my boss pressures me to take sick leave, but I can’t afford to

A reader writes:

I work in a small office of less than 10 people, and even then, there’s usually only two or three of us actually working within it on any given day. I started off as an intern but have since been taken on as an employee – though I have never been given a contract stipulating annual leave or sick days. I just know what hours I work and what my rate of pay is. Recently I took time off for a planned holiday and was informed that I do not get paid when I’m not in the office – which is fair enough I guess, as the company is going through a bit of a rough patch, but is making my current conundrum that much more difficult.

My boss is very anal about cleanliness (to the point of overkill, in my opinion, but I accept that it’s not my place to say that), and it’s starting to affect me. I don’t get sick very often, and when I do I usually still come to work unless I feel awful – think a cough or a runny nose. We work in a single room and whenever my boss is in (she’s usually one of the ones out of the office), she complains loudly about my being ill and that I should take a day off in case I get anyone else sick. (I should note – that hasn’t happened yet, as I’m very careful, particularly because she’s so pedantic about this issue. I should also note that I have taken sick leave once, when I felt I was too sick to come in.)

I don’t want to take sick days, as I feel fine aside from the minor ailment, and there’s also the fact that I can’t afford to stay off as often as she expects me to. I don’t get paid for taking sick leave, and I’m finding the constant pressure to stay home when I’m not that unwell rather distressing, because it seems they are completely oblivious to the fact that not everyone can afford to do that! (Everyone – the bosses in particular – take days off willy nilly. I seem to be the only one with a regular schedule as I can’t afford not to work! I also earn the lowest wage in the office – minimum wage).

How should I address this with her? We’re not particularly close, and these occurrences have made me feel even more detached from her, as I find her rather unpleasant. I’m made to feel like I’m disgusting for merely coughing at work.

If this is a professional job, it’s pretty bad that you don’t receive any paid sick or vacation time. (It would be bad if it weren’t a professional job too, but then at least it would be more common. Which is an awful state of affairs, but also the reality of it.)

A professional job that pays you minimum wage and doesn’t offer any paid time off is not a job to be satisfied with. You started as an intern so I’m guessing you don’t have much of a frame of reference in which to assess this job, and I want you to know that this is not considered normal or okay, and you can do better! I hope you will actively look for something better.

Meanwhile … If your boss doesn’t want you to come in sick, she should give you paid sick time. If she chooses not to do that, people are going to come in sick so that they don’t lose money. That’s how it works. She’s being naive at best.

And frankly, even if you did get paid sick time, most people come to work with a cough or a runny nose at some point because sometimes those linger for weeks and no one takes off weeks at a time for a cold. So I think you’re dealing with someone who’s both really out of touch about paid sick time and also a bit of a jerk. (I say “jerk” because while it’s reasonable not to want contagious colleagues at work spreading germs, it’s not reasonable to expect no one will ever show up with a cough, and it’s jerky to shame people for that when it happens.)

Anyway, you have two basic options here:

1. Ignore her comments. When she complains about you being at work with a runny nose, mentally roll your eyes and let it go. Unless she’s explicitly telling you not to come in when you’re sick, you can let this be her issue and not yours. If you can, you might even try to feel mild pity for her for being a boor — not because she deserves pity, but because reframing it like that might help you feel better about the situation.

2. Say something. Whether or not this makes sense to do depends on how open your boss is to hearing Things She May Not Like, but in a lot of cases, it would be fine for you to say any of these:
* “It’s a mild cold, I’ve had it for a while, and I don’t think I’m contagious.”
* “Colds like this often last for a couple of weeks, so staying home isn’t an option.”
* “I can’t afford to stay home for a mild cold. Is paid sick leave an option? If so, I’d be glad to use that.” (Please use this one.)

It would also be worth finding out whether the rest of your coworkers have paid time off, or whether none of them do. It’s possible that your boss still has you in some kind of intern-ish category where you’re paid but don’t get the same benefits as everyone else does, in which case you could try to negotiate to be moved to regular-employee status with benefits. Or, if you find out that lots of people in this office don’t get paid time off, you could suggest pushing back on that as a group. There’s some risk in doing that, especially as a junior level person, but sometimes that can lead to real change.

Either way, though, please do look for a job that isn’t so far below the average for acceptable compensation, so that you’re not in this situation long-term.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 457 comments… read them below }

  1. stitchinthyme*

    If I couldn’t come to work with a cough, runny nose, or occasional sneezes, I’d never be at work — that’s basically my default state, year-round! (Yes, I do get colds, and then the coughing/sneezing/sniffling are much worse than usual, but I have some level of them pretty much all the time, and no medication I’ve yet tried seems to do much, so I just live with it.)

    1. Ali G*

      Me too. I have indoor allergies and we all know offices aren’t the best in terms of air quality. I tend to sniffle and sneeze all morning long, at best.

        1. Susan Sto Helit*

          I can top that: I am allergic to my new boss.

          At least, I am allergic to the aftershave he reapplies after his cigarette break. Skin-rash allergic. Thank the lord I got to escalate THAT awkward conversation up to my manager to deal with.

        2. Blue*

          Last year, we hired a new employee, and she had to quit within a month because she was allergic to the building and it was more than she could reasonably deal with long-term. It was really unfortunate, but remote work just wasn’t an option in that particular position.

          1. Blue*

            (I should say that TPTB tried hard to accommodate her, including finding her an office in an adjacent building, but being physically isolated from the rest of the team has its own challenges. Since it was an entry-level position, she decided she’d rather try to find something similar elsewhere, and I think I’d make the same call.)

    2. Just Employed Here*

      Me too! I had a lot of stress because of my work many years ago, and ended up having what was effectively a bad cold lasting 6 months or so. I sometimes couldn’t breath through my nose at all, and had very frequent nose bleeds.

      It still rears it’s sniffly head occasionally when I’m stressed. I’ve been tested for all kinds of allergies, I’ve been prescribed a lot of medication, I don’t live or work in the same country anymore, I do what I can to manage my stress levels, but sometimes my nose will just be running a lot for days or even weeks on end.

      Even people who I’ve explained this to several times try to give me a lot of “good advice” about what to try and what not to do. Gee, thanks, because giving me more stress about is going to cure me!

      1. Alli525*

        I have a deviated septum and I worry constantly that my coworkers are getting tired of my sniffles! But no one has said anything and I’m hoping to get it surgically corrected in the future.

        1. Media Circus*

          I had septoplasty a little over a year ago, AND I’M SO GLAD I DID. I really hope you can get it done some day.

          1. Knitting Cat Lady*

            I wasn’t aware that it’s actually possible to breathe through the nose without having to switch to mouth breathing every few breaths.

            Septoplasty is amazing.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              It truly is. I had it done 5 years ago, and I can participate in physical activities in ways I never could before, because I can actually get a sufficient amount of oxygen into my body. It’s a life changer.

        2. BadWolf*

          I had a sniffling coworker. I kept telling myself it was allergies and to chill. It was hard because it was sniffles on 10 second intervals annoying.

      2. I'm A Little TeaPot*

        I’ve got both allergic and nonallergic as far the doctors can tell. And of course I can’t use a whole class of medications that would probably really help.

    3. Jady*

      Similar problem with me. This past flu season I seemed to get every strand of every cold/flu that had existed in the past decade. One was particularity sever that I was out an entire week straight. I would have been out for 4 months or so if I couldn’t come in with a cough or cold.

      Of course, as long as it paid I would have preferred to be out that period because I constantly felt awful. I’ve used up half my PTO for the year in the last 4 months just for being sick.

      1. Tafadhali*

        Saaaame. I started the school year with the flu and have just gotten sick every month since. Right now I’m 3 weeks into a bout of bronchitis and feeling back to normal, but obviously still have a pretty gross-sounding cough. I already feel like I’ve missed an unfortunate amount of work — it would be unrealistic to stay home until I stopped coughing entirely. (And I’m in a really flexible workplace where I don’t have to use sick leave to take the day off and get paid! When I was paid hourly with no PTO, I definitely would go in unless I literally physically couldn’t…)

        1. Specialk9*

          I have had bronchitis my whole life. I now have a rescue inhaler, and a daily inhaler. Using both when I have a cough is a game changer for me.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Me too. Breathing…what a concept! I have two daily inhalers (Spiriva and a new one I don’t have the name of memorized yet) and an Albuterol rescue inhaler. I also have a nebulizer —just in case— that gets used with vials of Albuterol.

    4. Risha*

      I’m not quite to that point, but I have a crappy immune system, and the cold that was going around the last couple of months is notorious for leaving a lingering cough. I’m still coughing a lot and wheezing a little, nearly a full month after I otherwise recovered.

    5. Tin Cormorant*

      I actually once quit a job over that. They had me sitting right next to the office printer and the constant toner in the air aggravated my nose such that the Flonase that normally keeps my symptoms at bay just could not keep up. I had a runny nose pretty much constantly. Things got so much better once I got out of there.

    6. YoungTeach*

      I get hay fever so I’d be out for 2 months each spring if I couldn’t cough or sneeze at work! I work with small children and no one worries about it, so this boss just seems incredibly out of touch…

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        There ought to be a law… Seriously though other countries have mandated paid sick leave (and realistic parental leave, vacation time, etc.) but we here in this place that in our hubris we think of as so much better than everywhere else are so draconian in how we approach employee rights/benefits.

        1. JynnanTonnyx*

          Honestly, reading this blog makes me so glad to be British. I never realised contracts, paid sick leave and >2 weeks of holiday were such a luxury!

  2. Mike C.*

    “If you want me to take sick leave then you need to pay for it”.

    Also, rough patch? Seriously? You’re likely being lied to.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I was a little confused by the letter, but it sounded to me like OP isn’t really sure if they get sick time or not, or the exact status of their employment. I get that it can be confusing when you’re just happy to have found something at all, after interning. That’s okay for a short period, but now it’s time to clarify your situation, OP!

      1. Luna*

        I got that same impression too. It’s not even clear to me whether the OP found out before or after her vacation that she wouldn’t get paid for that time. This whole company just sounds hella shady. Get out, OP!

        1. Chinook*

          It isn’t necessarily shady to not realize your lowest paid staff member doesn’t have the same benefits as you. My boss at my last job had no clue about my pay arrangements and benefits because that went through HR. I had a frank conversation to her about the reality for her co-op students and she became more empathetic towards them coming in sick.

          I would definitely say that OP’s boss is clueless and needs to be asked if sick leave is an option. OP may also want to ask what her benefits are beyond getting paid since she may have fallen through the cracks when they changed her status from intern to full-time staff.

          1. Specialk9*

            It’s not shady for others to know, maybe, though OP’s manager absolutely should. But OP should know the conditions of their own employment! There’s no non-shady explanation for them not explaining employee benefits to a new employee. I can’t even imagine this happening at any reasonable workplace. It really does make this place sound shady.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Every employer I’ve ever had has hit a “rough patch” whenever I asked for anything beyond what I was given. Yes, sometimes I got raises, but not from every place I’ve worked. The recession was an even better cover for the “rough patch” excuse.

      Interestingly enough, when the economy started to turn around, then I heard that it wasn’t a good time or we’re still recovering or other empty answers. Did I check the 990s? Yes I did, and I often saw consistent bonuses to execs regardless of economic downturn.

      My bet is that if you find a new job, the rough patch may go away with a counteroffer, if they need you that bad.

      1. Liane*

        “My bet is that if you find a new job, the rough patch may go away with a counteroffer, if they need you that bad.”
        And turn down the counteroffer. “No, thanks. I have already accepted my offer, which has paid sick time. My last day is [date]. We should talk about wrapping up/transitioning my work.” Repeat as needed. Said professionally.

      2. Specialk9*

        Oh yeah, every person who works for a publicly traded company should read the Annual Report, cover to cover. They are surprisingly juicy! Just look up company name “annual report”.

        1. Ms Jackie*

          You can also go to Edgar, the SEC filing program and look up any public company including: 10-k (annual report), 10-Q (quarterly report) and lots of other interesting stuff if you really want to dig. (CPA student lol)

    3. Lynca*

      Especially if others actively take a lot of leave. I can’t see people doing that if there wasn’t some kind of PTO. It definitely raises an orange flag that you are either being actively lied to, or that they’re treating this position differently than other employees. Either way I would get out of there.

    4. Irene Adler*

      Next time boss says you need to take a day off because you are sick, why can’t the OP say “Love to. But I can’t afford to do so -unless I can get paid sick leave.”

    5. Anonymeece*

      Yeah, I flagged that as well. If they have the money to offer an intern a position, then they should have the money to offer PTO. The fact that they use that as an excuse and the fact that OP is not sure of anything beyond hours/payrate is … suspicious.

    6. OP*

      Hi all – OP here. Thanks for the advice! I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking this is a shady situation.

      I’m pretty sure I’m not being lied to regarding the rough patch. When I started, we had three avenues of making money, and in the 7 months that I’ve been at the company (4 of them as an employee), we’ve lost 2 of them, and the remaining third is our weakest, so things aren’t looking great.

      I’m really not sure regarding the status of my employment – as Lil Fidget put it, I was initially just happy to have found a job. I should also clarify that I’m not full time! I’m only part time, as a ‘contractor’ (but this was decided for me and I suspect purely so they don’t have to offer me any benefits such as holiday pay or sick leave.) I believe I’m currently the only employee who works as a contractor, hence why everyone else gets paid sick leave and holidays. Which as you can imagine is GREAT for morale. I’ve asked several times for a contract to be drawn up, but my bosses aren’t the most reliable of people, and it’s never happened. At this point, I’m not sure I care, as I am indeed hunting for other work.

      Regarding the holiday – I actually found out I wouldn’t be paid for it upon returning, but I strongly suspected I wouldn’t be so I had taken that into account when booking it.

      1. Mike C.*

        Uh, you sound totally misclassified. Are you filling out the proper tax withholding documents? Are you being treated like everyone else in terms of the work you’re doing and how you’re managed?

        There are forms you can fill out to ensure that your employer is properly withholding taxes, worker’s compensation, social security and so on.

        Anyone else have any links, specific form numbers or anything like that?

      2. Ashley*

        If you’re listed as an independent contractor – as you must, since you haven’t mentioned a contracting company – please make sure you’re paying your taxes. Your company won’t be taking them out of your paycheck for you, and some states require quarterly estimated payments or else you get a fine. You’ll have to file as self-employed, which can be hugely expensive, so make sure you’re keeping receipts for anything that can be considered a business expense.

        But even being considered an independent contractor doesn’t really make sense if you haven’t signed a contract? You had to have signed something when you switched from intern to employee. Hash this out with HR or your little company’s equivalent ASAP! Physically go to the person’s desk and either wait until they can talk to you or keep returning until they get fed up. Getting jerked around like this is not normal!

        1. OP*

          I’m from the UK, just as a head’s up, and there’s no worries on the tax front. I fill out a tax release every year, and I don’t actually earn enough to pay tax anyway…
          But I’m definitely covered in that regard.

          We have no HR department, and I actually didn’t sign anything when they kept me on. They just told me to keep coming in and gave me different hours. I know this is less than normal and very shady and I am looking for other work.

          1. VimtoDrinker*

            If you’re in the UK you’ll need to be careful that you’re not falling foul of IR35 (you’re under the tax threshold, which probably means you’re fine, but there are National Insurance implications which could apply) – it sounds like you might be what’s termed a “hidden employee”

            Do you invoice and get paid or are you through an agency/umbrella company? If neither of those things are true then again, you’re potentially false self employed.

            You’re right that it’s all very dodgy – it’s probably worth giving ACAS a call and seeing what their take on your rights is.

          2. MsSolo*


            Oh, you are almost certainly an employee! They owe you holiday pay, and you can demand a written contract (you have a contract, by dint of the fact they are paying you to do something – as soon as you pay someone a contract exists under UK law, whether it’s as an employee or a contractor). Speak to ACAS, and start job hunting; working for an employer that deliberately breaks the law does not offer much in the way of job security at the best of times!

        2. MarsJenkar*

          I worked for years as a W-2 contractor in the U.S. I had taxes withheld from my paycheck and several other things (and my paychecks were issued by the contracting company), but I didn’t get the usual benefits like PTO.

      3. Starbuck*

        Sounds like they have illegally misclassified you as well. Yikes! Another reason to leave (and get the DOL a heads up on your way out). They are seriously screwing you tax-wise with that arrangement.

        1. nonegiven*

          Another thought. If you are a contractor, the boss should have no say in when you work as long as you get the job done. Otherwise, you are misclassified.

      4. YawningDodo*

        I thought you had to have a contract in order to be a contractor….

        In all seriousness, this sounds super shady to me. I don’t know anything about UK law so I have no idea if it’s illegal, but it’s definitely shady and you’re definitely being taken advantage of. It’s good that you’re already hunting for work; while I think you should push back on being told to take sick days without sick leave while you’re still there, this job sounds like such a mess that the only real solution is going to be getting out and going to greener pastures.

      5. Michaela Westen*

        “we had three avenues of making money, and in the 7 months that I’ve been at the company (4 of them as an employee), we’ve lost 2 of them”
        Even without the things they’re doing to you, this would be reason to consider leaving if you don’t think this will turn around.

      6. Media Monkey*

        I’m in the UK at a company who uses a lot of contractors and that sounds seriously dodgy. you need a contract (to be a contractor) and this would normally come with a higher salary than a full time employee (per hour) to make up for the fact that you can be terminated whenever and don’t get paid holidays. i believe all employees are entitles to statutory sick pay of £89 a week. it’s not much but it might help? i would def talk to your boss and look around for another job.

      7. selena81*

        Do i understand correctly that this office was the entire company (as in: your germophobe boss damn well knows how little you are making, she is aware that you have no paid sickleave)

        That makes it sound like a situation of ‘we will willfully exploit your just-happy-to-get-a-job post-intern mindset’, deliberately ignoring any subtle (and not so subtle) clue you try to throw them that you’d really really like to renegotiate the terms of your contract.

        Coupled with the crumbling customer-base i’d say you are definitely making the right call in looking elsewhere: i don’t think this situation can be salvaged. Even if you found some way to ‘force them to respect you’ why even bother.

        i don’t know the whole situation, but it kinda sounds like they consider their interns to only be ‘free labor’, which is something you may want to report back to your school (or whatever other authority oversees internships)

  3. Oxford Comma*

    I get your boss’ concern about being sick and spreading germs, but it’s not right that she’s not paying you for sick time, especially since it sounds like it’s not like you’re coming in with a massive cold.

    Alison is right–this is a not a job to be satisfied with.

    1. Breda*

      Yeah, you don’t get to have both sides of that cake. If you’re that concerned about germs, you have to make it possible for people to stay home sick.

  4. LSP*

    If you’re not up for confronting your boss about how ridiculous it is not to provide PTO but insist you stay home with the sniffles, could you wear a surgical mask at work? It’s pretty common for people to do in some Asian countries, in order, usually, to stop themselves from getting sick, but it can also work the other way. Between that and hand-sanitizer/regular hand washing, your boss should chill out.

    (I mean, she should anyway, because she kind of stinks)

    1. Jennifer*

      Yeah, I’d wear a mask.

      We had a nurse come into the office to talk about stuff like this and I asked at what point someone has to stay home. She said stuffy nose/cough/sore throat stuff is not bad enough to need to stay home. Generally speaking, you stay home if you feel bad enough to need to. But petty illness stuff is considered OK to come in.

    2. Liz T*

      Let the boss wear a mask if she’s so worried! I would hate to have something covering my mouth and nose all day just because of a little cold. I’m claustrophobic just thinking about it.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Ugh, yes! That sounds so unpleasant. Breathing into a mask all day and getting your own warm breath recirculated around you? No thanks. I won’t even wear a scarf over my face when it’s below zero.

          1. 5 Leaf Clover*

            I don’t think that’s true for everyone – like Legal Beagle, I get too warm very quickly when wearing a mask.

          2. Tin Cormorant*

            I don’t. Twenty minutes of my own moist breath being trapped next to my face and my runny nose is ten times worse and I’m constantly having to take it off to wipe my nose. Doesn’t really help the situation.

        1. Specialk9*

          When I had pneumonia and had to fly on an airplane, I got a cloth mask from the doctor, and hooked it over one ear – if I coughed, I’d pull it over my mouth. If I was having a coughing spell, I’d leave it in place for awhile. So many people turned at the sound of my hacking to give me death glares, which melted away when they saw a mask.

          1. Mad Baggins*

            This! Honestly I could take or leave the mask as an actual infection prevention. I mostly use it so that people will understand why I’m not peppy and cut me some slack.

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          I work in healthcare, so masking up is common when you’re coming in with just a mild cold. I wish it was the norm in other workplaces and on public transportation- there are a lot of immunocompromised people out there!

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            ::raises hand::

            I have three separate autoimmune disorders (yay me), which means that I am super concerned about getting something from someone else either in person or residually such as off of a door knob or the like. I despise when people come in when they are sick. Fortunately I can mitigate that because I’m the boss. Sick leave is and always has been something we do. If you are contagious … stay home, period.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        I wear a mask for housework because of my allergies and it’s very comfortable. The mask breathes so there’s no moisture buildup.

    3. Steph*

      Just want to say a couple of things about masks:
      There are different types of masks for keeping germs in vs keeping them out. Use the one that’s appropriate for your situation.
      Many masks available in chemists/on ebay etc., are not effective after a certain period of time and can have the effect of collecting pathogens together in a nice warm, moist environment making it a place to colonize so if you touch it your hands/face/whatever are covered in bugs.
      Even in the surgical setting research suggests that though masks do decrease contamination rates, they have little impact on infection rates.
      The best thing anyone can do to prevent passing on their bugs or picking up others is focus on your hands – clean them, clean them, clean them.

      1. Cornflower Blue*

        Interesting info!

        Would you mind explaining the difference between contamination rates and infection rates, please?

        1. LS*

          Contamination rate is the germs that you’re spreading – so when you touch your nose then touch a door handle, sneeze so that droplets become airborne etc. Masks definitely cut down on that. However, they don’t actually cut down on how likely it is that your infection will infect other people – that’s the infection rate. So employee A wearing a mask might reduce the number of her germs in the environment by 90% but there’s still plenty of germs around to infect employees B, C and D – not the least because by the time A is symptomatic, they may have been infectious for a few days already (up to two weeks with some kinds of virus).

    4. Nanani*

      It’s actually not to stop from getting yourself sick, it’s mainly that it’s considered good manners to wear one if you’re sick to avoid passing your germs on to others. Especially in dense-packed cities/trains/offices.

      Of course a lot of people use the masks completely incorrectly and when I lived in Japan flu season was marked by the arrival of signs and adverts on how to use them -correctly-. (the ads don’t work)

  5. Lil Fidget*

    Practical advice: I have a paranoid coworker and I generally offer her some reassurance along the lines of, “don’t worry, it’s just my allergies” when I’m just sniffly and gross. It might well be allergies, who knows. It lets her sleep at night. Sometimes I’ll say, “these allergies have given me a sinus infection, but don’t worry, it’s not contagious.” When dealing with irrational people, sometimes its okay to sink to their level.

    Possibly less practical advice: if this person doesn’t know that you don’t get paid sick leave (apparently? It doesn’t even sound like you’re clear on that, and it’s definitely worth asking about) – I’d find a way to work that into conversation with her.

    1. Pollygrammer*

      I was also thinking this: pass anything that could conceivably be allergies as allergies. If it’s in the dead of winter and there are no conceivable allergies to be triggering you? You’ve been cat-sitting, or cleaning a dusty attic. This is not a boss that deserves your honesty.

    2. Allergy sufferer*

      Be careful about this. Some people have compromised immune systems, and if they get really ill in a way that could feasibly be tracked back to you, appearing to have lied about it could land you in a heap of trouble.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I’m not really worried that somebody is going to track down a cold to the specific cold that I have (?) and prove that I lied about giving it to them. There are millions of viruses floating out in the world all day. We all take public transport and live in an open office with hundreds of employees. I do wash my hands and take all reasonable precautions not to spread it, including not coming in when I’m really under the weather. I think that’s about the best anyone can do.

      2. Natalie*

        This seems *unbelievably* unlikely, outside of a handful of illnesses that are actually tracked by public health officials.

      3. Bea*

        In what world does someone have to be forthcoming with their illnesses because of the possiblity of someone having a weakened immune system. The only time this matters is if you have an illness where public health is involved. We’re allowed privacy in health matters and you often think something is an allergy but turns out to be a virus. Nobody gets sued for saying their chest cold is aln allergy. Not in this country at least. How bizarre.

        1. Cornflower Blue*

          “We’re allowed privacy in health matters and you often think something is an allergy but turns out to be a virus. ” — THAT, so much.

          I’m allergic to dust – and I live in a very dusty country. I constantly have a blocked nose and a tickle in my throat, so a lot of the time, when I sneeze, I put it down to allergies. I don’t even realize that I’m actually sick until I start running a fever.

          1. cryptid*

            Same! I was sick a month ago, at the peak of the local hay fever season. It wasn’t until I had a fever that I even knew!

      4. fposte*

        I’m with Lil Fidget–I don’t think there’s a high likelihood of trouble there. Work isn’t a place where you can keep free from exposure to cold viruses. I understand that workplaces are tough for the immunocompromised, but that doesn’t translate into its being a problem for somebody with a cold to not have admitted it to their boss.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          But I think it absolutely is a problem to actively lie about not having a cold.
          Don’t say it is allergies if it is not. True, immuno-compromised people can’t “keep from from exposure,” but it certainly helps to know what that exposure is. As a mom of a medically fragile boy who is immuno-compromised, I certainly alter my behavior if I know a colleague has a cold. I always take precautions, but if someone specifically tells me “nope, not a cold, this is allergies,” that’s just….that’s wrong.

          1. Lynca*

            My mom is immunocompromised and colds (not just the flu) can cascade into a serious respiratory issue.

            You can’t keep yourself healthy if there isn’t honest disclosure. That disclosure needs to be on both sides. If only so the other person can take extra precautions not to get sick.

          2. Kate 2*

            But what if they aren’t lying, just mistaken? Either way you should be taking the same precautions. People aren’t always the greatest at diagnosing themselves.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Sure, but not everyone has allergies, and some people can tell the difference between allergies and a cold (I almost always can tell for a number of reasons, including a difference in the way a cold starts and builds). I understand the OP’s situation, but generally speaking, you shouldn’t lie about not being contagious when you know you are. And you are ignoring that Jessie the First specifically said she always takes precautions but alters her behavior if she *knows* a colleague has a cold.

              We can be extra vigilant in certain situations and that doesn’t mean we aren’t cautious the rest of the time. I try to always take safety precautions with appliances, but when my office had a wonky toaster that was randomly turning itself on, we took extra precautions with it.

              1. Bluenoser two*

                I don’t know. I get horrible colds while my allergies are mild-ish. Usually I can tell the difference but it is one Venn diagram with a lot of overlap. Just this weekend, I was tired, a little sniffly with occasional coughs and sneezes. I mostly felt okay, but I have no idea if it was seasonal allergies or a mild cold. I’m fine telling people that I don’t know what’s going on with my sinuses and letting them deal accordingly, but I work with lovely and supportive folks so I’m in a better place to be honest than the OP.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Raises hand. For years I called every sniffle outburst a cold. I learned that it was mostly allergies or allergy-like reactions, years later. Now that I have a better handle on things I seldom get colds.

          3. Yorick*

            Well, if you were constantly harassing your minimum-wage employees about every sniffle, then you wouldn’t deserve any better.

          4. fposte*

            In general, I agree that it’s preferable to tell the truth when people are concerned about contagion (though I can also conceive of a few exceptions, but they don’t involve immunocompromised people).

          5. Lil Fidget*

            I don’t know if its allergies or not, but I know she says she is a hypochondriac and can’t concentrate if she knows somebody is sick. It *could* be allergies.

          6. Pollygrammer*

            And…what about the many, many offices that would look deeply askance at somebody for calling out with the sniffles? One hypochondriac (and hypocritical!) boss does not a standard make.

          7. Observer*

            Not that I’m a fan of lying. But if you really think that this changes the exposure that someone immunocompromised has, you’re being extremely unrealistic.

            The reality is that most people who are contagious don’t even know that they are contagious, because most diseases are contagious before symptoms show up. The only real way for someone to protect themselves is to operate on the assumption that pretty much anyone (allergies or not, cold or not) may be carrying something. So, you don’t shake hands with people, you wipe down as many things that you touch as you can, and maybe you wear gloves and / or a mask as possible and appropriate.

            In an office where the boss penalizes people for having a cold, you need to assume that people are not going to declare – they’ve been put into a no-win situation. Also, if you tell people what’s going on and acknowledge that it’s a non-typical situation, people are much more likely to be helpful. But, you can’t expect people IN GENERAL to disclose this kind of information “just in case”. And it’s especially unreasonable in a situation like this.

            1. Jesca*

              I agree. At some point, you have to just expect and accept that you are the only person who can and will protect you. Employers cannot feasibly have employees off for the entire duration of a cold or even prevent others from getting it as said above many are contagious before symptoms show. What you can do is have your employer feasibly accomade you (ask to be provided, masks, gloves, maybe a way to separate yourself, etc.) like with any other disability.

              Like I can ask my job to provide me a specific chair and other such things to accommodate my hereditary spinal disease. What I cannot expect is that every chair, work place, conference room in the place accommodate me, because my setup will literally interfere with “normal” backed people doing their own jobs. Just like when I fly, I cannot expect the airline to make me a new seat. I have to bring things with me to prevent awful pain. We have to take care of our selves in ways that are reasonable to others.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Yep, this. When I worked in human services we were not allowed to know the medical history in some instances. We were taught to just assume that everyone had Highly Communicable and Dreadful Disease and treat everyone the same because of that assumption.

              This is not as bad as it sounds. If I got cut and needed help bandaging, my cohort put on a pair of gloves right away. This was the norm, no one was insulted because this is what everyone did. It’s really not a bad idea to take basic precautions. In the bandaging example, it was stressed that it COULD be the person putting the bandage on who had something transmittable. Transmission is a two way street.

          8. Michaela Westen*

            I have allergies and I can usually tell the difference between them and a cold, but not always. It has happened that I thought I was having allergies when it was actually the beginning of a cold.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          If someone in the office is immunocompromised, that’s even more reason for the boss to actually offer sick leave. It’s not a minimum wage employee’s problem.

      5. paul*

        Riding someone about coming in with something that’s usually harmless while not giving any PTO? Yeah, they kinda made that bed if they *do* catch something.

        Plus, the world isn’t hermetically sealed. You’re going to be around people that have god knows what all while you’re out in public.

      6. Kate 2*

        Unless those coworkers are living in a bubble, or never leaving the house, they could get a cold anywhere. That’s just reality. Considering how long some germs can survive outside the human body, even never leaving the house they could catch a cold from the mail a sick mailman delivered.

        Also, it would be one thing if they got tons of paid sick time, but as it is, they don’t. OP is not required to go hungry or default on her bills because another coworker may be immune compromised. Their needs are equal. Or even if they do get paid sick time, she may need that time to care for a dying family member, or for some other reason.

        If coworker is immune compromised, they should let the boss/hr know, and make some compromises themselves, like wearing gloves and a face mask, as some people do, when a coworker is sick. This is a lot easier and less stressful than forcing each and every person in the office to take time off whenever they are sick.

      7. Dragoning*

        Trouble for what? It’s not illegal to have a cold near someone with a weak immune system.

    3. Kelly*

      I cannot believe you are saying its irrational to be worried about getting sick, and lying to your coworkers. I’m appalled at the level of self-centerdness.

      1. Murphy*

        That seems like quite a leap. It’s not irrational to be concerned about getting sick, but to expect everyone to stay home whenever they have a sniffle is a bit much.

        1. Lynca*

          I think it’s about honest disclosure. Don’t lie if you’re not sure of what it is (cold vs. allergies) and let the other person act in their best interests.

          I have to take extra precautions because my mom is immunocompromised. I generally take extra steps if I know someone is actively sick but I also don’t make a big deal about it. Just do what I need to do and be done.

          1. Pollygrammer*

            This isn’t lying to coworkers, though–normal coworkers don’t expect someone to stay home with a non-feverish sniffle–even the hypothetical, unlikely, undisclosed immune-comprimised coworker.

            This is about one paranoid, self-centered boss who could easily prevent the situation by being reasonable about paid sick leave.

          2. Bea*

            See the rub is you’re reasonable and knowing I have a cold means you’re just keeping extra distance and disinfecting more frequently or what have you.

            However some people act like the jerk in the post. Treating someone who has a cold like a murderous villain who shouldn’t leave their home without a clean bill of health.

            To avoid assholes, people have started fibbing. Like in those restaurants who only take allergies seriously or else you’ll get whatever the chef throws into the bowl. So people have started lying and creating a new issue of it’s own.

            So everyone here is self centered in the end.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Agree. Did not mean to derail this whole thread – sorry, OP! I was only thinking of your specific circumstance in terms of getting your current boss off your back.

      2. Liz T*

        It’s irrational to mandate that everyone give out their health status to any unreasonable person that demands it.

          1. Kate 2*

            Not really. Others in this comment thread have been saying that immuno-compromised people have a right to know when you are sick and what it is from (cold, allergies, etc).

              1. paul*

                Look, if I know someone’s immunocompromised I’d tell them if I’m sick, or if I don’t know.

                But if someone just randomly walks up and ask and I don’t know them from Adam? I’m telling them it’s allergies and being done with it.

                1. STG*

                  Don’t get me wrong. I think most folks would reasonably be comfortable sharing that but you don’t get the choice in that matter. They do.

                2. Foxtrot*

                  This is location dependent. In many US states you are legally required to disclose your medical status if you could infect someone with certain viruses and bacteria. You would be legally liable for letting someone touch your HIV+ blood without wearing gloves, for example. This is obviously not what the letter writer is dealing with, but the full stop part has been proven wrong many times before by many courts.

              2. Tardigrade*

                If you expect others to disclose their health information, then I think you have to take the lead on that and first explain that infection is a big health issue for you.

                I don’t advocate someone lying about that, but I also know people (even ones without health risks) are not always reasonable about coughing and runny noses and that the PTO cup runneth low, and the big issue with this is a poor/nonexistent sick leave system.

                1. Mad Baggins*

                  +1 I think it’s unreasonable to expect all coworkers to declare to the office every time that they have a sore throat, but I think it’s perfectly fine for Wakeen to say, “hey everyone, I care for someone with a weak immune system, could you let me know if you’re sick so I can take extra precautions.”

        1. Temperance*

          Yeah, it’s pretty friggen reasonable to want to know if a person you are in contact with is going to get you sick. It’s pretty jerky to lie to someone who could get very ill from your actions.

          1. Amy S*

            Meh I think it’s pretty jerky to give someone the third degree about their sniffles. Just take the necessary precautions and be done with it.

      3. Amy S*

        I think that’s a huge leap about what Lil Fidget meant in the original comment. If you have a hypochondriac coworker or a boss that harasses you about every little sniffle, it seems like this is the easiest thing to do to shut down the conversation.

        It’s certain not a lack of concern for others or intentionally trying to get them sick.

    4. Temperance*

      I think it’s really crappy to lie to someone about whether you are infectious are not. I might actually believe someone who says that they “just have allergies”, and I wouldn’t take all necessary precautions (regularly wiping down my desk with Clorox wipes, using copious amounts of hand sanitizer, etc.) because I would trust that person not to do me dirty. And then, of course, I would catch their cold, which would turn into bronchitis and/or a sinus infection for me. I would be sick for weeks because someone was acting like a selfish turd.

      1. Anna*

        She’s not lying to someone who she knows is immuno-compromised when she has a definite cold because it’s none of their business; she’s telling a hypochondriac coworker who jumps her case over every sniffle that’s it’s allergies. Huge difference and completely acceptable.

        1. GG Two shoes*

          yYu don’t always know when someone is immuno-compromised. We don’t wear it on our foreheads.

          1. Observer*

            That’s true. But it’s neither fair nor realistic to expect people to act based on the assumption that people around them are that immunocompromised. If you want someone to put their job at risk or submit to the kind of harassment the OP describes, you need to give them a reason. “Someone MIGHT be compromised” does not qualify. “I could get very sick” should – but then you should ALSO agree to be discreet with the information. If you can’t keep that info to yourself, you need to always assume that people are more contagious than they say. And blame bosses like this for the problem.

            1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              Also for most common illnesses, you’re contagious before you start to show symptoms- a quick internet search says some people with the flu are contagious for two whole weeks before starting to show symptoms, and most people with colds/the flu are contagious at least one day before symptoms begin. None of this is to say that people should go around indifferent to infecting one another, just that immunocompromised people or others who really need to avoid infections should ALWAYS be on their guard against illness, and not place the blame on any one person, because there’s often no way to know.

        2. Temperance*

          She is assuming that her colleague is merely paranoid about disease, when she has no way to know whether that is or is not the case. I don’t tell people that I have a weak immune system.

          1. fposte*

            I think if you want extra disclosure, though, you have to give extra disclosure; if your health is a reason you need more information about other people’s health, you have to share your info too.

            (The other thing to factor in here is that immunocompromised people can be a higher risk to *others* because they’re prone to opportunistic infections, so it’s also worth considering whether there’s an obligation for disclosure there too.)

            1. Lissa*

              Yeah this is what I was going to say! If you want someone else to disclose, you can’t use privacy as a reason not to disclose your own info. Also this does not sound like a situation where anything would be helped by LF saying “Yes I have a cold.”

            2. paul*


              Look, you don’t get to be private about your health issues then be upset when other people are *also* private about their health conditions.

              Also, I’m going to point out again that a lot of the time those of us that have allergies don’t know for sure if it’s allergies or something more. The symptoms between a sinus infection and allergies are pretty damn similar.

          2. Observer*

            If her boss is actually immunocompromised, she needs to stop being passive aggressive and both be honest about the problem and taking some reasonable precautions. It is NOT reasonable expect people to know that you actually have a legitimate problem just because you act like a prima donna.

            Of course, the fact that people could be contagious without ever knowing it means that you have to be careful regardless of what anyone tells you, because they genuinely might not know. And, when you are the boss with the ability to give pto and / or allow wfh, Boss’ behavior is egregious.

      2. J.*

        If anyone in this scenario is “acting like a selfish turd,” it’s OP’s boss who’s demanding she stay home from work without providing paid sick leave.

      3. GG Two shoes*

        I just got out of a eight day hospital stay because of a cold turned lung infection that I couldn’t shake. If I had a 35k hospital bill because someone said to me it was just allergies when it wasn’t I would be beyond livid. For the record, I don’t ‘look’ sick and I don’t hound people either but is a courtesy to let someone know you are contagious.

        1. ...*

          You don’t have a $35k bill because someone said they had allergies when they had a cold. You have a $35k bill because your insurance is bad. It’s not the sniffly-person’s fault that you got sick, and it seems a little extreme to be “livid” at someone over something they can’t control (whether your immune system fights something off).

        2. Uh...*

          You’re missing the point a little bit: in this scenario, LW’s boss is demanding that she stay home no matter how sick she is, even though LW can’t afford to do so. The suggestion is to lie to get LW’s boss off her back about it. You said yourself that you don’t hound people. The situations are entirely different, so it’s a bit weird that you’re reading yourself into this.

          1. ugh this thread.*

            That’s kind of the name of the game around here. It’s a defining characteristic of the AAM commentariat – being pedantic and deliberately obtuse, reading themselves into a situation that’s meant to be more general or about one other person’s specific and different experience.

            1. Heather*

              I don’t think it’s AAM, I think it’s the internet in general…but it’s definitely getting frustrating.

      4. Coywolf*

        Or you can just assume the worst and take all of your necessary precautions if you see someone so much as LOOK slightly sick. Just because you are ok with being open about your compromised immune system doesn’t mean others want to answer questions about their run of the mill cold at work. Assume the worst and save yourself from weeks of bronchitis and infection.

    5. Ealasaid*

      Lying about this kind of stuff is a bad idea. Take lying about what foods you’re allergic to so people don’t question you not wanting to eat something you dislike. If/when you’re found out, you give people who actually have an allergy a bad name. Even worse, lying like that is part of why some assholes do things like slip foods to people who are genuinely allergic to them.

      Furthermore, by lying to get people off your back, you’re tacitly saying it’s okay for them to harass people who do/have the thing you’re lying about. You’re enabling dickishness. Yes, each individual case feels like a small thing, but the culture that says this is okay is a problem.

      Just be honest, and confront the behavior you’re trying to get around instead of letting people get away with harassing the folks who are honest.

      Lying for convenience is a dick move. Obviously you’re an adult and can do what you want, but I reserve the right to point out it’s a dick move.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Exactly, there’s a qualitative difference between declining to discuss your health details vs activity being dishonest, even if no one gets hurt.

      2. Mad Baggins*

        It’s not fair to say that by lying in response to invasive questions, someone is enabling/encouraging a jerk.
        If a jerk slips food to someone who says they’re allergic, it’s the jerk’s fault. Not the person who just really doesn’t like tomatoes.
        There’s no obligation to indulge someone who doesn’t understand social boundaries, and lying is one way to get around that. Sometimes it is not safe or acceptable to confront a jerk.

        1. Allergic to Life*

          I have food allergies. I don’t love it when people say they’re allergic when it’s just a preference, but it’s ultimately my responsibility to protect myself. I always carry my epipen, read ingredients and ask questions about what’s in something. If someone seems jerky or I’m not sure something is safe, I don’t eat it. Even when people are compassionate about your chronic condition, noone is going to have the same level of understanding and caution as the person who lives with the condition on a daily basis. I find this chain really baffling. I would never change the precautions I take to manage my condition based on something I have no control over like another person’s behavior and what they say. Even nonjerky people with good intentions just do not have the same level of knowledge about what you need to be safe that you do.

      3. Zillah*

        I don’t think that people who slip foods to people who say they have allergies are doing it because some people lie. I think they’re doing it because they’re not very good people.

    6. Susannah*

      I have tourettes syndrome, and sometimes tics sound eerilie like sniffling/coughing. I’ve had asthma/allergies a countless number of times, basically whenever I’m not in the mood for a whole thisisaneurologicaldisorderandthisishowitworks spiel. It generally works pretty well and helps put people at ease.

      1. Sakura*

        Fellow tourettes sufferer here, and you are absolutely right. It can be embarrassing to be called out on such things when I’m not prepared for it. Health conditions are private and you don’t know that it’s allergies, a cold, or something worse.

        If you are allergic to tomatoes, you take it upon yourself to disclose and manage your allergy, not insist everyone let everybody know what they are having for lunch on the off chance someone has some allergy to something. If you are immunocompromised, it’s on you to manage and alert others, just as you would a food allergy.

    7. RUKiddingMe*

      I’ll take your word for it that your particular coworker is indeed irrational, but I don’t think it’s necessarily irrational to be concerned about someone passing on their cooties. Some people (cough) have very good reasons to be paranoid about germs and others being contagious.

  6. Snarkus Aurelius*

    If your boss doesn’t give you any PTO, then sick people will come to work. That’s an unavoidable reality.

    As I like to say to the occasional ex who pops up every now and then, “You did what you did so you got what to got.”

    And yikes please find a new job soon. There’s certainly wage stagnation going on right now, but you WILL find one that pays more and gives you PTO.

    To quote Chris Rock, “Minimum wage. Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.”

    1. Coywolf*

      It sounds to me like she’s not really sick, just coughs or sniffles once in a while and gets hounded for it. Many people might have a cough or sniffles without being sick/ contagious.

      1. All. Is. On.*

        This! It’s weird but I usually get the sniffles right after a hot drink for twenty minutes or so, so every morning after my coffee or tea I end up blowing my nose once or twice and sniffing a bit. If I worked with LW’s boss, she’d probably think I was constantly sick!

      2. only acting normal*

        It’s also the start of hayfever season in the UK (my eyes are itching like crazy).

  7. essEss*

    Each time she complains that you should stay home, simply say that you can’t because you don’t get paid for sick days. If it is that important to her that you not be there, then she can start championing the boss to start paying some sick days.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      It’s interesting that you and I both got the sense that this boss might not be the same person who made the original offer of employment (or whatever it is) to OP. I can’t tell if this is true or not, but it was my thought as well. If this boss is the one who told OP that they’re not going to be paid for their time off, I suppose they are aware that OP is not paid for sick time. But I wish we had more clarity on that.

      1. OP*

        You’re right, she isn’t the one who made my offer of employment, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t know I don’t get paid sick leave given she and my other boss (who did make the offer) are also the owners of the business and there’s so few employees. I’ll try it on her and see what her reaction is though!

        1. Shortie*

          Yes, please give it a shot. Alison’s script in her last bullet point is great.

          I had to do something similar once when working for a small, family-run business. The owner kept raving about how great I was doing, and then I found out I was making less than a poor performer who had the same position as me. I didn’t complain about that specifically, but I went to the owner and said, My salary is X. Just making sure that’s what you meant for it to be. She was horrified and immediately gave me a raise.

    2. Fiennes*

      I’m flashing back hard to my first year out of college. I’d always been very healthy, but on my own and broke in an unfamiliar city, I got strep throat. Then I got mononucleosis on top of it. I didn’t go to work with this at it’s worst, not out of conscientiousness but because I could hardly walk. But that meant I had no money. So I couldn’t go to a doctor. I couldn’t even buy OTC meds, sometimes. Instead I’d struggle back to a point where I could work some minimum wage job, would make a little money, and then have another collapse. This got worse and worse. Ultimately—well, If you were wondering whether it’s possible to come down with scarlet fever in the modern world, it sure is! You may remember scarlet fever as “that thing that killed Beth March.” It is scary as hell, and my immune system wasn’t the same after that—for more than five years. A little paid sick leave for my minimum wage self would’ve made a HUGE difference in my health, both then and for years to come. It’s a disgrace that it’s so hard for lower-wage workers to get this very basic level of consideration.

  8. MuseumChick*

    I have worked for someone like this! She found out someone with a mild cough had sat at her desk to make a call (their phone wasn’t working) and literally wiped down everything with disinfectant.

    Here is what I would do 1) “Unfortunately I can’t afford to stay home unless I am extremely ill.” repeat as needed. 2) Start job hunting. This place sound awful.

    1. Pollygrammer*

      My guess is that the boss would cite the recent vacation, and suggest that if LW could afford to take time off for that, she can take afford to take sick days.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I think the OP could get around that in a couple of ways through. “Oh I planned that way in advance.” or “Actually a family member covered most of the cost of that for me.”

      2. KHB*

        It sounds to me like LW was not informed that she had no PTO until after the vacation was planned (or maybe even until she’d already taken the time off). If she’d known in advance, she might not have taken the vacation.

          1. KHB*

            I agree that it looks extremely fishy. As this site has taught me, one of the few things that’s actually illegal is for an employer to change your salary retroactively: They don’t get to say “Oh, by the way, you’ve been working for $2 less an hour for the past two weeks.” If what happened here was that the LW was told, “Oh, by the way, you don’t get paid at all for the past two weeks,” that seems even worse – from an ethical point of view, at least. I doubt it was actually illegal, because the employer would argue that the LW was never promised any paid vacation time, so she shouldn’t have assumed that she had any. But the burden shouldn’t be on the employee to ask for clarification about basic things like that, especially if there are different rules that apply to different people in the same company (which sounds like the case here).

      3. Bea*

        Possibly but that’s such a bad defense. I can afford to take tomorrow off but if I do, I can’t afford to take another unpaid day off just because I had a day cushion.

        We have PTO some save up, some use it if they miss a single hour. I’m not the person to decide their cash flow for them!

    2. fposte*

      I’m largely germ-tolerant, but I would see wiping down your own desk with disinfectant as reasonable. I wouldn’t do it, but I know people who do; it doesn’t seem like overkill to me.

      Definitely agree with you on the job-search thing, though.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I mean she literally wiped down everything. Not just the surface of her desk and the phone but every.little.thing on her desk plus the chair. She then spent the rest of the day talking about how she really hoped she wouldn’t get sick.

        1. fposte*

          It’s the talking about it that makes it excessive to me. Wipe down whatever you like in your own office; people do that kind of thing a lot. But talking about it makes it other people’s problem in a way it doesn’t need to be.

    3. kc89*

      I don’t think wiping down your desk with disinfectant after someone else uses it is crazy or over the top. At our office especially during cold and flu season we are always wiping down things with clorox wipes. It might just be us seeing what we want to see but I do think we have less illnesses floating around the office when are vigilant about that.

    4. Work Wardrobe*

      I’m not a hypochondriac, but I most certainly would have wiped down my phone if ANYONE other than me made a call at it.

    5. OP*

      This sounds like my boss to a T.

      And yup, I wasn’t informed I don’t get paid leave until after I’d returned from mine. Fortunately (?) I already strongly suspected this and took this into account when planning for it.

      Also I feel I should clarify – I only work part time, as a ‘contractor’. As far as I know, I’m the only one in the company – every other employee is PAYE. So we indeed get different benefits (or maybe more appropriately – they get benefits, I don’t.)

      1. Baby Fishmouth*

        So you’re getting paid minimum wage, but you’re a contractor? Do you have to pay your own taxes on top of that?

        1. OP*

          I actually don’t earn enough to pay tax…
          But I do have to fill out a tax return each year.

          1. nonegiven*

            If you earn more than $400 in a year as a 1099 contractor, you have to pay self employment taxes on it, (15.3% for social security and medicare.)

            1. OP*

              I’m from the UK. I’m also probably not formally classed as a contractor as we discussed up-thread.

    6. Someone else*

      FWIW, I’d wipe down my phone and desk and keyboard if I knew someone else had been at my desk, regardless of whether that person had a mild cough. That’s just best practice.

  9. ZSD*

    Note that more and more jurisdictions in the country have laws requiring employers to give paid sick time. If your employer has 10 employees, they would be subject to that law.
    Even if you’re not in one of those jurisdictions, if you feel comfortable bringing this up, you could mention that the standard that’s being pushed is for people to be able to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, perhaps up to a cap of 56 hours per year. (As Alison said, what you feel comfortable bringing up depends on your relationship with your boss.)
    I’ll put a link to a list of jurisdictions with paid sick time laws in a response to this comment.

    1. ZSD*

      Oh, I just re-read and saw that the office has *fewer* than 10 employees, in which case this employer would be exempt from many — though not all! — of the laws in question.

    2. Eye of Sauron*

      The use of the term contract has me believing that the LW might not be in the US anyway.

      1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

        I wouldn’t say so. Unfortunately, the US has a rash of “contract workers” that are really just exploiting the hell out of the fact that the DoL can’t police everyone. “Contract work” has some pretty specific parameters, but quite a few employers near me (in California!) seem to use it to mean “person I don’t want to provide benefits to and am willing to ‘renegotiate’ with in 12 months.” In past companies, I found out half the employees in a pod were contract and half were not. I never would have known if I hadn’t been told.

        1. J.*

          That’s a good point. OP, if you are considered a “contract worker” (you’d have gotten a 1099 instead of a W2 to do your taxes), then they’re misclassifying you for the express purpose of not having to pay benefits like sick leave. That’s an even bigger problem!

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The OP says, “I have never been given a contract stipulating annual leave or sick days,” but I don’t think that means she’s been given a contract about anything else. I think she may just not realize that most U.S. workers don’t have contracts (which a lot of people don’t realize when starting out).

          1. OP*

            I’m actually based in the UK! It’s fairly common over here to have a contract, but it’s not mandatory either.
            I’d just like to have something in writing that stipulates what I’m entitled to, as this is my first time without one.

            1. Round coconut*

              Aren’t employers required by law to give you paid sick leave and paid vacation? Go to the labor board and complain.

            2. E*

              Ok, I strongly suspect you’ve been fraudulently misclassified in order for your employer to avoid employers NICs.

              They are also saving the cost of your holiday pay and pension (which they should be putting 2% into). Additionally, they are robbing you of a number of your statutory rights.

              This isn’t a point to negotiate as Alison suggested, so much as blatantly illegal.

              Call acas – they will be able to advise far better than an American blogger, no matter how good Alison is!

              Number is: 0300 123 1100

              NB a person is only exempt from paye if most of the following are true:

              *they’re in business for themselves, are responsible for the success or failure of their business and can make a loss or a profit
              *they can decide what work they do and when, where or how to do it
              *they can hire someone else to do the work
              *they’re responsible for fixing any unsatisfactory work in their own time
              *their employer agrees a fixed price for their work – it doesn’t depend on how long the job takes to finish
              *they use their own money to buy business assets, cover running costs, and provide tools and equipment for their work
              *they can work for more than one client

              1. OP*

                Before I go running around accusing my employers of treating me unfairly (as I do need this job), I just want to clarify some things about my employment:
                – I’m part time. I have set hours a week to come in.
                – I’m considered a contractor (I wasn’t given a choice regarding this.) So I send an invoice to get paid and pay my own taxes.

                Does this information change things?

                I do appreciate all of the advice though!

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It does change things! If you’re a contractor, it’s normal not to have benefits like paid sick leave. But usually contractors are paid a higher rate because they need to pay their own taxes and benefits. You’re getting minimum wage, so that’s not happening.

                  If you were in the U.S., I’d strongly suspect you were misclassified; it’s illegal here to pay someone as a contractor but treat them as an employee. I don’t know what the UK laws are on that, but it’s worth looking into.

                2. E*

                  You can be part time and still be an employee! The fact that you have set more is what increases the likelihood of you being an employee.

                  The fact that they have said you are a contractor doesn’t mean you legally are!

                  I don’t suggest you go straight to accusing your employer – that would be foolish – which is why I included the acas number.

                3. Other UK Anon*

                  No, it doesn’t. I agree with the poster above that you’re probably not legally a contractor. HMRC has got way stricter on this recently as employers use it as a way to avoid paying employers NI contributions. There are rules on what counts as a contractor and what counts as an employee (see for example all the cases around Uber) and you sound like an employee.

                  Agree you should call ACAS and get advice. You don’t have to use that advice if you don’t want to, but this sounds super dodgy and not legal.

                4. E*

                  Also, in reply to Alison, it’s pretty illegal here, too. More worryingly, it can have legal repercussions for the ‘contractor’ too (though this is less likely in a clearly abusive situation such as this.

                5. OP*

                  Ah yeah, I doubt I’m legally a contractor. I actually have no idea what they have me down as on the system, as I’m not PAYE – I invoice them and do my own taxes.
                  I don’t earn enough to pay NIC.

                  I’ll check out the acas number, but is this still worth doing if I find other employment, which I’m endeavouring to do?

                6. zora*

                  That is why you should call ACAS, to ask them these questions. Just calling them doesn’t get the company in trouble, you are calling to clarify whether you are being treated legally.

                7. zora*

                  OP: I’m not in the UK, but I strongly suspect you would be eligible for back pay of any annual leave/holiday pay or other money you were entitled to while working there. It could be very worth it, as you might actually get some money that you deserve.

                8. Observer*

                  In the US, what you are describing is almost certainly misclassification. From what others from the UK are saying, it sounds like it’s misclassification there, too.

          2. MsSolo*

            Under UK law, if you’re being paid, you have a contract in the eyes of the law, and as an employee one of your rights is to demand to have it in writing, including:
            – the names of you and your employer
            – the date you started work
            – the amount of pay and how often you will be paid, for example, weekly or monthly
            – the hours of work
            – your holiday entitlement (part time workers should be given a pro rata proportion of your legal entitlement of 28 days; zero hour workers are entitled to a proportion based on hours worked (so it’s a bit like a bonus if you don’t take leave))
            – how much notice you are entitled to if you are dismissed and how much warning you must give the employer if you want to leave the job (a month is usually standard here, longer for more senior positions)
            – the title of the job
            – where the job is based, for example, whether you will have to work in more than one location
            – what the disciplinary, dismissal and grievance procedures are in the workplace
            – what sick pay you are entitled to
            – whether you can join the employer’s occupational pension scheme (legally all employers are required to auto-enrol employees earning more than £10k a year in a workplace pension, unless you opt out)

            A contractor should also have a written contract, as implied by the name!

  10. Artemesia*

    I would not be at all surprised if others in this workplace have benefits and this former intern is just being exploited. In any case, she needs to be aggressively searching for a job, pretty much any job with minimal benefits like health care and sick leave and a few vacation days.

    1. LBK*

      I agree given that others seem to take time off much more casually, and I doubt they’re being paid so well that they can afford unpaid time. I would ask around and see if you’re the only one without PTO.

    2. kb*

      I hate to say that I’ve noticed hiring then underpaying former interns is becoming an increasingly common cost-saving strategy, especially among small businesses. So many young workers are convinced by toxic employers that being paid a pittance with no benefits is some sort of favor by the company. It destroys peoples confidence and can set back their financial well-being for years after the fact. It’s so scuzzy– it makes my blood boil.

      1. eplawyer*

        I think this is happening too. Oh you interned here so starting salary is much lower than if we had to go recruit someone.

        It is within the realm of possibility, just barely, that no one updated her status in the system. So she is still being classed as intern (no sick leave) than employee (PTO).

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yep. I had an internship that turned into a job offer – except that they wouldn’t pay me at all after I was supposedly hired until I begged them repeatedly, and it ended up being way below minimum wage. (See misclassification comment above.)

        It’s not new, though; this was over a decade ago.

      3. Lil Fidget*

        It’s really tough because we now have at least one entire generation that believes that working for free or very little money – “interning” – is just what you have to do in order to get started in any kind of career. Essentially we taught them that a) companies are doing YOU a favor when they take you on, and b) that it’s not unreasonable to offer labor for free. It’s not a big surprise to me that these workers don’t see the problem with contractor positions, no benefits and office workers needing to take “side hustles” to get by.

        1. kb*

          Yes! I do believe internships can be incredibly valuable, but our current system is so messed up that it makes things worse in a lot of cases.

          1. Starbuck*

            Paid internships are absolutely valuable. But unpaid? All those do is perpetuate inequality and squash diversity in the fields in question.

            1. kb*

              Paid internships that pay enough to support interns in the city that they’re located in are definitely valuable. And there are some unpaid internships that are more like weekly mentorship programs that I’d consider valuable as well. But you’re right, so many internships out there just function as a way to re-affirm privilege amongst the well-off.

        2. Dragoning*

          As a “W-2 contractor” (aka, someone who they lease from a recruiting firm who gives me no sick leave or vacation and I’m lucky to get any holidays whatsoever), we know it’s a problem. We know it sucks.

          Most of us don’t have other options.

        3. Michaela Westen*

          When I was in college in the 80’s people talked of internships and such. I was supporting myself and couldn’t afford to work for free. I always had that attitude: Pay me a living wage or I’m leaving.
          It amazed me how many of my colleagues were satisfied with low wages.

      4. OP*

        This is almost definitely what my employers are doing, as we’ve had over 7 interns in the last 7 months.
        I was also taken on as a marketing assistant for my internship, however once I was on the job, I found out I’m the only member of the marketing department, and the clean-obsessed boss, who wasn’t around to interview me and didn’t offer me the job, expected me to be much more qualified than I am, even though it’s an internship!?

        I am definitely looking for other work, I’m just torn as this is at least in the realm of what I want to be doing, but obviously isn’t ideal. There’s a lot of competition for similar roles in bigger companies, and marketing isn’t what I studied, so I’m not as qualified as other candidates. This is at least experience, which I’d be missing out on if I moved into a service industry job, for example. It almost feels like a step backwards? Though a secure job sounds nice, honestly.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Urgh, so frustrating. I guess all you can do is try to view this job as one small “stepping stone” – so, it wasn’t a mistake to take it, and it’s still a positive sign that you were able to leverage an internship into something more permanent – but do keep on stepping, trying to get to a situation where you can work full time, with benefits.

        2. kb*

          I’m sorry to hear your bosses are taking advantage of your desire to break into the field. Keep expanding your portfolio and adding experience and skills to your resume as much as you can while you’re there. I might talk to a temp agency to see if they think they could place you in a job in or around that field. If they can, you’ll probably be making more and gain a wider breadth of experience. Also, potentially more exposure to potential employers

        3. MsSolo*

          What sector are you in? Internships are much more regulated over here than the US. I would not be surprised at all if your employers are skirting the law around interns either!

          To be honest, if you’re part time, minimum wage, and misclassified, at least take on another job at the same time so you’ve got some security. Because, hey, even if you’re just delivery pizza for the local takeaway, they need marketing too, and being able to put “ran social media campaign that increased sales 50% while working delivery” on a CV is another tick in the right box. Also, look at marketing roles in charity, education and heritage – because the pay is squeezed they’re usually more accomodating of candidates with less experience and qualifications at entry level.

          1. OP*

            Thanks for the tips! I’ll definitely look into marketing roles in charity and heritage! I’m currently kind of already in education – the company I work for does training and coaching, mostly in the realm of employability, ironically.

            I do actually have another job, but unfortunately my circumstances there are much the same as they are at this one, as I’m only bank staff (which for anyone confused about what is, means I only work the hours they need me to. So technically a 0 hour contract.)

        4. Media Monkey*

          if you are in marketing and want to stay in that general commercial area, consider agency work. in my area (media agency – probably obvious from the name!) there are a lot of entry level roles which you don’t need a specific marketing degree. if there is a way to get your details (through Alison perhaps?) i’d be happy to help you with the names of the main recruitment agencies and see if we have openings here you could be considered for? I’m in London in case that makes a difference. good luck and find a new job!

          1. Media Monkey*

            i have emailed my details to alison and asked her to pass them on so get in touch if that’s useful!

          2. OP*

            I would actually love to work within a creative agency, but there’s quite a lot of competition up where I live, and I suppose I don’t feel that confident applying as I’m more of a jack of all trades, whereas a lot of roles that I see call for more specialized knowledge.

            Unfortunately I’m up in Scotland and pretty keen to stay North, but that is so kind of you – I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the offer. I actually studied Media myself, so it would have been even more relevant!

  11. Wannabe Disney Princess*


    No, no, no, no, no, no. Not getting paid when you’re not in the office is not “fair enough”. (Especially *if* you were to find out your other coworkers do – but that’s speculation.)

    It might be worth bringing up to see if you can get benefits, but I would look for another job pronto instead. You already don’t like your boss and this is not endearing her to you. Find another job where you will not only be valued but will be compensated as such.

    1. OP*

      I’m friends with some of my colleagues, and I know for a fact that they get paid sick leave and holidays.
      However, I’m just a part time ‘contractor’, and they are full time employees, so does that change things? I imagine so.

      Nevertheless I am looking for better, full time work.

      1. misspiggy*

        This sounds like you might be in the UK. Contractors typically get paid more per day in professional roles. Look up your employment rights, it may be that you become entitled to sick leave and holiday pay after a while. You should, however, have a contract if you’re in the UK, even if it’s a zero hours one. This all sounds pretty dodgy to me if you are UK based.

  12. [insert witty user name here]*

    OP, I think you need to get more clarification (maybe in writing) on your status, even if it’s just to confirm that they will NOT be paying you any vacation or sick time.

    Also – it sounds like you might not be in the United States. If not, make sure you check your locality’s employment laws to ensure you’re not entitled to either vacation or sick time (if you haven’t already or are unsure what you’re entitled to).

    Good luck!

    1. Positve Reframer*

      Yes, OP you deserve to know what you are hired as and what benefits you do and don’t have. It is totally normal to feel uncomfortable asking about these things at the beginning of your career but it is also totally normal to have these kinds of conversations.

      I don’t know but I’m getting the vibe that you may feel like this is the best you can get or maybe all you can ask for. I really struggled with confidence in getting into a decent professional position. I really wasn’t sure how to get a different kind of job but knew I needed one. I ended up going through a temp agency and landing in a position I never would have applied for but I excel in. Their little tests to judge my skills and things like that helped me feel like at least someone thought this was a job I could do. I don’t know if that’s you at all and I wouldn’t suggest it to everyone but it was a really valuable thing for me. At my current job I haven’t felt the need to negotiate anything because they have handed me more than I was planning to ask for.

    2. drpuma*

      It could be worth checking local laws regardless of where OP lives. The US city where I live and work recently passed paid sick time laws above and beyond the state’s requirements. Lots of cities are looking closer at worker protections – something similar could apply to the OP.

    3. OP*

      I’ve tried several times to get a written contract (or just a document – I don’t care at this point!) stipulating what my work terms are, but my bosses have failed to provide me with one, and at this point, I just want to find a new job and leave.

      I’m indeed not a US citizen! I’m from the UK.

      I suppose I’m nervous about asking for more, as I don’t feel secure in my job at all (this is the first time I’ve not been given a contract or had my work terms put in writing), and I need this job. I’m afraid if I rock the boat, I’ll just be told to leave.
      A temp agency sounds great, but I’m not sure if we have those in the UK…?

      1. [insert witty user name here]*

        Oh no! This sounds horrible :(

        I can understand why you’re nervous to not rock the boat. Hopefully some of the UK readers can guide you on where you can find out what work benefits you’re entitled to and what you can do to protect yourself.

        However, it does sound like it’s best to start your job search. This company sounds hella shady and I think you’ve learned all you need to from them. Best of luck to you!

      2. Molly*

        We do have temp agencies: Tiger, Adecco, Hays etc.

        You will get holiday pay and basic respect at those jobs – they are not a step backwards.

        This is a personal question, but is your background/family from the UK? If not I feel as though they may be exploiting the fact that there is no one close to you to point that they are denying you your rights.

        1. OP*

          Ah, cool! I’ll definitely check them out!

          Actually, I’m born and bred in the UK, and unmistakably so, so I doubt that’s an issue here.

      3. Other UK Anon*

        We do have temp agencies.

        Also if you are a contractor, you should still have a contract. I work as a sole trading consultant and I would never take on a piece of work without a clearly defined day rate or hourly rate and definition of the task I will be doing. You also need it as proof of what you were doing and your employment status if HMRC come calling.

        1. OP*

          We discussed this above and I’m almost certainly not formally classified as a contractor.
          Regardless I do my own own taxes with HMRC and am very clear about what I make and how I make it.

      4. MsSolo*

        There are loads of temp agencies over here! Just google “temp agency” and your location to find out about local ones. There are a bunch of private sector ones, but it’s also worth checking out council temp pools, since they usually offer work for longer periods with more security.

  13. Snark*

    This is the kind of thing that makes working in modern America stressful and unhealthy. No paid leave should be illegal.

        1. Coalea*

          That, plus the phrase “annual leave” and the use of “holiday” (vs “vacation”).

    1. Xarcady*

      Tell that to all the stores and fast food places with hourly workers. Not only are there no paid sick days, but many employers have punitive attendance systems where any “unapproved” absence, which sick days usually are, works against you. Too many unapproved absences and you get fired.

      These employers basically want you in and working, no matter how sick you are.

      1. Snark*

        And then they’re just terribly disappointed that they let their customers down when 72 people get norovirus, and promise to do better and form an advisory counsel or some shit.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Seriously. Restaurants (or daycare providers, or healthcare providers…) that don’t allow sick people to stay home should be shut down as public health hazards.

      2. Jady*

        And that’s why PTO needs to be in the law.

        Big picture, those hourly workers in stores and restaurants interact with hundreds of people every single day. Those interactions spread the flu, leading to wide-spread decrease in productivity, among other things.

        I think it’s good to remind people why these kinds of things NEED to be laws. Most individual companies don’t care about the collective good things like PTO do for society.

      3. SpaceNovice*

        I’ve heard so many horror stories from friends regarding those systems–they definitely exist, for those who are questioning if they do.

        The sad part is that the retailers never realize that all it takes is one new competitor to TROUNCE them simply by paying a higher wage and benefits. The companies that are dying are not only sucking the lifeblood from their employees but having their employees stolen from them by companies that pay more. You can literally tell what companies are going to fail long-term based on how they treat employees. (Short-term they get away with it. Long-term means that a competitor will eventually come and wipe them out, either slowly or quickly. See: what Walmart is going to have to deal with as ALDI and Lidl expand market penetration.)

        1. Miso*

          Ha, do Aldi and Lidl really treat their employees better than others in the US?
          That’s not really what they’re known for in Germany… But then again, I wonder if it’s precisely because they’re German companies, where we have way more protections for employees.

          1. SpaceNovice*

            Got it in one: Germany has way more protections. US companies generally pay around $8-9 an hour for cashiers, but I’ve seen it as low as the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour). Aldi/Lidl pay $12 minimum; Aldi pays up to $15 and Lidl up to $13 for the area. US companies generally don’t offer their retail employees health/dental/vision insurance, time off with pay (PTO, sick, maternity/paternity, bereavement), or pretty much anything else than a paycheck. Whereas I’m at least reading Aldi gives those if someone is given 25/hours a week (whether they get that amount of time another thing). This causes a lot of families to end up qualifying for things like food and healthcare support from the US government (basically filling the gap for wages too low to live on, transferring cost from the employer to the taxpayers; I’d rather have people not starve or die, though).

            Aldi also allows their cashiers to sit. That’s the first and only time I’ve ever seen that. A lot of our checkout lanes are not very ergonomic, so injury is more likely, and people will work through injuries or illness because they can’t afford to miss work.

      4. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yeah, I love it that restaurants are a place where it is very likely that someone is coughing and sneezing in my food as they prepare it, because that is one of the places where getting paid sick leave is not that common. That is just wrong.

      5. Lissa*

        And then the public gets angry at people for leaving their house while sick or working with the public while sick. yeah thanks i would rather have been curled up in bed than dealing with jerky customers too but hey I like paying rent and not losing my job!

    2. SpaceNovice*

      It really should be! It even hurts profits if your employees are stressed. Making those pennies stretch to avoid making dollars. You can’t attract and retain talent, employees end up getting unhealthy, and people don’t have the energy to make the company succeed. (If a company treats its front-line employees badly, it will usually fail long term, even if the death takes a while. See: Sears and JCPenney.)

      But I care more for the employees. Some of the horror stories I’ve heard from friends are absolutely horrifying. Anyone foreign reacts with an extreme amount of shock when they hear how people are treated in America, and they wonder what’s wrong with us.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Unfortunately too many Americans have been taught to blame the victim here. (Especially if said victim isn’t white.)

  14. Lumos*

    The only time I have ever complained about a sick coworker is because they showed up with pink-eye and put their hands all over my keyboard.

    1. All. Is. On.*

      The colleague who sits next to me came into work one day last summer complaining that she couldn’t wear eyeliner. I asked why, and she replied it’s because she had pink eye. Right after she had borrowed my compact and handled several items on my desk! I was livid! I told her off, and she shamelessly said it’s no big deal, everyone gets pink eye all the time and it doesn’t matter if she spreads her gross germs all over the office! OH! And then she told me she had spent the whole day before at a public swimming pool!

      1. WellRed*

        Everyone does not get pinkeye! I got it for the first time this year and only because I had bronchitis or some such and it got in my eyes. I stayed home a few days.

  15. Lisa Babs*

    To me it’s upsetting that employers still don’t give sick days to full time employees. I know some states have laws making it mandatory that paid-time-off for sick days are given on an accrual basis. BUT I believe most only apply to bigger employers (10 or more employees). So even if OP was in one of those states, it wouldn’t apply to them.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah, I was upset even to hear that “most professional jobs” should offer PTO. I don’t know if “professional” means more like “white collar” or “full time” but – I think all workers should have access to paid leave :(

        1. OP*

          Aaah, how convenient is it that I only do 19 then? I feel like a lot of things are starting to add up with all this advice. I’m glad I wrote in. Though I do feel a bit of an idiot, admittedly.

          1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

            You’re not an idiot! These are things that companies like yours depend on people not knowing so they can take advantage of them.

            1. OP*

              Thanks, that makes me feel a bit better.
              Now it’s just a case of trying to hold in my frustration at this situation while desperately trying to find something else!

  16. mf*

    Alternative script (in an upbeat tone): “I would love to stay home when I’m not feeling good! Can we discuss paid sick leave so that, moving forward, I won’t have to come to work sick?”

      1. mf*

        Some bosses react badly to “no’s” but are mollified if they here a “yes, if.” I think it demonstrates that the employee understands and is validating the boss’s point of view.

    1. SierraSkiing*

      Sounds like a good plan to me! Because it is definitely time for OP to negotiate some better terms for this job.

    2. Emmie*

      I like your script too. I wonder if OP needs to also champion another person. Her boss should implement this, or advocate to the decision maker. OP can also try during performance review time to negotiate this also. (OP should not have to wait until performance review time for paid sick time.) If it does not work or takes some time to happen, I would ask for the ability to work from home when the boss does not want you in the office.

      1. mf*

        WFH is another good option. I think the OP is likely to get better results from his/her manager if they approach this as if the manager is interested in finding a solution. Sort of like: Hey, I don’t like coming work sick and you don’t like having me here when I’m sick, so let’s work together to fix this.

  17. CatCat*

    I’d work on getting a different job ASAP. I mean… minimum wage and no paid time off? Are there any other benefits that somehow make this worthwhile, or do you get any other benefits at all? Health insurance? Retirement plan?

    1. LBK*

      Seriously, there are even retail jobs with better conditions than this (Starbucks, for instance, where benefits kick in at 20 hrs/week). Unless this happens to be literally the only job in the area that’s in the OP’s field, I see no reason to stick around.

      1. CatCat*

        When I worked as an office temp (basic clerical and admin stuff 10+ years ago), I made more than minimum wage. As a temp, I also didn’t get paid if I didn’t work, but I could also afford to take an unpaid day off here and there because I made enough to have a little emergency fund.

        1. Susan Sto Helit*

          When I temped, I accrued paid holiday on a pro-rata basis. I think it worked out as about half a day for every two weeks that I worked, or something like that. I don’t know if it was the temping agency or the company who was ultimately responsible for paying for it, but I used to get a log of how much holiday I’d accrued show up on my payslip.

          1. Chinook*

            “I don’t know if it was the temping agency or the company who was ultimately responsible for paying for it”

            It would have been the agency and it is rolled into your cost to the company paying for you. It is why they charge $20/hr for your time and only pay you $12 (for example).

    2. Temperance*

      I mean, FFS, I worked at a movie theater in high school and was paid over minimum wage. I can’t imagine what kind of toxic professional job pays so little.

  18. Kelly*

    As someone with a severely compromised immune system, please do NOT pass off a cold as allergies. That’s just wrong. I cannot believe that grown adults on this site are recommending that. Seriously. WTF.

    I agree that you should get paid sick time, of course. Talk to your boss about that.

    1. SoSo*

      Same. I’m a little bit appalled, honestly. I’ve got multiple coworkers who have spouses undergoing chemo treatments, and my own husband has an autoimmune disease that’s managed by two different immuno-suppressant drugs. We all have to be ultra diligent, and we would all rather know if someone is sick so we can 1) stay far away and 2) sanitize/keep everything clean, rather than for that person to lie about having allergies because they don’t want to deal with their boss.

      A cold or bout of the flu for you could be deadly for someone else and lying about it isn’t something to take lightly.

    2. Natalie*

      If you’re at great risk from minor illnesses, it seems like it would be safer to just assume everyone might be sick. Even if you could somehow prevent everyone from lying, people can be contagious before they have symptoms, asymptomatic carriers, or genuinely mistaken about whether or not they are sick with something contagious.

      1. Kelly*

        There’s a difference between having to accept there are germs in the world (which I do) and having my coworker come in knowingly sick and lying about it. Big huge stinking difference. Genuinely mistaken? Great, I have no issue with that. LYING to me? Again, huge difference. If you have no choice but to come in sick, which I know is debatable on both sides, then give me the info I need to decide how much contact I will have with you.

        1. Observer*

          And if you want someone to give you that information, you need to make it reasonably safe to do that. That’s the key problem here – the boss is making it unsafe for the OP to tell the truth.

      2. Amanda*

        That may be true, although I err on the side of trusting immuno-comprised people to make decisions about their healthcare and how they approach the world given that they know what they’re talking about better than I do.

        And this doesn’t change the fact that no one should be lying about being sick in the office.

      3. SoCalHR*

        I love babies – I “steal” my friends’ babies as often as possible – there probably have been times I have been contagious before knowing I was sick, or that I thought my allergies were kicking up and it was a cold. BUT to be sick and knowingly cuddle up on them would be irresponsible.

        That is the point Kelly is making. There are enough normal threats in the world to someone with compromised immune systems, so for adults to lie about being sick if they are pretty darn sure they are sick is irresponsible. She’s not suggesting people put on a hazmat suit every time they have the sniffles, but that people take reasonable precautions when they know they are ill.

        1. hbc*

          Yeah, but if you’re not cuddling up with your coworkers and generally being cautious about contact, then how does the lie make a difference?

          I mean, I don’t want anyone to lie, but if the LW’s choices are “Lie about being sick” or “Not be able to afford food or rent,” I have a hard time advocating for the latter. She can still take all the precautions “just in case,” and any immuno-compromised people should give snifflers a wide berth no matter what they say. It’s not like anyone can really be certain that they’re 100% on allergies versus 70% allergies and 30% virus.

          1. SoCalHR*

            There’s normal level of general cleanliness – washing hands after the restroom, sneezing into your arm, etc. But if I know I’m sick, I won’t shake hands with someone, I keep a greater distance than normal in interactions (i.e. looking at a shared screen or something), and I’ll kick up the hand washing/hand sanitizer a few notches. That is what I meant by the baby-analogy.

            I just think there are other options here than jumping to “just lie and say you’re not sick” partly because sometimes that’s not realistic because people can tell if you’re not well. And in most cases it is an irresponsible approach.

          2. KR*

            I think there was one commenter up thread who suggested OP lie about having allergies. I haven’t seen any indication in the letter that OP is actually doing that, I haven’t seen other people suggesting they do that, and Alison didn’t suggest it. I think OP would most likely gladly stay home when they’re contagious if they had paid sick time, which is the issue they’re having.

      4. Foxtrot*

        It’s like a person with a severe peanut allergy carrying an epipen because you can always be exposed, and actively lying that you used peanut oil in a recipe.

        1. Observer*

          Not really. Now, in a normal workplace, I would almost agree. It’s just common courtesy. But, if you’re facing the loss of a day’s pay (or more) in a situation where that means your groceries for the week (or even day), the calculus changes. Especially since the other person can still take reasonable precautions.

    3. paul*

      Have you asked your workplace about ADA accommodations?

      I’m not taking off every time I think I might have a cold or any other possibly contagious email. I don’t have PTO for that, and I couldn’t get my damn job done if I did. I call out if I need to–if I’m spewing out either end or running a fever–but I can’t call out every day when I’m playing the “allergies or sinus infection” guessing game.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        I don’t see anyone in the comment section saying you need to call out. Kelly is saying – and I am too – that it’d be GREAT if you didn’t make an effort to actively lie. If you have a cold, don’t tell me it’s allergies. If you don’t know, just say you don’t know. It’s in response to people upthread encouraging OP to claim it’s allergies even if she knows it is not.

        1. TheBeetsMotel*

          Right. If an immunocompromised person asks me about my illness status so that THEY can make an informed decision regarding how much contact they have with me, no problem! If that person, or the company, expects me to stay home every time I could be the slightest danger to them, well, that’s unlikely to be feasible in the long term with or without a good sick leave policy, and that’s where there’s a burden-of-responsibilty issue.

    4. Jessie the First (or second)*

      “If you’re at great risk from minor illnesses, it seems like it would be safer to just assume everyone might be sick”

      So, yes, to a large extent that is true. (My young son is medically fragile and has immune system problems so I do spend my days out in the world washing and rewashing my hands, using purell, wiping down my keyboard, etc. I do that all the time.

      If someone has a cold, I am not going to shake their hand. It’d sure be nice if a coworker could just be honest about whether they have a cold, instead of making me avoid all human contact with people just in case they are lying, though, you know?

      Not a fan of promoting the idea to actively lie about health status. Just say it’s a cold. What on earth is the problem with just being honest?

      1. Yorick*

        The problem is with the unreasonable boss and others like her who expect you to just quarantine yourself if you’ve recently seen someone with germs. The only real reason someone might decide to lie about having a cold is to get those crazies off her back.

      2. Pollygrammer*

        If your boss is going to demand that you stay home without being paid, the problem is, y’know, paying rent. Eating food. That sort of thing.

      3. Observer*

        Just say it’s a cold. What on earth is the problem with just being honest?

        Most of the time, none at all. And I would absolutely agree that you should tell the truth.

        The problem here is that the OP’s boss is creating a problem by trying to force the OP to take unpaid time off, in a job that barely covers their expenses as it is. That’s a serious problem.

    5. Lynca*

      It also makes it harder for people with actual allergies to be believed. I get the third degree about my allergies (symptoms: a cough, sneezing bouts, and watery eyes) because my medications don’t control them well. I have to have ‘something else’ just because the medicine doesn’t completely alleviate all the symptoms!

    6. fposte*

      I think if you’re medically immunocompromised and need to stay away from people with common workplace contagions, the best plan is to work with your manager to get reasonable accommodation under the ADA; that’s going to have a lot more teeth than just hoping your co-workers with colds self-report.

    7. Temperance*

      Same. If you come near me with a cold, and lie about it being allergies, I’m going to catch your cold, which will turn into bronchitis for me. If you’re contagious, don’t be a jerk and lie about it.

    8. It’s All Good*

      Does your employer and Co-workers know about your immune status? I’ve had co-workers in your situation and it’s always known, so everyone is careful.

    9. Anon367*

      As someone with allergies, I typically don’t know if it’s a cold or allergies until after the period I’d be contagious anyways. I’ll stay away from those who I know to be immunocompromised, but frankly I grew up with a sibling who was immunocompromised and you just take normal precautions like washing hands and not breathing all over people.

      1. hbc*

        Yes, I think some people are equating “tell your boss it’s allergies to get her to back off” with “act in every way as if you’re 100% non-contagious.” OP can tell the lie but keep going with the hand sanitizer and not using other people’s phones and what not.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yes, I really regret my comment because clearly it came across wrong and now everybody believes that I’m a psychopath who deliberately infects cancer stricken children for fun. I wish Alison could delete my comment and all the conversation that came out of it because it’s probably not useful to OP anyway.

  19. Justin D*

    I worked a short contract where one of the managers was a little overzealous about sickness. A couple coughs or a sneeze and she’d try to get them to go home.

  20. Observer*

    OP, please start looking for a new job. Also, please find some people who can help you adjust your expectations. I’m not suggesting that you turn into a stereotypical self-centered newbie who thinks they are entitled to corner office perks the day that they walk into the office. But, you’re in no danger of that. What you do need is someone who can help you see what the range of decent to great jobs looks like, and what reasonable (in the context of current reality at least) looks like.

    It very much sounds like you are well below the threshold for “decent” in terms of pay and benefits for what you are doing. And it’s also on the low end in terms of the way you are being treated. Please recognize this and start looking for something better.

    1. SpaceNovice*

      +1 to what Observer said. This is NOT normal for office work. I often seen something like $15 an hour, $30k a year or more.

      Look through job boards to find out exactly what kind of work you’re doing and figure out what your position is (they might have this wrong since they’re doing everything else wrong, too!). Build your resume around that. Look up and practice interviews. Make sure that your bullet points answer “what I did, how I did it, and what the result was”. Don’t forget to research your job’s typical salary in your area!

      Good luck! You deserve way better.

    2. Tardigrade*

      Everything Observer said. And I bet they’re gambling on your not know what a “decent” workplace is.

  21. Not Tom, just Petty*

    LW, here is your chance to clarify your situation. Ask your boss to schedule a meeting because you are concerned about this sick day issue. Explain your understanding: you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Ask her how she wants to proceed. Work from home? Make up the time later in the week?

    My own early experience, showing been there, been that person: speaking as someone who has fallen into post-college jobs because well, the rest of the group took two steps back leaving me the last person standing (Yay, I got the job. Oh? now I’m full time? Ok, I’ll keep coming. Um, I haven’t gotten a check. Oh, here’s your check. Um, taxes? Oh, you are a contractor. Um, no, I don’t think so. Well, we will keep the money and pay the taxes with that. Um, bye.)

    1. SpaceNovice*

      I would suggest NOT CLARIFYING your situation in this case. It’s so effing sleazy that there’s a good chance you’ll be fired. Good or even only okay companies would never, under any circumstances, treat you this way. This is so very, very gross. If your boss is the owner, then of course they’re going to pay themselves if they take a day off–that’s the way those types of people work.

      Find a new position and leave ASAP. Be careful not to burn bridges because this employer could be a revenge type. If they’re going through a “rough patch”, it’s solely because of crappy business practices, if I have to wager a guess.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I think there’s probably a way to check without seeming at all hostile, just honestly curious and trying to understand how to log time “correctly.”

        1. SpaceNovice*

          You can definitely do it without sounding hostile, I agree. I’m just worried the employer will react with hostility no matter what. The employer is not acting within any normal bounds of behavior.

    2. OP*

      Not Tom, just Petty, your early experience sounds very similar to my own, except I’m part time and I had no choice but to accept being a contractor. I keep getting told I’ll eventually be made full time and put on payroll, but I strongly doubt that’s ever going to happen.

      As SpaceNovice says, part of me is afraid to rock the boat, as my job is so unstable it would be very easy for them to fire me, and as this is my first position in this particular industry, I don’t want to give them any reason to give me a bad reference.
      My boss is also indeed the owner, and the rough patch is almost definitely down to crappy business practices.

      1. SpaceNovice*

        Wow, you’re ALSO being paid as a contractor? Depending on the law, that could be illegal. They’re very much trying to cut costs by avoiding benefits AND making you pay your own taxes. (Also, I’m horrified I’m right about all of this. Dangit. Why are people so awful.)

        There’s absolutely no way your boss will convert you to full time, ever. They’re saying that to keep stringing you on. What they’re doing is clearly abusive, and they know it. But they hope you don’t realize that.

        Since they’re this awful, they likely have a “reputation” in this industry, and people will likely understand why you are interviewing. The rough patch is likely a result of that. You need to get out before the business collapses entirely. You might get a bad reference if you leave–but everyone will know that your current boss is batsh!t soon enough. I would google your employer’s name and their business name to see what’s coming up already.

        I’m so sorry you have to deal with this, OP. This isn’t what employment is supposed to be. Bad expectation might seep into your next job, and this might even be bad enough to need therapy later if there’s more you’re not telling us.

        Seriously, though–best of luck. I h0pe you find someplace better soon.

  22. EddieSherbert*

    I just want to +100 Alison’s advice to start job hunting, OP! Your situation is so very NOT NORMAL for full-time office work and other white-collar jobs.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Really, it’s probably not normal for blue-collar or any full-time work in general – but I just know it’s not normal for office jobs from experience :)

  23. Adele*

    This letter makes me terribly sad.

    OP, look for another job. This is unlikely to get much better and you deserve so much more.

  24. Menacia*

    OP, when you were “taken on” as an employee you should have gotten in writing what that means. I have a feeling you are being taken advantage of here, and your boss is being extremely unreasonable if they expect you to not come to work sick and not be paid for it. You work for a very small company, so it might be time for you to move on to a more established (and larger) company. I think companies with 50+ employees have to offer certain benefits. And speaking of benefits, do you get medical or dental at this job? Do you have a 401K that is matched, or other benefits that you need to start saving for retirement? Don’t let them lead you around by the nose here, you have options.

    1. Brownie*

      +1 Lack of an employment contract/paperwork documenting pay rates, overtime, PTO, holidays, and so on raises so many red flags. I’ve been there, done that, and only found out years later how badly I’d been taken advantage of.

    2. SpaceNovice*

      OP just mentioned above that they’re not even an employee; they’re being treated as a contractor. So no benefits at all, I’m suspecting. Being taken advantage of is literally the intent.

  25. Art Vandelay*

    Back when I worked as a temp, I was placed in an office where I didn’t get any sick leave/PTO (aside from my rate being $25 an hour but only receiving $15 after my agency took their cut). I came down with a bad cold but still worked as I couldn’t afford to take off. The director gave me suchhhhhhhh a hard time. He resorted to putting his hands in his jacket pocket whenever he had to open doors and made lots of little comments about my coughing. Even after I wasn’t sick, he would still open doors and touch office supplies like that for WEEKS. It’s like he just couldn’t understand why I would want to drag myself in everyday even though I felt like death warmed over. My greatest satisfaction was resigning for a much better job, and refusing to tell him why I was leaving or who I was working for. It ate him up inside!

    1. Bea*

      I’m thankful the new sick leave laws now protect all the temps who had this issue in the past.

      But I’m flinching at 25 billable vs 15 wages. It’s because an employer matches your SS, MED and have copious other taxes to pay. Then there are the agents who place folks in those positions…so yes, there is a difference. Yea, they make money off of you.

      That guy acting like a jerk is not a good look though and I’m glad you got a better job and left his stupid ass.

    2. Music*

      Not for nothing but that wasn’t “your rate.” Your rate was what the company paid you. The rest is what the company charged to find and supply an employee. It can sting to know what a company is charging for your work but, well, that’s capitalism?

    3. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      It sounds like you were working for a temp agency, so it’s important to remember that the temp agency is your employer, not the office in which you are placed.

  26. Penny*

    One of the reasons I left my last job was because I was there for a year before they decided to give me sick and vacation time. In in exit interview I mentioned that specifically as one of the reasons I was leaving. They were also one of those companies that encouraged health and wellness and wanted people to stay home when they were sick. Good times.

      1. Perse's Mom*

        Mine does! And then goes out of their way to effusively praise the people who prioritize work.

  27. Amanda*

    Absolutely talk to your boss about paid sick leave, and start looking for another job. It may not be legally required, but not providing benefits and paid sick leave is, in my opinion, a morally bankrupt thing to do.

    In the meantime, do not pretend that a cold is allergies. Someone said this above but there are many people that are themselves immuno-compromised or that live with people that have weakened immune systems — if you have a cold or an infection do NOT lie about it.

  28. SpaceNovice*

    When you find a new job (and you seriously should at this point), they should tell you how much paid time off/sick leave/combo leave they have up front when you accept the offer of employment. If not, you should ask. The fact you DIDN’T know how PTO worked in your company is an extremely red flag. It’s a burning flag. The flag is on fire.

    Especially if they don’t give you health insurance/dental/vision coverage as well. I bet they don’t. Most companies where you work full-time do. Also, even when I was temping for a while, I earned over a dollar more than minimum wage; minimum wage is practically free labor for an office job ($15k versus $30-50k). Find another company and leave this one. What they’re doing to you right now is completely unacceptable. It sounds like they’re treating you as a different class of employee than everyone else. What the #@$%.

  29. Lady Phoenix*

    1) Look at your employment status. Then compare it to the company book to see your benefits and such. Also, ask around to see if they have the same [lack of] benefits as you or if they do have paid time off. You might need to talk to your manager and HR about your status.

    2) If that goes nowhere or you find out no one gets pto, then get out. You are now an employee at this conpany and deserve the respect as one. It is understandable for interns to not get benefits (cause they tend to only be around for a college semester), but not you.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Company has less than 10 people. There’s probably not a book, or HR, or even a manager besides the Badgering Boss.

  30. Yorick*

    Even if you have PTO, even if it’s unlimited, you just can’t take off work every time you have a cold or a symptom of it. Some people would just never be at work.

    All winter, the cold wind gives me a runny nose. It gets SO OLD when the same dumb coworkers has a little freakout every single day in the elevator. You can’t catch it!

    Colds are normal things in our society. Barring some serious health issue that makes it more of a risk, you should do whatever precautionary measures you can and just get used to the idea that you might get a cold.

  31. Round coconut*

    The sad state of American workers’ rights – basic things like paid vacation and paid sick leave are not required by law and as a result only the privileged class gets these basic things.

    1. Lindsay J*

      There’s no evidence that the OP is in the US. And, in fact, a lot of her word choices and her talk about a contract make me believe she is not in the US.

      So can we save the hand-wringing about the horrors of work-life in the US today? It’s not relevant to every discussion, and doesn’t appear to be relevant here.

      1. Yorick*

        This does sound like some crap a US company would pull though, and OP stated that she DIDN’T get a contract, which also sounds like the US (we usually don’t have contracts, but people new to working don’t always know that).

        IMO, the fact that the US doesn’t require sick leave is super relevant to this discussion.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          It also sounds like what a crappy UK company would pull or French company or Canadian Company…

          The US isn’t alone in this world with the existence of crappy companies.

          1. Round coconut*

            Mandatory vacation is required by law in all of those countries. Even crappy companies must abide by the law, otherwise legal action will follow.

            1. Observer*

              Apparently there are exceptions. Or the OP’s employer is even worse than it looks at first glance.

            2. Bea*

              Well she’s confirmed she’s UK and part time so no PTO.

              Unlike my state where we pay sick leave for temps and anyone working 20hrs or more. So your US hate is swatted down in this case.

              1. Molly*

                In the UK part timers have time off pro rated. She is entitled to time off and she is entitled to sick pay. The company are acting illegally.

                1. EvilQueenRegina*

                  Yeah, I was reading this and was shocked to realise this person lives in the UK because I didn’t think that was possible, she should have more rights than that! No time off is not legal.

      2. Round coconut*

        What other country doesn’t require paid vacation leave and paid sick leave? If OP was in such a country, he would know that what the company is doing is illegal and reporting them to the authorities is what would be required.

  32. Kate 2*

    Honestly this reminds me of being a student, and being told by a bunch of different professors that we were never allowed to miss class, even if we were sick, and if we missed an exam or important lecture, too bad! It really pissed me off. If you have a student or students who are blowing off class for fun, they’ll fail on their own, and you should document that and refuse to help them. But it is literally impossible for a person to force themselves never to get sick 5 days out of the week. Or to get sick Friday afternoon and magically recover Sunday night.

    Your workplace isn’t treating you like a human being OP. Humans get sick, and humans with a minimum of decency understand that and make allowances for it. I know our culture hammers in “You should be grateful to have a job at all, you owe your bosses everything!”, but that simply isn’t true. They should be grateful to have a good worker like you, and they owe you a certain amount of decency and respect. It goes both ways. You deserve better.

    1. KR*

      Oh I used to hate those attendance policies. I’m literally paying for the class, I’m paying the professor to work with me and help me learn, and I’m paying for the degree. I can miss a class if I need to.

      1. Alcott*

        My high school gave out awards to seniors who made it all four years with perfect attendance. I thought it was dumb because it basically rewarded people for coming to school sick and infecting the rest of us. One of the girls who won it my senior year definitely passed her flu onto the half of our history class (including me; I stayed home while I was sick though).

  33. AKchic*

    Your boss is a bad boss. You are making minimum wage, you aren’t getting any PTO benefits and you’ve been there long enough to move up from intern to employee (so I’d say at least a year, if not two).

    You know your office culture and the financial state of your company. If it were really a “rough patch”, people would be belt-tightening at the office. Actually coming in, working, cutting costs on supplies, looking for cheaper vendors, laying people off, etc. They have not. It has been the status quo the entire time.
    They simply found someone with no knowledge of office norms and are taking advantage of you. There are so many better options for you out there. I highly encourage you to apply for them. All of them. Any of them.

    You do not owe your boss any honesty about your colds. You are doing what you need to do in order to get by financially. Your boss has necessitated the very real need to obfuscate. Had she provided a living wage, or PTO (or fate forbid, *both*), you would be more honest, and take time off more often and alleviate her flair for the germ phobia.

  34. Cousin Itt*

    Ugh, I feel you OP. The place I work only has statutory sick pay, which doesn’t kick in until you’ve been off for three days, so every time I have a cold I just drag myself in anyway. Thankfully, no one’s ever said anything about it, but if they did I’d feel justified in pointing out that if you don’t want people coming in sick you need to pay them sick time.

  35. Lizzy*

    UGH my employer had something similar, but about maternity leave. I feel your pain, and echo Alison’s sentiments – find something better!

    My job/employer: We really want you to take at least 6 weeks of maternity leave. We have short-term disability, which pays at 60% of your standard pay.
    Me: Well, I have enough paid leave accrued to take 3 weeks. 60% really isn’t enough to make me stay home.
    My job/employer: Yeah, but we really want you to take 6 weeks.
    Me: I’d be happy to stay home for 6+ weeks if you change the policy to have paid maternity leave.
    My job/employer: Well, we don’t have paid maternity leave. We have short-term disability, though!
    Me: Guess I’ll see you in 3 weeks!

    For context, I work at an organization that promotes parity in a predominately male industry. They’re rather good about all other benefits, but not so much for maternity leave… :\

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Should be *parental* leave, not maternity. Ideally, 6 – 12 weeks at full pay, but yeesh – at least two weeks full pay, as a token step!

      1. Round coconut*

        No, ideally 1 year paid for by insurance, so that employers don’t go broke. It’s really not that hard.

  36. JuJu*

    What’s a “professional job”? As opposed to what?
    Also, aren’t companies required by law to provide paid vacation time / sick leave to their full-time employees?

    1. J.*

      “Professional jobs” are usually ones that require a college degree. That’s in contrast to non-professional jobs, which are often but not always technical or trades. I don’t think it’s fair to be a jerk at the OP about using phrasing that is pretty typically understood to mean an office job.

      And no, in the US, employers are not required to provide paid leave if they’re under a certain size, which the OP indicates her company falls into.

      1. JuJu*

        You are making an assumption – I asked because the phrasing wasn’t clear to me, not because I wanted to be a jerk about it.
        But also isn’t it safe to say that a job that pays minimum wage is by definition not professional? Honestly I am even more confused now.

        1. Emilia Bedelia*

          Minimum wage is not at all related to what type of job it is. It’s true that many minimum wage jobs are “non-professional”, but the pay rate is not tied at all to the job definition, and there’s certainly nothing stopping a company from paying an office worker minimum wage.

          Is it possible you are thinking of the distinction between salaried and hourly (exempt vs non exempt), where there are restrictions based on job description and pay rate? Most non professional jobs would fall under the “non-exempt”/hourly category. A lot of “professional” jobs also fall into this category as well. Additionally, a position that could be considered “exempt” can still be treated as “non-exempt”(ie, they are paid hourly, and overtime payment is required).

          1. Round coconut*

            Aren’t there minimum wage requirements for certain jobs that are higher than the minimum wage for jobs that require no qualifications?

            1. Baby Fishmouth*

              No, not really – I think a lot of places have a ‘server’ minimum wage for waitstaff, etc., and that’s usually lower than the regular minimum wage, but other than that, minimum wage is minimum wage.

            2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Not in the US. The only “alternate” minimum wage is the pittance that tipped workers are entitled to. For everyone else, either you meet a pay threshold (which is above minimum wage across a 40 hour workweek) and other criteria to be exempt, or minimum wage it is.

            3. Rusty Shackelford*

              No. There are certain geographic areas that have a higher minimum wage, but no jobs are entitled to a higher minimum. (Some get a *lower* minimum, which is ridiculous.)

            4. kb*

              Not in the US. I saw a job posting recently that wanted a candidate with a PhD, but offered $12/hr

          2. JuJu*

            I do know what exempt and non-exempt means, I am exempt myself, but this “professional job” term is confusing to me. The commenter above was using it to mean a job that requires a college degree, but I have a suspicion that the advice columnist meant something different.
            Either way, I can’t imagine what kind of a minimum wage job would require a college degree.

            1. bonkerballs*

              Just about every company I’ve ever worked for required a college degree for all positions and had entry level, minimum wage positions. The first office assistant job I had was required to have a bachelor’s degree and made minimum wage. College degree and minimum wage are in no way mutually exclusive.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        There are some jurisdictions that require employers to give paid leave, but it’s not nation-wide, and it’s not uniform among them what you’ll actually get.

        I was working a contract once for a sleazy agency that didn’t offer any sick time BUT I was working in San Francisco, which requires sick time for any employee who works in that city, regardless of where the company is located. That was nice, and it didn’t bother me one bit that it caused extra work for the agency. (Of course I felt bad for the people actually doing the work, but I still was happy to have the time.)

    2. Yorick*

      We don’t know if this actually a professional job, although it does sound like an office. OP didn’t use the term, Allison did.

      1. JuJu*

        Yes, thank you, I wanted to point out the same thing, but didn’t want to be even more of a jerk. :)

      2. Grad Student*

        I know we don’t know if this is a professional job–I was responding to Allison’s phrasing because I genuinely didn’t (and still don’t) understand, and it sounds like a potentially important term to know. And it sounds like Juju is in the same boat!

      3. OP*

        Given J’s description of a professional job as one that requires a college (or in my case, university) degree, I am in a ‘professional’ job.

        In the UK, we have minimum wages per age bracket that are standard for the majority of industries as far as I know.

    3. Michaela Westen*

      Saying a professional job is one that requires a college degree, IMHO, is elitist.
      Is an electrician a professional? A carpenter? A physician assistant? A computer technician? A data analyst?
      All of these are trained professionals who have expertise the average person doesn’t have.
      I’ve written essays and moderated discussions about employers using college degrees as a screening tool. It is also elitist – I’ve always suspected they started doing it because they weren’t as able to get away with race and gender discrimination – and has done a lot to damage the economy. I’m still surprised that so many people went along with it instead of standing up and saying, “no, a secretary or admin does not need a college degree”. This is why people think they have to have degrees to get good jobs and take on high levels of debt to pay for them.
      And as was mentioned here about the office that required college degrees for entry-level minimum wage positions, when everyone has a degree they lose their value. Economics 101, the people in charge didn’t understand that but I do. I don’t have a degree.

  37. Colorado*

    My company has unlimited sick time, paid. One of the best benefits in my mind. I took the day off yesterday because I had a bad cold with no stress or worries. If I were to come in, I’d be sent home anyway by my coworkers (or shamed all day ;-) as we all understand the policy and don’t want to get each other sick. We always have the option to work from home but who wants to do that when you’re in bed all day.
    OP – talk to your employer. Ask very specific questions and move on if you have to. There are plenty of good jobs out there that offer vacation and sick days, even if the sick days are specified X many per year.

  38. Non-Exempt Office Worker*

    I’m seeing all this outrage here that a “professional”/office job doesn’t give paid sick leave. I’m a non-exempt employee in an office, paid by the hour, where everyone else is exempt and I read this letter feeling like it was similar to my situation. Is it still the case that I should be receiving paid sick time? I often push myself to come into my office unless I’m absolutely unable to because I need to be making the money. Same thing when the holidays came around last year, everyone else took vacation time and I had a couple depressing days between Christmas + New Year’s in the office alone with barely anything to do since anyone I would have emailed was out.

    1. paul*

      I think you *should* but in most states (assuming you’re in the US) your company isn’t required to offer sick leave to anyone.

      That said its crappy policy not to offer PTO to hourly staff.

    2. Observer*

      The issue is not exempt vs non-exempt.

      In some places in the US, a minimum amount of paid sick leave is required for ALL employees in places with x amount of employees (10 is a typical amount for this, but it varies.) In many cases employer give some sick / vacation time paid even when it’s not required by law, and that goes for hourly / non-exempt positions.

    3. Hannah*

      Lots and lots of non-exempt workers receive paid sick time and vacation, especially in an office environment.

      In some places, it is required by law, and some it isn’t.

      It recently became law where I am, but I had paid sick time and paid vacation time long before that, and I’m non-exempt.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      Also, PTO / paid sick leave / other benefits are tools that good employers can use to lure good employees, and keep them happy, and it’s become fairly standard for professional jobs at businesses above a certain size, or in certain industries.

      OP’s employer is small enough that it’s not a standard. If OP’s in a good employment area, she might be able to push for PTO/ sick leave, but it’s probably easier to hunt for a new job.

        1. paul*

          Yes, but unless/until that changes Jules post is accurate. And it is entirely possible that the OP would be better served job hunting than trying to wage a fight for significant insitutional change.

      1. Non-Exempt Office Worker*

        Ooh, I see – yeah, my office is technically only 6 people (4 including me plus 2 remote workers).
        Wow, I’m stunned by all the responses here – didn’t realize I should be getting more! It’s my first professional job after college, so my standards to compare this to are just part-time barista jobs and such. Thanks for the encouragement everyone! I’m actually already job searching due to some other factors, so good to know that I’ll hopefully find better elsewhere for multiple reasons :)

    5. zora*

      I have been nonexempt in many offices where I was the receptionist/assistant, etc and those jobs have always offered the same sick/vacation and paid holidays as every other position. Most professional companies I’ve worked for do NOT have different benefits for exempt vs. nonexempt, the only differences are my working hours and my pay periods are calculated differently.

      You definitely should be receiving paid sick time, paid vacation time, and be paid for the same holidays as everyone else.

      The only times I didn’t receive those things was when I was doing temp jobs through a temp agency. But even then, my last temp job was in San Francisco where they are required by law to give me a certain number of sick days. So, it was only vacation and holidays that I had to take unpaid.

      Get your butt out there and do some job searching now. Now that you have some experience, you should be able to get an office job with fair benefits.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Trades / services / blue collar. ‘professional’ usually means white / new collar. Pink collar (receptionist, admin) varies, though I think they lean ‘professional’.

      1. Emi.*

        I think “pink-collar” also includes mostly-female service occupations like nail technician, though.

    2. curly sue*

      Non-office jobs – the category that used to be considered ‘blue collar,’ mostly. Construction, resource extraction, food and service. Does early childhood education fit in there? I’m pretty sure teaching is considered a Professional job (capitalizing to emphasize category, not adjectival use) but I’m not sure about day care. That, nursing and secretarial I’ve also heard called ‘pink collar’ due to the gendered nature of the workforces, but I think they’d all be Professional.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        See, I was thinking she meant something where the workers are not assumed to be living on the salary – like a job offered to high school kids. Nothing full time or close to full time. The reason for not offering PTO is that people are expected to find others to cover their shift at the ice cream store or the pool if they’re sick or away for the weekend, and if the job is only 10 hours a week after class, they should be able to take personal time in the other 30 hours of the workweek.

      2. soon 2 be former fed*

        I don’t think a skilled tradesperson is any less professional than a secretary.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sorry, that was sloppy language. There are a bunch of different definitions of professional occupations, but the thing they have in common is that they’re generally centered around mental/intellectual work as opposed to more manual labor. Blue collar/white collar often matches up that way too. Although of course there are exceptions.

  39. Genny*

    LW, you said that only 2-3 people are usually in the office any given day. Unless those other 7-8 people are teleworking, how on earth does the company run with 70-80 percent of its staff out on any given day? This place just seems incredibly poorly run and a bit shady. I would definitely start job hunting if I were you. There are lots of other better paying jobs (or at least jobs that include some benefits) out there, even if they may not be in your field.

    1. CBE*

      It’s likely they are out in the field. Could be site inspections, working at the client’s place of business, traveling to conduct trainings, etc etc. Just because they are not in the office doesn’t mean they are not working!

      1. Genny*

        True. I know there are a lot of jobs that don’t require people to be in the office (and many that wouldn’t get done if you were sitting in an office). It was the LW’s comment about being the only one with a regular schedule that made me wonder if people are just not showing up/taking leave as opposed to not being physically in the office, but still working.

  40. brushandfloss*

    Unfortunately this is the reality for most dental hygienists. Part-time and no benefits. In my office only the hygienists don’t have PTO. We don’t get paid when he closes the office for whatever reason. Yes I’ve gone to work when I’m sick and not feeling well but I can’t afford not to work.

    1. Jessica*

      Wow, I did not know that. That’s as outrageous as the situation in food service! I’m going to ask about this at my dental practice.

      1. brushandfloss*

        Please be careful about this. I’ve had patients ask some very personal questions about my salary and if I get paid vacations when my boss is right outside my operatory.

          1. brushandfloss*

            1) I don’t think people should be asking about other people salaries generally.
            2)Depending how the question is asked. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining or dissatisfied with my compensation with my boss or his wife(the OM) in earshot.

            1. zora*

              Not asking about each others’ pay is how drastic pay inequity happens. When people are more transparent with each other about pay, it usually lifts all boats and allows everyone to ask for what they are worth. I get that money is a traditional hang-up in many cultures (including in the US) but it’s worth getting over it, since it could result in real material gains for you.

              1. bonkerballs*

                Asking my coworkers about pay in order to make sure there’s pay equality is fine. Some random client/patient asking about my salary or PTO within earshot of my boss? That would be unbelievably uncomfortable.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              I agree that it’s inappropriate for these people to ask. But it seemed like your only concern was that your boss would hear.

    2. Emily*

      That’s a bummer! I had the same dental hygienist for most of my life (probably from early childhood into mid-twenties) – I hope that she got some kind of benefits, especially since she was with the practice for so long.

      1. brushandfloss*

        Like most small businesses it depends on the owner. Some practices offer a full range of benefits some don’t. Unfortunately many areas have an over saturation of hygienists currently, so a lot of us are just happy to have jobs.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Boy, it just goes to show you, times are tough all over. The OP in this case says this job is marketing, a field that I’ve thought I probably should have looked at more carefully because there seems to be higher needs there than in the programmatic work I’m doing – and I’ve often kicked myself for not looking at something more in the medical arena, where presumably there’s more work. Here I am learning that even dentists aren’t making the payroll. What IS a good field, for crap’s sake. (Lord, don’t say IT, I have no computer skills).

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            The good fields are the ones that don’t get the reputation for being “go here for a guaranteed job” because that’s the red flag in front of the market saturation bull.

    3. Bea*

      I shivered. Just like I’m not thrilled to have sick folks forced to work with my food or cash me out because that’s how we all get sick…a medical professional with their face up in my business…argh.

  41. Joyce*

    They should pay for demands! That is my answer if somehow someone asks me to get a day off unpaid. You should consider changing the place.

  42. Saradactyl*

    I wrote about this in the last open thread, but I really empathize with OP’s situation. I’m an hourly employee and I have benefits and PTO, but no time off that’s designated as sick leave. If you miss a day of work for a cold or minor illness, that comes out of your PTO bucket. We can only use “sick and family leave” when we’re out for longer than 4 consecutive days with a doctor’s note.

    In some ways it’s kind of nice because if you don’t get sick a lot, you’ll get 4 nice weeks of PTO. If you’re a normal human, though, and occasionally feel crappy or need medical care, it’s really annoying to feel like you’re wasting your vacation days every time you’re sick. In 2017 I had a minor surgery and was out for 3 days – PTO! Then two months later I caught some virus and ran a fever for 3 days – PTO! I ate up a more than a week of potential vacation on being sick. It was and is incredibly frustrating. I had a bad cold a few days ago and would have loved to call in and sleep, but I need to hoard my PTO hours for interviews because I’m resigning in July. My coworker was also snarky and passive-aggressive like OP’s boss was about me coming in and potentially getting her sick, but at this point I’m not about to use a full PTO day for anything less than violent vomiting or a high fever.

    1. mf*

      I have the same situation, only we get 3 weeks of PTO. If you have any medical issues, childcare/family care issues, funerals/weddings you have to attend, you can basically end up with NO time off at the end of the year. It’s pretty terrible.

      1. SoCalHR*

        3 weeks PTO is above average (in the US) and definitely doesn’t qualify as “terrible”, perhaps in your head you should think of it as 2 weeks vacation and one week sick time.

    2. Bea*

      The point of the “paid time off” verbiage is to stop separating sick vs vacation. So your issue is you have less PTO than you desire. Calling it sick leave and refusing to let you use it unless you’re ill is another complaint others have had.

    3. SoCalHR*

      so you have 4 weeks PTO *and* sick & family leave if you get really sick – I feel like your perspective needs to change a bit on how “horrible” your situation is. I get 2 weeks PTO. period. (and I’m a mid-career professional) And this isn’t all that uncommon. So if I get sick then that eats into my minimal time off. As I commented to mf, you may want to think about it as 3 wks vacation and 1 week sick time, that may help you not to be so frustrated by your not-horrible PTO situation.

      1. Saradactyl*

        This seems…kind of aggressive? You’re putting words into my mouth I didn’t say or claim to say or think. I said my setup was frustrating, not horrible. I recognize not everyone has this situation and some would find it ideal, and I also recognize that it has a lot of pros besides the cons I expressed.

        I’m sorry you don’t get a lot of time off – it’s pretty unacceptable to me that the US corporate culture allows for so little time off and I wish things were much different, for you and for everyone else in a similar situation. I personally just really prioritize my personal time off away from my job and I’ll be making it a priority in future ones. And maybe my perspective does need to change, but telling me how bad I actually don’t have it in comparison to others actually tends to…not make me feel any better.

        1. SoCalHR*

          Tone is really hard to judge on here. But I felt like I needed to point out how your situation really shouldn’t be “incredibly frustrating” because you are apparently so frustrated by it that you brought it up on open thread and on this post and your verbiage was a bit dramatic given the actual details of your situation (i.e. if you only got one week of PTO, then I would totally understand your perspective). From a personal standpoint, yes, I’d love to have 4 weeks PTO and extra sick leave if I get really sick, but that’s not really the point of my post. From an HR perspective I see a lot of PTO arrangements and objectively yours is pretty decent, so I felt like you needed to know that because you may find when job searching that not a lot of places give that level of PTO (it also depends on your industry, so maybe yours is more generous in that area). I apologize if the ‘reality check’ came across too harshly, but I hope you keep the salient points in mind.

    4. SoCalHR*

      Also, if your company did separate your buckets into Sick and Vacation time, then different rules apply to those (altho that varies by state). In CA, you wouldn’t get paid out for your sick time when you leave, just your vacation. But if its PTO, then you get paid out for all of it. So as much as it sucks to use your “vacation time” when you’re sick, you probably wouldn’t be happy if your company separated the two buckets and then you left the company with 4 sick days left and you didn’t get paid out for those (they also can disappear at the end of the year versus accumulating like vacation)

  43. Rusty Shackelford*

    My suggested variation on #2 would be “Oh, I definitely agree with you! It’s truly awful that I’m here at work with a cold. Unfortunately, I have no choice, since I don’t get sick leave. Oh well!”

  44. Manager Mary*

    You make minimum wage and have no benefits… could you do worse? I don’t mean to snark. That’s a serious question. I appreciate that you’re full time, but generally people seek out full-time employment because full-time comes with benefits!! Your current situation is not sustainable. At some point, you’re going to get actually sick and need real time off, a real vacation, actual insurance, retirement, etc. It’s definitely time to move on from this specific job, and if this is the only possible way to stay in your field, you should seriously consider switching fields. No job is worth living in poverty. You could go work at Chipotle and make more money, get benefits, and get free food!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      OP clarifies in the comments that they’re not full time (which actually makes the lack to PTO slightly more understandable, IMO).

    2. OP*

      I’m not sure what’s given everyone the idea that I’m full time, but I’m actually only part time? Or, technically, I’m a ‘contractor’ for the company (having never been given a choice either way).

      I am keen to move on though. It’s just a case of finding out where to.

      1. SoCalHR*

        I think the fact that you didn’t state specifically you are part time is what made everyone assume you were full time and thus caused the outrage about no PTO. You also said you were made an “employee”. But if you really are a part time contractor for the company, that makes the situation less egregious. Not saying you still should look for something that is better paying with benefits and more hours, but it comes across less as “the company is trying to screw me over”. In theory, if you are part time and are sick on Monday, could you just make up your hours on another day(s) that week and not have to miss out on the pay?

  45. Bikirl*

    I don’t know if it is mentioned in the comments, but OP may be legally entitled to paid sick leave in their area. According New York’s Department of Consumer Affairs, “If you work in NYC for more than 80 hours a year, you can earn up to 40 hours of sick leave each year to care for yourself or a family member.” If you are not guaranteed paid sick leave, I would make it a priority to obtain this from your employer.

    1. raktajino*

      The state of Oregon has a similar law, for companies as small as 10 employees. OP, definitely research sick leave policy in your state!

  46. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    So for simplicity’s sake, LW, I’ll assume you’re in the US. This may or may not apply if you live in another country.

    As a lot of people have noted, depending on your location you may be eligible for sick leave. In my state (New Jersey), a lot of the cities have similar sick leave laws, where all employees are eligible to accrue sick time based on how many hours they work (1 hour for every 30, capped at 40 total hours for larger employers). I work for a larger employer, but I think a lot of cities, including the one I work in, mandate that even small employers offer up to 24 hours. (And in many cases, the higher cap starts at 10 employees.)

    Obviously, different states and even cities in the US have different situations. But you might be protected anyway if you take sick time.

    But that’s not your real problem. I read one of your more recent comments and it sounds like you’re classified as a contractor when you should be an employee. (I’m wondering if you got a W2 or 1099 if you worked for them last year.) I’m not a lawyer, but I’d really consider getting in contact with your local labor board if that’s the case.

    Also your boss sucks. Or at the very least, she’s a hypochondriac who’s oblivious to the fact that not everyone can just take off when they have a sniffle. (And maybe you shouldn’t! I mean – again, I’m from a state that can get severe allergy seasons. Should I send half my team home because they have runny noses from pollen?)

  47. Nox*

    In a prior org I worked for we had the same set up with no PTO or sick time. But they took it a step further and sent you home if you were sick and didn’t permit your return without a doctor’s note and you had to be free from mucus and coughing to return. Thankfully i had a short time there.

  48. UK Nerd*

    I’ve been a contractor doing low level office jobs in the UK, and I was signed up with an umbrella company who deducted PAYE tax for me. And I definitely got more than minimum wage.

    Given how scummy this company sounds, I’d check your next payslip very carefully to make sure you’re being paid the new minimum wage. I wouldn’t put it past them to ‘accidentally’ forget that it went up in April.

  49. File Herder*

    Usual disclaimer of “not a lawyer, cannot comment on individual cases”.

    Adding to the UK chorus of “talk to ACAS”. Do it now – there are time limits on how far back you can claim at an Employment Tribunal for the annual leave you have not been paid. You need to talk to ACAS anyway before you can start a claim at the Tribunal.

    One of the things ACAS or Citizens’ Advice can give advice on is the concept of “worker”, which is a status between employee and self-employed regarding employment rights. From the ACAS website:

    Workers are entitled to some employment rights including:
    the National Minimum Wage
    holiday pay
    protection against unlawful discrimination
    the right not to be treated less favourably if they work part-time.

    There’s a lot of information on the ACAS site about things like statutory entitlements for annual leave, unfair dismissal, etc. Someone in this sort of situation in the UK would find it useful to read it. Managers trying to do the right thing should also look at it. ACAS are there to help both sides understand what they should be doing.

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