to do, sheesh!

      1. Roxanne*

        An award for perfect attendance – really? But does he do perfect work? Not if he comes in sick!
        I think that rewards the wrong things…and it feels like something out of grade school.

        1. Menacia*

          He does do good work, but it’s to his detriment. Even when he’s encouraged to call out sick, he does not. It makes no sense to me, but he is kind of *special*. He also never takes a full week of vacation but half days on Wednesdays or Fridays…whatever.

      2. Megs*

        That is really, really absurd. I don’t even get sick days, but I’ll still stay home if I think I’m contagious, because I work in an open office with 25 other people and I’m not an ass. Yeah, it stinks to lose out on pay, but all my coming in sick will do is risk pushing that loss onto other members of my team.

      3. Gaia*

        Your company has perfect attendance awards? Like the things we had in elementary school!?

          1. Gaia*

            I should come to work for him. If I just show up and do nothing I’m good to go? AWESOME.

    2. Koko*

      I have worked with someone with chronic illness who worked a routine four-day workweek with two of those days working from home. I have also worked with people who never took vacation but did their job much less well than my coworker with chronic illness.

      Results are what matter. I will take the high-performing coworker who exhausts every hour of their sick and vacation time over the slacker who sits at their desk all day chatting and playing Pokemon GO…or even the person who never takes vacation but just isn’t skilled at their job. Results are what I care about.

  14. Anxa*

    I’m hesitant to start a long thread about PTO, because from what I’ve seen people seem pretty passionate about it, but I really don’t understand much about it.

    My first instinct in reading this was that this was all backward. If you choose not to use a personal day, that you can save for later. You can’t control when and if you get sick, so it seems kind of unfair that some people can bank time for later and others can’t.

    I get that some managers encourage vacation and don’t want you saving them up. And I guess if sick time didn’t roll over, more people would use it up as if were vacation near the end of the year. So now it’s starting to make more sense.

    But how does this work if you have employees that haven’t risen to the benefits echelon until recently or are new hires or who did get small illness here. How do you deal with a longer term illness for them if they haven’t been squirreling away sick days?

    1. Leatherwings*

      Hm. I think it’s likely that all full time employees have those benefits. If there are part-time workers without benefits it’s probably handled by requiring them to take unpaid time off, and same with people who use up their sick time (or people may be eligible for FMLA or similar leave).

      For a new hire, it seems logical that either they’d take unpaid leave or just borrow ahead on sick time.

      That’s pretty common. Granted, at my workplace we accrue vacation but are just granted sick leave at the beginning of the year but i’ve seen it done this way too. It’s pretty generous that at this place they roll-over sick leave, that’s not always the case and probably makes up for having to accrue it. Does that make sense? I may have misunderstood what you’re saying.

    2. Oryx*

      I’ve seen it handled different ways.

      At my old job, it was all rolled into one (which I didn’t like) and it was accrued monthly. But you could also take an advance, if you will, and go into the negative, as long as you were all caught up by the end of the year (we had a use it or lose it policy).

      At my current job, all sick time is given at the beginning of the year and whatever we don’t use goes into our short term disability at the end. Vacation is separate and accrued monthly but we can still take an advance if we know we’ll come out even or ahead by the end of the year and that does roll over.

      New employees would just take it unpaid or borrow against their future hours.

    3. fposte*

      If I understand your question, you’re basically asking what happens to people who need to use more sick days than they have earned or have left unused or that the company allots.

      And the answers are sometimes they get fired; sometimes they go into the red on their sick days; sometimes they have to take vacation days; sometimes they have to take the days unpaid. It depends on the location (given varying laws about leave), the employer, and the employee.

    4. BRR*

      I’m not sure I exactly understand your question but some employers allow you to go negative on PTO if there is a need and I’ve seen some employers (a smaller number) allow other employees to donate to a general sick-time pool that can be used by those who need it. Employees might also need to use vacation time if they have exhausted their sick time (assuming the two are separate).

      If you’re talking really long term and in the US you might be eligible for FMLA or your company might have short or long-term disability.

    5. Mike C.*

      My workplace spots new employees 6 months of vacation and sick leave, but you wait six months before it starts to accrue normally. I think that’s really a great solution that is fair to all involved and shows that the company trusts the employees they hire on.

      1. Mike C.*

        Let me clarify – six months worth of accrued vacation/sick leave, not six months of time. :)

  15. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Depends. Now that I am older, I use sick time more often – crowns for teeth, medical appointments, and the like.

    But in my first 15 years with this company I only took five sick days (two for scheduled colonoscopies, the other three I honestly don’t remember).

    However – way-yy-yyy back when – when I worked an overnight shift – I wound up using most sick leave because the schedule made me (and others) more susceptible to illness…. lack of sleep, etc. Every February I was sick for three-four days, and bedridden.

    I know that in some cases – schoolteachers – they get “bonused” or “take out their sick time” (get paid for not taking it)… the incentive is, if you have some elective procedure coming up, the school will bonus you for taking it on your own time.

    (I know, I know – it’s not a “bonus” but a “buyout” – same thing – you’re getting money for not taking sick days).

    1. Patrick*

      I’m curious about the buyout thing – how does that work? I’m just not sure what the difference is between taking a sick day and getting paid out for it other than getting a lump sum of cash for not using sick days. Do you get paid more to just cash out sick days?

      1. Kyrielle*

        I think it means, if they would normally be paid $X that year and they use all their sick days, they are paid $X.

        If they would normally be paid $X but they have 5 unused sick days, they are paid $X + $Y where Y is the bonus for unused sick time (probably 5 x their daily rate).

        1. Not So NewReader*

          We were allowed to accrue sick time up to x amount. If you used two or less sick days in a year you could “sell” a week of sick time and get an extra week’s pay. The people who had a large amount of sick time saved up, were the most likely to sell time back.

          It was hugely comforting to know that we could be out sick for months and if we had the time saved up we would get a full paycheck.

    2. Aubergine Dreams*

      In my experience, the buyout is only 25% of the value, so it’s really not worth it for most people.

      1. Gene*

        25%? I wish!

        I’m entitled to get 10% of the value of my accrued sick leave on separation.

        1. Ros*

          … between 10% of my daily salary and a day off, I will absolutely 100% take the day off. Mental health day coming on…

  16. TG*

    We’re all different and we all have different health statuses, needs, and family situations. I take way less sick leave in general now that my kids are grown, but others my age take more as their own health problems are surfacing. I don’t think there can be a one-size-fits-all approach to sick leave.

  17. Maria*

    In the past, I worked in companies in which the sick day policy meant that any behavior not illness related would result in discipline. So, standing in line at the pharmacy waiting for your meds while hacking up a lung is fine. If someone sees you browsing at the mall, you’re written up. Unless your idea of a “mental health day” involves lying on the couch surrounded by tissues, you don’t take one at those companies.

    That doesn’t make other people’s PTO the OP’s business, but perhaps clarifying her understanding of what sick leave entails at her company would ease her mind.

    1. Gaia*

      That is absurd. Why do companies insist on treating adults like children? If you take a sick day you are not truant. It is up to you to manage your sick days (if you even get them!) appropriately. If you waste them wandering the mall, so be it! I guess you’re taking PTO when you are hacking up your lung in December.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        In my experience, the people who reported sick employees at the mall did so because they were doing their personal shopping at the mall ON COMPANY TIME. So I guess the name of the game is “report, or BE reported”, the preemptive striker has the advantage.

  18. Patrick*

    I think the advice here is dead on but I just wanted to chime in on the bit about people who see sick time as part of their compensation like vacation – it was a shock to me when my first direct report told me he needed to take a week off in January to use up his sick time (we’re a “use it or lose it” company.)

    Long story short, he got upset when I told him no but ultimately realized that it was a pretty poor choice of battle to fight (since IMO the situation didn’t exactly reflect well on him.) I also had to explain to him that if he wanted to play that game I would have to start making him take sick time for doctors appointments when before I was fine with him just coming and going (since he was salaried – and no he didn’t make up the time he missed.)

    He made me feel pretty awful about it as he had scheduled a trip to see his family across the country, but I thought it set a really bad precedent (and honestly felt like an abuse of our pretty relaxed leave policies – as in, he knew that if he had used up his sick time we generally are flexible giving more if someone needs it.) The mindset of sick time being compensation was just totally alien to me (and honestly still is.)

    1. Katie the Fed*

      The only time I’m ok with burning of sick leave because of a use-it-or-lose-it policy is if someone has put in their notice and is leaving the job. Sometimes they’ll take a week or two of sick leave before they officially leave the job. I’m ok with that.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      That’s really bad!

      In my view, the responsible way to “see it as compensation” means staying home with a cold sometimes, or taking a mental health day here and there — not factoring it into your vacation time off!

      1. BRR*

        I consider sick time to barely be part of one’s compensation. I think the employee in this situation went a little too far. If you end up losing sick time, it happens and should mean that you weren’t sick or didn’t need tons of appointments. Those aren’t bad things.

    3. some1*

      We have a combined PTO bank here, but my counterpart works a half-day every other week and is allowed to make up the time by coming in early (although there’s no evidence of work being done when she comes in early & she has a behind needs to be in the seat job) instead of taking PTO. So she uses PTO for vacation. All of this would be none of my business except we back each other up so I get peeved.

    4. Gaia*

      That is very different to me. You don’t plan a week of sick time that isn’t related to actual medical (physical or mental) needs. I don’t care if it is use it or lose it. You should have planned better.

    5. Oryx*

      I think it’s compensation in the fact that it’s there to use if I do get sick or have a doctor’s appointment and it’s not fair for an employer to hold, say, a chronic illness or injury that requires use of sick time against an employee.

      But no, it’s not the same as vacation time and that employee was trying to circumnavigate the process by thinking that it was.

  19. Former Retail Manager*

    I agree with all the others that it’s not OP’s business. However, I can see how one would be peeved, especially when the majority of people are using so much of their sick time. Depending upon the number of employees I’d be willing to bet that this defies statistical probability indicating that the OP’s gut feeling is probably right. All that said, it’s their leave to do with as they wish. Should they ultimately suffer a lengthy or catastrophic illness, they might regret their frequent use of sick leave when they weren’t really sick, but once again, their problem.

    I am personally not a frequent sick leave user because I have the ability to carry over and accrue sick leave indefinitely and I’d rather be safe than sorry. It puts my mind at ease to know it’s there if there is ever a major event involving me or a family member. However, I have a co-worker who is just like OP’s co-workers and it doesn’t bother her a bit to have so little sick leave. To each their own.

    1. Amtelope*

      I don’t see how it defies statistical probability for most people to need to be out sick for their own illness or a child’s illness an average of one day every other month.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        that may be true…for a year or two, maybe even 4 years if you have a sickly child, but if you have employees who have been there for 6-10 years and consistently use all of their sick leave every single year, I am inclined to believe that they or family members aren’t really sick all of that time. To have NEVER had an opportunity in any given year to accrue some sick leave is a bit unbelievable to me for the average person. Obviously I can see this being the case for up to even 50% of the employees, but beyond that I just don’t see it unless they all have virtually the same or similar family circumstances (i.e. a ton of single mothers with multiple children under the age of 6) or unless there was a situation like the one Katie the Fed references below wherein the employee may have been out for an extended period due to a previous accident or illness that depleted their leave.

        Either way, I think the real issue with this company is that they need to provide more time off and perhaps not designate it as sick vs vacation and just let people have maybe 4 weeks that they can take as they wish.

        1. Vendrus*

          I have a relatively poor immune system. Nothing medical, just that I’ll tend to pick up anything that’s going round. I got a bug from some builders the other week, no energy and no voice tues/wed/thurs and ended up going home early on friday ’cause I wiped out again. That happens more than once a year and poof, that’s way past the 6 days you’re talking about. I don’t have kids, but man, I’d hate to image that. If you’ve got an amazing immune system (and my partner has, the lucky booger) then fine, great, lucky you. Don’t use it as an excuse to look down on other people.

          My situation: I’ve had a mindblank as to whether it’s 23 or 25 days a year vacation here, but it’s technically 5 days sick leave I think? Except because we treat employees like adults here, if you end up taking more you will not get penalised. Anything over 5 days in a row needs a doctor’s note, but that’s it. It just seems nuts to me to expect people working in a close environment with lots of others, often in stressful situations, to not get sick. Then, when they do and they’re out of sick leave, they come in and make others sick and thereby compound the problem… and make you have a lot of people off at the same time.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      You seem to think that people who use their sick leave are needlessly taking risk by not having a buffer. What you’re missing is that they might not be choosing to take it at all, but actually need it. So they’re in a bind, yes, but who are you to say their reasons weren’t legitimate?

      I burned every last hour of sick leave I’d accrued after an accident last year. Six weeks, gone. Yes, it’s pretty irresponsible of me to not have a buffer in case I get sick now, but what choice did I have?

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        I do think it is risky to not have a buffer but I’m not referring to situations such as yours in which you were out due to an accident. To take 6 weeks off, I assume you had a buffer…240 hours worth which you accrued by not taking all of your sick leave previously. And I’m sure you’ll try to build that back up again slowly over time. And I agree, they may need to take it, but I don’t believe that a vast majority of people are in that type of situation unless you have a large number of employees with similar circumstances, as I mention in response to Amtelope.

        All of this also depends heavily upon whether these employees are new employees or employees with 6-10 years, or more, of service. I think it’s expected that a newer employee with only a few years of service won’t have much sick leave. I didn’t in my first few years either. Regardless, as I indicated, it’s not the OP’s problem so let people do what they want with their leave.

    3. A Non*

      There are at least two other interpretations for that data, though. The company may have correctly estimated how much sick time a significant number of people will need in a year, and expects people to rely on FMLA and other programs when severe illness happens. Or these people actually need more sick time than they’re getting and are coming in sick on a regular basis in order to keep their job. I know people in both camps.

    4. Observer*

      Actually, it’s highly likely, given the amount of time allotted, that even people with 6 – 10 years of service are burning their sick time. There are SOOO many reasons why people need to take time, especially parents of kids and children of older parents (and the two groups over lap a lot), that having 75% of the population actually needing a day a month is really, really not statistically unlikely.

      I can’t imagine why the amount of time they have been working would matter. If they have been having kids during that time period, the issues of being sick and having sick kids don’t magically disappear because they were working there for x number of years.

      As for the terribly irresponsible parents who don’t (or cannot) send their sick kids to school or day care, what do you suggest they do to build up a buffer? Leave the kid(s) home alone?

      It’s like savings. Sure, it’s wise to have a cushion saved up. But if your choice is eating three times a day and feeding your kids or putting away some savings, what do you do?

  20. Katie the Fed*

    “When I review some other employees’ (married parents) attendance, I see they use up all their accrued sick time due to a child’s illness. (Of course, Facebook shows them at the park or taking a long weekend trips.) ”

    I doubt this has been true except in maybe 1-2 instances.

  21. FC*

    If their children go to a facility daycare or preschool, it’s absolutely possible that they drain all of their sick time. My toddler is in daycare and some of his classmates are genuinely out sick for several days at a time. If they have a fever, rash or anything contagious (eg pinkeye, hand foot mouth), they’re not allowed to come to daycare/preschool. If they have siblings, then they’re passing the illness back and forth between them. Just last week, one of my toddler’s classmates was out the entire week for HFM. As a fellow parent, I feel bad for parents who don’t have a liberal sick leave policy (which I’m fortunate to have) because they’re the ones who send sick children to school that in turn gets everyone else sick.

  22. HR Ninja (green belt)*

    Several years ago my youngest child had a medical emergency that necessitated going to the ER and then being admitted to the hospital. I called in sick the day he was at the hospital. While he was resting I posted a picture of him in his tiny baby hospital gown on Facebook. I thought my Facebook was completely shut down and private but I hadn’t clicked something so a co-worker searched and found my page and saw that I had posted a picture. Granted, the picture was of a 6 month old in a hospital gown with a breathing mask over his face and a caption explaining that we were at the hospital but for some reason she just latched on to the fact that I was posting pictures on Facebook. She then told the rest of my team that I was playing around on Facebook, even though I had called in sick. I started getting text messages from co-workers which were VERY rude about leaving them in a lurch etc. and then lying about being sick.

    I ended up sending all of them the picture of my son in the hospital and asked if him being admitted to the hospital was a good enough reason to be out sick.

    TL;DR OP you have no idea why someone is posting on Facebook during their sick day and it’s really none of your business. If it’s a benefit your company allows people to use then it’s up to them to police it’s use, not you.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Oh my goodness. I would be _livid_ at hte coworker who (while at work) was “playing around on Facebook” and said that I was “playing around on Facebook” for _posting an image of my child in the hospital for the love of GOD_….

      I would be livid. (And, there is also nothing wrong with *actually* playing around on FB or on games whilst sitting at the hospital during such a thing, when the baby is sleeping or in for a procedure or whatever – I mean, you have to do _something_ sometimes to help you deal with the situation too.)

      1. Kelly L.*

        Right! Or even for yourself being sick–I know it’s the optics aspect of it, but I swear I spend more time on Facebook when I’m sick than when I’m well. It’s an activity that requires little brainpower or energy and can be done from my bed.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yep! Too true. Anyone who thinks it requires the same physical or mental energy as a job…well, they take Facebook way more seriously than I do. :)

  23. Seal*

    Every so often I’ve had to use sick leave because I was either sick the night before and slept poorly, or simply didn’t sleep at all due to periodic insomnia. In most of these cases, I was mostly fine by the afternoon after sleeping most of the morning. But by the time I would have showered, gotten dressed and driven to work 3/4 of the day would be over. It always made more sense to take the entire day and come back fresh and ready to go the following day.

    I would also point out that even when you’re out sick with a cold or worse sometimes you have to run out to the store for more drugs or chicken noodle soup or whatever. Just because you can drag yourself to the store and back doesn’t mean you’re healthy enough to go to work.

    1. Gabriela*

      This is why I am grateful that I don’t get sick very often. About twice a year, the stress of my job causes a severe bout of insomnia. Being able to take a mental health day and catch up on sleep recharges me. I am a HUGE proponent of the mental health day.

  24. CanadianKat*

    Even disregarding mental health days, being at the park is not necessarily indicative of sick day abuse. You can be sick enough to work, but not sick enough to stroll through nature or sit on a bench.

    I’ve been at the park on a sick day taken for my child. He had an on and off fever and so could not go to daycare (or else they would have called me to pick him up before I even got to work). But he was sufficiently well to go to the neighbourhood playground.

  25. animaniactoo*

    If you have 160 hours of sick leave banked, you might really want to take a mental health day or two. At least check your company’s policy on taking your banked leave. Because taking that an entire month’s worth of banked leave over the course of a few months or a year might be something that has limits on it, or is something that doesn’t actually work out to keeping your job, depending on your job functionality.

  26. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

    Sick time is part of my overall compensation package and I have no qualms using it as I see fit.

    I’d say 50% of my sick time comes as semi-planned mental health days. Sometimes I just need a day to clear my head. I feel zero guilt about this.

    If I happened to get physically ill on a regular basis, I’d probably handle it differently — I wouldn’t go into the red on sick time just to go for a hike. I do try to be sensible, and not come into the office with a sunburn the next day or anything like that. Better to keep it on the down low, since who knows which colleagues would be judgey about it!

  27. Michele H.*

    I used to work for a University program (salary) that had a really cool days off policy. You earned TWO personal days for every full month you worked. You could save them up and bank them, and yes, they would roll over every year. If you were smart about it, you would never have to use your personal days at all, especially when you factor in the days the University was closed and national holidays, etc. Since we were salary, and the nature of the program meant that we occasionally had nights and weekend work, nobody ever questioned who was in the office and who wasn’t. We also worked in the community too, so we were supposed to be OUT of the office, and we scheduled our own appointments. Sometimes I would schedule early morning appointments and have the afternoon off, and sometimes I would schedule late appointments and sleep in. It was as if I could go to work every day and still have a day off almost every day.

    But I was young, single, child-free, and all that milk I drank growing up in the Midwest meant I was MILES healthier than some of my East Coast city slickers co-workers. Many of them had health issues like asthma, or a child with Asperger’s, or Monday morning hangover. They would go through their days quickly and I would ask myself why they couldn’t bank up their days like me. When I had about a month of paid “vacation” days, I started using more days to make my weekends longer, or to travel over the holidays or when the university was closed. One single man who worked there about 20 years had almost a YEAR of paid vacation! He NEVER took any time at all.

    But, you never know when things can change. One man I worked with, sadly, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. So the university allowed us to “donate” any number of days we wanted to at any time, to any other employee. That is really remarkable. This man received a full paid year of “donated” days while he battled cancer and eventually beat it! I have never heard of a policy like that before or since anywhere. Imagine if that happened in an office where people were really stingy and nosy about who was “abusing” their days or not? I bet Dr. X, with a brain tumor wished he had taken more days off to hang out in the park with his kids when he had the chance,

    1. Rachel B*

      We can donate sick leave to fellow staff provided we’ve accumulated 120 hours and don’t go below that as a result of the donation. They want us to have enough hours left for something unexpected.

    2. fposte*

      We can donate to a sick leave pool but not target our donations to any particular employee. You also need to donate to receive from the pool (which is the main reason why I donated a sick day once).

    3. Katie the Fed*

      We have a leave bank as well. It’s a bit like an insurance policy – you can’t use it unless you’ve been paying your dues (a pay period’s annual leave) every year. But it’s there if you need it. Since I don’t use all my leave, I’m happy to donate. You can only donate annual leave, not sick leave. You can’t draw from it until you’ve exhausted all your leave though.

      Once, a guy posted on our intranet a complaint that it was incentivizing women to go on lavish vacations and burn all their leave and then draw from the leave bank for maternity (which you can only do for a few weeks anyway after you’ve burned your other leave) because they didn’t budget wisely. There weren’t enough torches and pitchforks that day.

    4. Pam Adams*

      In my state university, we can donate up to 40 hours per year each of vacation and sick leave.

      While I usually have plenty of leave banked, I drained it twice in the last six years for foot surgery that put me on medical leave. The last round used up a solid month of sick leave, followed by two months of vacation.

  28. Sammy*

    Thank every god I don’t work with this person. I pick up every germ going and they knock me on my ass three times as long as other people.

  29. Frances*

    I don’t care why someone is using sick time or how much they use so long as they get their work done. Why or how much time they use is none of my business.
    That being said, it can be hard to ignore the use of sick time when it causes work to fall disproportionately on other employees. I have a colleague who is currently stuck finishing a major report on her own right now because her boss, who is supposed to be her co-author, has been out sick. He’s done this before to her and others. There will be a major deadline looming and then all of sudden he gets ill when he has promised to work on something. I’ve seen it happen so many times that I actively avoid working with him on anything. I don’t care if he is really sick or not. He’s just not doing the work he is supposed to and no one in management holds him accountable. [grumble grumble]

    1. DoDah*

      My boss does this too! His last occurrence was because his internet was down for an entire week (we are all remote). And apparently there are no universities, libraries, coffee shops in San Francisco for him to access.

  30. B*

    So not your mountain to climb. Some people are sick, some people need mental health days, some people have chronic conditions you know nothing about, etc. This reminds me of the interns who got fired for the dress code protest. They were upset one person got to wear different shoes – turns out it was a wounded warrior they knew nothing about. In other words you really know only what people tell you about themselves. Stick to your work, take your sick days as you see fit, and then myob.

  31. StephThePM*

    I’d also comment that day cares require kids to be symptom and fever free for 24 hrs after an illness. If my toddler was feeling OK but not ok to go to daycare in those rules, I’d definitely be at the park during a normal.workday.

    I also have a flexible job and would also still be held responsible for delivering my required work.

  32. Anon for this*

    I have rheumatoid arthritis. I have depression. I have had three miscarriages in 12 months. None of these are known to my coworkers, they just know that I use a lot of sick days (more than the OP’s coworkers).

    All three of these conditions means that when I can’t work, it’s actually *better* for me to go for a walk, or even swim or exercise, if I can. Not every sickness requires lieing in bed at home. For some, that’s actually counterproductive.

    1. Daffodil*

      Same here. People also underestimate how important it is to go out and do normal things sometimes when you’re fighting a chronic illness. Your perspective flips from ‘sick day, gonna stay home and do nothing’ to ‘too sick to work, but I have a little energy, so I’ll go do the thing that I don’t have spare energy for on work days’.

  33. Daffodil*

    I’m currently dealing with an ‘invisible’ health issue that is bad enough that I’m running out of FMLA and losing my job. I mentioned to coworkers at one point that hey, at least this is giving me time to catch up on my knitting projects. Someone complained to my boss that they were working hard to cover for me while I was sitting at home knitting. What did they expect me to do? I can only sleep so many hours per day…

    1. Jeanne*

      Jerks. I guess all you’re allowed is to stare at the wall. Because knitting is so physically draining.

  34. H.C.*

    Totally agreed about staying out of coworkers sick leave business – especially if you’re not directly supervising/reporting to that employee.

    Personally have seen lots of coworkers taken sick leave (either one prolonged leave or a multiple short ones), and the only thing I say upon their return is a genuine “Welcome back!”

  35. LQ*

    I worry about the optics of having a sick day. For me the drug store requires walking past the place I work. (The alternative route is not acceptable when I’m really sick.) I hate that I worry about it, but I do. I’ve definitely held off until the end of the day or at least until fewer people would be out and about for lunch or breakfast and wouldn’t be as likely to see me.

    Except the day I had my wisdom teeth out. I walked to the drug store with my mouth packed with cotton and blood on my shirt. Woe onto they who stopped me. (No one did, but someone mentioned it later they saw me and were slightly concerned about how I was walking, though my immediate coworkers knew I was having my wisdom teeth out and had all regaled me with the scariest stories, I still won…or lost.)

    1. Retiree57*

      Once when I was hospitalized, my sister was seen driving my car around town. Coworkers were confused because they thought they’d seen me, but some of them had also seen me in the hospital. Cleared this up later with a picture of my sister and me together. I was too sick to worry about it at the time. “Rumor has it that you’re out of the hospital” is a funny call to get at the hospital.

  36. Boboccio*

    My job has generous vacation leave, care to sick family leave, and normal sick leave. All three.

    If you use sick leave, you have to sign a form saying you are actually sick and cannot work.

    Does that make a difference in anyone’s eyes on using sick leave for vacation, or long weekends, or mental health days?

  37. Cora*

    The problem here is the word “normal”. OP asked what “normal” people use.

    “Normal” people range from single child-free disease-free pet-free worry-free people who could easily work for sixty hours a day, to people with chronic illness, child issues, ongoing family issues, etc. Why do you need a rubric to measure everyone? Why are you under the impression that there’s an unwritten standard that people are supposed to meet?

    I am a Type I diabetic with some developing complications. My supervisor knows what I’m dealing with, and while I use my sick time, I never use more than what I’m issued. I regularly come in late because I have to do first-thing-in-the-morning fasting blood tests and other things; and it DRIVES ME NUTS when I get to work afterwards and am met by the raised-eyebrow “and where have YOU been?” look. My coming in late does not affect anyone else, as I don’t work on group projects or in client service — and I don’t need to tell you where I’ve been.

    Step off, OP. There is no one definition of “normal”, and you’re not better than everyone else because you don’t use your sick time.

  38. Aunt Vixen*

    This whole thread is why I have come to believe sick time shouldn’t accrue. When I’m the boss of everything, people will have generous but finite annual leave (which will pay out when their employment ends) and unlimited sick time (which they will be expected to use when they need it and not abuse [or they will face my wrath, I guess]). I suppose there will be a point at which “excessive” use of sick time will trigger a conversation about short-term disability or family-leave needs or something; I haven’t really solidly worked out all my plans for when I’m the boss of everything. But for sure they’re not going to involve limiting how often it’s okay not to bring contagion into populated places.

    When I was much younger, I had a job with a combined-PTO pool that meant, as everyone has observed, that if you never got sick you got three weeks of vacation per year. In my case, because I had some health issues that hadn’t been properly diagnosed or managed, it meant I had three weeks of sick time and no vacation. You’ll be thinking three weeks is a lot of sick time, and there’s one way of looking at it where it totally is, but I assure you a person who works for a cumulative 49 weeks per year and is out sick for the cumulative remaining three weeks is absolutely in need of a break where she is neither working nor sick. I got those particular health issues taken care of finally, but for a couple of years I was pretty miserable.

    Many years later, I had a job with generous annual leave and sick leave accruals (but made up for the great benefits by not paying much $), and between some new and exciting illness and injury issues and then my father’s terminal diagnosis and eventual death, I burned every minute of both and went in the red a few times in alternating pay periods. (Owe two hours; accrue three; use four; owe one. And so on.) A sympathetic and helpful HR buddy paperworked me through that, but if we’d had unlimited-just-don’t-get-cute sick time there’d have been no need for the extra administrative business – I’d have been able to demonstrate my efforts to get my own health under control and reassure my overlords that my father was only going to die the one time, so they’d have felt safe that one bad year and a half wasn’t a sign of unlimited-sick-leave abuse.

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      not to bring contagion into populated places

      For example. I know there are plenty of noncommunicable reasons to take sick days, and I apologize if I have given the impression that I believe otherwise.

    2. lfi*

      we are on a PTO system as well and i’m a strong advocate for at least front loading 3 sick days at the start of the year.

    3. CarrieUK*

      people will have generous but finite annual leave (which will pay out when their employment ends) and unlimited sick time (which they will be expected to use when they need it and not abuse [or they will face my wrath, I guess]).

      That’s exactly what we had at my job in the UK. I’m gutted to have come to the US and be faced with all this now.

      My company offered 8 bank holidays (public holidays), 3 days between Christmas and New Year where the company was closed and we were forced off, 25 days of annual leave (30 after 5 years), and no official numbers on sick time. If anyone was seen to be abusing sick time, it was down to the manager to have a conversation and manage the situation if it was one. I only had one person in six years that warranted doing anything about their sick time.

      1. Vendrus*

        Hooray for the UK – while technically I think we have 5 sick days, I have never ever seen this enforced (thankfully, since I have a) a terrible immune system and b) a very elderly grandparent who I live closer to than the rest of my family).

        One sick person out for 3 days is better than half the team out, especially on short deadlines.

  39. A. Nonymous*

    Working in a hospital/medical setting has really changed how I view PTO/Sick leave. We are VERY strict about when you can and cannot come to work if ill, this includes 24hours between having a fever and being healthy because of the risk posed to patients. I’m now of the mindset that it’s selfish to not take the time if you’re sick and can afford it. Someone’s pride in “never being sick” doesn’t trump someone else actually getting sick. Just because someone’s not visibly ill doesn’t mean that they’re not immunocompromised in some way. Your sniffle could be someone else’s trip to the hospital.

    Of course, we also have just the regular accrued PTO bank depending on how long you’ve been with the health network. I think it really eliminates this sort of issue as it’s all really the employee’s earned time.

    1. Gabriela*

      One of my coworkers is immunocompromised and it has been very eye-opening for me as someone who was raised to go to school/practice/work unless you were throwing up or on fire.

  40. TPS Reporter*

    Do you find yourself silently noticing the unfairly long break times of people who are not your direct reports, remembering who walks slowly to a smoke break and who has enough self-respect to not be a smoker at all, and who clearly labels their food in the company fridge and who just tosses it in their without any regard towards anyone else?

    Do you notice fun being had by people that immediately stops when you notice it or enter the room? Do you notice yourself clutching your pearls so tightly at any minor infraction of Company Rules?

    If you do, you might be That Person At The Office.

    Team building is an important part of a good workplace, and involves adjusting your behavior to do what everyone else seems to be OK doing, and generally tending your own garden. Team Tearing Each Other Down is an important part of a sh***y workplace, and involves banding together with the most uptight people you can find in order to re-enact the movie “Mean Girls” towards your fellow office-workers.

    Choose wisely, OP.

  41. Deepcoverforthisone*

    Going so annon for this. This post really hits home today. Spousal unit and I work together. He has some mental health issues and has an ADA accommodation. He takes a lot of time off. A week ago he checked himself into the hospital because he was feeling suicidal. Our amazing job just took us both off the schedule. They covered everything and asked no questikns. He’s home now and back to work tomorrow. OP if anyone called into question how much time either of us took or the fact that I was on facebook I might have gone apeshit. You really do not want to try and fight this battle. You would feel terrible if you questioned someone in a similar situation.

  42. Hlyssande*

    This post is hella appropriate to me because I am home sick right now. Again. And unless I’m feeling substantially better in the morning, I’ll be burning up the rest of my sick time for the year tomorrow.

  43. Not So NewReader*

    OP, what would you like out of this situation?

    Let’s go to worse case scenario, people are lying, they are calling in sick and spending the day at the beach. What do we do? Drive down to the beach and tell them to go to work? But then, that means that WE are not at work, soooo… hmm.

    People with lots of absences get written up, they also get passed over for promotions. And as well noted above, if they do not have time saved up then there is no extra time if they need it. That is their burden to bear, OP. They will have to figure out something. Maybe they don’t care. We are not going to be able to make them care. Or maybe they are struggling with life issues and you could offer some small gesture to lighten their day.

    FWIW, OP, when I found myself watching how much time people missed I took that as clue that *I* was burning out and *I* needed a mental health day. So I took one. About a year and a half later I took another and so on. After that, I found it much easier to ignore the choices other people made. I had to stay home because I had one of those companies with “lie detector police” working there. But all I wanted was rest and down time, so no big deal, I stayed home.

    Facebook is not helping you, OP, it’s antagonizing you. Do whatever you have to do to prevent yourself from becoming that person that even YOU does not like.
    My suggestion is take that mental health day and send Alison a report on how it went for you.

  44. Anne*

    I plan on taking some time off to help my sister when she has her operation in November. One of the things I will be doing is taking care of her dogs. That means I will be walking them in the park. I will also be doing all of my sister’s errands. I might even post some things on fb. Perhaps some fun pics of the dogs in the park. Obviously, I will not be ill. To people who are not in the know it will look like I have taken off early for Thanksgiving. My sister’s illness, her operation, and her recovery are not anyone’s business except hers, her family & friends, and her doctors. It is NOT the concern of anyone at my place of employment. I will not share that information with any of them. I sincerely doubt any of my coworkers will concern themselves because it is NONE of their business.

  45. Unegen*

    Dear OP,
    I sincerely hope you are not accusing your employees of misusing the leave they are due as part of their benefits package…while faffing off on Facebook at work. Because that certainly sounds like what you’re doing.

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