when a “sick” employee is spotted around town

A reader writes:

Should an employee who has called in sick to work and is seen out shopping lose that day’s pay? I am the employer.

I answer this question — and four others — 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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Telling a candidate we can’t meet her salary expectations
  • What to do when an employee starts using the wrong title
  • Should you dumb down your resume?
  • How to volunteer for a layoff

{ 283 comments… read them below }

  1. Tequila Mockingbird

    Earlier this month I used two of my accrued sick days to supervise the installation of the new hardwood floors in my living room! Luckily my employer didn’t care – it’s my sick time, I earned it, I can spend it how I like.

      1. Marillenbaum

        Exactly. I had a hellish big boss like this, who tole us we couldn’t take a sick day unless we were “bleeding or vomiting” while it was work-travel season. I had been there for a year when my boss quit in a blaze of glory, and I had just gotten back from doing 26 consecutive days of international business travel after I was recently diagnosed with a panic disorder. I knew I couldn’t just say “I’m not feeling well” or the rather more blunt “I’m feeling just this side of suicidal today so I’m not coming in”, so instead I told a stupid lie about having food poisoning so I could take two days off, rest, and go see “Gone Girl” at the movies by myself. There is a special place in hell for that woman, I’m convinced of it.

    1. Charlie

      Not to paint with too broad a brush, but I’ve noticed that managers from the Boomer generation and older tend to be much greater sticklers about this kind of thing – making sure you’re actually sick on sick days, keeping track of when you arrive and leave even for salaried positions, that kind of thing.

      1. A.

        Yeah, I’ve had a few Mr. Rooney-type bosses and they tended to be on the older and more traditional side. However, as a millennial, I’ve only started working with management my age or so in the past few years, so it could just be that we’ll see the same personalities emerge as the millennial generation moves up the ranks.

      2. Elizabeth

        I had a boss like this, but with bonus taking issue when you took sick days because *she* didn’t take sick days despite often being in poor health.

        1. Charlie

          Oh, I hate that. I had a boss like that about ten years ago. He started berating me about how he didn’t take time off when he was sick last week, and I just said, “Yeah, and that’s why I, and Kristen, and Andrew are now sick.”

          Long awkward silence.

          “….okay, fair enough.”

          1. Blackout

            I wish I had been brave enough to say this the time my boss got mad at me for staying home 2 days with the flu. She had had the flu the previous week, but had only taken one day off (wonder why I got sick?!). But saying something like this probably would have made things worse for me.

        2. Louise

          If I could piggyback onto this – I’m in my first graduate/office job, after several years working in a short-staffed customer-facing role where the expectation was “if you’re well enough to pick up the phone, you’re well enough to come in.” (They weren’t QUITE as awful as that, but that is an actual quote from a manager.)

          I have a chesty cough at the moment, and on Wednesday my boss told me I should probably stay home the next day. I kind of laughed it off (“oh, I’ll get bored at home!/can’t do any work at home because my internet is so unreliable/I FEEL fine, it’s just that I keep coughing every so often!”) but he was pretty insistent about it, and ended up saying “anyway, I’ve given you my opinion. You don’t have to stay home, but I think you should unless you’re feeling 100% better.” In the end, I called in sick yesterday and today – but now I feel guilty, like I either exaggerated how ill I was, or did something wrong by working with a cough in the first place. Thoughts? Would you stay off with ‘just’ a cough?

          1. IowaGirl

            If the cough was noticeable enough to my boss/coworkers that they brought it up and told me to stay home – yes. (otherwise, I’d just eat a lot of cough drops. Coughs can hang around for weeks)

          2. Gaia

            DO not feel guilty. Your boss was clearly telling you it was okay to stay home. I know it can be hard to break the mental voice in your head from toxic old jobs, but it sounds like you’re in a better place now. You don’t need to be nearly dead to take a sick day. Sick days exist so you can recoup and not continue getting worse (and spreading the germs) by forcing yourself to come into the office.

            I hope you’re feeling better soon.

          3. Parenthetically

            My mother’s boss at her first teaching job literally told them if they were well enough to come to the phone to call in sick, they were well enough to come in. And then had the power to dock their pay if they didn’t. Fortunately she was married at the time and could have my dad call in. Infantilizing ridiculousness.

            WRT cough: I think sometimes the effect on morale of someone hacking up the proverbial lung in the next cubicle can be pretty bad. Nobody wants to wonder if the person is “really” sick. Best just to stay home until it’s cleared up, IMO.

          4. babblemouth

            I had something similar last uear. Came in to work with a bad cold, thinking “well, I’ll just sniff a lot, make sure to wash my hands often so I don’t contaminate everyone around me and get work done.” After three separate colleagues enquired about my health, and one point blank told me I looked like shit, I realised I should have just stayed home.
            Your boss meant well, and knows healing takes energy. Stayong home one day to get better means for him that 1) you don’t make any of your colleagues sick and 2) you’ll be in much better shape the day after.
            The guilt is real, I feel you, but you didn’t do anything wrong.

        3. Gaia

          That’s the worst. I am a boss. I tend to be rather healthy and not take sick days. But you better believe I use every day of my PTO. And I am vocal about my team needing to go home when sick. That is one of the ways I stay so healthy :)

          Just because *I* don’t get sick, doesn’t mean *you* don’t get sick. And, I’d like to think I set a great example when I did get sick this fall and took the week off. I hated every moment of it but what kind of an example would it be if I told my workers to go home when sick but I came in when I was on death’s door?

      3. INTP

        I’m a millennial and I actually think it’s fair for a company to expect sick time to be used for health-related purposes only, assuming that an adequate and fair amount of vacation leave is also given. I think in the ideal situation, the amount of sick leave offered is adequate enough to cover the employees with chronic illnesses or who get sick frequently, even if the company can’t afford for everyone to take the full amount, and can be considered more of an honor system than an entitlement to a certain number of days whether you need them or not. Of course this only works if vacation time is adequate – if someone gets 10 days/year, I can’t blame them for dipping into their sick leave for personal emergencies.

        That said , I have a pretty wide definition of what “health-related” includes that might not have flown a few decades ago. A day here and there for activities that help maintain health and productivity seems fair, whether that’s going to the doctor or catching up on sleep or taking a mental health day. I don’t see the use in making people wait until they are too sick or frazzled to work at all when they could use the same amount of leave to prevent that from happening in the first place. And I don’t think it should be policed, because I don’t think there’s a way to do that without violating privacy.

        1. NotAnotherManager!

          A lot of places just do paid time off (PTO) rather than having separate buckets for each. Personally, I don’t want to know why someone is out of the office, just whether or not I need to cover their work. It puts me in the position of judging the “worthiness” request, which is not my business. They all get PTO as part of their comp package, and even the time off request process doesn’t ask for a reason.

      4. Milton Waddams

        It’s not generational, it’s social class based. If you gained your managerial experience in the retail or service sectors, there’s a built-in assumption that your workers are adult children at best, and out to scam you at worst. This is why some businesses issue paychecks at the end of the day, rather than during — they assume you’ll leave work the moment you have the check in your hands, and won’t show up again until all the money is gone. :-)

        If the habit shows up in more Boomers, this may be because they lived in an era with more social mobility than our own, making it more likely that the manager who started their career as a line manager didn’t end their careers there too.

        1. NotAnotherManager!

          I’ve worked in large law offices entire career, and it’s only in the past few years, following transition a younger generation of leadership, that they stopped treating the professional staff exactly as you describe. I don’t know that it was generational, but the outgoing leaders was all early Boomers and next gen is very late Boomers/Gen X.

      5. Pennalynn Lott

        The biggest stickler for this I’ve ever known was my worst ever Toxic Manager, who was 12 years younger than I was, which puts her square in the Gen Y category. It was her second-ever management job, the first being manager of a retail fulfillment warehouse. I was a career B2B salesperson at the world’s largest software company. She was in over her head and so defaulted to clock-watching and demanding doctor’s notes. Thankfully the company eventually moved her from managing people to managing data (because, dang, she was a self-taught wiz at spreadsheets!).

    2. bridget

      This wouldn’t work at my employer, since I have unlimited sick time, which I don’t “earn” like I accrue vacation days. With that, it’s expected that I use discretion and keep it to only instances when I am sick or it’s a sick-like event (meaning, something comes up that’s impossible to account for in advance, like a flooded basement or sick child/pet). I’d feel pretty uncomfortable using a sick day for something I can plan, like a hardwood floor installation; a vacation day would seem like the much better fit with my company’s set-up.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        Well, I think the main reason people sometimes use them for things not related to one’s health is because for many people they are a use-it-or-lose-it commodity. And as we’ve discussed before, a benefit not taken is not really a benefit at all.

        1. Tequila Mockingbird

          Yeah, if I leave this job, my accrued sick time doesn’t “cash out.” It’s use-it-or-lose-it, as you said.

    3. Victoria, Please

      Yikes, in my organization we’re pretty strict. I mean, if I called in “sick” no one would check up on me, but there’s a very clear delineation. And since we’re publicly, tax-payer funded, I at least feel like I need to truthfully designate time off.

    4. Kobayashi

      Well, in our office, sick days are supposed to be used only for illness (mental or physical). Those type of things are telecommute or vacation days. Despite the fact that we have a generous sick leave policy, we also have an attendance policy (healthcare field), so people aren’t supposed to just take sick leave because they have it accumulated (that’s vacation). It’s for being sick. We give a lot more sick leave than the regular attendance policy would allow in case someone has a serious illness and needs FMLA/CFRA – they can have a good chunk of paid time off, in that event.

    5. NorCalHR

      Using sick leave days for non-illness reasons, at least here is California, is a violation of the law. Paid sick leave is a ‘defined benefit’; the time off is paid only if used for medical/dental reasons (i.e., appointments, illness, physical therapy, etc.) for self and recognized dependents. Using it to supervise work at home, extend a holiday or vacation, get your holiday shopping done – nope! BOME of 20+ years in HR, large/small/high tech/non-profit work, if you were to call in ‘sick’ for these or similar reasons the typical result would either 1) unpaid time off; 2) sick leave converted to vacation; and with either option, a warning that doing this again could result in termination. That’s California, so YMMV!

      1. NorCalHR

        And all of that said, being legitimately off work on sick leave doesn’t mean confined to hospital or bed. Being out of the house is not enough to support a claim of sick leave abuse. Posting pictures on Facebook of your extra-long ski trip however…(yes, it happened!)

      2. NorCalHR

        And I don’t require a doctor’s note unless the employee is off long enough to qualify for FMLA (or the CA equivalent, CFRA), or uses sick leave immediately before/after a holiday or planned vacation (our union defines the latter use of sick leave as ‘potential sick leave abuse’).

        Sorry, I’ll climb off my soap box now!

        1. MsChanandlerBong

          I think that second one is kind of unfair. People can’t control when they get sick, and they may even be more likely to get sick around the holidays (from being around sick relatives or contracting food poisoning from a holiday dish gone wrong). It is not financially feasible for most people to go to the doctor for a one-day illness, especially if their benefits aren’t that great and the copay is $30 or $40. That’s half a day’s pay for some workers.

          1. Mookie

            Yes, this. Ugh @ a union encouraging management to ferret out, through highly subjective and irrational means, the “abuse” of legal rights.

            1. SpaceySteph

              Yup. I went on a 4 day trip to NYC (2 days vacation plus a weekend) and came back with the flu and had to take 3 additional days off.
              Air travel and your normal scheduled being out of whack, definitely can do a number on the immune system. Expecting people only to get sick after a suitable buffer from their vacations is a little unreasonable.

    6. Misc

      One thing I love about my current job is that there’s absolutely no policing of time off. So if I want to sleep in (I have major sleep issues, so I’m essentially nocturnal half the time), work at night, take the afternoon to go to the mall, or just feel too crappy to concentrate… that’s what happens. If I announce I’m taking two weeks off, that’s fine.

      In fact, I had major mental + physical health issues where I was barely working for a couple of weeks, and another time my online chat wasn’t working properly, and they only checked in in passing to make sure I was okay because they hadn’t heard much from me.

      The downside is the blurry line between Work and Not Work – I often end up working when I technically shouldn’t be, or have trouble tracking how much I’ve done in a day, or putting off holiday time because I’m just going to be at home next to the computer anyway and I have to finish stuff (randomly taking two weeks off a couple of times a year though? super amazingly good for me, all I do is just Not Work and destress and catch up on gardening and stuff, and suddenly am so much more motivated when I come back. When I start dreading work/pretending I’m working, I know it’s time for a break).

      But I know if I was going to a more standard workplace, I’d spend just as much time just staring into space while being On Desk or chatting to coworkers, or filling time with some irrelevant menial task in amongst all the Real Work. Very few places are 100% important work right now all the time for the full workday and people would mostly burn out trying to do that anyway.

  2. Charlie

    Oh, for God’s sake – NO. Don’t be a controlling, micromanaging busybody. PTO is part of a compensation package, and it’s no business of yours how they spend it, any more than you get a say in where they shop.

    1. NK

      I don’t know about this. Not every company has PTO, they have distinct sick and vacation pools. Maybe it’s fine to take a couple sick days a year when you could have worked, but where do you draw the line? The sick time at my employer accrues until you’ve got about 6 months banked. I think most people would agree that it wouldn’t be reasonable for a long-term employee to suddenly decide to take a 6 month vacation with their sick time. And I also don’t think the answer is to be less generous with sick time to avoid abuse. So this isn’t a black and white issue.

      1. Not a Real Giraffe

        My last job, I had a finite number of vacation/personal days, but unlimited sick days. I could undestand my employer being really PO’d if I used a sick day and wasn’t actually sick (or going to a medical appointment, or taking a mental health day).

        1. HRChick

          This is the way it is at my work. You can accrue up to a certain amount of vacation and you get paid out your vacation if you leave. You get unlimited sick leave but don’t get paid out for it if you leave. So, people have been known to burn their sick leave instead of their vacation leave.

        2. INTP

          Yeah, if it’s a generous amount I think it’s fair for the company to consider it a good-faith effort to encourage health-promoting activity and accommodate people who are sick more often, and not be okay with employees abusing it for other reasons. I have a pretty broad idea of what fair use of sick time is – for example, I think it’s fine to use to catch up on sleep, or rest when you’re insanely stressed, because chances are you’d wind up getting sick and taking a day or being unproductive because of your fatigue – but I wouldn’t use it for, say, partying or playing hooky when I’m adequately rested and happy.

      2. Charlie

        The line gets drawn where it seems appropriate in context; I’ll deal with abuse as it happens, and it hasn’t so far. My company has distinct vacation and sick pools, and my reports just request sick time when they need it, and I approve it without asking.

        I don’t care what pool you’re using, if you’re actually sick, or even if you knock off half an hour early to run an errand – as long as the job’s getting done and you’re performing to expectations. If you’re abusing leave time, I will take exception in the context of your performance, not because I care what kind of leave you’re taking.

        1. NK

          I agree with all of this – it’s a little different than saying the boss has NO business in how sick days are used.

          1. Charlie

            Not really. I don’t think the boss has any business except as far as performance goes. Misused sick days are a symptom, not worth focusing on.

            1. Anna

              Agreed. If your employee is calling out sick a lot, you probably have other indications of poor performance that are more directly related to the work they’re supposed to do.

              1. Charlie

                Exactly. It’s very rare to find someone who abuses sick leave and is otherwise a stellar performer. And if on the off chance that happened, what do I care?

      1. Kelly L.

        Well, and there are different kinds of shopping.

        Even if it weren’t for the exceptions Alison talks about in her post, like feeling better later in the day or a doctor’s appointment (health-related, but you don’t necessarily feel miserable), I’d be pretty miffed if someone wanted to dock my sick pay because I went out to buy DayQuil and soup. I live alone. Who else is going to go to the store for me?

        1. JessaB

          And if you’re kicking around other stores while waiting an hour for your prescription to be filled, or buying food you can eat whilst sick – it really sucks to have the cough from hell and no chicken soup or broth to drink.

          Heck I could be out getting stuff because I stayed home to take Mr B to medical appointments because he couldn’t drive that day due to meds or testing procedures that knock you out (don’t know anyone who can drive home from a colonoscopy for instance.)

          I get him home and in bed safely, I just might use the car to go food shopping since I have it. I may not be the sick person that I took the day off for.

    2. Milton Waddams

      I think you are thinking this is a nicer place to work than it is. I’m guessing it is one of those places where in fact there is no paid time off, or time off at all — except sick days, which are seen as a benefit in that you can not come to work (and not get paid) but not get fired.

      There are a lot of jobs out there where that is the benefits package. It is considered a tier above places where the expectation is that you show up sick and get sent home (unpaid) if your manager decides you are too sick to work, then show up the next day and the next until you either recover or they find a legal way to fire you.

      1. Zombii

        They can fire you for being sick (assuming it’s not covered by ADA/FMLA). That conversation goes “Since you’re unable to be at work to cover the shifts we’ve scheduled you for, we’re going to need to let you go.”—yes, even if they’re the ones that have been sending you home.

  3. Venus Supreme

    I wouldn’t place too much energy in figuring out how or why the employee used her sick day. I once called in sick because my anxiety & depression kept me up through the night and I knew I needed a day to rest and recharge.

    1. copy run start

      I have done this too, after learning I’ll just make myself sick again if I push too hard right away.

      1. Venus Supreme

        Yup. OldBoss was a large reason why my anxiety and depression were so bad- he had me send in doctor’s notes when I was out, and he didn’t honor my time away from home. He’d call my cell when I was out sick (like flu-sick), and he told me to be near a working computer while I was moving. MOVING. I assure you, my work was not that time-sensitive.

    2. Boop

      I’d count that as sick leave, though, since you were taking time to address your health. Who cares if you didn’t have a cold? You were suffering from an illness, and took some leave to deal with the recovery. I occasionally have anxiety that keeps me up and I use sick leave to come to work an hour or two late – I perform better with the extra rest, and get more work done than if I tried to push myself to come in on time.

      I think this does boil down to honesty and trust – if an employee says they are sick and cannot work, I accommodate that and have faith that they were truthful. If I later found out they just wanted to go out shopping, I would be pretty hacked. What else are they lying about? How can I trust them the next time they call in sick? And if this is a job that requires someone to be called in to cover a shift, that’s just inconsiderate to your colleagues.

      1. Elizabeth

        With the generally poor understanding of mental health issues in the general public, I’m not sure that most people *would* understand that Venus was taking care of hear health the next day, though. Far too many people think mental health issues are something where you just need “suck it up” so to speak; when you get those people in management positions, there’s a pretty good likelihood that they’re going to think you’re lying about being sick despite having a perfectly legitimate reason for calling in sick.

      2. k

        I think they point is by just seeing someone at a store, you don’t know that they “just wanted to go out shopping”. I’ve used sick days to deal with anxiety and depression. When I’m having a bad time with those issues, my head is in no place to work and be productive. But for me, dealing with those issues does not necessarily mean sleeping or sitting at my house staring at the wall. Sometime going for a walk helps. Maybe wandering around a store or shopping mall, just to get out of the house, is what helps someone deal.

        Long story short, there are a million reasons that someone could legitimately be at a store shopping, while also not be in good enough health, physically, mentally, or otherwise, to be at work. If you offer sick days, and someone is following the proper procedure in using them, that should be the end of the story.

        1. Amy the Rev

          I think Alison’s advice applies here- if there’s a larger pattern of unproductiveness (is that a word?), untrustworthiness, or unreliability, *that’s* what should be addressed (and frankly is the more pressing issue), not a single incident of seeing a ‘sick’ person at a store, when you don’t know (or deserve, really) the details of how/why taking this day off was health-related.

          If they’re a trustworthy and productive employee, there’s no real problem to address.

        2. Elizabeth West

          Yes, this. And I might be at the store because I ran out of medicine for whatever was making me sick. I don’t have anyone to run to the store for me, so I have to go myself no matter how bad I feel.

        3. TheLazyB

          I am currently off sick because three weeks in a row I went home too distressed to work. I feel like a malingerer but I’ve been in no fit state to work this week. Yesterday I met up with a friend and we went shopping (ironically for work clothes). I would be beyond annoyed if someone called me on it.

    3. LSP

      I’ve taken sick days after a night of insomnia so bad that I didn’t feel safe driving. In Old Job, I couldn’t work from home. Current Job lets me work from home, so I could presumably get some stuff done, though I could almost guarantee it wouldn’t be my best work on zero hours of sleep.

  4. copy run start

    Sometimes you need to pick up medication or food while ill, especially if you don’t have someone else able to assist you. I have had to drag my germy carcass to the store more than once due to living alone. I have run into sick co-workers while out, and I have never said anything about it at work because of the perception that they may not be sick “enough” to stay home. But I would never begrudge them.

    That said… If you catch the person at the local amusement park, I can see ethical issues arising, but like Alison said, I think it comes down to what they do in the office and not out of the office.

    1. seejay

      Yep, I live within 5 to 10 minutes of several grocery stores but I also live alone. When I’m sick and I don’t have supplies, like food, medications, personal care, what not, especially if it’s a sickness that caught me by surprise, I *might* be able to get my partner (who lives near me) to help out but he has a job and his own responsibilities so unless I’m literally on death’s door and can’t walk, I’m dragging my butt out and walking to the store to get what I need. I would be *really* p.o’d if someone cited that as “I saw you out and about shopping when you called in sick”.

    2. Amy

      I generally wander around Target while my scripts are filled. If I’m sick and run over for some dayquil I’m going to pick up ketchup or whatever else I need while I’m there.

    3. Bwmn

      I think that any situation where a manager has themselves placed in a position of policing sick days based on what people are doing on those days off is concerning (i.e. I saw you on social media at a concert during your sick day; Jean told me that you were at an amusement park Tuesday when you called sick and that is now a problem). There are a number of health situations where someone couldn’t sleep the night before and benefits from sleeping in during the morning, getting additional medication if needed, and then by the afternoon is functional. Or situations like having your eyes dilated which makes you useless at work but not really unwell otherwise.

      The one scenario of “policing sick days” that I can ever think of where a manager getting involved made sense to me was when a former colleague asked her manager if she could schedule a sick day for a Friday before she had vacation scheduled. He said that she couldn’t for coverage reasons. He then later saw that she had printed her online plane tickets that included leaving on that Friday during the day and she later called in sick. She had a number of other performance issues which ultimately led to her being fired, and this was included as part of a larger pattern of concerning behavior that her manager was recording.

      And that pattern of behavior I think is the most critical part. Because where I work, otherwise high performing employees who’ve had a flight on a Friday have had managers just say “Leave early, no worries”. Or in a case where all vacation time was already about to be used up and a whole day off was needed, the manager would have permitted going one vacation day “into debt” or say off the record “just use a sick day”.

      Ultimately any manager that makes the “sick day” as the sticking point for complaint is either not doing their part to document a pattern of problematic behavior and just hoping that this will serve as a gotcha-moment, or it’s hard to see this rising to the level of requiring that degree of tracking.

    4. Rebecca in Dallas

      Yep, I’ve run into a coworker who was out sick at Target (while I was on my lunch break). I just assumed she was killing time waiting for a prescription (that particular Target has a pharmacy, not sure if they all do), said hi and that I hoped she was feeling better soon. If she’d been using that day as a mental health day, none of my business.

    5. designbot

      Exactly! I was out sick for two weeks, but in that time was driving myself to the doctor probably every other day, and afterwards I would usually stop and get a jamba juice at a nearby shopping center because it’s one of the few things I can eat comfortably and it’s on the way. Well, there’s also a Target in that center, so suddenly a doctors visit could look like a shopping trip if you catch me at the wrong moment! If my employer saw me at Target and decided to question my medical condition because of it I don’t even know what I’d do.

    6. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

      The rise of delivery services has really improved being sick while home alone. Last time I was horribly ill, I ordered kleenex and cold medicine from Prime Now and chicken noodle soup through Favor.

      But I have definitely wandered around CVS waiting on a perscription.

  5. HRChick

    I HATE managers who do this.

    I always ask two questions, “Does this employee have a record of bad performance? Does this employee have a record of taking excessive leave? If not, why does it matter?”

    Why would you want to go out of your way to make a good working relationship turn sour?

    1. Katie F

      “Why would you want to go out of your way to make a good working relationship turn sour?”

      I have so many supervisors/bosses I would love to ask this question.

      1. Katie F

        Not even referring to their direct interactions with ME – I’ve seen so many good working relationships just spiral downward because supervisors/managers got excessively micro-managing or hostile for no clear reason. And it tends to spiral out and affect their relationships with many other employees, too, even those that they’re not being hostile to.

    2. Paige

      The only managers I’ve seen take issue with this scenario have done so seemingly primarily over the fact that the employee is taking a sick day rather than a vacation day. Not being a manager, I’m not really sure of all the reasons why that can really set some managers off, all I could do is speculate, but it does seem to be a distinction.

      1. HRChick

        I know that in some institutions, sick leave is budgeted differently than vacation. So, could be different kind of expenses and that’s why there are different policies for when to use them.

        But even then, giving someone a day here and there is not going to hurt anyone unless they’re falling behind in something.

      2. Zombii

        Typically, vacation days are scheduled in advance while sick days are short-notice. If it’s a job where someone has to cover the work of the person who’s gone or if there’s a contract re: how many bodies have to be working on Project X each day, having advance notice makes a rather large difference.

        (Still dumb to police sick days, the company should have a better method than that.)

    3. MsCHX

      Yes. I hate that people automatically require “sick” to mean “completely unable to function”. By all means, if you wake up with a horrible cold, please stay home. I don’t want your germs :(

      The last time I called in sick it was due to a headache and stomach problems keeping me up all night (think it was something I ate). Anyway, I was in no condition to get up and get ready for work at 6 a.m., and needed the bathroom to be close. But by mid afternoon I felt fine. I’d be livid if I ran an errand and my manager saw me and decided that means I was a lying liar pants.

  6. MoinMoin

    At my first job I prided myself in never calling in, until I got strep. After spending a weekend and 2 days calling out, I needed to go on a food run and of course, I see my manager at the grocery store. I got so embarrassed and walked up to her preparing to explain that I really was sick, but as soon as she saw me she yelled, “I know you’re sick, don’t come any closer!”
    I liked her.

  7. Not Karen

    Question related to #3: When you get promoted, when do you start using the new title in your signature, etc.?

    1. NK

      I typically see it pretty much immediately when the promotion has been publicly announced. If your company doesn’t make announcements, then as soon as it’s official and anyone who really needs to know (such as others who may have been interviewing for the job) have been notified.

    2. caledonia

      When it’s official? Someone at work was just promoted to Team Leader from Admin and on the day the promotion went “live” (on the date agreed by management) the new signature was being used.

      1. Not Karen

        When is it official? I guess I was supposed to ask. My manager told me yesterday, but the announcement hasn’t gone out yet.

        1. Kaybee

          Yes, that’s definitely something you’ll want to ask! It will be the day you start earning more money (assuming your promotion comes with a pay raise).

    3. Kate

      when it’s “official” which for a promotion to a new position may mean once you’re in the position. e.g. moving from Jr Teapot Decorator to Senior Teapot Assembler you wouldn’t change the title until you’d changed the department. But in my org. you’d still have put in to get the new business cards and have everything ready to go as soon as you are active in the new position.

      If it’s a promotion within the same team (e.g. Jr Teapot Decorator to Sr. Teapot Decorator) then as soon as it’s officially been announced.

    4. sarah

      I would say when it’s “official” — at my office, we typically have a specific date for this tied into a pay increase. But, I wouldn’t fault someone for doing it earlier, assuming it was actually a real, agreed upon promotion that was actually definitely happening (not just vaguely “in the works” or something)…which is very different from the LW in this scenario, where there is no actual promotion involved at all!

    5. Zoethor2

      To echo others, I change my signature over on the “effective” date of my promotion (not when I was notified about it). At my job, we get a formal promotion letter that specifies the effective date of the promotion (and raise). Since it’s linked to a rise, that date always falls on the first day of a pay period. It’s also the date that your title is officially changed in our internal company directory. So those are all some places you could look to for information about when you should make your swap.

  8. Nunya

    A manager (thankfully not mine) once snarkily commented about seeing me, while out sick, picking up a purchase at a local store. Um, nope. I had a category 5 migraine and was doped to high heaven, so my partner drove me to the store, which we had planned to do after work before the migraine butted in. I could manage to show my proof of purchase, and not throw up in the car, but work? Not happening.

  9. HRish Dude

    I don’t understand managers who do that. Have you ever had strep? You go through alternating periods of “I’m pretty sure I can go back to work tomorrow” and “I’m pretty sure I’m going to die.” During the former, you can make your trips to the drug store or to Redbox to grab something to watch when the latter cycles back around.

    Hell, if you’re having explosive bowel movements, you’re going to need to go to Nordstrom to buy new pants, aren’t you?

    1. CDL

      +1 to this – I had severe stomach issues for about a few days, and when I called in sick each day, my manager said, “Why can’t you come in? You sound just fine!”

      After two days of insisting that yes, I was too sick to work, I finally just blurted out, “If I come in, I’m going to have to work from the bathroom the entire day. So no, I will not be in today.”

      I don’t miss that place…

    2. Lemon Zinger

      I got strep right after starting my current job and was worried they’d just fire me for taking days off after my first week. Fortunately my manager was SUPER nice about it. She has young kids and absolutely didn’t want me bringing my illness into the office. Because I didn’t have any sick time, she didn’t make me report the days as sick leave, so I got paid anyway. :)

    3. Mints

      I woke up feeling completely nauseous one time, but took a shower because I was too tired to figure out I should call out sick. I spent the entire shower trying not to throw up and barely moving. I emailed my boss then went back to bed for 4.5 hours. I woke up totally fine almost noon. (I must have ate something bad that passed quickly, I guess.) I had movie plans with friends and ended up going that evening.

      Sometimes you really are sick for less than a day

      1. Formica Dinette

        I used to work for someone who firmly believed that sick days were legit only if you needed at least two days. I don’t know about him, but I certainly can’t see into the future.

      2. Kelly L.

        I had this happen with horrendous menstrual cramps. I told part of this story in the “I’m in trouble for saying crimson tide” thread–I called in with “stomach issues” because I didn’t trust my male boss to get it. The rest of the story is that, after feeling like my innards were in a vise for a few hours to the point of nearly passing out, I took a nap and woke up right as rain. At that point I would have felt silly rocking up to work for the last two hours of it, so I just kicked back the rest of the day.

        1. Mints

          Oh yeah my cramps aren’t that bad anymore (on birth control) but it’s waves of intense discomfort that totally disappear after a little while. Also they can come back unexpectedly so it doesn’t really feel safe going into work for a half day

        2. copy run start

          I used to have cramps so bad they caused disgestive issues, on top of pain so bad I could barely move. One morning I literally crawled to the kitchen to get to my prescription pain meds because I couldn’t stand. I was supposed to start taking them a few days before my cycle to prevent the major pain, but unfortunately my cycle was erratic at the time, and if I took the meds after the pain started I was still non-functional most of the day due to the lingering pain and the stomach troubles it kicked off.

      3. Elizabeth West

        That totally happens to me! I’ve gone to work and felt sick and went home at like noon–after a day and night of rest, then I wake up feeling okay. I always figured I fought it off, or it was something really short-lived. Usually, if I give myself the chance to rest, I can do that, unless it’s something really nasty. Doesn’t make me any less sick, though.

  10. Katie F

    No. Sick time is part of the package, your employee is an adult, and if they misuse sick time – well, they won’t have it when they need it most and that will be the consequence of misusing it.

  11. TheBeetsMotel

    Don’t be that manager. If your employee is otherwise a reliable, productive team member, it’s not worth souring your working relationship over this. Especially when there could be 101 reasons to legitimize their being out of their house. People out sick aren’t required to be chained to their beds in order to qualify as being “really” sick!

  12. Annalee

    I left work early yesterday because a chronic medical condition flared up and I didn’t want to puke at the office. I got home, took meds, and by the evening I was well enough to go on a movie date I’d previously arranged with a bunch of friends.

    I’m glad I work for a reasonable employer and didn’t need to feel weird about saying I went to a movie, or justify with them that well enough to watch a movie is not the same as well enough to do highly technical, detail-focused work.

    I know someone who got fired because she took a sick day to watch her sick kid, but still came in to pick up her paycheck (with sick kid in tow). Because apparently well enough to carry a sick child who can’t be left unattended is well enough to wait tables. Ugh.

  13. LawCat

    For #2, would it be worthwhile for the hiring manager to bring up what they can negotiate on, if anything (e.g., flexible hours, extra vacation hours, work from home arrangements)? Or would that be for the candidate to bring up? Or is it too early for that?

  14. seejay

    So I do kind of have an opposite situation that happened at my current workplace, where something really sketch happened. To be clear, we had some major issues with some managers in the department (who are no longer here) and employee retention as well (there was a running joke that it was a revolving door, we went through about 6 employees for one position in three months).

    One of the new employees we had just hired was calling in sick pretty regularly and no one was really saying much about it. One of his days that he called in, he said he had to take his wife into the hospital. Well, the manager happened to spot him on the train as he (manager) was coming into the office. Employee didn’t see him, so manager decided to follow him. Employee wasn’t with his wife or going in a direction to any hospital and it was still morning commute (it was within a half hour of the email being sent saying he wasn’t coming in that morning) so it smelled fishy. Guy takes the train to different area of the city, goes into another building. Manager follows him in, and asks at the front desk about [employee name] and if the security knows him. Oh yes, he works on X floor.

    Turns out the guy we hired? He had a second job. He’d been taking sick days from us to work at the other job he had and was juggling both. Needless to say, he got fired from us pretty quick.

    One of my coworkers thought it was pretty sketch that the manager followed him (she didn’t like the manager and looked for any excuse to criticize him for *anything*) but dunno… the whole thing was just a big blaring red warning alarm of how badly that particular set up was being run. Between the guy with the second job, another employee that took a week vacation and never came back, another one that went to another country and never came back, and someone else that lied about his qualifications and we had to fire, plus the manager who claimed he went to Harvard on his resume but someone later dug up that there was no evidence of it (and he was also going under a completely different, assumed name)…. it was really a big ball of stink.

    It does make for one of those WTF stories though. And why sometimes you question why an employee that’s “out sick” might not really be using those days fairly.

    1. Mike C.

      I still creeped out by the manager’s actions. What if instead they found that the employee was picking up the wife from a specialist or something? You can’t really justify actions after the fact, and this sort of thing would have shown up anyway. It doesn’t really justify anything.

      1. CDL

        I agree – my therapist’s office is in a skyscraper close to my work building. It also houses offices/businesses. I’ve called in sick before, but still headed to my therapy appointments, and I would be really, really annoyed if my manager followed me and asked the security guard where I was going.

        Granted, the situation seejay describes was pretty strange, but it still doesn’t sit right!

    2. LawCat

      I would be creeped the math out by a manager following a coworker around even if the coworker was not appropriately using sick leave. Are they going to follow me around when I call in sick?

      1. Erin

        If someone calls out sick, that means the company is short staffed. How can a manager take time off to stalk an employee that’s out sick? Isn’t there work that needs to be done?

    3. Murphy

      Yeah, that’s totally creepy, regardless of what the employee was doing (which…that’s obviously an untenable situation and I can’t imagine how long he thought he’d get away with it).

    4. all aboard the anon train

      Uh. A manager following someone across the city to see how their employee is using their sick time sends up a big, blaring red warning alarm of a company. I’d be looking for a new job if my manager or someone in my department did this, or if the company was okay with a manager who did this.

      The employee was out of line, but the manager stalking someone was also way out of line.

    5. Anna

      Here’s the thing…There’s no world where a manager following an employee like that is okay. Not a single way this is okay, even if the guy did call in sick and then the manager saw him going somewhere entirely different on the train. I mean, the manager could meet the employee later and say he saw the employee on the train, OR the manager could just say the new employee was calling out sick a lot and there was some concern over this. And at no point would anyone have to go secret agent man and follow anyone going about their day.

    6. Jenbug

      Holy cow that manager was INCREDIBLY inappropriate to follow the employee.

      The fact that what the employee was doing was wrong doesn’t make what the manager did right. If I heard that story, I would be looking for a new job immediately.

    7. Brogrammer

      I see a pretty clear cause and effect between the bad management and the bad employees – a manager who stalks an employee who calls out sick isn’t going to be able to retain employees who can find better jobs.

    8. MissDisplaced

      I find that pretty sketchy and inappropriate that the manager would follow an employee. Even if there was an excessive amount of time off being taken, there are other ways to deal with this.

    9. Amy the Rev

      Yeah this makes me think of instances where police blatantly violate 4th amendment rights and then uncover evidence of a crime. Doesn’t change the fact that the person committed a crime, but the police are still being crappy for illegal search/seizure, and sometimes that evidence/charge can get thrown out because of it!

    10. seejay

      To clarify as mentioned in the story… there was some huge problems with the management *and* the employees that were being hired, including the manager that followed said employee. That particular manager, plus the one under him was extremely dysfunctional, and the inability to retain good employees (as evidenced by the one that was running two jobs at the time) was just a small sign of it. I’m by no means defending the situation, I can see how the following is super sketch, but there was already huge red flags with the employee in question, his continual days off when he’d only been with the company for a month was already an issue, and the manager who trailed him was also a major issue as well. Suffice to say, eventually that manager was terminated (with cause), and the whole team under him was re-worked. It was just one of the more WTF things that happened with my current company during one of the more, how to put it, growing pains? We have different management teams now and kind of look back on those past days and shudder at it.

  15. Rebecca

    Regarding #1: what do people think about sick days as mental health days? If I don’t take a mental health day when I need one, it turns into some sort of physical illness within a few days. I wonder what would happen if I was “spotted” doing something like going for a run or in a yoga class, which for me is preventative healthcare.

    1. Elizabeth

      100% in favour of mental health days, especially since I’m someone who *doesn’t* tend to get physically ill very often. If the thought of getting out of bed to face whatever the workday holds for me fills me with debilitating dread, that’s a mental health day. Stress makes you sick; taking time to deal with stress is legit.

      1. Angela

        Yep. I very rarely get sick, so I allow myself 2 mental health days per year during our busy time (I’m also enjoying a pretty sustained period of good mental health and am happy in my job, so 2 is usually enough). It’s amazing what an extra day of rest does for my productivity during that time.

        1. Amy the Rev

          I have the personal allowance system, too! During undergrad, most of my classes that met 2+ times per week had a ‘3 absences allowed before your final grade is docked’ policy, and since I rarely ever get physically sick, I’d allow myself 1 ‘skip’ per class, per semester (for whatever reason, sometimes to go lay on the grass and have a beer with friends, sometimes to wallow, sometimes to catch up on hw).

          Trying to figure out what an equivalent amount would be now that I’m working full time. I don’t have any vacation days but I DO accrue 1hr of sick time for every 30 hrs that I work, so I think the 2 mental health days /year sounds like a good amount for me, too.

    2. Mike C.

      I think it’s perfectly fine. Some times you need a small break. Sometimes you overindulge without realizing it. Sometimes you just couldn’t sleep. Sometimes you just can’t face coming into work that particular day. So long as you’re a decent employee, who cares?

    3. Charlie

      I think that’s completely legit, but I am also a subscriber to the minority view that stress is actually a problem, rather than an indicator of how hard you’re working or something to brag about. And physical activity and a chance to relax helps to reduce it.

      From a purely mercenary point of view, a stressed or unhappy worker isn’t going to be any higher a performer than an ill one.

    4. Rainy, PI

      I think mental health days, particularly in high-stress jobs, are important. Especially because if you, e.g., could not sleep the night before because you were incredibly stressed out about something, you are probably going to get actually physically sick if you don’t stay home away from other people’s germs and catch up your sleep.

    5. bridget

      I think it depends on whether it’s something you can plan ahead for. I consider taking regular vacations and unplugging to be essential to mental health, but I use vacation days for them because I can know that ahead of time and plan to spend a few days on a beach or in the mountains a couple times a year. It’s sort of preventative healthcare in the same way as yoga, but doesn’t neatly fall into the “sick” bucket because it’s just part of anticipating my work/life balance over a longer period (which bucket only matters if you are at a company where there is a distinction between sick and other PTO days). Using sick days for mental health I think should be limited to more urgent/immediate mental health needs (for instance, a situation like the one noted by the poster upthread, about being up all night because of anxiety/depression and needing the next day off to recuperate, without much forewarning).

      1. Emi.

        I agree with this. I’ve also heard people* use “mental health day” to mean “I decided to treat myself to a vacation because I didn’t feel like working” when there wasn’t really a mental health issue at play, and I definitely don’t think that should count as sick leave. (*I think I’ve done it, in fact, and this discussion is making me realize I probably shouldn’t.)

        1. Zombii

          The term “mental health day” started in the ’90’s as a (sort of) joke. It was an apathetic Gen-X thing to say when you were just sick to death of your pointless dead-end video store clerk job and if you didn’t skip a day you would either finally go off on a stupid customer or just walk out.

          (There is the argument to be made that the situation in my example is indicative of a possible mental health issue and that the more recent normalizing of mental health issues in general has allowed for this term to be used sincerely instead of as a sarcastic cover story for a real problem.)

    6. CC

      As someone who has had to call in on two separate occasions for anxiety/panic attacks…yeah, mental health days are fine. People seem to think that mental health isn’t the same as physical health as far as seriousness, but it is. It’s really time to move away from that stigma. You shouldn’t have to be on death’s door to call in (which some people seem to think **coughcoughPeopleWhoSpreadStrepAroundTheOfficecough**) and mental health issues can ABSOLUTELY cause major interference at work equal to or worse than physical illness. I now have no qualms about calling off of work if I absolutely need to for my own long-term well-being – just like I’d rather call in for one day at the beginning of an illness rather than having to call in four days because I waited until I was utterly miserable to rest up.

      1. Mreasy

        I mean, do you want me crying at my desk all day, or home sleeping off my depressive episode? Mental health days 4eva. :)

    7. SarahTheEntwife

      I’m totally fine with taking a day to recharge mentally or physically, especially if your office is such that it won’t cause too much of a strain on your coworkers.

      I really wish we could find another word for it than “mental health day”, though. If you are actually having mental health issues, then that shouldn’t be treated differently than physical health as far as needing time off goes.

      1. Bwmn

        I agree with this completely.

        This coming year my brother, who does not live in the same city as me, is going to get married and it’s very clear that a number of my vacation days will need to be used around wedding events. And while it’s great and hardly uncommon – it also means that vacation days for recharging, relaxing, getting caught up on household chores – not to mention vacationing for myself – that’s all possible to suffer.

        Taking a day to clean my apartment and get caught up on chores, sure that’s going to have a mental and physical benefit in avoiding stress and living in a clean environment – but I agree that calling that a mental health day down plays mental illness. Because in the situation I’m thinking of, sure a sick day in such a situation will help general stress levels – but it’s also a good physical preventative health day.

      2. Jaydee

        I think “mental health day” is a perfectly good name for it. If you take a physical health day, I don’t care whether you’re taking it because you had a flare up of a chronic condition or because you have an acute illness or injury. One is not more legit than the other. The same goes for a mental health day. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re taking the day because your chronic mental health condition has flared up or because you’re undergoing an acute period of stress. The problem is that a lot of people hear “mental health day” and equate it to basically playing hooky. But if we didn’t have the stigma of mental health problems being really just a defect in character or a lack of toughness and willpower, I think more people would see the occasional mental health day in an otherwise healthy person as a legitimate need, in the same way they would see taking the occasional sick day for a back injury or a cold or stomach bug as a legitimate need.

        1. Mookie

          I agree. I view use of the phrase as normalizing mental health issues — humans have them, they are inevitable, you are not broken (but broken is okay, too) — and acknowledging that mental health is important to cultivate and requires care.

        2. SarahTheEntwife

          But then why not just call it a sick day? I don’t say “I need to take a physical health day” when I have a cold; I just say “I’m not feeling well; I’m taking a sick day”.

          1. Brogrammer

            It just circles back to the stigma associated with mental health problems. If your manager believes that mental illness is a character flaw or lack of willpower, that manager won’t consider mental health issues to be a legitimate use of sick time.

    8. HealthyAnon

      I wish there was a way for me to stealthily find out if mental health sick days are okay at my work. We get three sick days a year. I lost two this year and one the year before. I never came down with any illness that would’ve allowed me to use them, so when the year ended, they disappeared. I took one day total this year for especially long dr appointments (healthy or not, I do have a minor medical condition for which I need annual checkups) and another day the year before in addition to that, for a planned surgery that I had to have for the same medical condition. But our company changed its policy recently where we are no longer allowed to take sick days for anything planned like a doctors appointment or a surgery. The handbook now specifically says to use PTO and personal days for that. If that’s what we’re expected to do for a surgery(?) then I’m pretty sure a mental health day (especially one including a run or a hike in the woods) is out of the question? I know it’s a FWP, but I’m tired of losing unused sick days every year, and I COULD use a mental health day!

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Are they at least generous with PTO? From what you’re describing, it seems like your company would not support using sick leave for a mental health day.

        (Although the idea of requiring that you only take PTO for surgery is ridiculous, and the idea of forbidding you from going to maintenance appointments seems like bad policy. . . Unless the PTO policy is generous.)

      2. Sparrow

        It sounds like management would frown on them, but assuming they don’t require a detailed report of your illness, how would they know the difference?

    9. Rebecca

      Thanks for everyone’s replies! I feel similarly that all health is health, and it’s nice to hear it from strangers, not just people who know about my personal mental health issues.

    10. MissDisplaced

      I wish employers would just give you XX amount of days per year, and you just use them for whatever. Why even designate sick versus vacation? I never understood that.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I think in some states it effects your annual payout (i.e., sick leave is uncompensated, but vacation/personal time has to be paid out at separation or at year-end, depending on the state and the organization’s policies).

      2. fairyfreak

        I didn’t use to understand either. Note I work for a company with one pool, and everyone comes in sick unless they physically can’t, because they don’t want to use up their vacation days.

      3. Arielle

        It’s not a great system for people with chronic health conditions who need more time off due to illness than others. I know someone who didn’t take a vacation for 10 years because literally all of her PTO every year went towards doctors’ appointments and surgeries.

      4. Cafe au Lait

        That’s PTO in a nutshell and it’s horrible. Employers will have employees come in sick because they don’t want to use their “vacation days.” When I had PTO, I hardly took time off to recharge because what if I got sick? At minimum, I’d make sure I had three days “banked” in case something happened.

    11. Anon for this

      Story time. My last job was grueling; 60+ hour workweeks that spread over weekends, constant travel with little time between to catch some sleep, and a dragon lady manager who wanted to squeeze every last drop of work out of me as she could. I have an anxiety disorder that I can usually manage well but it was difficult during that time.

      One day I woke up, coming off of 11 straight days of work and only 3-4 hours sleep each night, and just could not deal with the thought of going into work. I called in sick. Except dragon lady told me I sounded fine and if I wasn’t in the office at 8 am sharp I could consider myself unemployed. So I dragged myself into the office and spent the entire car ride trying to pep talk myself into productivity.

      I made it to 10 am. That’s when my coworker found me sitting on the floor of the bathroom sobbing and unable to speak. She had to go to my desk for my cell and call my husband to come pick me up. Coworker was nice enough to explain to dragon lady why I had left. I took a few days off after that episode, returning on Friday to give my 2 weeks.

      Moral of the story: if your employee needs a mental health day, give it to them.

    12. Anxa

      I am all for it.

      I took a half-day for mental illness adjacent issues, although I chose to take the pay-cut (I’m hourly). I don’t sleep well and I had been averaging about 2-3 hours per night, which was back what I was getting in college, which was disasterous. I took a morning to sleep in and avoided getting physically sick later (colds were going around). I quick jog pretty frequently if I’m not feeling well and it helps a lot.

      Also, this may be different for people who get health insurance at work, but my current job barely allowed me to qualify for insurance over medicaid, and now that I’ve moved to an expansion state, I’m stuck with medicaid. There are absolutely 0 psychologists or psychiatrists in network for every single mediaid plan. And while I’ve had a pretty nice GP in the past be willing to talk to me about some of my symptoms, I never took any medication because I didn’t trust that we were getting enough back story. So it’s literally up to me manage my own mental health. Unless you make enough money to pay out of pocket for a good plan/or direct care, low-income people have very few options for professional care.

      1. Marillenbaum

        That sucks. Speaking from my own experience (so YMMV), I was prescribed my antidepressant/antianxiety medication by my GP–she suggested I also go to a psychologist or therapist, but I wasn’t in a position to do it at the time, and my GP was willing to try out different medications until I found one that worked. In a perfect world, you’d be able to see a specialist, but I just wanted to add my 2 cents that getting medication for mental health from your GP can be a good experience. Obviously, you know your situation best; I simply wanted to share my experience.

    13. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I am super in favor of mental health days. Sick days are honestly more like “medical/health days”; you don’t have to be sick to use them. Most folks I know are using their sick leave to go to their regular doctors’ appointments or to the therapist or acupuncturist, while others take sick days to provide care to sick family member. All of that is reasonable, preventative health and health management kinda stuff.

      Mental health days are the same, in my book. The only time it looks shady is if you’re taking a mental health day in order to extend vacation/holiday leave and have been advised not to—otherwise I think it’s ok to tack it on if you need to and if it won’t negatively impact your coworkers/company (being inconvenient does not rise to the level of “negative impact” in my book).

    14. Basia, also a Fed

      I work for the federal government, which I know is an entirely different animal, but our sick policy says that sick leave can not be used due to being tired and needing rest. That has to be annual leave. I don’t think anyone here would actively check up on you, but if you were flagrantly violating this, I think you get a stern talking to. If it happened more than once, it would probably go into your personnel file.

      1. GovWorker

        Imma fed too, for thirty years. Never heard this before. Why would anyone call in and say they were taking a sick day because they were tired. You just say you aren’t feeling well and leave it at that.

  16. Rainy, PI

    I booked off the whole day today for a very routine medical procedure that, the last time I had it, went rather alarmingly south. I did end up telling my boss what I was having done during a meeting this week because she was very concerned (there have been a couple of cancer diagnoses and a heart scare in my office recently!), but she was very supportive of my bet-hedging full day off.

    And in fact, I am sitting at home quietly freaking out about the appointment. I assure you I would have gotten no actual work done, because those parts of my job which do not merely require attention to detail and careful oversight involve making decisions that affect a lot of people.

    1. blackcat

      Sometimes planning extra time is the right call, even if you didn’t need it. It’s not exactly the same, but when I was in high school, my mom booked my wisdom teeth removal appointment for a Thursday morning. Her thinking was that my brother was sick and miserable for days, so I could take Thursday and Friday off of school and then have the weekend.

      As it turns out, I slept for like 12 hours after my surgery and was totally fine. I could have gone to school on Friday, but I had made arrangements with my teachers ahead of time to be gone. So I stayed home and had a day off. It was great.

  17. Barney Barnaby

    #4, dumbing down a resume:

    I’ve heard of people doing this successfully, but they are mostly lawyers who knew that a lot of non-lawyer jobs would pay better and have better hours than all but a handful of attorney jobs. But I don’t think it’s normally the way to go, and it’s especially weird if you are going to be a “computer tutor,” which might require a bachelor’s and some basic work experience anyway.

    1. Telly

      For #4 – What about “dumbing down” all the technical and specific work-related jargon? Not deleting major accomplishments, but making them easier to understand? It’s really easy to overlook the fact that the jargon of your workplace may not translate well to other companies.

  18. Cherie

    My work has recently discussed changing “sick days” to “sick events”. So, instead of getting 5 sick days a year and wiping them out in one swoop with a bout of the flu, that week counts as 1 of your 5 sick events. I’m not sure how that system would work if used for scheduled procedures, though, so I’ll have to ask.

    1. Elizabeth

      How did that change go over? I like the idea, but am wondering if I’m totally missing out on what some of the negatives of such a change might be.

    2. Murphy

      Interesting…I understand what they’re going for there, but that could get tricky to enforce.

      Though my entire pregnancy being one “event” would be great!

      1. Epsilon Delta

        I like the concept but it seems like it could be really tricky to enforce. There could be a lot of edge cases or different interpretations of “event”, which would make the rules complex and confusing. I would be interested to hear more about what kind of rules the workplace came up with to deal with that.

    3. Charlie

      That’s kind of an awesome idea, but the phrase is hilarious. You can either read it as, “brah, that event was siiiick” or “Mr. President, we have a Level Five Sick Event.”

    4. Anja

      We have sick events at my work. I think we get 3 100% paid and then some more that are 75 or 80% paid. It generally works quite well. In ours they prefer you try to schedule medical appointments, etc., outside of work hours (almost everyone in my union works a schedule where we work Monday through Friday but with one day off in each two week pay period – every second Friday off, for example, – so scheduling them outside of work hours is usually possible) but if not then an appointment where you’re gone under three hours doesn’t count as a sick event – you theoretically mark it as an appointment on your time sheet but you still just get paid as usual. If it’s a full day it would be a sick event but most people if they know it’s coming will save that extra day off mentioned earlier and put it on that day so they don’t use one of their events.

    5. Jillian

      My previous employer had a system of “occurrences”. Up to 3 days in a row was one occurrence, 4-6 days counted as 2 occurrences, etc. I think we got 10 occurrences in a 12 month period, they expired 12 months after the occurred. After 10 you lost your job, so you got various “warnings” from 5 on.

  19. all aboard the anon train

    My company gets weird about sick time booked in advance. I had put in two days of sick time when I was getting my wisdom teeth out and my manager had a conniption and said I had to use vacation time since it was a “pre-planned event”. Even when I showed my referral notice to the dentist and proved I was actually getting a medical procedure done, she insisted that any medical time known about in advance couldn’t be used as sick time.

    Other managers in the company also get weird about taking sick time for doctor’s appointments because I guess they think if you know about “sick time” in advance, you’re not really sick. I’m getting some root canals done over the next few weeks and put in for half days with sick time and my manager said I can’t request them in advance, and I have to resubmit day of because it looks suspicious otherwise. The whole thing is really stupid. We’re adults. If an employee isn’t abusing sick time and they have a set allotment to use each year, they should be able to use it however they want.

    1. Anna

      I have never worked anywhere that didn’t recognize medical procedures or doctor’s appointments as sick time that you could actually schedule in advance and put on your time sheet as sick time. That makes absolutely no sense. It would be interesting to know what your employee handbook says, because chances are good it’s addressed there.

      1. all aboard the anon train

        It says sick-time can be used for medical appointments, but approval is up the manager’s discretion, as is any request for sick, vacation, floating holidays, or personal days.

    2. HealthyAnon

      Wish I’d read your comment before posting mine. My employer has just added this policy. We were also pretty much told to be all “oops I just woke up suddenly needing outpatient surgery, and I just happen to have one scheduled today, so here I am calling in sick”. It is very odd. I’m not happy about this change. We get so few sick days a year that I don’t know how abusing sick time (which was a legit issue at an OldJob, where we had unlimited sick days) could even be a problem big enough to warrant this kind of a policy.

      1. all aboard the anon train

        Right? We only get 5 sick days a year, and to be honest, the last thing I want to do on days where I have a medical is log onto my work databases and request a sick day in our archaic system.

    3. MissDisplaced

      That just sounds so counter-productive. It’s worse to have things happen suddenly with no coverage versus planned medical time off.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I feel like employers that do this have no understanding of what “sick” leave is about or is for. It also just burns up so much goodwill with your employees to make them allocate vacation time to a day when they need dental surgery (it just seems like another insult b/c having surgery is no vacation).

      But to be honest, most leave policies in the U.S. are way behind similarly “advanced” countries and are ridiculously stingy, anyway.

    5. Kittymommy

      That has got to be one I’d the stupidest things I’ve heard lately. Whoever use in charge of you’re sick tune is a dumbass. I remember when my mom had to take I’d work to do chemo for stage iv lung cancer. That was pre planned, does that mean she wasn’t “sick”?

    6. the gold digger

      I have had a root canal at the dental college. It’s not that bad! The thing I remember the most is how darn boring it was and how sore my jaw was from being propped open, but it was not painful. I hope yours goes easily and well.

      1. all aboard the anon train

        I’m hoping it goes well, too! My wisdom teeth were pretty painless – no swelling and I wasn’t in a huge amount of pain. The teeth I’m having root canals on don’t cause me a lot of pain, but I’m getting one on a Monday and the second on a Tuesday, so at most I expect to be taking a lot of pain killers from my jaw being propped open so long in such a short span of time.

  20. Kathlynn

    Oh God, the nosy coworkers I now deal with. I mean there were some people who doubt people are actually sick at my last job. But this job is worse. I had a coworker leave work shortly after getting there. She said she was going to the hospital. My coworkers doubted this, and believed she was just faking it. All because hours later they saw her Gf outside at the store next door. Like, going to the hospital/emergency/walk-in clinic doesn’t mean an all day emergency. In this case, it was a really bad asthma attack.
    The best thing about being an adult was realizing I didn’t have to be bedridden to stay home. Just too sick to work (but I’m still working on that part). Oh the conflicting opinions on it though. For example, I’ve been told before (by a relative) that nausea is only a reason to go home or call in sick if you’ve actually puked. But my rule is a couple steps sooner. And mostly based on being able to move, since my job requires me to be able to walk and be standing for 7.5 hours. If I can’t stand I can’t work.
    I’ve actually decreased my willingness to work if sick or in serious pain at my new job. Partly because I know that the company/management itself has a different culture to calling in sick then my coworkers. And reading AAM.
    And having these new boundaries, even if I’m just figuring them out, has really helped. And I’m sure my last cold got cut short because of this (I called in on a day where I wouldn’t have before. Mostly because it was the only day for like 3-4 days I could, and wanted to rest up for the next day. Everyone was sick, and no one was available to cover the other shifts)

  21. CC

    Siiiiiigh. I used to be SO self-conscious about leaving my apartment at any point while sick for exactly this reason. As in, I was afraid to pick up a prescription from the store that I worked in because they might think I had been lying about being sick or whatever. There are so many factors that go into this (including the prescription scenario) that it’s wildly inappropriate to make such assumptions.

    (Also, an aside, but I saw a message that implies that mental health days aren’t real illness days…mental health is just as serious as physical health. I have called in twice because of having anxiety so bad that I couldn’t fathom working. It wasn’t a matter of me just sucking it up or whatever; the anxiety was just as real as having strep throat and would have been doubly disruptive. Don’t discount mental illness; emotional and mental well-being are just as – if not more so – important as physical wellness.)

      1. Kelly L.

        Yes! Able to scroll through Facebook and click Like on dog pictures is not necessarily able to work. Facebook requires, like, zero mental power. I can Facebook even when I’m too sick to read.

        1. bluesboy

          Yes. I am currently in bed with man flu and I am still posting on AAM. Internet use just isn’t the same thing energy wise as a full work day!

          Fortunately it’s a Saturday as otherwise I would be in the doctor’s to get the medical certificate I need to qualify for sick pay…

  22. Mental Health

    Mental health days are a joke. It’s just an excuse to take a day you really don’t have coming. If there are defined sick and vacation days, the person taking sick time to supervise installation of floors at home. You are stealing from your employer. There is no definition on earth that describes sick time as- watch installers install my wood floors. The definition of sick seems so broad nowadays- just call it entitled time.

    1. CC

      Mental health days are entirely necessary at times such as the repeatedly cited instances of anxiety/panic attacks. I suppose I would like to know what you consider the point of a sick day. If an employee isn’t contagious but is otherwise not functional due to physical illness, is that allowed? If someone has vertigo or a migraine and thus can barely stand, are they allowed to call in? If so, then someone with mental health problems should ALSO be allowed to take sick days. If not, you really need to reasses your priorities.

      Maybe you should brush up on knowledge of mental illnesses before completely invalidating all mental health days.

      1. Mental Health

        {First Post} Earlier this month I used two of my accrued sick days to supervise the installation of the new hardwood floors in my living room! Luckily my employer didn’t care – it’s my sick time, I earned it, I can spend it how I like.

        The first poster seemed pretty clear that “accrued sick days” is just that. I don’t have issue with anxiety/panic attacks. That’s a real problem. The issue is with people who claim mental health for a day they just don’t feel like going to work or getting projects done around the house.
        And I agree with other posters- employers should have it one bank of time- it is your time, use the days you have allotted as you want.

        1. LawCat

          How can you be stealing from your employer if your employer doesn’t actually care how you use days regardless of the label affixed to those days?

        2. CC

          While I agree just taking days off just because isn’t totally valid, your original post just stated that “mental health days are a joke” as a blanket statement.

          As far as the floor installation person…eh, under normal circumstances, I’d say that isn’t appropriate, but if their employer is aware and truly doesn’t care, then it doesn’t really matter. I had a boss at my last job tell me not to record sick time I took once based on overtime I put in on other weeks. It wasn’t technically keeping with policy, but he was my boss (and the COO), so I didn’t really have any qualms about doing so.

    2. Rainy, PI

      Responding kindly to your comment, it sounds like the person who took “sick days” to have wood floors installed works somewhere where there aren’t separate “sick” and “vacation” days, merely encompassing PTO, which can be used for either.

      Fortunately for your employer, lack of compassion isn’t a valid reason to take a sick day.

    3. Toots McGee

      But let’s say you’re a healthy person who doesn’t get sick all year. You’re saying it would be “stealing” to use one of those days, that your employer budgeted and planned for, as vacation?

      1. CC

        Yeah, I don’t really get that either. Even when I worked for a company that had two separate buckets for PTO and sick/personal days, we were allowed to use one if the other had been used up. And if it’s combined, guess what? Reasonable employers should expect that not all PTO is reserved for people in the final stages of smallpox or something.

        Honestly, the expectation to work unless bedridden in the States makes me want to move. It’s bananas and TOTALLY counterproductive. Well-rested employees – both mentally and physically – are productive employees.

        1. Bwmn

          I agree with all of this – but also see home improvements – whether it’s cleaning, doing chores, having floors installed, etc – all of that can support physical health as much as mental health. Being stressed, living with dirt or mold, cooking your own meals – all of that contributes to physical health as much as mental health. And when these are days budgeted by an organization to give employees overall good health – I struggle to see the fight or benefit to take away that time.

      2. Arielle

        And the opposite – say you’re an unhealthy person that has doctors’ appointments and actual sick days and maybe some surgery over the course of the year. Does that mean you’re never allowed to take a vacation because you need to save all of your PTO for sickness?

        1. Zombii

          Unfortunately, yes, that’s exactly what it means. I never took a real vacation for the 3.5 years I was at ExJob because every year I would waste my 3 sick days + 10 PTO days on being sick due to my autoimmune disorder, plus a few unpaid days once those ran out.

          I asked my supervisor about taking unpaid vacation because never having time off that wasn’t weekends or sick time wasn’t tenable for me and was told the company doesn’t allow unpaid vacation, that’s what PTO is for. Another time, I was in a meeting for an attendance write-up where my supervisor’s supervisor told me I should have budgeted my PTO better to cover the time I had been sick—but I was out of PTO due to previous illness.

    4. MissDisplaced

      You are not “stealing” from your employer. Vacation and Sick days are part of your pay and benefits, whether you use them or not.
      And if you are paid hourly, you’re not getting paid for a sick day, so how is that stealing?

      Meanwhile, salary exempt employees are not being paid extra for extra overtime hours worked. How is that not wage theft?

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      This comment does not lend itself to reasonable discussion (although folks have certainly tried). It’s also strange to me that you later commented that you’re the person who took sick time to supervise the installation of floors in your home and that you don’t care because “you earned it” and can spend your sick leave as you wish (unless two people are posting with the same handle?).

      Finally, sick leave is not an entitlement, so calling it entitled time is strange. I think you may be operating with radically different assumptions/definitions than others.

      1. Zombii

        I was confused at first too. Commentor was attempting to quote the floor-installation post but doesn’t know how to html, or use any other not-confusing way to indicate that they were quoting. :)

    6. jamlady

      This is likely one of the stranger comments I’ve seen on AAM.

      Please do some research on mental health issues and the impact they have on an individual’s daily life.

    7. Paradoxically

      While I disagree that “mental health days are a joke,” I recall that the use of the phrase “I’m taking a mental health day” is often used as something of joke. This is not to be confused with actual mental health issues that may require use of sick days. For instance, if I had called in sick the day after the election, I might have said, “I’m taking a mental health day,” meaning something like “I’m too down about this news that it is more than I can manage to come in and do customer service and be as friendly and welcoming as I should be to do my job well,” or, colloquially shorter, just “I can’t even.” I would be hard pressed to argue that I was suffering from a mental illness that day, but i wasn’t functioning at my usual level. It used to be socially acceptable to make little jokes about that kind of thing. Similarly, the phrase “going postal” was popular thirty years ago… When we were having a bad day in the office, we might say to one another, “omg next I’ll be up on the roof.” I haven’t heard anyone say anything like that in years, at least since Columbine. It’s just not funny anymore. (Maybe it never was; I had a sarcasm-heavy office in my twenties.)
      So, in context, “mental health day” might be a joke. But depending on your work environment, it might be a completely legit use of sick time. Also depending on your job. Assuming enough staff to replace someone, I would have preferred my employees to take a day if they needed it, rather than show up and be noticeably “off” all day. If you can’t manage a smile and a “welcome to the library, how may I help you?” at least in attitude if not precise wording, we are all better off if you stay home.

      1. Brogrammer

        As someone with multiple chronic mental illnesses, I see that sort of situation as the mental health equivalent of a 24-hour stomach bug. Not worth going to a doctor for it because you just need to wait and get it out of your system, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a legitimate need to take a day off to rest and recover.

    8. Observer

      I honestly hope you are not, and never will be, in a position to supervise anyone. Calling mental health days an excuse to take time you really don’t have coming is both ignorant and callous. Yes, a lot of people abuse the term. But it’s a real issue. And, I’d hate to work for someone who “knows” that certain categories of illness are really fake.

  23. SometimesALurker

    Adding to the chorus of “reasons someone both out sick and active may not be faking” — I’ve had two things I think were panic attacks in my life, and one of them was at work. I went “home” sick, but a friend who works not far from where I work was able to meet me for lunch, if I could wait an hour for her meeting to be done. I really needed some company and that particular friend is particularly great at being company, so I browsed a local bookstore and went to a coffee shop while I waited. If anyone who was of the mindset to be on the lookout for shirkers saw me hanging out downtown for an hour and then having a long lunch with a friend, I’m sure they would have thought I was being incredibly blatant in my playing hooky! Instead, I was just trying to get through the day. Some people can recover after a panic attack and keep working, not that they should necessarily have to, but I don’t appear to be one of them.

    1. Anxa

      I get very rare but very awful “panic attacks.” They aren’t typical panic attacks, but they are the result of a BII phobia* The attack only lasts a few minutes, but I’m wiped out for the rest of the day. But I typically try to get out and about because the absolute worst thing is feeling stuck and trapped with me and my thoughts. I’ve always had a ‘bolt’ response to it, which annoyed my teachers of course as I would want to go wander the halls as a falling risk, but I’d always rather fall and hurt myself than have to experience staying still.

      Blood-injection-illness, although while I have a textbook response, my triggers a little different

  24. OxfordComma

    I live alone. When I’m sick and need to pick up prescriptions, OTC stuff, food, toilet paper, etc. I’m it. I don’t have a partner to send. It’s just me. Sometimes that means I need to leave the house to go shopping. Would I rather be at home? Absolutely. But am I faking? No.

  25. sitting with sad salad

    #1 Honestly, it wouldn’t be an issue if everyone had PTO time – as opposed to breaking it into sick/ vacation/ personal/ whatever days. Why don’t companies just make it all PTO??

    1. Brogrammer

      A common side effect of that is people coming to work sick so that they don’t lose out on vacation time.

      1. CC

        Ugh, yeah, I MUCH preferred designated sick/vacation time when I had them at Costco to the single-bucket PTO situation. Our sick days didn’t roll over, but we’d get paid out for unused time, and vacation time DID roll over (up to 40 hours). In a pinch, you could use one as a substitute for the other, but it definitely was less stressful if I planned a vacation in advance. I didn’t feel as much pressure to come in while feeling crappy just to have enough PTO to cover an already planned and paid for trip.

    2. Bwmn

      While one way of looking at this is “sick” and “vacation” time – I think a greater lived reality for many is “unscheduled paid time off” and “scheduled in advance time off”. So even if all of the time is PTO, you may still encounter someone who’s always “sick” on Mondays or Fridays in a need for unscheduled time off that can be problematic, but just in a different way.

      If I have 15 PTO days a year (or 25 or 35), but all of them end up being used in an unscheduled manner, that is ultimately going to be wildly problematic. However, the division of 15 PTO days into 5 unscheduled paid absences and 10 scheduled paid absences – that provides a different context for scheduling and paid time off.

      And lastly, as someone who did work in a place where it was all PTO – the end result was people coming to work while crazy sick to ensure they could use as much of their PTO as possible for vacation or other fun stuff. When Shaq played in the NBA, he had a thing about never getting surgery done during the off season because to him that was “work” and his off season was his vacation time and he wasn’t going to waste it healing and in rehab. That’s the example I always think of around “everything is PTO”.

    3. Regina 2

      Because then no one would ever take sick time because they’d want to save it all for vacation. I’m a big fan of keeping them separate, but I wish they were more generous than they tend to be.

  26. LSP

    I’ve never run into a coworker/boss when I’ve called out sick, but I did have a former boss accuse me of faking a migraine after I had to leave early one day. After telling her several times that I HAD to leave before it was no longer safe for me to drive (and actually going well beyond that point), and her telling me she needed me to do just one more thing, and then another, and then another, I finally just left.

    She called me at home, and I got on the phone with her and walked through the last thing she needed.

    The next day she accused me of faking a migraine because “I called your cell phone and heard loud music.”

    She had called my house phone. At the time I was still living with my parents, and my brother answered the phone and had been watching TV. I told her that, told her that when I say I have to go home I actually need to leave.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        They can, but usually employers don’t require you to take intermittent FMLA leave for migraines because it’s overly burdensome—they just give you the time off.

      2. Zoethor2

        Yup, they definitely can. When my migraines were more frequent (up to 2-3 a month that were bad enough I had to stay home from work) my employer had me fill out FMLA paperwork and put them under FMLA sick leave. Thankfully they’ve become less frequent over time, so I just use regular PTO now for them.

    1. Mental Health

      I’ve had an employee at a recent Christmas luncheon claiming she had a migraine and needed to be near the bathroom just in case they had to rush over to vomit. Not 5 minutes later do I see this employee drinking a Corona…

      The employee calls in sick with migraines 3-5 times a year. Not once has there been a question of the legitimacy of those call ins.

      1. CC

        I mean, having a migraine has little to nothing to do with being able to consume alcohol? And they absolutely can make you vomit, black out, be unable to basically move for hours to days…I can’t totally help that you didn’t trust your employee, and maybe there were other factors, but given your history of responses on this thread, I’m inclined to think you may be overly harsh regarding conditions you have no personal experience with.

        1. Mental Health

          I’ll respectfully disagree. My wife has cluster/migraines that make one of her eyes bloodshot. So bloodshot it is hard to look at that eye it looks painful. She goes to work with headache. Her employer will fire her for excessive absences if she missed more than 3 work days. So she goes to work. She doesn’t have the luxury of watching floor installers on a sick day. She’s a tough lady to endure that. That’s my experience. We all have different experiences of medical situations.

          1. CC

            “We all have different experiences of medical situations.”

            So, you agree that people experience the same conditions with varying levels of intensity.

            I DO happen to know people who HAVE to call into work if they have migraines. Your wife’s experience may not be the same as theirs, but they’re all valid.

            As far as the flooring thing…that isn’t related at all to you repeatedly questioning the validity of mental/physical health issues. It may or may not have been out of line, but one person asking for time off to stay at home for flooring people has literally nothing to do with mental health days or whatever employee you’ve encountered who has migraines. You keep bringing that up as if it’s an excuse to dismiss all claims of illness that you don’t fully understand and it’s becoming grating.

            1. Mental Health

              CC,
              How can you say sitting at home watching the floor installer on sick time may or may not have been out of line? Are you serious? Come on. Separate the issues. It’s grating you cannot. :)

              1. CC

                As I said in another response, if the employer knew and truly didn’t care as the OP stated, then it’s a non-issue. If they were being deceptive, that would be one thing, but the specific instance you keep bringing up regardless of whether context calls for it or not isn’t as cut-and-dry as you keep insisting it is.

              2. Bwmn

                The fact of the floor installation bothering you indicates a world view that sick time is strictly defined to definitions of illness.

                However, what if that kind of time off was simply referred to as “unscheduled paid time off” (i.e. sick time) and “scheduled paid time off” (i.e. vacation time) – because in a number of places while sick/vacation time language is used, it is often explicit or implicitly far more about scheduled/unscheduled time off. Managers on this site have stated that either they or their company has no problem with exactly what those days are used for provided that work is getting done.

                Regardless, I think it’s also pretty common in the US to work for either an organization or manager that has that viewpoint. As such, I think employees are far more often to be cautious and/or dishonest about what they tell management around sick days as a result.

          2. CC

            (Also, if migraines do in fact qualify for FMLA, your wife might consider applying if possible. That would prohibit her employer from writing her up if she truly does have to stay home from work for such things.)

          3. Rainy, PI

            It is a shame that your wife’s boss is a jerk who minimizes the health problems of others.

            On the other hand, it sounds like she experiences a continuity of experience between work and home, so I’m sure that’s…something.

            1. Mental Health

              Thank for your comment from a position of knowledge or know me for years. You are using comments someone posts about sick time and it’s use and connecting that to how a person is at home and wherever else they interact with people. That’s silly. Based on analysis of your comments, I would say you are a busy body interjecting your opinion where it is unwarranted, unneeded and just plain wrong.

              See, we are probably both wrong. Probably.

              1. Rainy, PI

                Nope, I’m definitely a busybody, but at least I’m not telling people that their migraines are fake. I can live with that.

            1. Zombii

              Mental Health is either a troll or so self-righteous as to be indistinguishable from one.

              This kind of crap is why I lurked for years before ever venturing into the comments, and this site doesn’t even have a pattern of treacherous comments.

          4. Observer

            So, just because your wife manages to show up at work with migraines, everyone who takes the day for a migraine is off watching the installers put their floor in?

            If your wife’s migraines are that bad (some are worse than others), perhaps you should encourage and help her to find a job where people are treated like human beings rather than machines.

      2. Rainy, PI

        Alcohols are not a migraine trigger for me. Neither are caffeine or chocolate. In fact, one thing that ameliorates an impending migraine for me is an ice cold canned Coca Cola.

        So if I had a mild migraine and you saw me drinking a Corona, it wouldn’t mean I didn’t have a migraine, it would mean that *it wasn’t any of your candy corn business what I was drinking*.

        1. alter_ego

          Is caffeine a migraine trigger for some people? Excedrin migraine has caffeine in it because it…expands the blood vessels in your brain or something? I don’t know, but it’s supposed to help, I think.

          1. CC

            It can be for some people; it just depends. One of mg friends is sensitive to caffeine and artificial sweeteners for some reason. Migraines are mysterious and horrible beasts.

          2. Emi.

            My migraine-getting sister says that some migraines are caused by (or at least related to) your brain’s blood vessels being too small, so caffeine helps, but other migraines work the opposite way. So yes, “mysterious and horrible beasts” is about right.

          3. MashaKasha

            Alcohol is a trigger for me, so is nicotine and second-hand smoke. Caffeine actually helps (even though excedrin migraine has no effect on my migraines whatsoever – have to take the tension headache excedrine plus my prescription pill instead). But from what I understand, migraines cover a wide spectrum and different people have different symptoms and triggers. The doctor who diagnosed me years ago pretty much said: “None of the tests have shown anything wrong, so, your headaches must be migraines. Here’s a migraine pill. Let me know if it helps.” It did.

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Excedrine has caffeine, and as Emi noted, for some folks suffering from migraine headaches it can help because it’s a vasodilator (i.e., it dilates your blood vessels which allows a more regular blood flow, which in turn can help folks with certain kinds of migraines). So in a pinch, a can of something with caffeine can help obtain the same effect as Excedrine.

            That said, I’ve heard caffeine can be a migraine trigger for some folks. Also, sometimes people who are sensitive or allergic to caffeine, etc., can have migraine-like symptoms (i.e., a headache as bad as a migraine but with a different pathogenesis, so it’s not technically a migraine).

          5. the gold digger

            Caffeine raises my baseline – it makes me more sensitive to my other triggers, but does not in itself give me a headache. Sometimes, it will take a h.a. away. My cousin swears by a Coke and two aspirin for his h.a.

          6. Zoethor2

            What *isn’t* a migraine trigger for some people… migraines are so weird. I recently discovered that Flonase is a migraine trigger for me. It’s the first for-sure trigger I’ve found (other than extreme stress).

        2. MissDisplaced

          I’ve gotten them for years and it’s never due to wine, chocolate or caffeine or nuts.
          Mine are triggered by hormones and my period (before or after) which is a oh-wonderful
          double yay every month right. :-( Caffeine actually helps.

          But they do vary in intensity. When younger they were so bad I would vomit, pass out, and be unable to move all day. Now, they still hurt and make me dizzy, but I can somewhat function and make it to work even though I don’t feel great.

        3. Kelly L.

          Caffeine has always been part of my migraine remedy too. I knew caffeine helped my “random barfy headaches” before I even knew they were migraines. Hooray for caffeine!

    2. alter_ego

      There’s also the fact that migraines aren’t necessarily like typical headaches. I don’t like, LOVE noise when I have a migraine, but light, scent, and room temperature bother me far far more than noise does when I’m in the height of one. Especially light. You know, like the already over-bright fluorescents in my office. Doesn’t mean I can’t listen to an audio book when I get home because I need to keep the room dark but I’m in too much pain to sleep and I get bored just sitting in the dark in pain.

      1. Rainy, PI

        Holy carp. I can’t believe audiobooks never occurred to me.

        I don’t mind not-deafening noise when I’m migraine-y, but between the aphasia and the light-sensitivity I can’t read. As you say, the sheer boredom of lying in a pitch black room with a ziplock of ice on my head gets to me after a while. I absolutely despise audiobooks generally, but next time I have a migraine I am totally trying that!

        1. Kate

          I share your dislike for audiobooks and listen to podcasts instead. There are all kinds of entertaining/informative ones out there!

        2. Mints

          Slightly OT but the best audio books for me have been non fiction books written by comedians and narrated by the author. I don’t do fiction well because I get distracted and miss plot points (I’m usually driving) but with non fiction it doesn’t really matter if I blank out. My favorite in this category is Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. (But I’d recommend just checking out your favorite comedians)

          1. Mookie

            Yes! Also: standup comedy records in general. “Easy” listening (erm, not in a smooth jazz way) and each chapter / skit is usually pretty compact and under ten minutes, so you’re not distracted trying to sort out, as you say, plot points or which character is which as you would with dense novels written to be read rather than performed and recorded. Plus, there’s something about laugh tracks when you’re driving or otherwise distracted. I hate them on television (don’t tell me where I should laugh and at what, t.v.) but they’re useful for cueing reactions when you’re only half-listening.

      2. Zoethor2

        It sometimes seems like “atypical migraines” are more common than typical ones. I don’t get any light sensitivity when I get migraines – I can use a computer or watch TV without it being any worse than any other activity. And, like you, smells really bother me, especially strong floral scents.

  27. Rick

    I think self-chosen titles are more common than Alison thinks. I suppose it depends on industry, etc.

    I have an official title that doesn’t communicate some of my responsibilities well. I use a different title on emails that pertain to those roles. I’ve also heard of scenarios where an inflated title is used when in a very title-conscious society (such as visiting East Asia).

    The important point is for the employer and employee to agree on how much latitude the employee has in choosing her own title.

    1. Misc

      I got to pick my own title :D but then, it was a new role in a startup and they just kinda went ‘… sure, that sounds good?’

  28. Lady G.G.

    Do not do anything. You don’t know why they were doing. They very easily could have been at the doctor’s office and/or waiting for a prescription or something. Or maybe their kid was sick, not them and who cares. It’s just too intrusive. Calling in sick does not have to mean you are home and in bed 24 hours.

    But I have a question about #3 and the use of titles. I do this, and it is because my title (the title I was hired for) does not match the coding in the payroll system. For example:

    Hired As: Communications Manager for Teapots
    Coding: Marketing Specialist for Coffeepots

    Not the same at all, but there is no actual coding for the job I actually do. I use the title I was hired under and what they had in the job posting, even though there is a mismatch.

    1. sensual shirtwaist

      I have been in the same boat my last two jobs. In one, my boss told me to use my ‘functional role’ so that clients would know I was the appropriate person to handle their business, in my other my boss mumbled something ambiguous, so I use my formal title and just try and explain to clients.

  29. Argh!

    I was seen at a grocery store when I went to fill my prescription & buy some chicken soup. The person who saw me was my boss’s pet and I really worried that she’d tell my boss I was goofing off.

    If I were to call in sick for a day off, I wouldn’t go to the grocery store!

  30. lazuli

    I actually am at home right now, after leaving work sick this morning. And I had to stop at the grocery store on the way home to buy soup.

    It’s also worth remembering that there are other “invisible” illnesses and disabilities that aren’t psychiatric. Some chronic illnesses can cause cognitive issues that might interfere with work but not shopping, for example.

  31. Angela Harris

    Just because a person looks functional and healthy it doesn’t mean that’s how they feel

    I’ve had many of times where I puked while driving and had to pull over or use something in my car to suffice. And guess what, I got to my destination and got out of my car looking great. Did I feel great? Heck no . . .

    Anyone ever had killer cramps during an important meeting? I looked great but inside I was dying.

  32. Oh no, not again

    The employee might be shopping for medicine, etc. Or they might be taking a mental health day, where shopping is a safe activity to do, whereas being at work and concentrating at work are simply not doable. I take mental health sick days when needed–its good for me AND my co-workers.

  33. Erin

    Last time I took a sick day for a major dental appointment. I was on meds after, my face was still numb, so at the office I wouldn’t have been much of a sight and I would have been unable to do important parts of my job, but I was perfectly capable of cooking, walking my dogs or going to the store (although it was a little rude not to say a word to the cashier). And my dentist is across town, actually in the area where my boss lives, so I easily could have been seen by someone.

  34. Fire

    Yesterday I called out sick for like… the second time in a year (not the only times I had ever missed work for illness, or missed work, but the other times I had covers lined up already), and I also had tickets for Star Wars, which is something I really really care about. I was debating all day whether I should still go, mostly because it was drilled into me as a child that if you were missing school (/work), you Did Not Get To Do Anything Fun. And it’s been horrifically busy at that store because of the cold and everyone wanting delivery instead of leaving their offices I knew it’d suck for them because I was gone.

    I ended up not going regardless of all this because it was too cold outside for me to deal with biking (-10F at least – normally fine, but not with a fever) and there was no way I was going to try to find parking in that area. And I’m super bummed about that. But also bummed about the whole dilemma.

  35. Huh

    In the employer’s defence, it’s not uncommon for employees to pull a sickie. It’s amazing how many people end up falling ill suddenly after giving their resignation.

    Unjustified sick leave is frustrating because it puts the rest of the team under stress and it is costly too. I see it as stealing just the same as if you take an employer’s property. I worked in workplace rehab industry and saw so many people obviously milking the system at the expense of their employer and tax dollars. The reality is that an employer cannot do much when a person claims they are in pain. How do you disprove that?

    1. Observer

      On the other hand, the people most likely to “pull a sickie” are people who are not being treated well. It’s not universal, of course, but if a company is having a real – and properly documented – problem of this nature, it’s worth their while to look at their employment practices.

  36. Sarah G

    In letter #5, OP says, “My company is buying itself” — what does that mean? Buying it’s own stocks back? If so, why would that initiate layoffs? I’m totally confused!

    1. Mookie

      Yes to your first (buybacks are becoming a general trend in US corporations, cf HP, Dupont, GM, et al), and I don’t know, either, to your second question, but (for someone who does know) is the reasoning the same as when layoffs are used to mitigate temporary debt acquired after a merger or acquisition? Or is it about increasing the value of existing shareholder’s stock at the expense of wages, investment, and research?

  37. Nicole

    This strikes a nerve for me because one time I was really sick and called in two days in a row. My manager called me on the second day in the late afternoon to let me know I needed a doctor’s note in order to come back even though the official policy was it was needed when you were out for three days. Luckily my doctor was near work and opened super early but I was extremely annoyed because my manager clearly didn’t believe I was sick even though I was extremely dependable and the hardest worker on the team. Other people called in often and didn’t need a note but I do once and then I need it and I’m told after my doctor’s office was closed? Very unfair.

    1. cncx

      this happened to me once. i was constantly covering for a coworker who called in at least once a week (we don’t live in the US, so she would not have had intermittent FMLA i didn’t know about, and the office was small enough that gossip would have meant if this person had something chronic we would have known…she just called in a lot and management was sympathetic to her for whatever reason). I called in once at eight am the night before and was asked to have a doctor’s note. Most unfair thing ever, and really soured me on that employer that there was a clear double standard in play.

  38. Paradoxically

    As others have mentioned, there are many perfectly legitimate reasons why a “sick” person might be “shopping” without having lied about being sick. I may have mentioned this story here before…a few years back I was hospitalized and my sister came to visit to help me out. She looks a lot like me, even more at that time since we had similar haircuts. She was seen driving my car a few blocks from my house and, as I heard it later, there was a rumor going around that I was not actually in the hospital because people had seen me out and about. Fortunately some other coworkers had visited me in the hospital so they put the kabosh on the rumor.
    So I have to ask the OP…are you sure you saw your coworker? Could it have been her sister or even her twin? Maybe even someone else who resembles her strongly? (Besides my sister, there was someone at college who looked just like me…she was pretty radical and notorious, prone to giving public speeches on the diag, and lived a block fom me. People often confused us…if I’d known her better we could have pulled some Patty Duke hi jinks.)

  39. Karin

    Thank you for your answer to the sick employee question. I’ve called in sick for legitimate illness before, gone to the doctor, and swung by the grocery store on the way home to pick up a couple of things, and had someone from work catch me at the store. (Lessons learned: 1. Shop farther away from work. 2. Always get documentation from the doctor that I was actually there.)

    I have an “invisible illness”, so I get accused of faking it a lot, so this is a problem for me.

  40. Charisma

    Not to mention, if it’s an exempt employee in the US, most of the time you CANNOT dock the person’s pay if they have worked any other days in that week. Very, very gray area, better not to do this and trust your employee … or not trust them and deal with that issue separately.

  41. Leftist Layoff Questioner!

    I have a question on the layoff questions. Here’s the deal, I work at a social justice org that may have layoffs in our future. And the truth is compared to my coworkers, I’m in a better financial situation to be laid off (my partner is our primary breadwinner and has job security.) Given our financial situation I’d honestly feel sh*tty if one of my team got laid off and I didn’t. I think my supervisors would be empathetic to my equity angle on this but it also seems presumptuous (maybe I was top on the chopping block anyhow!) Best to keep mouth shut?

  42. Mary

    I had an employee call out sick and she found hereplacemwnt and was told to bring doc note, the very next day she texted out sick again but this time she was seen on Snapchat posting pics of herself and family at the beach one hour before she texted out so she was wrote up, then the 3rd day she texted out again because she was sun burned from her lie and was written up again for not showing up to work, and I did not get doc note from first day which us store policy, so mow I have problem. What to Do? Suspend or terminate her, but can u terminate an employee for lying on being sick and going to the beach….i was told u c ant fire for personal reason only buisness related problems, trouble is she hasn’t done and anything wrong in the store so no other write ups…but it’s now an issue for me because now she’s pregnant too….what are my options

    1. Laura

      First thing first. Her being pregnant has nothing to do with the situation, you bringing that up shows your gender based discrimination. So nip that in the bud, now.
      Also take your judgement and throw that out too, it doesn’t belong here. Most places don’t require doctor’s notes until the absence is 3 days because it’s crazy to make your (retail? probably underpaid employee) to go to the doctor for a short illness. If my boss asked for a doctor’s note after a single day, I’d be looking for a new job anyway. Second, there are many types of illness, and you aren’t her doctor, and can’t make the judgement, so you have a supportive chat with her when she returns. You don’t ask what she was ill with, or what kept her home. You say that you are hoping she feels better and if needed medical support, you hope she received it. Stress to her that calling/texting out on short notice leaves you unable to cover her shift/meetings/projects etc, and that in the future you expect that she will give you more notice and reach out to yourself and colleagues to find coverage for her shift or responsibilities.

      It’s her sick time, she gets to decide how it’s used, being petty and policing her won’t do anything to resolve what’s going on. What was the actual problem caused by her calling out, address that, not her going to the beach or her pregnancy.

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