our sick leave practices are a mess

Every year around this time, my inbox at Ask a Manager fills up with complaints about coughing, sneezing colleagues who shouldn’t be at work and, by coming in, are putting everyone else at risk of getting sick, too.

Sometimes, of course, it’s due to a martyr complex – the feeling that work cannot possibly go on without them, or the idea that they’ll get points for dragging themselves into work while sick. But frequently, employers’ own policies are why sick people are at their desks instead of at home in bed.

Today at Slate, I wrote about the ridiculous condition of workplace sick leave. You can read it here.

{ 432 comments… read them below }

  1. MondayMonday*

    My company actually has a great sick leave policy (10 days, separate from your vacation days) and people still come into work sick. It drives me crazy. We’re not curing cancer here, so just stay home. The work will wait until you’re back.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I don’t know how big your company is, but in any sufficiently large company, there can be bosses who make using the benefits harder than it should be. My current employer has a one-bucket vacation/sick, but that time is *unlimited* at your manager’s discretion.

      Never been a problem for me, through two separate managers.

      I know another person who works here with a chronic disability whose manager manager expects them here all the time. They take off about 10 days total a year, almost never two consecutively, and any time they are off, they come back to find they need to play catch-up on that many days of work and their manager is unhappy when they ask too often.

      A bad manager can screw any policy up. Although our unlimited-time-at-discretion policy makes it much much more manager tied.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yes, this is how I’ve seen blanket work from home policies fail – manager decides they need butts in seats for reasons and there you go.

        1. TrainerGirl*

          Oh yes. My current position is in one of those groups where management NEEDS. YOU. THERE. ALL. THE. TIME. People come in sick, and one manager even was on conference calls while their spouse was having emergency surgery. I’m trying to get out. We do not do essential work, and there’s no reason that someone can’t take a day or two if they need to.

      2. Jaz*

        I had a manager at one point who told me that of course I was welcome to use all the sick time I needed, but she’d have to let me go if I needed a day that someone else took off, since that would mean I’m unreliable.

        She then approved a month vacation for two of my three coworkers, consecutively, followed shortly by my third coworker’s maternity leave. The three times I tried to call in (once with severe vertigo following a seizure, once with a concussion, and once with bronchitis) she reminded me that she could only keep me on if I was “reliable,” and that she would overlook my tardiness as long as I made it in no more than ten minutes late. With her, I effectively had no sick time.

        I loathed that woman.

      3. MondayMonday*

        You’re absolutely right that some managers make it difficult to use sick time. The folks I’m annoyed with all have my manager who is excellent about letting people use sick time and doesn’t hold a grudge.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          We have a generous sick leave policy (caveat: for non-chronically ill people) and still had someone come in obviously sick with a bad cold or possibly flu and the senior manager finally had to order her to go home after a few hours, which didn’t even cost her a sick day b/c of our policies. She had only taken maybe one sick day that year and had no important deadlines or critical meetings, just felt obligated to come in because Dedication, apparently.

          1. Jadelyn*

            To be fair, especially if she was younger, I know that a lot of us Millennials tend to have internalized the “lazy Millennials” stereotype and feel like we have to go above and beyond as obviously as possible to counteract that and prove that we’re One Of The Good Ones. And more generally, there’s overall a really toxic workplace culture in this country about what “reliability” means and how to “stand out” – to wit, the posts about managers who don’t like it when their staff leave at closing time because it “looks bad”. So I can understand why people may have internalized the “visible-butt-in-seat” prioritization and feel like they have to do it if they want to get ahead.

            I think the only thing employers can do is try to be really clear about expectations for taking sick time, directly address concerns about optics by assuring staff (and then demonstrating through actions) that they’re not going to be penalized or lose out on assignments or promotions or perks simply for staying home when they’re sick. Even then, it’ll take time to change the culture and/or get new hires acclimated to the culture once you’ve established it.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              A lot of Millennials have also internalized those “perfect attendance” awards that became popular when we were growing up. It taught some of us that there’s an intrinsic moral good in powering through and being there every day that you’re supposed to be, even if you’ve got a good reason not to.

          2. ISuckAtUserNames*

            I had a former boss once who basically sent his boss (a VP) home because she was coming in with Whooping Cough and had already infected one of her other direct reports. He basically read her the riot act, noting there were people in the office that were pregnant (I was one of them) and with kids and she’d ALREADY GOTTEN SOMEONE ELSE SICK and there’s zero reason she couldn’t work from home until she was no longer infectious, FFS. This guy has a son who had brain cancer as a toddler, so he was particularly unwilling to put up with that type of stupidity.

            (Former boss in the sense that he wasn’t my boss at that time, not that this incident got him fired. He was not shy about calling out higher ups on their behavior in the time I knew him, and he was kind of one of my work heroes.)

      4. Anonymouse*

        My manager and his superior doesn’t believe in flu vaccines and therefore colds and flues as legitimate sickness. Within my second month of work, I caught a nasty flu that almost killed me (I had regular asthma attacks and couldn’t breathe/speak for the better part of a week). But I was so afraid of them both and my reputation as a “good” worker that I didn’t take any sick leave. It is my greatest regret and now I do the opposite, much to their chagrin.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I’ve known a couple of people who have had kidney transplants.
          One worked at the town landfill. One worked in a school.
          The guy who worked with garbage all day was cleared to go back to work more quickly than the one who had a “cushy indoor desk job” — because she’d have to be breathing everyone else’s germs.

        2. cheluzal*

          I’ve had the flu once in my life. I couldn’t even get out of bed. I don’t see how anyone with the real flu can drive to work.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            My working theory is they don’t have the real flu.

            I hate getting the flu, it always knocks me down for at least a week and I feel awful the whole time and it usually turns into bronchitis at the end because of course it does. I always though I’d had the flu twice in my life, until a couple years ago when I got the real flu. It put me in bed for 2 weeks with a fever that didn’t break for 4 days and I was unconscious for most of it, just in and out of feverdreams. That was the first time I had the flu, so I get other people making the same mistake.

            (OT: Yes, I had a flu shot. I always get a flu shot because I hated getting “the flu” so much, and now that I’ve had the real flu, I get is as soon as it’s recommended for greatest efficacy.)

            1. Mongrel*

              “My working theory is they don’t have the real flu. ”

              A lot of the problem is that ‘flu’ is either used as some sort of catch-all for “a bit more serious than a cold” or as a “I wouldn’t call out for a cold” excuse.

              In reality most things would be classified as unspecified Upper Respiratory Tract infection that in most cases resolves after a week or two. You can treat the symptoms and probably work quite well, although I’d avoid items stuff that requires attention to detail all the time.

              Flu is a whole different beast and it’s unlikely that you’re able to get out of bed (literally) for any longer than it takes to crawl (again, literally) to the bathroom and back.

      5. Hannah*

        This so much. Just last week, my coworker came in sounding HORRIBLE. She could barely get out three words without spiraling into deep chest coughing.

        We have unlimited sick time. Our jobs can also be done remotely, and we are all issued company laptops. She had no reason to come in other than she thinks of herself as “strong” and can “power through.” Stay home!!

    2. Goya de la Mancha*

      Here too. I just sent my boss home on Friday, but she insisted on staying until after lunch…damage already done, thanks.

    3. Res Admin*

      Where I work offers 4 hours of sick leave biweekly (separate from vacation or holiday leave) which continues to accrue as long as you work there (last time I checked, I had over 1,500 hours accrued–and I do use sick leave). Most unit managers are very generous about encouraging people to take sick leave when needed and do not require excessive documentation (I’ve seen some units require a doctor’s note if it was over 10 consecutive work days).

      And, yet, just last month, woman came in with walking pneumonia and bronchitis. She was miserable. The rest of us were miserable. Manager sent her home. And everyone got sick for the holidays. She had plenty of sick leave available…just felt like she should be at work. In HR.

      And then we have the people who use their sick leave as additional vacation days as quickly as they are accrued–leaving them with no sick days for when they are really sick…

      I think a healthy dose of common sense all around would be a good (albeit unlikely) idea!

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I have the same generous sick leave policy. And if I’m truly sick I take off. And I work from home full time so I can’t infect others.

        But the problem could be that if she’s out no one does her work or runs her meetings and decisions don’t get made. I feel like that. When I feel sick I look at my calendar and try to calculate what meetings I can miss without impact.

        I miss having a (trusted) deputy. I don’t actually have any deputy, but a trusted one is critical to actually not worry about being out.

    4. Thursday*

      10 days might be a lot if you’re generally healthy, but it’s really not much if you have any kind of chronic illness.

      1. Labradoodle Daddy*

        Yeah, I’ve been there. 10 days isn’t enough when you have chronic health problems.

      2. All the Records*

        Or have kids. We’ve had a great stretch recently with our 3 year old but i am sure soon we will 2-3 winter illnesses, all which will require 1 or 2 days off work for either me or my husband.

        1. UnderwaterOphelia*

          It’s a double whammy if you’re both chronically ill and have kids. I constantly have to come in when I’m ill because my kid can’t go to daycare when she’s ill.

      3. MondayMonday*

        Absolutely! The folks I’m referring to just have a cold and spend the day sniffling, coughing, and spreading germs.

      4. your favorite person*

        I’m glad you said this. I do get about 10 days a year. I’ve worked here for 7 years and in that time I haven’t been able to accumulate any significant chuck of time. I live sick day to sick day because of my cystic fibrosis. I’m lucky that I’m salaried and that I have flexible co-workers and boss who generally don’t hold my chronic use of sick time against me.

      5. Airy*

        Or even if you get full-on influenza as opposed to the kind of heavy cold that people often describe as flu. That could easily eat the ten days right up leaving you with nothing to fall back on for the rest of the year.

      6. Callie*

        Or if you have to save up your sick time for maternity leave (as I had to do when I was a public school teacher).

      7. media monkey*

        agree that it is nothing if you have kids and either are a single parent or the only one who can take time off. when you have nursery age kids they are always ill, and even with a 10 year old, if she has D&V she has a mandatory 48 hour period when she cannot be at school. and then they pass whatever they had onto you!

        luckily i am in the UK with effectively no limit on sick days (there would be a limit if you really pushed it but for most people it’s not an issue in any company i have worked for) and separate paid holiday. you only need a doctor’s note for more than 5 consecutive days.

    5. Loux*

      My workplace has 15 sick days, separate from vacation days (also 15). It’s quite generous but also super annoying as someone with chronic illness problems (migraines/mental illness), because I am constantly using up my days once I get them. >:( It’s never enough!!

    6. JustMePatrick*

      Feel we have a pretty generous policy now where I work*. Currently we have combined PTO that we can use up to 48 hours for sick/late and get no points. Once out you have 5 points. Our previous policies were you could use sick time, but if you were in the top 10 percents of call offs you could be written up. The next policy is you could use sick time, but attendance was points based (10 points). The Current policy is more flexible as I can simply call up and say “I’m not coming in”. The one caveat is if I’m off I think is 3 day’s in a row, then I do need a doctors note.

      Personally I tend to only call off when it is something really nasty so I don’t pass it along, other wise I keep our shared workspace in my office wiped down with sanitizer.

      *The policy is not uniform since we are a large national company and thus some places in different states do have separate sick/PTO time due to state laws.

      1. KMB213*

        What is the purpose of the points? I feel like six days off a year for sick time is on the low side. I know there have been years when I’ve needed to use a lot more than that.

        1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

          2018 was my worst year ever: 21 sick days. Fortunately I took basically no sick leave in 2017 (because probation year), but it still makes me wince a bit to look back at it.

          1. UnderwaterOphelia*

            Same here, I took a total of 115 hours of sick leave last year, which is a little more than 14 days. But that’s not even including the “vacation time” that was used up as an alternative sick leave. Things happen in people’s lives that require them to be there rather than at work.

          2. TardyTardis*

            In 2015, I went to work with a severe ear infection because all my vacation/sick leave was used up with my husband’s lymphoma. Whee. But caregivers always get whacked like that.

    7. Dolorous Bread*

      Honestly, I have 10 days as well but one bad virus knocked out about half of them in November. And yet I stayed sick for 7 more weeks because I wasn’t able to rest enough. I can’t take a month off for a virus. So I worked sick. My sick days don’t replenish until July 1 so I need to reserve some in case I come down with something in the next half of the fiscal.

      1. Dolorous Bread*

        All that to say, we should be pushing for unlimited sick days. A previous job I had did that but required a note if you were out for 5 consecutive days. After a couple of weeks out you had to explore short term disability if you needed longer.

    8. mcr-red*

      My company has laid off people in my department to the bare minimum necessary to run the place on a daily basis. When someone is sick or has a vacation day, everything basically goes to hell. Because of coverage, there are literally certain days of the week that are “better” for me to be sick or be on vacation. If you try to call off on the “bad” days you are definitely encouraged to come in anyway.

      Meanwhile, my friend just told me she has to have a doctor’s note if she needs to take a sick day at her job – whether its 1 day or not! And I thought my old boss was bad for wanting a doctor’s note if you were sick for 3 consecutive days – which usually meant people would be off sick 2 days in a row, come back to work ill, then be off again.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Ditto. A lot of the places I’ve worked we had minimum coverage to be open, which meant if it was cold/flu season and you were sick, there was no one to cover. Most people were understanding and did their best to cover for each other, but Closing Was Unacceptable and Managers Were Punished For Being Understaffed, so it was not a good situation.

      2. Isotopes*

        I have unlimited sick days but I end up taking an average of 2 per year because no one else can do my job. When you have the absolute bare number of people you need to run things, it means that certain people, like me, have no backup.

        “What if you got hit by a bus?” Well, the whole department would be screwed. Quite frankly. I have planned absences, and they’re fine, because I book them at times when I know I’m fairly safe to be out of the office. That being said, I’ve come in at 9pm after getting off a flight and going straight from the airport to work for 6 hours (it was the only way to get the vacation time approved).

        But if it was unplanned at a crucial time? Unless I physically couldn’t make it into work, I’d be here. I’ve come in with illness so bad I spent as much time in the bathroom as at my desk. But when you have no one else to do the tasks and they’re time-sensitive (accounting-type things), what else can you do?

        It’s poor planning on the organization’s part, for sure. And if something really awful happened, they’d be left dealing with the fallout, so…they can pinch pennies to “maximize efficiency.” If the worst thing happened and I died and couldn’t make it into work, it really wouldn’t be my problem anymore, would it?

    9. Lena Clare*

      I worked over the festive period knowing I had this week off. People came in sick over the holiday, spread their germs and yep, here I am on my annual leave with a rotten sore throat, hacking cough, and unable to sleep. I am so grumpy about it. I can’t bear that they ruined my holiday :(

    10. Uncle Onc*

      “We’re not curing cancer here, so just stay home.” I chuckled a little because I work in a company that is, in fact, trying to cure cancer, and I can tell you, one employee’s sick day won’t make a difference in whether we are successful in curing cancer.

  2. limenotapple*

    For the people I have supervised at my current job, the number one reason they come in sick is because in their last job, calling in sick meant being chastised or not believed, or at the very least, earned supervisory side-eye. It took a while for them to realize that I wasn’t going to penalize them or give them any crap for not coming in.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah, at my current job we have good sick leave and a CEO who encourages staff to stay home if they are sick (and encourages senior staff to follow her lead and encourage our staff to go home if they show up visibly ill) but we have two cultural things we have to encourage new employees to get over: 1) if they’ve worked at another employer that is smaller and/or had more of a “if you aren’t here everything falls apart” culture or 2)if this is their first job out of college (as is the case for many of our entry level employees) they often are using a parents’ example of how to use sick leave or just aren’t sure what is “sick enough” to call out.

      I fell into group 1 when I got here — I used to get a lot of pushback from coworkers any time I was out more than one day (granted this was not my boss causing the issue just coworkers who hated covering for me) and it still makes me a little nervous every time I call out for a second (or third) day in a row, even though no one has ever said anything other than “feel better soon.”

      My direct report falls into the second group — I’ve had to discuss with her how/when to use sick time in general because very few people in her family have ever had jobs with as much sick leave as our employer offers, so they have instilled in her a “go to work unless you can’t walk” idea.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I had to break the habit of going to work sick – but I’d developed the habit because I’d worked retail and then temp work, and didn’t even get sick time in either of those situations. I still remember the time I came in to work as a temp when I was having back spasms so bad getting out of bed nearly made me vomit from the pain. My supervisor – at the company I was at, not the temp agency – saw I was moving slowly and asked if I was okay, then was horrified when I told her what was up and asked why I didn’t stay home. I said “Because I’m going to be in pain either way, so my choice is be in pain here, or be in pain at home and also lose a day’s pay because I don’t have sick leave to use.” So she faked my timesheet to show 8 hours worked that day so I wouldn’t have to lose any pay, and then told me to go home and rest.

        I had to completely relearn my calibration of “sick enough” to call in when I was hired as a regular employee and started getting sick leave. I used to think “Will it actually kill or endanger anyone if I go in?” and if not, I’d go to work. Now, I ask myself “Am I going to be reasonably productive?” and “Am I contagious?” A “no” to the first or a “yes” to the second, and I stay home. But I really did have to learn that it was okay to think that way, and I’m lucky that my employer is one where it’s okay to call in when I need to.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          I’ve never been that sick and gone to work, but there have definitely been times where I’ve thought, “okay, I feel like crap. If I stay home I’m going to lounge around and watch tv or sit in bed on the Internet on my laptop. Since my job basically involves sitting in a semi-comfortable chair and messing around on a computer, why not get paid for it?”

          Even when I’ve had sick time I haven’t had unlimited so unless I feel really bad, I’ll go in, because it’s not like my job is super physical. My productivity is down, but when you have bosses who value butts in seats over output, it doesn’t really matter.

      2. HS Teacher*

        Great post.

        Managers need to lead by example. If you work for someone who never takes time off, it can put added pressure on you not to take off, too. When I start a new job, I look at the culture. It’s a little different in education, where we have unions and people are more likely to use their time off, but when I was in corporate I definitely worked in offices in which people taking sick leave were gossiped about and complained about. That atmosphere discourages people from using their time, even when they’ve earned it.

    2. froodle*

      This. I used to work at a large callcentre for one of the big six energy supplier in the UK and the supervisors would put so much pressure on you if you tried to call in sick. At one point I called in with an ear infection, was told i had to go to a doctor (id had one day off the last rolling 12 months so there was no need for her to cop that attitude), did so, he conformed it was infected, called my supervisor back and she legit told me a doctor couldn’t “authorise” that, only a supervisor could.

      Sorry to any of you on here with a medical degree, you should have just been a team lead at British Gas instead. Apparently it gives you medical training and the ability to command ailments.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        So she insisted you go to a doctor, then turned around and discounted what they said? How ridiculous.

        I wonder if she was calling your bluff, thinking you wouldn’t actually see a doctor, and was then at a loss when you did. Either way, I hope you were able to take the day off.

        1. froodle*

          The impression I got was that she was personally offended by my daring to call in sick. Like, she was really, really mardy and accusatory with me on the phone.

          And yeah, I took that day off, and another three after that, and when I got back I kept my head down and got my ducks in a row and a couple of months later, I ghosted that shitty job altogether.

    3. TryingToReadHere*

      An employer I worked for had unlimited sick time, but we got in trouble for using it so everyone just came in sick. (One coworker inadvertently ate a food containing something he was allergic to, had to use an epi-pen and was then at the ER into the early morning hours. He was yelled at for not going into work that day.)

    4. Turquoisecow*

      My second part time job, as a cashier, I called out sick and the manager basically screamed at me on the phone about how unprofessional it was to call out and how if I did it more often I’d be fired. This was the first time I’d called out sick and he probably had no idea who I was, but gave me the riot act instead.

      My next part time job in the same role but at a different company, there was a policy that you needed to call out 4 hours before your shift. I woke up 2 hours before and felt horrible, vomiting. No way I could work. I was literally shaking with fear calling out. The boss just said “okay, feel better,” and that was it.

      1. Wired Wolf*

        Where I work, even though my department only directly handles packaged/shelf stable food we are constantly in some sort of contact with raw ingredients…so per city and state health codes if you have something considered contagious you are not supposed to work. More than a few restaurant-focused outbreaks in recent years got started because an employee came to work sick. Our sick leave policy states that you MUST call in (no texts/work app messages) 3 hours before your shift without repercussions (so for me, I’d have to be awake to call out at 4AM). There have been legitimate questions about this…say you wake up feeling fine but find out on the way to work that you’ve got a stomach virus? For any callouts closer than three hours they want a doctor’s note. My former manager (who everyone loved) was flexible with this–he would let us ‘schedule’ and use sick time if someone felt (or looked like) they needed a mental health day–and trusted his people to only call out if they really needed to. Our manager now doesn’t have a clue how to run our department and is trying to look like she does by cracking down on everything, sometimes to a ridiculous extent (I got a verbal warning for adhering to policy about no arguments on the floor…our AM was the one who both reported me AND tried to start the fight).

        I had to leave early and use 2 hours of sick time today for a dental emergency (temp crown fell out yesterday, used some dental adhesive but it came out again at work, called the dentist who wanted me to get in same-day) and got questioned about the details. My manager seemed miffed that I had made the appointment without consulting her…it’s very tough to get a walk-in at my dentist and they’re just down the street so when an opening came up in the afternoon I had to take it or wait a week (not doable).

    5. TardyTardis*

      I know, in my current job we are specifically told with LOUD CAPSLOCK to call in sick if we are–preparing taxes means talking to people a lot (and their charming little germ-bag deductions. Last year, one was sick all over one of the office chairs…). But I take a bunch of vitamin D3 and it’s worked for me so far (plus the monster Vitamin C I take each day, too).

  3. Anónimus*

    At my employers, it really IS a martyrdom thing coming down to us from the top. They really look down on you taking time off sick.

    Because of this you get a formal warning if you go over 12 days in a year… and even if you don’t reach that amount, our boss will have words with you about the “amount” of sick leave you take. In theory we have an unlimited amount of time off sick if we need it, in practice not so much.

    So what this means is that people who are ill and should be off come in because they’re scared to use the time off they *do* have.

    1. LeighBlack*

      I got written up once for taking 5 non-consecutive sick days in one year. And another time, I had tonsillitis and a 103 degree fever and they forced me to go in. So yeah, I just went to work sick, because that was the policy in reality. No matter what our actual benefits were.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        When I worked child care, we had 3 sick days and needed a doctor’s note to use them.

        I heard the supervisor screaming into the phone, “I don’t give a sh*t if you got Ebola. Get your @ss in here.”

        Guess who was SHOCKED, SHOCKED I TELL YOU when H1N1 blazed through the center?

        The US will lose half it’s population due to some mega plague because our time off for illness is so messed up.

        1. Cam*

          And you’re *especially* likely to get sick when you’re working with kids all day. What a stupid policy.

          1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

            Or with seniors. When I worked at a seniors’s residence the policy was to notify the health board for any gastro illness and the protocol was to restrict outside contact. Coming to work sick was highly frowned upon.

        2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          I worked at a private swim school where you were not allowed to call out sick, and with everyone being in the pool, all of the germs spread like wildfire. It was disgusting.

          I quit after 90 days because I’d been sick for 75 of them. Bronchitis, strep, respiratory virus, it was awful.

    2. Lucille2*

      I think the martyrdom things starts with bad policies and bad managers and employees start feeling this sense of guilt when taking sick leave. We’ve all developed these bad habits of coming in to work barely standing for some badge of honor or to avoid the appearance of slacking off. As a manager, I have to strongly encourage some employees to work from home when they’re sick, and they look at me like it’s a trick. I get that you’re feeling well enough to take calls and answer emails, but please don’t expose everyone else too.

      1. MerelyMe*

        When I was a kid, a fever, stomach flu, or a broken bone were the only reasons we got to stay home from school. I ended up believing that if you’re physically capable of getting out of bed, you go to work, so I’ve gone to work when I probably shouldn’t have. But nobody has ever threatened to send me home when I went to work with a cold, either (office jobs).

        1. HS Teacher*

          That’s a great point. I had perfect attendance until 10th grade, when I got chicken pox. That was the only time my parents didn’t force me to go to school. So these ideas about work ethic get instilled at a very young age.

          1. bonkerballs*

            And not just by parents. Every year from kindergarten through 12th grade, my schools gave out awards for perfect attendance. And then when I got to college, many of my classes had mandatory attendance and no matter how good your work was or how much you understood the material, if you missed more than a certain number of classes you failed the class. Attendance unless you’re literally dying is something that instilled in kids from the very beginning and it can be a very hard lesson to unlearn. I spent much of my early work history the same as MerelyMe – if I was able to get our of bed, there was no reason I couldn’t go into work.

            1. Thursday Next*

              For NYC public middle-school and high-school admissions, attendance is a weighted category. Applicants are dinged for having more than 2 sick days (it gets progressively more punitive after every second absence or so). It’s ridiculous.

              1. bonkerballs*

                It’s absolutely no wonder so many people enter the workforce with the idea that they *must* come to work. I think it’s far less a martyr complex situation and far more a value that has been instilled in people from their earliest experiences.

                1. pancakes*

                  I’m not seeing much of a difference between the two. It sounds like some people have martyr complexes instilled early!

                2. bonkerballs*

                  @pancakes – I see one as being fueled by external incentives (I want everyone to see how hard working I am, I want everyone to think I’m so selfless, I want recognition for going above and beyond) and the other by internal pressure (I don’t want to let anyone down, I don’t want to be unreliable, I don’t want to be lazy).

                3. pancakes*

                  @bonkerballs Both of those mindsets are intensely self-regarding, though. Neither questions making other people sick. They’re both focused on self-image and self-identity.

            2. media monkey*

              my kid’s school doesn’t do attendance awards, but i have a friend whose school does. her son has leukemia so clearly kids going to school sick is a major problem for them and his little sister refused the perfect attendance award she got (because she wasn’t ill). you have to give her a cheer!

              1. AdminX2*

                Super cheers! I forced myself to go so much when sick because I had been taught there was value in it and had some weird streak where every day I was out SOME big unexpected thing happened. Looking back it was such a ridiculous damaging system.

        2. Perse's Mom*

          My former supervisor once spent a few minutes ranting about people coming into work sick and how he’d like it if germs from coughing and sneezing were visible so he’d know who to send home.

          He did this in front of most of his team. One of us had acute bronchitis. I had walking pneumonia. When I asked if I could leave half an hour early to make it to Urgent Care before they closed, he said he would have to ding me for attendance (and he did).

        3. kitryan*

          My parents were fairly reasonable but did occasionally think I might be ‘faking it’ to get out of school. To be fair to them, I did occasionally exaggerate how I was feeling a smidge…
          However, I felt unwell one day when I was about 12 and got sent to school anyway, the cold turned into pneumonia and I was not doubted again.

    3. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      When there is real workplace cultural pressure to work while sick, with informal or formal consequences and negative perceptions, I don’t consider that martyrdom.

  4. DecorativeCacti*

    And if you DO make your employees get a doctor’s note, don’t wait until after 3:00pm on a Friday to tell them you require one.

    Thank goodness for telemedicine.

      1. DecorativeCacti*

        Mine is only $20, but they won’t reimburse that nor the 45 minutes drive (each way) to the closest urgent care. I’m not taking three hours for the doctor to say, “Rest and drink lots of fluids.”

        1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

          And mine is €50 but I get €30 reimbursed within a week, which is indeed net €20 but a huge pain if I’m having cashflow issues.

      2. MatKnifeNinja*

        I pay the whole freight for office visits. My GP is $100. The only good thing is his telemed doctor’s notes are $30.

        I’ve never gotten reimbursed for the notes or time off to get said notes.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          I wonder how fast I could get rich selling sick notes online for $20 each—obviously I’d make it clear it wasn’t for diagnostic or treatment, just for entertainment value to get asshole managers off of people’s backs.

          The letterhead from the office of Dr Notadoctor would probably be too obvious, but I’m still tempted.

  5. Murphy*

    I stay home when I’m too ill to work, but sometimes colds can last forever I’m not staying home until every last sniffle is gone.

    1. Roscoe*

      Exactly. Or, it could just be a minor cold that isn’t really that bad and you feel ok with some medicine

    2. Bunny Girl*

      I agree. About a month ago I got a really bad viral infection and stayed home for four days. Then I returned to work for a week and we went on our winter break. Coming back, I still have a lingering cough that can be pretty severe at times. But I can’t stay home for a month, I’m no longer contagious, and I feel totally fine. I get it’s annoying, and I do excuse myself if I have a longer coughing fit, but there’s not a lot I can do.

      1. Tin Cormorant*

        My husband’s in this same boat. He caught a cold a week before Christmas, took that whole week off sick. He had already asked for the 3 days after Christmas as PTO, so he didn’t go back to work until last Wednesday. He’s still coughing pretty bad, might have bronchitis. But how many weeks are you expected to stay home when all you can really do about it is wait and drink fluids? This is the busiest time of year for his department and they’re understaffed as it is.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          You can get antibiotics for bronchitis, really good ones! I’m only pointing this out because bronchitis can develop into pneumonia, so it’s good to treat it while it’s still bronchitis.

    3. K*

      I got the flu in February and my boss INSISTED that I stay away from the office as long as possible. I took 3 actual sick days and worked from home the last 2 days to make sure I wouldn’t infect anyone. Pretty good experience, all things considered.

    4. chickia*

      EXACTLY!!! I will stay home if I have a fever, severe coughing, or feel really awful. But a cold and stuffy nose? That crap will linger on for like 2 weeks from the onset of symptoms! I fact, I was sick between xmas & new years (and stayed home a couple of days but also dragged myself in for a day when no one else was going to be in the office at all otherwise), but I am only NOW really over the last of the sniffles. : (

    5. Kate*

      Yeah, I had a cold last week. The actual feeling lousy part happened over the holiday, and I came back with a lot of sneezing and sniffling. TBH, I didn’t know what to do–I don’t have a job where I can generally work from home, and I felt fine. I just stayed in my office a lot and washed my hands constantly…but I could definitely understand others wishing I had just stayed home.

    6. Wired Wolf*

      Where I work even if nobody on staff is sick you get parents dragging sick kids in who proceed to touch/cough on everything. At one point there was a Frankencold going around the store for nearly two months…people were probably getting reinfected because everyone who got it (or anything else) worked sick.

      My manager will be harping on everyone about “you need to be efficient at work”…well I can’t be efficient if I’m sneezing or running to the bathroom every five minutes can I? Not to mention how that looks to customers…

      1. media monkey*

        it would have been a different virus. you don’t catch the same cold twice (which is why you get ill less often as you get older vs when you are a kid – that and the fact that little kids practically lick each others faces)

        1. Wired Wolf*

          I regularly find fruit pits on the shelves (all our produce is in open bins, so you get people snacking on small fruit and leaving the remains)), so stuff could be transmitted that way depending on how long after “deposit” someone picks it up. I asked my manager for a supply of latex gloves for just this reason–we’re supposed to be cleaning the shelves as we work–and was met with “Only Housekeeping gets gloves, just pick trash up”.

    7. Aerin*

      Yup, I haven’t needed to take a sick day since this time last year (drops off today, actually), but I basically spend the entirety of winter feeling slightly snarly. As much as I’d like to stay home for three months or so…

  6. Sicko*

    I am actually at work today and I don’t feel well. I’m hiding in my office and interacting with no one. The reason I am here is because I have a budget request meeting with Finance this afternoon. I was given a newly created department (of just me) more than a year ago and I have not had a budget during all of this time. No money to print things or mail things. No money. None. It has been IMPOSSIBLE to get anything done and I finally finally have this meeting. Even if I died I would show up at work for this meeting and haunt those mofos until they give me a GD operating budget.

    I’m leaving immediately after the meeting.

    1. Tysons in NE*

      I once dragged my less than healthy rear into the office because payroll had to be run and the person who was supposed to learn it to back me up couldn’t have been bothered to.
      So soon as payroll was submitted I went home, left my work cell in the office and stayed home for a few days recovering.
      That company did have a generous sick time policy.

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        Payroll stops for no one. I just had both of my team members leave in my already-stretched-thin team, so I’m training two new people, doing my job, and entering everything for each payroll while training. Building a sailing ship.

      2. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

        I have endometriosis and for about six months in a row, the universe decided I should get my period on pay run day. So I had my laptop at home balanced on top of the toilet cistern while I processed payroll between rounds of vomiting. They did keep training backups, who then kept resigning (not because of payroll backup, just a job with a high turnover generally).

        1. Ego Chamber*

          All my sympathy. I do not have endometriosis but I get the Death Cramps so bad sometimes it feels like my uterus is trying to collapse in on itself like a dying star. I can’t even imagine how bad that would be with the full force of an actual medical condition behind it.

    2. Linda Evangelista*

      This is their karma for never giving you a budget – they have to give you a budget and possibly take a cold too. :) In all seriousness, I hope you feel better soon!

    3. Jadelyn*

      I just love the visual of haunting Finance. Chains rattling, “Oooooooo…Giiiiiive me a buuuudget”.

    4. Decima Dewey*

      Treat your department (that is, you) to a team building exercise. Involving hot and sour soup and buying a comfy throw to wrap yourself in.

  7. CatCat*

    I would also suggest allowing employees to advance sick leave. Be sure to tell them about it if you offer that!

    I once started a new job and, of course, did not have any sick leave banked just starting out. The overall offerings were good, but you accrued them on a month-to-month basis. I got sooooo ill when a horrid hacking, wheezing cough that left me exhausted on top of my 45-60 minute (each way) public transit commute in the dead of any icy winter. It took me nearly a month to shake it. It turned out, they allowed sick leave to be advanced, but NO ONE ever told me.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah, my employer advances you six months of vacation/sick leave when you start, then you don’t start earning it regularly until you’ve been there six months. It takes care of these sorts of issues, and frankly if you can’t trust new employees with this sort of benefit, you have much more pressing issues to deal with.

    2. jb*


      1) Tell people your policies
      2) Stick to your policies
      3) Have good policies

      Even bad policies clearly communicated and consistently enforced are better than good ones played all loosey-goosey.

    3. miss_chevious*

      At my place of employment you get all of your vacation time and sick leave (two separate buckets) at the beginning of the fiscal year, and they work out payouts/deductions if employees are terminated or quit during the year. It’s great, because it means that you don’t have to work sick or wait to take vacation until when you have time earned. One of our HR people told me that part of the reason why the company does it is because they didn’t want half the company off the last quarter of the year, trying to use up all their vacation time. And our sick leave rolls over (vacation time does not) year-to-year.

    4. Teapot librarian*

      I had a new employee who I could have advanced vacation time to, but wasn’t allowed to advance sick time to. Where’s the logic in that?

    5. DCGirl*

      Back in my non-profit days, I got the worst case of bronchitis I’ve ever had (I had undiagnosed adult-onset asthma at the time) shortly after starting a job at an organization that did not allow you to take sick leave during your first three months. I kept pushing through it and got static from management-level employees for coming into work sick. I finally collapsed and called in sick one day when I literally couldn’t get out of bed, and the unionized clerical staff filed a grievance because I’d been allowed to take a sick day in my first three months. You couldn’t win.

      1. DCGirl*

        This was also the organization where my boss truly believed that negative attitudes caused illness and if I just happy’ed up I wouldn’t get sick so often (again, no one knew I had asthma). I saw her obituary; she died of cancer. I guess her attitude wasn’t positive enough either.

    6. Teal*

      I have a part-time weekend job with PTO all lumped into one basket. Because it accrues hourly, getting sick in November for ONE weekend meant no PTO for all of December.

      PTO is a horrible system for low-wage part time jobs, because I wasn’t going to miss a pre-paid trip or school events when PTO is gone. So I had to let my manager know if I can’t get time off I’ll have to quit.

  8. Loopy*

    I used to have a boss who would make comments doubting anyone was really sick when they took off. He’d claim he was just kidding but you knew he’d be saying that kind of stuff if you called out.

    Now we have a lump PTO bucket and it’s awful because neither are great. Ten days vacation, five days sick per year! I haven’t been sick yet but I’m hoping I’ll be able to telework through it to not waste my precious time without getting others sick. I really really miss having separate sick time tremendously. And no one takes sick days when they know those could be fun vacation days. So many coworkers unapologetically come in sick.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      I hate not having separate sick time. We get 10 days of PTO. If I’m sick, I have to use PTO. If I have a dental appointment, I have to use PTO. When the office closes for Christmas Eve/Christmas/New Year’s Day, I have to use PTO if I want to get paid; otherwise, I just don’t get paid for those holidays. Really sucked last year when I used five days for major dental surgery and then had a heart attack and three separate hospitalizations in July and August. I was working from my ER gurney and my hospital bed just so I didn’t lose any income.

      1. Mary Winchester*

        My last job we accrued PTO about 7 hours a paycheck and 3 sick days a year. We could not use any sick days until all PTO was exhausted. So if anyone had a vacation coming up and they got sick, they came in sick. Sucked for the rest of us, but it was understandable and we accommodated them with space to be sick because we all hated the policy. And sick days had to be used in 3 day blocks, but if you are out for 3 consecutive days, you needed a doctor’s note.
        Also, we had to use PTO to take holidays off even if the office was closed. Accruing PTO was difficult enough without having to use it for sick time. And we could only take time off days at a time. So I couldn’t take an afternoon off for a doctor’s appointment, had to take a whole day. But if we were late, we were docked PTO time in 15 minute increments. One of the big reasons I left.

        1. MsChanandlerBong*

          I want to leave, but I feel stuck because even though I have very little paid time off and terrible (no) benefits, I do have a little flexibility. I telecommute, so as long as I have an Internet connection, I can work anywhere–doctors’ waiting rooms, ER gurneys, etc. Sometimes, I can even schedule my appointments late in the day so I only have to leave an hour early–then I can just make up the hour by staying an hour late the next day or coming in an hour early or skipping my 30-minute lunch for two days, or whatever. I also have a track record of getting a new job, doing well for about six months, and then ending up in the hospital, having surgery, too ill to do anything, etc. I’m afraid to make any kind of move for fear that this would happen again and we’d lose my income, which we can’t afford to do. Even if we paid off our student loans and all other debt, we couldn’t live solely on my husband’s net income (our dental and medical insurance comes out of his pay, so his net pay is lower than mine).

    2. kitryan*

      I’ve been lucky to not have crappy bosses who doubt you’re really sick – but if any were tempted, one of the side ‘benefits’ of having my crappy respiratory system is that I sound like death warmed over/a 50 pack a day smoker for up to a week after getting a cold or cough. It tears up my throat when I’m sick and the results linger after I’m well.
      I also prefer the separate buckets. We have fairly generous PTO- 20 days, increasing to 25 after 3 full calendar years and I manage fine on that but my coworker allocates all his time to specific family activities and vacations and doesn’t leave much if any for sick time, so he comes in while sick because he ‘doesn’t have the days’. He came in coughing fit to die last month and I was sick within 48 hours and had to take 2 days off and 1 extra WFH day. I have no way of knowing if it was him or someone else who passed it along to me but it’s hard not to feel irritated.

    3. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Loopy, bosses who make joking comments about employee’s paid time off are just plain bad managers. Because of course they are telling you what they really think, then trying to make light of it and pass it off as a joke.

    1. Me*

      “I can’t talk today.” Shout-whispered into phone. “But you could work on a register, right?”

      Quite a few customers kept doing the what what??? stuff and then standing on my feet and trying to talk made me nauseous. Then doing anything made me feel worse so I went home. It was easier to bail midway through a shift than call in because I had to do that in person to my supervisor not my manager.

    2. mcr-red*

      Yep, my old boss was famous for that! Except, for some reason, with the stoner who was ALWAYS off sick every Monday without fail. Maybe stoner shared with boss?

    3. Perse's Mom*

      At Old Job, where we had so much PTO we could convert one to the other and even cash it out periodically but the various pressures were such that we rarely used it, one of my coworkers actually got in trouble because when she called in, she said she could manage to come in for a half day or something if we were short staffed and needed help. This was taken as her *clearly* having been well enough to come in anyway then and not as a blaring horn announcing how dysfunctional the workplace was.

  9. Lily Rowan*

    Bad bosses make the rest of us look bad! I just had someone call in sick on her first day back from vacation, and she offered to work from home. She can just take a sick day! It is fine! Which is what I said.

    1. Linda Evangelista*

      This happened to me once, I was told to hurry in the next day because of this that or the other (nothing life or death or even that pressing, really.)

  10. gmg22*

    American culture in particular has a real problem with the belief that anything less than an illness requiring hospitalization is just something to be “toughed out.” I used to work for a consulting firm that had the kind of inflexible “butts in seats” culture discussed on a recent post here. When the H1N1 flu outbreak started, our HR folks pressed a bit for some situational flexibility so people could work from home if they felt like they were coming down with something. Unfortunately, this was left to managers’ discretion to grant, and one of our managers decided he thought the whole thing was nonsense. So for the rest of that winter, any of his reports who asked to work from home due to flulike symptoms were straight-up denied (and note there were no operational or security constraints involved at our office– if you had a laptop and an Internet connection, you could do the work we did from anywhere). Nobody got H1N1 or spread it around the office, but that was no thanks to him. And that kind of inflexibility is exactly what makes people (especially people with no or limited sick time … we got three days a year and had to use vacation for anything beyond that) decide that they better come to work despite having a cold — and spread THAT around the office instead.

    1. Kristine*

      Sometimes even hospitalization isn’t enough. I was in the hospital for a day last week (everything turned out to be fine) and when I emailed my boss and team I got an email back from my boss that said, “Hope everything is ok. Will you still be on email?” Since that sort of question isn’t REALLY a question I ended up working from my hospital bed.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        Unless you are in an active dying situation, hospitalization doesn’t slow bosses down.

        I was in the hospital for 7 days for a rule out stroke/pulmonary embolism. My boss “helpfully” brought in my lap top, because if I could watch TV, I could work.

        No sick time. No health insurance. Told him to GTFO my room.

        Some American bosses think any illness is just an excuse to blow off work.

        1. Sled dog mama*

          This totally terrifies me because my work can be done with a laptop and internet connection and I work in my local hospital. I could see my boss, sorry you’re in here could you do XYZ today.

        2. Kristine*

          I’m sure there’s a boss somewhere that wouldn’t even be slowed down in an active dying situation.

          “I know you’re bleeding severely from a head wound buuuuut could you take this client call? It’s really important.”

    2. Another worker bee*

      Ugh, the H1N1 reminder is still too soon. I was a recent college graduate and two days before I started my first ever salary job (as a high school teacher) I came down with the swine flu and it was scary how sick I got. I tried to fight it off (no health insurance until 2 weeks after my job started), but ended up in the ER at the end of day 1 getting fluids and was advised by a senior teacher that I should keep that from the principal because “there were 10 people behind you waiting for your job if you mess up”. Half of my classes ended up being out with it a week later and I’m just thankful no one was seriously hurt.

  11. Agent J*

    Just here to say that it’s fascinating/mind-boggling to me that as humans, we’re all going to be sick at one point or another, and yet we create policies and/or workplace cultures that punish people for taking time to take care of themselves when they are sick. People are going to people, I guess.

    1. Asenath*

      Such policies are often in response to people abusing sick leave when they’ve had it. I’ve worked places where sick leave was seen as a leave entitlement – that is, you were morally entitled to that time off even if you weren’t sick, so it wasn’t really lying to call in sick when you weren’t. Some people used every bit of sick leave they had – a remarkable amount of it on Mondays or Fridays. But some people, often in the same workplace, were so overly conscientious that they wouldn’t take sick leave because they didn’t think they were “sick enough”! Humans are often our own worst enemies.

      Sometimes “sick enough” can get a bit difficult – like many people, I often get hacking coughs that linger on long after I am probably no longer contagious, and might well be contagious at the stage when I’m just wondering if I might be coming down with something, but don’t really feel sick. But some of the problem is caused by people who lie about whether they are sick or not.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I think a lot of times it isn’t so much a response to actual “sick leave abuse” so much as the perception that it might be a thing people could potentially do. Since it’s really not an employer’s place to be deciding if someone is “really” sick or if they’re sick “enough,” then the determination of abuse seems pretty foggy and subjective.

        1. Liane*

          This. I know he’s turned into a disgusting A–H–, but Scott Adams wasn’t wrong when he drew the Dilbert cartoon about “40% of sick days are Mondays & Fridays” = “major sick leave abuse”

      2. pancakes*

        People using all of their sick time whether they’re truly sick or not don’t in fact oblige coworkers who fancy themselves morally superior to come to work sick, though. That’s on them.

    2. whistle*

      “we’re all going to be sick at one point or another”

      Well, yes and no. For a small minority of people, they really never do get sick, at least not before the major illnesses come with old age. When these types of people are on the policy-making side (which they tend to be because showing up is half the battle), they may genuinely not have the life experience that teaches them that we’ll all be sick at one point.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      Bad managers who make such policies (or refuse to follow good ones) tend not to think of people “beneath them” as people at all.

  12. ElspethGC*

    I’m about a year away from entering the working world full-time, but I have to ask (UK-specific, preferably) what really is the limit?

    Like, when I have a cold, it usually lasts for three weeks or so before I can get through the day without needing to wipe my nose. Ditto for coughs. Three people in my family currently have a cough that’s lasted for two weeks and is just now beginning to let up. There’s no way I’m taking three weeks off work just because I have a stuffy nose, that’s ridiculous. What do people actually expect you to do?

    I honestly don’t know anyone who takes time off for a cold unless it involves clogged sinuses that make it hard to concentrate – and we have very good sick leave policies in the UK, so it’s nothing to do with that.

    1. Yabba*

      I think it’s normal and makes sense for people to come in if all they have is a little sniffling and the occasional cough. It’s unrealistic for people to stay home for 3 weeks with a minor cold. Unfortunately, I have asthma so a cold can mean exhaustion and trouble breathing and I have to stay home for some of that. I judge by how tired I am and how someone might reasonably react to me hacking and sneezing in an elevator with them.

    2. Asenath*

      I don’t know about the UK, but if I get a bad cold, I might take 2-3 days off. Then there are the days when I suspect I might be coming down with something, but I work. And colds are suppose to be contagious for about 5 days – a couple of days and a weekend probably covers a lot, if not the long days and weeks that the hacking cough can linger.

    3. Blank*

      In my (UK) experience, with a bad cold it’s acceptable to take the roughest first few days off. As you say, colds linger, but if a day in bed will do you good it’s fine to call that one in.

    4. ElspethGC*

      Ta, folks! The answers are reassuring.

      I always get concerned with the wording of people-are-sick-and-still-in-work complaints – they usually talk about how annoying the sniffles and coughs are, and I just sat here wondering how on earth you’re supposed to exist if you can’t go into work while you’re still sniffly. That’s a stage that lasts for weeks! (All of winter, for me. Not a cold, but my nose runs every time I go outside.) Good to know it’s not just me that thinks that way. I’d hate to be the subject of an AAM complaint in a couple of years.

      1. pleaset*

        Same for me. I have lights symptoms like sniffles and a a scratchy throat that for weeks at a time once or twice a year.

      2. Dr Wizard, PhD*

        So, no lie, I only realised this year that ‘a cold’ for most people means ‘I’m sniffling a bit but otherwise fine’. I’m an asthmatic: when I have a proper cold I feel like utter crap all the time, my sinuses are in bits, and I will either be in bed, or zoning out in front of a screen while wrapped up. Working with a bad cold is impossible for me.

    5. Green great dragon*

      Yep, take the day or two you’ll want to be in bed or on the sofa, and when you’re feeling human come back to work and try not to sneeze on people.

      It’s a bit different if you can work from home easily. You can still take time off, but maybe fewer days fully off, then the next few days working from home and maybe only for a few hours (eg clear the urgent emails in the morning and spend the afternoon napping).

      [UK civil service and large company.]

    6. Doodle*

      If I’m contagious or likely to be, I stay home.
      If I am unable to work at about 75% capacity, I stay home.
      If I have serious symptoms (high fever, chills, vomiting, vertigo, extreme exhaustion, that sort of thing), I stay home.

      If possible, I’ll do low-effort work at home while I’m out sick, say checking and responding to email, catching up on notes — this is ONLY to make my life easier upon return to the office.

      If I’m getting over a cold, say, and I sound like hell but I can work well and I’m not contagious or suffering any serious symptoms, I come to work. Day Quil is my friend… And hot tea.

    7. hbc*

      Maybe a good metric is whether you’d be doing all of your other normal activities–errands, hobbies, cleaning, etc.. It would feel ridiculous for me to avoid work due to the sniffles but use the time to deep clean my bathroom and go to the gym.

      The only other thing to balance is contagion. Even if your body handles the flu like a champ, best to give it a couple of days to get past the shedding phase.

      1. media monkey*

        and absolutely this – if you are well enough to go shopping (more than popping out for paracetamol/ tissues), the gym or do any fun things, you should be at work! and seriously, don’t post on social media if you aren’t at work.

    8. media monkey*

      i have a salaried type job in the UK advertising industry (so i would doubt my experience is going to be relevant to retail/ healthcare/ blue collar work, just a caveat). With that said, i have never known a reasonable level of sick leave to be an issue anywhere i have worked. by reasonable i would say 12-15 days a year. it will be more of an issue (and will get flagged by a lot of attendance systems) if you take all single days or a lot of mondays or fridays. i will never question my team if they say they are sick, but i wouldn’t really expect them to call in with “just a cold” or a cough. i have had a cough for 4 or 5 weeks before. of course i am going to work.

      if someone takes time off sick, i take it to mean that they couldn’t concentrate or are feeling too ill to make it in (D&V for example). if someone has a known issue, for example i had a colleague with mental health issues around stress who took quite a lot of days off, and it did cause problems, but we worked around it.

    9. AdminX2*

      My criteria has become (in a white collar office position where I have a decent amount of true sick time and am not penalized for taking it)- Am I contagious? If so, then no way am I coming in. Am I able to commute safely? Am I able to sit around and not make things worse by awful mistakes?

      I’ve taken job interviews where I plugged myself full of meds, got the performance boost, then immediately collapsed in bed for 3 days. I’ve left in the afternoon due to migraines because I was going to start crying and throwing up at my desk and just couldn’t work through any pain any more. But if there’s a fever, forget it.

      I’ve been at work sick because not to be there meant not paying a bill, but I wasn’t contagious or unable to drive. But I also went back to work earlier than I should have after getting my appendix removed because the boss was every cliche of overbearing and new hires didn’t get ANY paid time off their first year. We’re all doing the best we can.

  13. Sleepytime Tea*

    I was working full time while in school full time, but I had no vacation or sick time and wasn’t paid for holidays. I was horribly ill in December but in addition to taking time off meaning I wouldn’t be paid I also had multiple days that month that the office would be closed for the holidays where I wouldn’t be paid, so I came into the office.

    I was literally bundled in a blanket at my desk. I also was taking a medication that reacted with cold medicine (which I didn’t know at the time) and so taking dayquil or anything made me feel… loopy. I FELL ASLEEP AT MY DESK, one hand on the mouse, the other on the keyboard. Fell asleep literally while trying to work. I think I was asleep for about an hour. I woke up and had drooled on myself. My boss had gone to lunch and so I waited until he got back and then told him I needed to go home. When I said “I think I fell asleep at my desk” he said “yeah, I saw.” Apparently multiple people saw me and knew how sick I was and decided to let me rest! Why they didn’t just wake me up and tell me to go home I have no idea… One coworker said I just looked so peaceful. God that was embarrassing.

    1. WellRed*

      oOrry, but I am laughing at this picture of you, peacefully passed out, hands in work position.

      1. Sleepytime Tea*

        It was objectively pretty hilarious. I think that was the day that I learned that sometimes it’s just not worth it. Luckily it was the outset of my career and I was starting to make more money and since then haven’t had to worry about calling in sick too much. But damn, it is just horrible to be in that position. That was one of the worst cases of the flu I’ve ever had.

      2. Sleepytime Tea*

        What’s also sad though is that they took my coming in sick while so ill as commitment to my job. Just shows how messed up work expectations.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      “You just looked so peaceful” – that’s what people say about the dead person at a funeral!

    3. Teal*

      Reminds me of working in Japan. Falling asleep at work due to exhaustion is seen as admirable because it’s an effect of working too hard.

  14. asdfasdf*

    That’s exactly what I do when confronted as to why I need to take a sick day. I go straight to diarrhea and ask: “Do you want the gory details? How many times, how liquid it was?” That stops the meddling boss on his tracks.

    As for taking days sick with the flu or a cold I took a different approach, I take the vaccine every year and just don’t get sick. Sometimes I can get it for free, sometimes I pay for it, it’s still cheaper than over the counter meds for the flu.

    1. KHB*

      That’s great that that’s worked for you, but I got a flu shot last year and still got the flu. And I’m not aware of any vaccines that prevent against the common cold.

      1. Justme, the OG*

        My kid got the flu twice last year after getting the flu shot. So I was off work for two weeks with a sick kid. We still get the flu shot and other vaccines, but I hate the idea of “I just don’t get sick!”

      2. New Job So Much Better*

        Try increasing your vitamin D-3 levels, seems to work as an anti-virus. Read Dr. Mercola’s articles on it. It works!

        1. Mike C.*

          Dr. Mercola is a quack doctor who’s advice is not supported by scientific evidence.

          Also vitamins C or D do not help with the common cold.

          1. Linda Evangelista*

            Thank you. No room here for pseudo science. Take vitamins if your doctor determines your levels aren’t up to snuff, but they. are. not. curative. medicine.

          2. Ego Chamber*

            Thanks, Mike, <3 you.

            (I'm personally all about shotgunning vit-C and zinc when I'm getting sick but I know damn well it's a placebo at best and I don't recommend it to anyone else.)

            1. AdminX2*

              IMO those aren’t placebo, they just help manage the body and diminish symptoms. But then so does EVERY other option out there when it comes to colds. I take a lot of vitamins and supplements, but they aren’t medicine and won’t kill virus!

      3. Seifer*

        I never get sick with the flu shot, just a little sore, but my roommate would get sick without fail. Turns out, he’s allergic to eggs, and the vaccine is commonly made with egg whites. I hope this doesn’t come across as diagnosing, but I just remembered the relief he felt when he found out why he always got sick when he got the flu shot and figure it might be a more common issue than we think.

        1. J.*

          I interpreted that comment to be more along the lines of, “I still managed to catch the flu despite having gotten the vaccine,” which is a thing that sometimes happens (the efficacy varies from year to year depending on how well they’ve predicted the strain), not that the flu shot actually caused the flu (which is not a thing).

        2. Burned Out Supervisor*

          A lot of the newer flu vaccines are no longer incubated in egg products, just as an FYI (fellow egg allergy person here and got my first ever flu shot this year). If your roommate really wants one, they should check around.

    2. Asenath*

      Well, the flu shot won’t guarantee you won’t get the flu; it just makes it less likely you will – and possibly reduces the severity if you do get it. Nevertheless, I get the shot every year. It doesn’t protect at all against the common cold – and I’ve very often gotten severe colds that dragged on for weeks. Less so, now that I’m no longer in a position that involves meeting with large numbers of people when I swear I picked up every cold virus that was being passed around, but still, the common cold can easily be bad enough to require at least some time off. In the bad days, I’d be sick at least a week or two on on least two separate occasions every winter, although I didn’t take all that time as sick leave.

    3. Bunny Girl*

      I almost never get sick, but when I do it is literally never the flu. Strange Virus Number 6 but never the flu. I don’t really bother with the shot for that reason.

      1. Mike C.*

        You should “bother” with the vaccination so you aren’t spreading the illness to other compromised individuals.

        1. LQ*

          I get the vaccine because some of the people I love are compromised, and some of the people I love, love people who are compromised, and some of the people I love, love people who love people who are compromised. I don’t bother with Kevin Bacon because he’s at least 6 degrees away from me, but the first 3 degrees of people I care about.

          1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

            We get free flu shots and though it’s not mandatory in my work place we are strongly encouraged to get one.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Yes please… two people in my immediate family are on immunosuppressants. Two babies are on the way who will be too little for any vaccinations when next flu season rolls around.
          And I heard an earful about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 from my grandfather & great-aunts who enlisted in USAA Ambulance Corps for WWI.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            My great-grandfather died in the 1918 pandemic and my aunt almost died of polio in the 50s, so our family takes vaccinations VERY seriously.

        3. Bunny Girl*

          I probably should have explained more, but I actually have a reaction to it that’s worse than getting the flu. So sorry, I just can’t make myself sick since the flu doesn’t ever effect me.

            1. Bunny Girl*

              I honestly didn’t expect the response so I didn’t feel the need to over-explain anything honestly. LoL

              1. kitryan*

                Speaking for myself, with the reduction in vaccinations and loss of herd immunity generally, it’s hard not to push back on this sort of thing. Knowing that the flu vaccine itself negatively affects your health puts it in a different category though. Then you’re relying on others to vaccinate just as other people who can’t be vaccinated for their own health reasons are.

                1. SebbyGrrl*

                  I too react to flu vaccinations.

                  I am CONSTANTLY told by anyone and everyone (if I share that I don’t get them) that that is not true, not what is happening, medically false, etc.

                  I have a mild egg allergy so tried the non egg based last year after 7+ years of avoiding flu shot.

                  Got the same reaction – feels a lot like the flu, severe body aches 5+ days, fever 100 4+ days, delirium/foggy/unable to complete sentences/thoughts/making tea, D&V…

                  I don’t care what you call it, I don’t care what it is, I don’t care what it isn’t…when I don’t get flu vaccine I don’t get this.

                  Have had very mild flu twice in last 10 years, one very bad – out almost 3 weeks 25+ years ago.

                  Since no medical practitioner believes me, no one has/seems willing to try to figure out what is is.

                  I would love to contribute to herd immunity, but must chose not to.

                  Instead, I lie and say I got it free at grocery store, oops lost the confirmation.

                  With a view toward the larger topic here, it would be nice just to believe/trust people…instead of EVERYONE -bosses, supervisors, co-workers trying to be armchair diagnosticians, not their JOB!

        4. Aerin*

          I never used to bother with it, because a couple of times I got it and felt crappy afterward and I rarely got sick myself. But my husband is immune-suppressed, so I get the shot anyway. Even if I do have another bad reaction to it, it’s gonna be less bad than getting him sick.

      2. Asenath*

        Considering how sick I can get with the common cold, I want to minimize my risk of getting the flu! I swear that those respiratory viruses make me sicker longer than they do anyone else! People look at me as though I’m transmitting the Black Death when I know from experience that I’m finally recovering even if I’m still having coughing fits. I’m not asthmatic or anything, it appears to be just one of those ways in which people vary in their response to infection. I appear to be a bit more susceptible to cold viruses than most people are. I used to blame it on having pneumonia when I was 12, but that was a long time ago now, so surely I’ve long since recovered from that.

    4. Burned Out Supervisor*

      I really don’t get sick that often either. I went 5 years without even getting a cold (even though I was a smoker at the time). I have never gotten the flu despite not getting a flu shot. HOWEVER, I think the reason I don’t is because I don’t have small children, nor do I interact with them much, and I lived alone until I got married 5 years ago. Every single person I know that has small children gets some kind of mutant illness every year. The only reason I got bronchitis last year is because I took a second job in retail. Cash money is filthy and people don’t realize how much merchandise their children touch with their hands (that were recently in their mouths).

      1. On a pale mouse*

        I have gotten sick more often since I’ve worked in retail but I am pretty sure I’m getting it from co-workers more than kids or cash (and some days I do the bookkeeping so I handle a lot). Usually when I get sick it’s something I’ve already seen going around.

        1. Autumnheart*

          It can also come from customers. Even if they’re not handing you cash or using your pen, they’re still handling the merchandise and breathing microbes into the air.

          1. Perse's Mom*

            And people don’t cover their mouths very well when they’ve got two bags in one hand and their other hand buried in a purse. Makes it difficult to even get an arm up high enough to cough into the recommended elbow, so they just turn and cough/sneeze into the open air.

  15. GRA*

    I hate having one bucket of PTO! We have a decent amount of PTO, but it has to be used for vacations, sick leave, and the six official holidays we “get” off. It makes planning for an actual vacation difficult because one bought of the flu or a bad cold, and those vacations plans probably won’t be happening.

  16. Roscoe*

    Sick leave is always tough because of many of the reasons listed. Even with good sick time, just because you are sneezing or coughing, doesn’t mean you are dying and can’t do your work. So while I get that it can be annoying to have to hear that from the person in the cube next to you, I try to let people be their own judge. Also, even if you get decent sick time, say 5 a year. You may not want to waste a day on a cold, when you may get the flu later. Another thing is, lets say its a Thursday and you aren’t feeling great. You may power through until Friday so you get a long weekend.

    For me, I have to be really sick to take a day, and I know my body and what I can work through

  17. MrSniffles*

    This is very timely for me as I’m off sick today! I started coming down with a cold/flu around Thursday lunchtime, went home early, and called in sick on Friday morning because I was feeling even worse. I was probably at a level this morning where I maybe could have powered through a day at work, or just the commute could have worn me out and I would have been useless all day. Plus nobody would have appreciated me coming in just to cough all over them every ten minutes

  18. Works Sick Unless Immobile*

    If you don’t want people coming to work sick, don’t financially penalize them for staying home. When it’s a choice between paying the rent or staying home when they’re ill, most people will come to work, contagious or not.

    PREACH. If you’re earning an hourly wage, it’s a real financial hit, especially if your hours are not regular or under your control.

    Example: I’m an hourly worker, and I have health insurance only because of my union: my employer pays a percentage-based surcharge on top of my wages to buy into a group health insurance plan. That goes towards the cost of quarterly premiums, and of course varies tremendously depending on how many shifts I get scheduled for. If it’s not enough to pay the premium, I am responsible for the rest out of my wages. I lose a day’s work, I lose a day’s wages, and I’m responsible for making up the loss in health insurance contributions out of my next take-home pay.

    You can bet under those circumstances I’m not losing even more money spending it on a co-pay or a prescription if I can manage to stick it out with fluids and a single day off.

    1. Winifred*

      Indeed … many, many people work jobs where they don’t have paid sick leave. In Massachusetts we have mandatory sick leave for businesses with a certain number of employees, but those do not have to be paid sick days. Guess what I did when I had pneumonia? Dragged myself to work until I just couldn’t any more, then stayed home sick for 2 weeks without pay.

      1. Tysons in NE*

        Also in MA. That accrued time isn’t always available until you have been some place 3 months.
        As a temp, I am accruing that sick time. HOWEVER on one assignment, I got sick in month two and still have to go unpaid. I minimized the days I dragged myself into the office. But that cold hit me hard and fast and I couldn’t afford to be out an entire week.

  19. Middle School Teacher*

    Speaking as a teacher, taking a sick day is a huge pain and often much harder than dragging myself in. I have to find my own sub, which means making upwards of twenty calls until I get an answer. At this time of year it’s hard to find one; a lot of subs get hired on after Christmas. And a good teacher writes good sub plans; it’s not just a matter of showing movies all day. Writing sub plans is basically like writing down every single thing you do every day; they take time and prep. And trying to do that when you’re throwing up, or have such a bad cold that your head feels like it will fall off, often feels insurmountable. It’s no wonder most teachers would rather just try to endure it than go through the rigmarole.

    1. Sapphire*

      I have a parent who teaches, and often times the sub ignores their lesson plans anyway, which pushes the students even further behind than if they had come in sick.

    2. Polymer Phil*

      In my school system, they only had subs actually teach in the elementary grades. In middle and high school, it was literally nothing but movies and worksheets. I had one teacher who gave notice of planned surgery months in advance in hopes of getting a sub qualified to teach her subject area, and she was really frustrated that we just got a babysitter instead.

      1. Lynn*

        There is one sub that my husband can call who is qualified to teach his subjects (High School: Physics and Astronomy). Joseph is a retired high school Physics teacher and really knows his stuff. If he has advance knowledge of the day out, he calls early to line Joe up.

        He doesn’t have to find his own sub-he just puts in a request and asks for Joe if possible. Even then, having a day out (especially an unplanned one) is generally such a PITA that he tries to avoid days off insofar as it is possible.

        1. Lynn*

          And, on a side note, it is like having Typhoid Mary living in my house. He is around it so much, that he doesn’t catch much that goes around the school (which is just a giant germ incubator). Every time I come down with some cold or something that he doesn’t have, his first response is “oh, that’s going around school.” Grrrrrr. :>

    3. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Yes! I’m no longer a classroom teacher, but I remember dragging myself in to put my sub notes on the desk and prep for the day the one day I called in sick that year. A couple students saw me and were then confused why I was out that day. Teaching is ROUGH and we didn’t even have to find our own subs.

    4. Pipe Organ Guy*

      It’s a bit like that for a church organist as well. I have played through really bad colds, and a couple of times when I had the flu. I haven’t had to play through a GI bug, though. I did get called once, though, to fill in for a colleague on Christmas Eve when he had a nasty GI bug. The thing with organists is that there just aren’t that many of us who can play at a truly high level except perhaps in really major metropolitan areas. I’m lucky where I play; at this time last year, I was the backup for my parish’s organist, and now I’m in that position, with someone to back me up so I can plan vacations (and cover me, I hope, if I’m ill!). (In another Christmas Eve story, I filled in for her on essentially no notice because she had gotten into a car accident on the way to the church….)

      In previous positions, I had to work my way through a list of possible substitutes to find anyone who could cover for me so I could get a break. There just aren’t enough capable people to go around!

    5. Indie*

      You have to find your own supply teacher?!! I have had to send in lessons when sick though and yeah I hate the hunched over the laptop while wrapped in a blankie nonsense.

      I worked very briefly in a school where they had a computer room set up with two permanent teachers who were mainly there to cover for sick teachers. (If no one was sick they did intensive tuition for kids on a list). The teachers had access to the schemes of work, lessons and resources for every department and apparently only a very minimal email was required to get your class covered.

      Never seen it elsewhere.

    6. LibLon*

      Ugh, this. My flatmate’s a primary school teacher and until her current position was made to feel like some kind of traitor or that she was actively harming the kids if she took a day off (to put this in perspective she once worked through a kidney infection so for her days off meant on the brink of hospitalisation).

      Her current school is a marvel – they have three classes per year group that are deliberately smaller so when they need to they can split two ways and be fine. Also great for giving teachers time to do one to one work with kids that need it etc etc. She still doesn’t take days off that often but she can!!

  20. Quickbeam*

    My company is over a 100 years old and up until 2 years ago had an unlimited sick day policy. Because of some well documented abuse, we now have PTO and no dedicated sick time. It really changes things dramatically. Especially in an open office, it’s like a flu clinic all winter. People drag themselves in to prove they aren’t leakers. I really miss dedicated sick time even if I never used it.

    1. GRA*

      So instead of just dealing with those who showed documented abuse of the policy, they chose to get rid of it for everyone?! That’s bad management and I’m sorry you now have to deal with the flu clinic atmosphere.

      1. Roja*

        Right, and not even limit to something reasonable, but just… eliminate all of it? Yikes. So much yikes.

      2. Agent J*

        Overall, I don’t understand “a few bad apples are changing our policy for everyone” management technique. I understand it’s easier to do that sometimes than to personally address certain issues with each individual. But regarding sick leave, this just feels like a bad call.

        1. doreen*

          I agree that it’s a bad call when it truly is a few bad apples – but I think at some point, it becomes ineffective to deal with individuals. I mean, if 2 employees out of 20 are abusing the policy, deal with them individually. If 15 out of 20 are abusing it , I think it’s time to change the policy.

      3. Wired Wolf*

        My “manager” has been doing a lot of that with us recently: someone (likely not even in my department) has been abusing X, so nobody can have X unless they jump through some unreasonable–possibly illegal–hoops first. Not just sick time either.

    2. Lia*

      Same thing happened at my ex’s company. A few cases of abuse and unlimited sick leave went to three days annually. Not a problem for someone like me, who has taken 3 sick days in the last 10 years, but a big problem for many others. After 3 days, they had to charge vacation time, or use unpaid leave.

  21. SheLooksFamiliar*

    In my first job out of college, I came to work with the flu because I wanted to prove I wasn’t a slacker. Around lunchtime, my boss told me to go home and I argued I was okay. I still remember her response: ‘You’re willing to get the rest of us sick because you want to look good? Go home and don’t even think of coming in for the next 2 days. This is why we have sick days.’

    I’ve had only 2 managers who were jerks about sick time, and am fortunate that most of my bosses were like my first one. If for no other reason, stay home when you’re sick so you don’t start an epidemic!

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Your boss was nicer than I was once. I had a martyr who came in sick. I told him to go home and said he didn’t want to/could tough it out. So I said fine. As he was standing there arguing with me about going home, I started packing up my stuff. He looked at me funny while I was doing it, and I told him I wasn’t going to get sick because he wanted to work. So the obvious thing to do was for me to go home and put my fluffy bunny slippers on and work the day in the comfort of my easy chair while he remained in the office. And on my way out the door I told him he’d be covering for any of his coworkers who got sick in the next week.

      The next morning I had a text from him first thing that basically said he was miserable all day and I was right that he should have gone home… and he was going to stay home that day.

      Point made… we had a good PTO/Sick policy and that really cut down on the sick people on the team coming in to work.

    2. Oh Snap!*

      I was on the other side of this once! A young coworker came to our small office with the flu- and I had just found out I was pregnant and hadn’t yet had a flu shot. She said “No, I’ll be fine” to which I said “It’s not about you, it’s about all the other people that might get sick because of you.”

    3. Windchime*

      I’m really fortunate that my boss is this way, too. I was sick in October with a bad cold/asthma and apparently I came back to work too soon. Boss suggested that I pack up and work from home; as it turns out, I had bronchitis.

      I’m also out sick today. I had anxiety and insomnia last night, and didn’t fall asleep until it was almost time to wake up and go to work. I felt a little guilty calling in, but honestly I would have barely been able to stay awake on 1 hour sleep.

    4. Public Sector Manager*

      I work for my state and as a public entity, we have a really good sick leave policy. One of my fellow managers had an employee last year who came in with the stomach flu. There was nothing that this employee was working on that couldn’t wait until the next week. My fellow manager didn’t find out until about 1 p.m. and basically had to threaten to call security to get the employee to go home. Then the rest of that week they were 35% staffed because a bunch of employees had to spend hours in the bathroom at home.

  22. gmg22*

    I wonder whether some managers who are stingy with sick time just think that “it’s winter, people are going to get colds regardless” and that having people with colds take sick days or work from home would only be a waste of efficiency that wouldn’t actually prevent others from getting sick. Maybe some very targeted public health education is what’s called for here …

  23. Thursday*

    I used to be one of those martyrs. I had an abusive boss and a chronic illness. I worked through my lunch breaks and did hours of unpaid overtime every day. I started taking cabs to work because I couldn’t walk for 15 minutes anymore. Eventually I became so unwell that I couldn’t even get out of bed. I received an email that I had used up my sick days and would be removed from payroll.

    Fun times.

    1. Thursday*

      Also, fwiw, I had only used a few sick days for an unrelated family emergency. But I hadn’t “earned” the rest of my sick days for the year because it was only March.

    2. pope suburban*

      I feel this on a spiritual level. I had an abusive boss and a chronic illness too, and the abusive boss wouldn’t get me proper equipment (That I requested time and again, because I missed being able to walk and sleep, neither of which the pain would permit me to do much) or pay me enough to afford the time off after my three allotted sick days. So I went in sick. because as bad as that was, it was a damn sight better than being homeless. I was very very lucky that my partner worked at an agency with good insurance so that we could marry and get me care. Short of that, I would have ended up in the hospital from a lot of things. The mark that left on me was profound, and I am now the first person to tell coworkers that they will be covered if they are feeling well. I’ve even learned to call out, because my job now puts me in contact with seniors, kids, and people who have kids at home, and I don’t want to risk them.

      I hope you are doing better in every measure now. No one should have to live that way, especially in a developed country where there are structures in place to save lives and maintain health. I am so sorry that you were treated that way by your boss- may the fleas of a thousand camels infest every crevice on his person. You deserved none of that.

  24. AnonNurse*

    I work in healthcare and absences are considered “occurrences”. I won’t go in to the intricacies of the rules but in a rolling 12-month period you only get 4 occurrences before disciplinary action begins. At 5 it’s a warning, 6 it’s a suspension, and at 7 it’s termination. So many healthcare workers come in sick while taking care of sick pwople. Seriously. It SUCKS.

    1. Kelly*

      In a healthcare setting here, too. I cannot tell you how many time our RNs come in sick, because of those stupid “occurrence” policies. It’s terrible. As if I want a sneezy, coughing, miserable RN taking care of my hem/onc kiddo. It’s really a terrible side of heathcare. /rant over

    2. Frozen Ginger*

      That’s absolutely ridiculous. If you have that policy in writing, I would think about “leaking” it to a local newspaper. If word gets out that they’re making healthcare workers work while ill, your company is gonna lose business.

      1. AnonNurse*

        Unfortunately, this is fairly common for healthcare systems in my area. It doesn’t make it better but it’s not a secret either. Supposedly it’s to make sure there are plenty of healthcare providers to take care of the patients and discourage people from calling out without really being sick. In reality it just encourages people to work sick. I could rant all day about it. Add in parents who have to worry about when their kiddos are sick and horrendous weather and people have to stress about their occurrences all the time. It’s not a good system.

      2. Linda Evangelista*

        Its my understanding that all hospitals are like this. Seriously, your best bet to avoid getting sick is to avoid a hospital entirely, if you can help it. Its super counterproductive. I’m not even talking about the HAIs…

    3. Lucille2*

      I worked for a customer support center that had a very similar occurrence policy for absences and tardies. I had high anxiety during the winter months. It’s not unheard of to get a foot of snow overnight in my city and I had a 6am shift start and a long commute. Just hearing the word “occurrences” makes me anxious. I always went to work sick and braved any weather conditions to get there. We had an especially bad snowstorm on year that knocked out the power for 3 straight days. At least the power was on at the office so I had a warm place to go for a few days, as long as I made it there on time for my shift.

    4. twig*

      My cousin works in health care (nuc med tech). Two years ago she had 3 unexpected absences/sick days over the course of 2 months because HER HUSBAND DIED and her parents were in a critical car accident (fortunately they survived and recovered).

      A month later when she caught the flu and tried to call in sick, her boss threatened to write her up for excessive absences. So she worked with the flu. She works primarily with cancer patients with compromised immune systems.

      I’m STILL pissed on her behalf.

    5. Pomona Sprout*

      As someone who recently had major surgery and was hopitalized for 10 days (half of that in the icu) , the idea of nurses and other healthcare workers being forced to come to work with contagious diseases literally strikes terror in my heart! This recovery has been hard enough wirhout adding god knows what infectious diseases to the mix.

      Any hospital or other healthcare facility with rules like that should be ASHAMED!

      1. Beaded Librarian*

        My stepdad is a doctor and he admitted over the holidays that doctors often work sick especially in private practice because if they don’t work they don’t get paid. Not great but apparently they can’t figure out how to HAVE sick days.

      2. Ego Chamber*

        Heads up: if you’re in the states, it is all hospitals and all healthcare facilities. Literally all of them. Getting sick from being in the hospital isn’t just because of all the infectious patients.

  25. Justme, the OG*

    My job is now moving to requiring a doctor’s note after a certain number of consecutive days off sick. Which I really hate. We have some people on payroll who make so little that a trip to the doctor is not doable.

    1. Frozen Ginger*

      I mean, I can understand this policy depending on the number of days. I believe my company requires a note if its more than 6 days. But we get paid sick leave and we’re paid well.

      (Also fwiw, they have this policy not because of people who misuse their time, but because there were so many people who would be sick for a week or longer but never go to the doctor!)

        1. Frozen Ginger*

          Yeah, if going to the doctor is undoable then it’s downright cruel to require it.
          Do you ever see people come in one day just so its not consecutive? Like if your policy is 3 days, they’d be out 3 days, come in on the 4th day, and then go back out on the 5th?

      1. Wired Wolf*

        My company requires a note if it’s more than 3 days…but it’s not unheard of for them to expect one for anything I’ve heard of them demanding a note from someone who was only out one day for a pre-scheduled appointment, as well as pressing employees for details if they need to use emergency sick time (which state law frowns upon).

    2. Tysons in NE*

      My company always phrased it “we reserve the right” so anyone we thought was abusing sick time, we could go after, but those, think of the employee who is never sick for three – five years, then suddenly out for a week.
      Having said that, if someone was out for something scheduled, surgery for example, we would want a “fit to return to work” note. Those were the people already in the hospital or at the doctor’s so they could collect a note while there.

  26. SometimesALurker*

    Thanks for this article!
    One of the big barriers to my taking the sick time that I have is that I hope to take parental leave in a few years (maternity leave, in my case) and at my workplace, we need to save up our PTO if we want our leave to be paid.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Definitely! I’ve tried my hardest to develop a cushion in my current job in case I need a mat leave or if were to get injured or very ill. All our PTO is in one bucket, so while it’s a fairly generous amount, I’m trying to have a full year’s accrued that I keep on hand in my first 2 yrs at the company. So far all has gone well (and I work 100% remote which helps), but that’s definitely a concern down the road.

    2. Ann Perkins*

      This is my issue too. Fortunately my husband has a lot of sick time as a federal employee so he almost always ends up taking care of our older son when he’s sick. My employer has no separate bucket for sick time and no paid maternity leave, so I end up using all my vacation time for childbirth recovery. Fun times. I’m fortunate in that we can afford at least a brief unpaid period but I can’t imagine how hard it is for people who can’t afford to miss a paycheck at all and end up going back to work almost immediately postpartum.

    3. Lia*

      Many people do that at my employer, but the problem is that babies/kids tend to get sick once they start daycare, so the parent returns to work with no banked leave, and now needs a day (or more) off to care for a sick child, and has no time available.

      Our state has just started paid family leave, which will ease some of this.

      1. your favorite person*

        My friend got put on a PIP for exactly this reason- the baby was sick and she had to use all her PTO. Then, they restructured her team (that was 8-5 and became 6-3) made it impossible for her with daycare with only two weeks noticed. They basically forced her and three other single moms out of jobs. SHADY SHADY SHADY.

        This is a big, nationally recognized company. You likely host your websites through them…

    4. Anon for this*

      I feel you on this. I saved up a year’s worth of PTO so I could get paid for maternity leave which meant, when I returned, I had no leave available to me. When my infant was 6 months old, there was an unexpected death on my husband’s side of the family for which my company offered no bereavement leave. My boss was kind and gave me a few days so I could travel for the funeral, but I wasn’t able to take much time off to help my husband deal with all the family issues and grief during that time.

      Add to that, the company released a new generous paid parental leave policy a few months after the funeral. Even though they offered paid leave retroactively, I missed eligibility by a month. No exceptions were made. So I got take on extra work and cover for my peers on parental leave while I was barely keeping it all together at home. I dealt with it as best I could, but in all honesty, it really soured me on that job. I had a really tough time being my best self at work during that time.

  27. CouldntPickAUsername*

    I work retail in Ontario, last year after 8 years at my current job I took my first ever paid sick day. Now of course Ford wants to take them back.

    1. Loux*

      Ugh, I’m so sorry :( I’m in Ontario too but I work for the federal gov’t, and I hate seeing a lot of my friends who are under provincial jurisdiction get screwed by this. Most of them just deal with taking an unpaid sick day when they get sick.

  28. SDSmith82*

    I work for a large company, and my particular boss is more flexible than the others when it comes to sick time/working from home but even our sick policies drive me nuts. We all have the capability to work from home, and while my boss doesn’t mind us working from home while sick, the other boss for our division is notoriously strict on it. We only get 6 sick/pto days (separate bank from vacation) per year, and it makes no sense to me to not allow people to work remotely if they choose to not bring germs into the office. If you are capable of rational thoughts but just have a sniffly cold/cough, I see nothing wrong with working at home, keeping the germs there and sparing the rest of us. In fact, I’d be like my boss and encourage it! Her thoughts on sick days are one of the primary reason I switched teams when I had the choice. It especially kills me that upper level staff are always allowed to work from home as needed, but the lower level staff is not (even if their position allows them that flexibility).

  29. copier queen*

    Thanks for mentioning the martyrdom, Alison – that is a legit problem for some people.
    My company gives us 12 days of sick leave per year, which can roll over from year to year. Some employees have accumulated hundreds of days of sick leave. We also have a sick leave bank program, where employees can donate sick leave to co-workers facing catastrophic illnesses (or to co-workers who are caring for family members facing catastrophic illnesses). All in all, the whole leave deal is super fair and most supervisors don’t bat an eye when someone needs to take sick leave.
    However…my co-worker is the ultimate martyr. She has one big deadline per month; otherwise, her work is pretty flexible. She is one of the people who has accumulated tons of sick leave. However, the only time in recent years she has willingly taken sick leave was when she had a heart attack and was hospitalized. If she has a cold or stomach bug, she just suffers through it at work. Today, her husband is having a colonoscopy and while she is at the hospital with him, she plans to let him drive himself home (against hospital policy), because she wants to get back to the office as fast as possible. It just blows my mind…

    1. GRA*

      I would be VERY surprised if the medical center where her husband’s surgery is taking place allows that to happen.

      1. copier queen*

        She planned to act as though she was driving him home, and then just drive him to his car. Apparently they have done this before. I was completely shocked when she told me.

        1. Anon attorney*

          That…. Is not a good idea. If he is given Versed (midazolam) he won’t be able to drive safely. Not only could he hurt himself or someone else, but I doubt his insurance would pay on any claim. I once picked up my ex from hospital after a scope and he was well and truly stoned and certainly couldn’t have driven.

          Having said that, the sedation I got when I was last scoped had no effect on me. Still didn’t drive myself home though!

    2. Asenath*

      That is such a bad idea! Those colonoscopy drugs may well make the person who took them feel entirely capable of anything (they do me, anyway!) but everyone around them usually realizes that they aren’t competent to drive! Or do much of anything else.

      1. copier queen*

        Exactly! I have a chronic illness that requires me to have a colonoscopy every 2 years, and the sedatives are no joke.

  30. Equestrian Attorney*

    My old job didn’t have any dedicated sick time, and taking sick time was highly frowned upon. We also did some time-sensitive work, so I once drafted a motion while delirious with fever, drugged up on meds and try to keep my teeth from shattering, because we needed to meet the deadline. My kind assistant brought me soup from the food court and I stayed until two in the morning and was in at nine the next day. That’s pretty much when I decided I needed to change jobs.
    My new job has four days of dedicated sick leave and a flexible WFH policy (for those days where you’re well enough to work but are sniffly/coughing/contagious). I took me forever to get used to the notion that I could actually use them and not have terrible things happen to me. I’m thankful to be in good enough health that I only used one actual sick day this year, but can’t imagine how hard it is for those with chronic conditions.

  31. A*

    Thank you for this post – seriously.

    I am just now accruing PTO again after being sick exactly one year ago. despite multple doctors notes and correspondence with HR, I was put on a PIP for my attendance and lost PTO balance. Haven’t missed a day since.

    1. Agent J*

      They took your PTO as part of your PIP (which shouldn’t have happened anyway)? That’s AWFUL.

      1. A*

        Sort of? I wasn’t allowed to take any additional time off during my PIP because I was in a ‘negative’ balance… which was due to the horrific illness I had in the first place. My manager was awful. Thankfully she’s been demoted from managing anyone.

        1. Nox*

          My prior org does take PTO away from hourly employees if they do not work a certain amount of hours annually- even if you were sent home by management due to downtime or lack of work . Its awful.

  32. Toots*

    I once worked in an office with “blackout days.” This meant that about every six weeks would be a week where you could not call off for any reason at all.
    During one such blackout week, I had a horrible flu. I really felt worse than I had in years, but I came in every day and muddled through it. I received a lot of praise from the higher-ups for coming in when I was obviously so sick.
    The next week, after the blackout period had ended, every single desk around me was empty. The week after that, the next ring of desks in our open-plan office was empty. I was in a corner, so the rings of sickness just radiated out from my desk, kind of like a wifi symbol. If they had just let me stay home for two days, dozens of people in the office wouldn’t have missed work.

    1. WellRed*

      I am genuinely curios as to what would have happened if you *had* called out sick? Also, do you feel, looking back, that you really needed to be there?

  33. argh*

    And all the preventative health care we should be partaking in. Most things arne’t full days, but for those of us working typical business hours, we need to use some sick time for some or all of:
    * annual physical
    * annual gyn. exam
    * annual mammogram for women 40+ or with a family history of breast cancer
    * annual colonoscopy for anyone 50+ or otherwise at higher risk for colon cancer (and this probably means 2 days out completely because of the “prep” day)
    * annual eye exam
    * 2 dental appointments a year
    * If you have kids, they have annual physicals, plus 2x a year dental exams, plus eye exams in many cases
    * Anyone with a chronic illness probably needs to see a specialist at least once a year. Let’s lump in cancer survivors with this group. We often have annual specialist check-ups, often on top of scans, etc.
    * Many people have regular dermatologist appointments because of cancer risk (fair skin + sun exposure in youth; family and/or personal history)

    And this isn’t even addressing short term or long term illness, or WTF happens when our kids get sick. An ear infection + fever can easily eat up half a week. And when a stomach bug runs through the family… nobody is working again, ever. Or at least it feels that way.

    And what happens if you have symptoms that need to be investigated? This is one way people don’t get diagnosed with shit until it’s advanced. Reluctance/inability to seek out regular preventative care, and reluctance/inability to get that mole or lump checked out because maybe it’s fine, and not worth a few sick days to go to specialists and get tested for “nothing.”

    Honestly, I think people should be allotted at least as much sick time as vacation time. I don’t take care of myself the way I should. Am I sick enough to stay home with this cold, or do I want to “save” that day in case I get strep throat next December? And how easy it is to put off regular appointments so you don’t “waste” a few hours of your precious sick time in case you need them later. The system is broken. We don’t acknowledge that workers are living beings with physical needs.

    1. GRA*

      I don’t agree with workplaces that have unlimited vacation time, but I definitely would support a workplace that has unlimited sick time! You can plan a vacation, but as you so perfectly spelled out above, you can’t plan being sick!!

    2. Lucille2*

      On the kids getting sick….my oldest is in Kindergarten which means he gets every little thing that goes around at school and brings it home to pass it around to each family member. I’ve spent the majority of the last 4 months either sick myself or caring for a sick child. Fortunately, I have the option to work from home on the worst days. I really feel for working parents who do not have this option or who are dealing with chronic illness or special needs.

      Also, I always go back and forth about making dr’s appointments because my copay is quite high. Is just something I need to ride out on my own, or should I actually go to a dr at this point? And if I go to the dr, I’m paying out a hefty copy just to be told, yeah, it’s going around and there’s nothing we can do about it. Go back to bed.

    3. Lia*

      I don’t know about anyone else, but I scheduled all of my kids’ appointments for annual checkups a year in advance — and booked them all on the same day. So, we had a day of eye doctor/dentist/pediatrician. Only one day out of office and everything taken care of for the year. Not always possible, but much much easier for me.

      I have not had to do the dreaded colonoscopy, but when I was living with someone who had one, he had it scheduled on a Monday, so he did the prep Sunday, and only took one day off.

    4. Gazebo Slayer*

      YES. Bad sick leave policies are literally killing people.

      I had a temp job that let me go right after I took a few hours off to have possible heart problems checked out. I also had a long-term temp employer that sent out an email to everyone demanding we schedule all medical appointments so that we would not have to miss any work (as if that’s possible with any sort of specialist). As a result, I didn’t see my psychiatrist for months and eventually went off my meds, which became Bad after a while.

    5. DCGirl*

      So true. No one sees just one doctor. I have a primary care, an endocrinologist, an allergist, a GYN, an eye specialist… not to mention the dentist. If I could get it all done in one place, I would, but that’s just not how things work.

    6. Owler*

      In 2018, the recommended age for an initial colonscopy dropped to 45 from 50. If you have a family history of bowel disease or cancer, any gastro or bowel symptoms, or are African American, you should talk to your doctor and consider screening at 40.

  34. I Work on a Hellmouth*

    I should absolutely be home today, but if I didn’t come in my manager would be alone in the office (it’s supposed to be a four person office, but one person quit and the other has today off because they worked over the weekend) and I’m preeeeeeeeeeeetty sure that she would either find a way to fire me or she would otherwise make my life hellish if that happened. Also, our sick time and our PTO are separate, and she has decided that even though it is not the company’s policy she will be requiring 30 days notice to schedule/take any PTO–so if I want to schedule any job interviews, I’m going to have to call in sick the day of.

    I really want to go home, guys. :(

      1. WellRed*

        Oh, wait, didn’t realize this was you, Hellmouth. She’d capture that on camera. Maybe, sneeze directly onto the camera lens.

        1. I work on a Hellmouth*

          Ha! I would be lying if I said that coughing on her door knob did not briefly cross my mind.

            1. I Work on a Hellmouth*

              Heh. Or less formal and bring it in for a hug!

              In all seriousness, though, she knows I’m sick. She just also knows that she can hole up in her office and avoid close contact with me. In order to further minimize her exposure she’s determined that I alone will deal with residents and walk-ins and tours as they come in, so she doesn’t have to walk through my office to get to the front (our layout is weird).

  35. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    In my experience it’s about 50/50 on who’s responsible for the sick at work people.

    I’ve seen it all.

    *Some departments are of the opinion if you can answer the phone you can work (seriously was talking to a guy in our finance dept who was taking work calls while in the ER actively passing kidney stones- wait… I wasn’t talking to him then, I was talking to him after the incident and he told me about it).

    *I’ve seen people come in to work while being half dead saying they didn’t want to use up their ‘vacation’ by being sick (we have a PTO pot for both… pretty standard offering). Or they are channeling their inner Monty Python and being the “It’s only a flesh wound” guy.

    *I’ve seen sick people coming in to work because they aren’t used to having sick days.

    *I’ve seen sick people work from home because they are mostly functional but don’t want to spread anything

    *I’ve also been the one with stupid allergies that everyone looks at me like I’m typhoid mary because I’m coughing and blowing my nose. Seriously if I tell you it’s my allergies get over it. You aren’t going to catch it. You may be annoyed by it, but chances are something that you do is also annoying me.

    This topic ranks up there with the weather closure topics for me in annoyance, because it boils down to really one thing. Be an adult, and this goes for everyone. Everyone gets sick at some point.

    *If you are an employee stay home if you’re sick. Yes I get it, there may not be pay if you don’t work. But all you are doing by coming in is getting everyone else sick so they will be in the same spot. I’ve been there and it sucks to have to make that choice… oh boy does that suck.

    If you are home sick don’t work. Don’t be the martyr if a company folds because one person is sick then it deserves to or you the sick person are one of those work/knowledge hoarders.

    *If you are a boss, believe your employees if they call in sick. Back off unless you have concrete proof that they are lying or if they go past their allotted sick time or any other policy infraction. If they are home sick leave them alone.

    *If you are a coworker stay out of your coworkers business if they call in sick.

    1. TiffIf*

      I once came into work when I had laryngitis–I felt perfectly fine except for the fact that I had no voice. I was working a customer support job which was all phone work. We had a rotating schedule though that took you off the phones for one day each month and put you on internal chat answering all the other support people’s questions. I got put on that for 3 days until I had my voice back. Seriously it was my favorite three days on that job.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      For some people this conditioning starts early. One of my elementary school principals told me after I’d been out (and very sick) that if you were capable of reading or sitting up in bed, you should be at school. I was eleven.

  36. CRM*

    When I was young, my parents had really strict rules about letting me stay home from school. If I woke up in the morning didn’t have a fever, then I was sent off to school- regardless of any other symptoms or how terrible I actually felt. I know now that it’s because arranging for last minute childcare was difficult for them, but it instilled a lot of really bad habits for me. Thankfully I’ve had some great bosses who strongly encouraged proper use of sick leave, so now I’m much better about taking the time when I need it.

    1. LQ*

      When I was little I liked school and hated staying home enough that I was that martyr adult, but as an adorable 3rd grader where I would absolutely say I wasn’t sick (despite being clearly very very ill). It’s a really hard habit to break to recognize that I can take time off and it’s clearly a tenancy I have that I slip back to. My previous job I could work from home and had unlimited sick and my boss actively would encourage me to take the time off or work from home. She more than once shooed me out before I got my coat off. During that time, I improved, I took time, I would be sick and home and not work.

      I’m in a job that has decent sick leave, but there is a tendency among upper leadership to martyr and to come in sick and there’s no work from home. I’ve entirely slipped back to working sick. No, I’m totally ok enough to go to school…I mean work… Those childhood tendencies are brutally hard to break.

    2. Doodle*

      Ugh, right? Plus schools themselves can have stupid policies — Official looking letter comes from the district, Doodle, your child has missed 8 days of school this quarter, you must go to this official meeting because otherwise your child will fail/be held back/be considered truant. Doodle calls district office: my child missed 8 days because he’s getting chemo and the school has a 504 on file. District: your child has missed 8 days of school this quarter, you must go to this official meeting because otherwise your child will fail/be held back/be considered truant. Sigh.

      Or the awards ceremony every year where students are honored for having zero absences. Well, bully for you, you were either healthy or you were sent to school sick.

      1. Lucille2*

        My kid’s school gives out awards monthly for perfect attendance. Try explaining to your 5yo why all the other kids got popcorn but you didn’t because you had him stay home when he was running a 103 temperature.

      2. CRM*

        That’s horrible that the district isn’t more sympathetic to your kid needing time off for chemo. I’m so sorry for you and I hope he is doing well. Also, I totally agree with you about the perfect attendance award. I know that most kids who won that award didn’t have much choice in the matter, and they certainly weren’t going through anything like cancer.

      3. Gazebo Slayer*

        I wonder if your child’s horrible school is running afoul of anti-discrimination laws around disability. (Of course, many of the people in power in our government deliberately starve all enforcement agencies of funding, so such laws aren’t worth anywhere near what they should be.)

    3. an infinite number of monkeys*

      So I don’t know if this is a factor for other people, but as a kid, faking sick was the only way to get a day off school. Looking back on it as an adult, I had a legitimate need for those days off – but of course I lied to my mom to get out of school, so there was a lot of shame associated with it.

      As a middle-aged career professional with an excellent reputation, I still feel like I’m faking any time I call in sick. I rarely need to, but I swear to heaven I can NOT just call my boss and tell her I’m not feeling well without significant enough anxiety and guilt that often it feels a lot better just to go in.

      Do y’all deal with that? There’s no external reason for it, in my case. My boss is quite wonderful; our workplace has a culture of letting people take the time they need to get better; and sick leave is ample.

      1. CRM*

        I 100% agree. Although I never lied to get sick days as a kid (I have always been a terrible liar, and my parents saw through it immediately), I do feel guilty about calling in sick from work. I used to feel like I needed to justify my sick day, so I would give way too much information when I called in sick. My emails would go something like “I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with the flu and I’m on antibiotics and still have a fever of approximately 101.5 degrees”. Eventually, I figured out that all I have to say is “I’m not feeling well and wont be in today”, and that my good track record as an employee should be enough justification for it.

      2. Tin Cormorant*

        I never completely faked being sick as a kid, but I’d definitely play up a cold to make it seem like I was sicker than I was so that I could stay home. I knew that once I got out of bed and got dressed and started my day, I’d feel a lot better, but I saw that being mildly sick was an opportunity to stay home in my warm bed and read all day while my mom brought me juice and soup instead of having to go to school, so I’d often take it.

        Even when I’m legitimately sick now and know I shouldn’t go to work to avoid infecting others, I feel like I have to exaggerate my symptoms to make other people more likely to agree that I should stay home. Like just having a virus I can pass on to others isn’t enough, it has to be making me miserable to justify having a day off.

    4. Jaybeetee*

      My mother had a half-joking rule that we couldn’t stay home “unless we threw up on her feet.” Basically puking = stay home, but not much else did (we weren’t particularly prone to fevers and we were the sturdiest kids around with zero broken bones between us all through childhood). Part of it was not wanting to instil “bad habits”/malingering, but part of it was that while she actually had a govt job with excellent leave policies – there were three kids, and my dad sure as hell was never going to stay home*. If the three of us were frequently sick, plus her own occasional bug, plus our assorted dental appointments/etc, she would have been missing work all the time. So she was pretty tight about when we could stay home. Thankfully we were pretty healthy kids anyway.

      *Dad ran/runs his own business, which includes a lot of client meetings and tight deadlines, so impromptu days off were/are truly difficult for him. My younger brother and I recently reminisced about some occasions when we were sick and had zero choice but to go into Dad’s office for the day, as neither parent could stay home. THAT sucked – there is no such thing as a comfortable office chair when you’re a sick 8 year old.

  37. anonymoushiker*

    I have a combined sick/vacation PTO. One of my reports hates it but I actually like it. We do have a separate slower-accrued benefit so that if you’re sick for longer than 5 consecutive days, that kicks in instead to cover the time off so you don’t lose all of your vacation to sick time (we earn 20 days a year of the combined). I’m just of the opinion that you ought to plan to be sick at least a few times when planning vacations, even if you’re almost never sick (like me).

    1. Cam*

      Obviously you like combined PTO if you rarely get sick. That’s the problem with it – it’s unfair to people who get sick often, and in general it incentivizes coming in sick. If every day you stay home is one less vacation day, why wouldn’t you choose to be miserable at work instead of at home?

      1. anonymoushiker*

        That’s a good point, but I wonder how many sick days is average? And what happens when someone is sick more than that-do they use their vacation days? Or go un-paid?

  38. Kesnit*

    I have always had a tough time taking sick leave. I think it’s a side effect of having been in the military, where going to sick call is viewed as being a slacker (unless you are dying). Since I’ve gotten out (over 10 years ag0), I’ve worked for organizations that have had good sick leave policies, and have never been dinged by a boss for taking sick leave. I see my coworkers and boss taking time off for being sick. And yet, it is a struggle to bring myself to take a day off.

    I got a stomach flu on New Years Day, and had almost no voice on January 2. But I still managed to drag myself to work (and to my public-facing commitments) because I was no longer throwing up and felt OK. My office manager could not believe I was there. An associate from another office asked on the 3rd if I had been to the doctor yet. (My voice was mostly back by then. And no, I hadn’t.)

    I really wish it was easier to take a sick day, but I always feel like “I’m capable of working, so there is no need.” (At my wife’s urging, I have started taking occasional “mental health days,” when I just can’t bring myself to get up.) But unless I am running a fever or vomiting, I spend the day feeling guilty for not being there.

    1. Windchime*

      Someone up above made a comment about “I’m not dying and could still do work” as the bar for when a person should call in sick, but I think that’s way too high a bar. We are human beings, not machines, and some days we just aren’t feeling well enough to go in. Like today; I had insomnia last night and knew there was no way I could make the 45 min drive to work safely on 1 hour sleep, let alone work once I got there. So I emailed work and let them know I am taking a sick day. I’m fortunate that sick leave is part of my benefits package and so I am not going to feel too bad about using a sick day now and then.

      1. Aerin*

        I had one time where the horrible neighbors on the other side of our bedroom wall had their TV on at full blast literally all night. My husband took a sick day from the lack of sleep. I took the morning off, because I figured I’d be fine once I got a few hours. Trying to function on literally no sleep is absolutely as bad as any other illness.

    2. blink14*

      If you’re able to, please stay home when you are sick. One of my co-workers has come in multiple times with potentially contagious illnesses (more than a cold), and my boss has point blank asked them to go home. This is both for their health and for those of us in close proximity. My co-worker is well aware that I have chronic health issues and my boss has a young child, yet put no thought into that when they came in sick.

      Please, if you are ill and you have the time to take, take it.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I work with someone who was like that. Until the year he ended up in the hospital with a life-threatening pneumonia.

      1. Kesnit*

        When I was in the service, I went through a very long period where every time I stood up, I got spots in front of my eyes (like looking through stained glass). Since this was leading up to and during deployment, I chalked it up to high stress. A few months after returning from deployment, I finally went to the doctor and they discovered I had a benign brain tumor, which had probably been there for years.
        So I understand the idea of “take care of yourself.” It’s just easier to say it than to do it…

    4. LQ*

      The feeling guilty is real and hard! I have plenty of days when I don’t feel up to it but I’m not really sick enough to be sick, and I’m not contagious, just…really not feeling great. And I have the time. But even if I Do take the day off (which I don’t) I’d feel like I should be working and feel guilty about the work I’m not doing and all of that. I have to be all the way sick to get to a place before I don’t feel bad about not working, I just feel bad about existing.

  39. irene adler*

    Never seen this anywhere else, but at my prior job, they really wanted folks to stay home when ill. In fact, you could take up to 3 sick days in a row and this was counted as just one absence. BUT, if you came in the second day, but felt you could not come in on the third day, this was counted as two absences. So, everyone took 3 days off when they called in sick.

    1. Linda Evangelista*

      This is actually a really good policy – meaning, getting to use effectively one sick day for three days off. It encourages people who need to call out sick that they can take the time they need to fully recover. I could see this getting abused, but I like to think this would be really beneficial.

    2. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      Yeah, that’s us too. They track days off but also ‘absences’, and care more about the latter, so if you’re sick at all you may as well take 2 days rather than 1.

    3. Aerin*

      The Mouse was pretty stingy with time off, but the one good thing was the continuing call-out, which functioned the same way. It saved my bacon one time because I missed the three consecutive days due to transportation issues, not illness, but I still only got points for one day.

  40. Lucille2*

    I’m so glad Alison posted this as it highlights so many common but unfortunate company sick leave policies in the US. IME, the lower the wage, the worse the policy. I spent my early career working in service oriented jobs like food service, retail, hospitality – public facing type jobs. Those jobs happened to have the worst policies for taking sick days.

    For example: I went to work in a restaurant with pink eye because I was unable to find someone to cover my shifts while I took time off – it was my responsibility to cover my shift even if I was at death’s door. I went to work in retail with the flu because my supervisor told me they did not allow sick days during holiday season. You can only imagine the looks I got from customers when I handed them back their credit cards or change. I’ve had jobs that required a doctor’s note but insufficient insurance to obtain one, so, yeah, I went to work sick. Other jobs would penalize employees for anything less than 100% attendance so even if sick days were paid out, you’d risk losing a bonus or being ineligible for raises if you took too many sick days that year.

    1. Barista*

      Thanks for this comment. I agree 110%. Isn’t it ironic that sick people have the greatest chance to infect others in the public facing jobs that are least likely to give paid sick days?

    2. Quickbeam*

      I once was a nurse at a nursing home and the aides’ schedules were based on a sick call seniority program. The longer you went without calling in sick, the higher you were on the internal staffing seniority list for preference. If you went a full year with no call ins, you were exempt from forced overtime the whole next year, got better parking and all the holidays off. It was insane because people dragged themselves in violently ill in order to keep their preference score.

      I’d forgotten all about that until I read your post!

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      “The lower the wage, the worse the policy.” Very often true. The United States of Cruelty hates poor people (especially if they are not white).

      (Before anyone complains, I am American. Or, rather, I am from Massachusetts. I no longer like to think of myself as “American.”)

  41. Yet another Kat*

    For someone who has a chronic illness that 1 – seems to mysteriously flare in response to a cold infection and 2 – often requires immune-compromising medications when it does flare, people coming in to work while sick (contagious) results in a vicious sickness cycle.

    Our company has a pretty reasonable and fairly well-handled unlimited Sick and PTO, and WFH as needed policy, and over time I’ve gotten more comfortable using it, and I do wish others would as well.

    One thing I’ve had to personally unlearn from toxic work environments is the habit of always taking sick time as WFH. In some situations, I’ve found that putting pressure on myself to WFH, call into meetings, etc when severely ill has lead to actually prolonging the illness. I’ve gotten a much better handle on my health without any overall loss of productivity just by giving myself permission to say “I’m taking this sick day off and will not be available to work.”

  42. Depressed Bartender*

    Know the sick leave laws in your state, and be willing to fight for your rights. I was in the service industry (where abuses are often the worst) bartending at one restaurant for four years. I barely ever took sick time and was one of the head bartenders. I have dealt with clinical depression and anxiety for about a year now, and one day due to some work stuff I started spiraling. I called up to call out for a sick day the next day (I worked daytime shifts) because I knew I needed to me psychiatrist immediately. I found people to replace me, and talked with a manager multiple times to check that they were approving it.

    I woke up at at 7 am to a text from my bar manager sent at 5 am telling me that I would still be required to work my 8 am shift. I rolled out of bed and went in an emotional mess. My bar manager sent me to the office where my general manager yelled at me for 40 minutes. He asked me in what way I was sick (which is illegal to ask in NYC and I told him I knew it was to ask), he continued asking me. When I finally gave in and told him I had depression and was in a major spiral and having suicidal thoughts he told me to toughen up, and that I can’t take a day off because I had a bad day. Legally in NYC I am allowed to take sick days as needed, and they are not allowed to require I find coverage, require a note if I’m out fewer than three consecutive days, or retaliate for me taking sick days. I quit that day and walked out on the spot after 4 years there. They are being investigated by multiple govt agencies on breaking the safe paid sick leave act of NYC and discrimination against a disability because of my claims. I’m lucky that I even won the fight with them and got unemployment because I quit with good cause of discrimination. I’m starting a new job in my dream field this week, and so while this whole ordeal has been terrible I am so glad it pushed me to leave a toxic environment. Know the laws in your state, and protect yourself. Things could have ended up so much worse if I didn’t have the support system I have, or if I had stayed in a job that was exacerbating my mental health issues to the point of wanting to hurt myself.

    1. Agent J*

      Wow, I’m so glad this ended well for you. It sucks you had to go through that in the first place, just to take care of yourself.

      1. Depressed Bartender*

        I am, and getting out of there has done worlds for my depression. With my new job and other stuff, everything has ended up better than my wildest dreams. But no one should have to go through that, and the stigma around mental illness is a huge part of that.

      1. Depressed Bartender*

        Thanks! I am lucky because I had had such emotional and financial support from people to make getting out of there possible. Which is why I am following up with the govt to make sure other staff aren’t subjected to that.

  43. My cough can sound like death*

    Because I apparently have a generally shitty immune system, I often will need three days out of the office with just a cold, and a full week or longer with the flu (otherwise I come down with bronchitis and tbh I still can get it even if I take the “necessary” amount of time off). My employer has a 3-day/year sick leave policy which I could violate with a single illness…so basically I stopped reporting/recording sick time, which I can do because I’m not paid hourly. When I was paid hourly, I got bronchitis twice a year at least and pneumonia a couple of times, because I had to come in while not yet well, because of poor sick leave policies and unfriendly bosses.

    Like other posters, I can have a terrible cough well beyond the point of actual illness, sometimes for weeks. I do my best to assure people that I am not sick or going to get them sick, use a lot of cough drops, and go to the dr. for stronger meds if the cough lasts for more than a couple of weeks.

    As a boss, I routinely send people home when they are sick, even if they are hourly. A lot of our work involves reading, and most staff can read even while ill, unless they are really, really sick, and therefore can put in to be paid as “working at home” rather than “off sick.” Ditto doing some amount of email when they are still too tired/symptomy to make the commute but have enough brain function to work.

  44. kittymommy*

    This is actually one area I think my work does pretty well. We get about 13 days off a year for sick leave (it’s accrued as you work), seperate from out vacation leave. The only time you need a dr note is if you have sick leave attached to an extended weekend and you want the holiday pay (ex. we have the weekend of Memorial Day off and Memorial Day itself is a paid holiday. If you call in sick the Friday before or the Tuesday after you need to get a dr note to get the holiday pay) or there are more than three days off in a row.

  45. Wish I could...*

    For those jobs where “butts in seats” are actually important, I’m curious if anyone has ever seen a good sick policy in action?

    I manage a team of about 20 part-time staff who don’t get PTO. Our general expectation in the event of illness is that they communicate with us ASAP and make every effort to find coverage. If the shift is covered it’s not an absence. If it wasn’t covered but they made the effort and nobody was available, I usually excuse the absence. If they’re out for 3 consecutive shifts a doctor’s note is expected for the absences to continue to be excused (which even then is a little cringe-worthy because they aren’t eligible for our health plans).

    This works most of the time because they are super supportive of each other, and I trust them- they’re hard working adults. But when those major illnesses sweep through it can make finding coverage impossible… then we’re left scrambling to function with a skeleton staff. And chronic illnesses really strain us.

      1. Wish I could...*

        Yeah, we’re quick to help with the leg work if they’re in really bad shape. Understandably some conditions make that more difficult than others. Usually our response is “Try to find coverage and let us know if you need help.”

        1. Windchime*

          I really don’t understand why it’s a sick employee’s responsibility to find shift coverage. Isn’t that a big part of what being a manager is all about, managing the schedule?

          1. CDM*

            When management has to find coverage every single time one of the 80 part time HS or college kids tells us they can’t make it in for a shift they are scheduled for, there’s no time left to actually, you know, manage.

            When an employee agrees to work a shift, for a job that absolutely requires the employee or a sub to be present, they do have some responsibility to find coverage if they later cannot work it.

            Sure, we always helped out if an employee was moderately or severely sick. And management was ultimately in the water or on the guard stand doing the job if a sub absolutely could not be found, or if an emergency was last minute.

            But for every “I have a cold and can’t come in tomorrow” – use the phone list and find yourself a sub and let me know when it’s done. Management isn’t required to make it easy for employees to skip shifts for minor reasons.

          2. Tysons in NE*

            I really don’t understand that. Granted I worked in retail long before cell phones and all the social media outlets came into play. But depending on the circumstances, a young employee might not know all the other part-timers. When I did work, while we were all friendly at work, we didn’t exchange numbers.
            Does Management then give out all the contract information for all the other part-timers. That would concern me. I would be pissed as an employee is management felt they could give out my personal cell phone number to anyone who works at the same place without my consent.
            I am on the if the employee calls in, it is management’s duty to find the replacement.

    1. Lena*

      I don’t think requiring people to find their own coverage is reasonable or acceptable. If they’re sick, they’re sick. All they should be required to do is tell their managers. I’ve worked in jobs which tried to make us find our own coverage and it made being sick even worse.

    2. zora*

      I don’t think this is what you want to hear, or even relevant to you (since it’s not your decision) but I would say you need a better business model.

      Why are there so many part-time employees, who are not eligible for health care? The business should be able to function while ALSO paying a living wage to everyone making the business possible, and if you can’t, then the business should not be running, because you can’t afford it.

      This company is running (and presumably making a profit for someone) on the backs of underpaid young people with no recourse. I think that’s immoral and unethical, personally. (I know capitalism doesn’t really think so, but I’m personally way left on the spectrum)

      I would propose that a ‘good sick policy’ would be more holistic than that: it would include that you have full-time staff, that are offered affordable health care, and a reasonable amount of paid sick leave. And that it is the responsiblity of those at the top/making more money, to manage the schedule if someone is calling out sick. And that you would slightly overstaff most of the time, so that if one person has to call out sick, there would still be enough hands on duty that day to cover their work without too much stress. If people are being under-compensated for their work, then I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “good” sick policy, it’s a bigger question than that.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I’ve worked in CDM’s field (aquatics) and we actually did make the transition from “most hours covered by a part-time staffer” to “most hours covered by a full time staffer.” This made it harder for people to call in sick, and increased the likelihood that we had sick staff on deck!

        Instead of having a lot of staff working a few hours, we ended up with a few staff working many hours, which means a) a three day absence required 24 hours of coverage instead of, say, 8 and b) because all of the shifts were taken by full-timers, we had a smaller staff, so there were fewer people available to cover in an emergency.

        A pool with part-time staff might have 120 staff hours split between 15-20 staff. A pool with full-time staff might have 120 staff hours split between 8-10 staff.

  46. Arya Snark*

    I’m curious to hear what the commentariat has to say about taking sick leave while working from home. Our jobs are 100% remote, the schedules for most positions are flexible and PTO is very generous. We’ve paid people full salary during periods of extended illness well after their PTO bank ran dry, we don’t ask any questions when people can’t work (other than whether they feel the illness is long or short term) and never request any kind of a doctor’s note.
    I’ll generally have to be pretty ill to not work when I am sick. I might not work a full day, but I usually try to get done what needs to be done (we have many hard daily deadlines) unless I’m truly unable to work effectively. Most people operate the same way but there are a couple that take full days off for a slight cold. which causes others (usually me as their manager) to have to cover their full day of work on top of most of my own.
    What do others that work from home experience with this? Do you have any polices or practices that are different when the positions are remote?

    1. Earthwalker*

      When I was a permanent work-at-home employee, I took sick leave if I felt couldn’t do a solid 8 hours of work. Then I’d put up an out-of-office message and go curl up on the sofa and no one expected me to do anything until I was “back.” When I worked in butt-in-seat office that didn’t allow work-at-home, they expected anyone who didn’t come to the office to take sick leave *and* maintain their responsibilities at work by phoning it in. That was a really bad idea. When I’m running a temperature over 100 I’m so wacked out that it would be better for everyone if I were curled on the sofa watching the invisible butterflies.

  47. blink14*

    I’ve been on both sides of the coin. My first full time job (property management) had the stingy standard of 5 sick days, and each year it varied – you could take up to 2 as personal, or up to 3 as personal, but heaven forbid you used up your limited sick time and wanted to use one of those personal days, it was like you robbed a bank. I had a chronic tonsil infection for about 6 months at that job, and I literally took 3 sick days. I would ask to leave early/come in late to make up time for the multiple doctor appointments related to the infection (usually 2-3 a month, but during a flare up, a couple times a week), and my boss told me the head office would make me take my vacation time to do that, but she would be “generous” and let me make up the time when she determined I should. The head office was in a different state and never saw or kept track of our used time, just what my boss submitted at year end.

    My job now (academia) has a fantastic sick time policy, which grants you a full bank of sick time on your first day, and that sick time goes up another 2 increments depending on how long you’ve been employed. I have over 8 weeks of vacation time per year, which includes a handful of personal days and you can use up to a week for family sick time without needing approval from HR. You can’t roll the time over, but you get a full sick time bank at the start of each year. It is encouraged by the university as a whole and by most supervisors to stay home when sick. I have several chronic health problems, and the no stress of NOT having to worry about making up time and having sick time to use has definitely made my health better in some ways.

    1. blink14*

      This should be over 8 weeks of SICK time per year! We also have a pretty good vacation time policy, but not quite 8 weeks!

        1. blink14*

          It’s amazing! If stay for another couple of years, there is one final incremental sick leave increase. And my sick time would go up to 13 weeks!

  48. Anon, not in the US*

    Our sick leave policy is very generous on the surface. The problem is, there are penalties for actually using the time. Not just informal penalties, or ones that are cultural or weirdly enforced, but actually written into the policy and the collective bargaining agreement.

    We get 20 days at 100% pay, which sounds terrific. But we also only get three *occurrences* at 100%, and starting with occurrence #4, we don’t get paid for the first day of sick leave. So it’s incredibly punitive for anyone with a chronic illness – or even anyone who gets a cold or a night of insomnia more than three times a year.

    Also, once you hit ten sick days in a year, your manager has to “counsel” you, regardless of occurrences. Last year I had one occurrence of one day in January, then my second occurrence was in June – that one ended up being ten (consecutive) days, with a doctor’s note. And my manager had to have this ridiculous talk with me about my attendance, even though I had called out twice in six months, and was well within my allowed limits of both time and occurrences. Fortunately, she agrees that it’s ridiculous, and started by apologizing to me that she had to do it at all. But honestly, the whole thing is so punitive. Why have sick days at all, if you’re going to make it impossible for people to use them?

  49. Temporarily Anonymous*

    My workplace has a not too bad amount of sick time compared to some (1 1/4 days earned per month) but people still come in sick all the time because our office culture is Not Good about it. We once had HR give a special bullet point in a seasonal meeting that they could “still fire you for being gone too much even if you are within your sick leave limit” which I think basically says it all. Adding to that, it’s a very busy workplace and coworkers get resentful because they are asked to double up on job duties often even without sick people’s absences. I use a lot of sick leave because of chronic medical conditions (bad enough that I sometimes have to use some vacation leave as sick leave by the end of the year) and it is a regular stressor because I can’t afford to catch some nasty bug from my coworkers when I have little enough sick leave left as it is.

    1. blink14*

      My workplace requires medical documentation after being out for 5 days, which I think is a good solution to this type of situation. It deters the people who may take advantage of the policy, but also gives the people who legitimately need the time off a way to validate their request.

      1. Temporarily Anonymous*

        We require a doctor’s note if we are gone for more than two consecutive workdays. But at least we have coverage for doctor’s notes (don’t have to pay for the visit) where I live, unlike some people who’ve commented.

      2. Beezus*

        That’s what we ask for the clients I do outsourced HR work with. At that point, in CA, you can actually go on short term disability and have to provide a Dr’s note as part of that anyway.

  50. Snow Drift*

    My company likes to run stats and act like correlation isn’t a thing. “Your department has the worst attendance of everyone, you use too much sick time! Sales uses almost nothing, and neither does the C-suite! Be more like them!”

    Yeah, but my department is by far the youngest in average age, and thus has the most employees with small children. Sales spends most of their time on the road, where you’ll never know if they’re taking a day to rest and just not recording it. And the executives are all Boomer-age empty nesters who don’t have preschool germ monsters at home.

    1. Labradoodle Daddy*

      Plus my guess is that they’re not necessarily earning a salary that affords them the privilege of preventative healthcare :/

    2. irene adler*

      “Okay, maybe if you paid us like you paid the C-suite or sales folks, we would be better able to meet the zero use sick time goal. “

  51. Jennifer*

    I really can’t stand it when people shame others for not working while sick. It’s almost as if we as a society reward people for making themselves as miserable as possible. It’s very weird.

    1. Windchime*

      I think it’s a holdover from our Puritanical roots. People are expected to work unless they are on their deathbeds, and people are viewed as suspected malingerers if they are ill more than “normal” (and the boss gets to decide what “normal” is). As Alison says in the article, when the choice is “work and pay rent” vs “stay home and not pay rent”, then they are going to choose the former every time.

  52. Allotropic*

    Another policy I’d like to see die off is the monetary incentive NOT to use allotted sick days. My husband’s company allots them 3 sick days a year, but will give you a cash bonus for each unused day. In my mind, this is no different than employees taking a pay cut if they take a sick day.

  53. Alexander*

    Really, I do not understand how you people in America survive in the workplace…

    Germany for example does not even have a concept of “sick days” – they are ALWAYS PTO and are more or less unlimited by law. Most companies follow the model that you have to bring a doctors note for your sick days after the third consecutive day of being out – if you are out one or two days, you just stay home and inform the employer of your illness. (This is of course a privilege that can be revoked – there are possibilities to force “offenders” to bring a doctor’s note on the first day or if the doctor is suspected of being “friendly” with their diagnoses, it can even be ordered to get the doctor’s notes from a certified governmental doctor).
    For the first six consecutive weeks of being sick, you get your normal pay from your employer – after these six weeks, you get a percentage of your salary (iirc it is 65%, but not sure about the specific number) from your (mandatory) health insurance. Also, being ill is not a valid reason for termination, and can only be used as reason if the company can prove that keeping the employee while being sick (for years in a row sometimes) is catastrophic for the survival of the company or otherwise (very) damaging, for example by blocking a vital role from being (re)filled.
    In addition concerning PTO, you get the public holidays off by law (varies from 8 to 13 by state), and these do not count against your PTO grant – they are additional. If you work these days (which needs governmental permission for all jobs that are not considered essential/usually work weekends and nights as well like police/firefighting/similar jobs), you get another day of PTO added to your balance to take some other day.
    Also, the minimum PTO by law is 20 days, but most companies give 25-35 depending on role and job.

    I recently talked about a friend that looked for a new job and got an offer with “only” 25 days PTO and we both agreed that is not worth taking, as most other positions in that field (IT) give a minimum of 30.

    1. Windchime*

      We survive it because there is no alternative. Honestly, it seems like the higher up the career food-chain you go, the better the benefits. I get 17 days vacation plus 12 days sick, plus 10 holidays. But I work in IT and have for 20 years. The person who makes my sandwiches at the shop across the street probably gets nothing, or close to it. So she really has no choice; if she wants to feed her kids, she’d better come in to work, sick or not.

      1. Tau*

        The minimum-20 (but usually 25-35) days PTO are vacation. Sick time is separate and effectively unlimited.

      2. Indie*

        I’m in the UK and really baffled by this concept of treating them like same/similar things let alone putting them together in a ‘pot’. If you’re on a zero hours contract in a poor job you’ll get neither, but nowhere are they considered the same thing.
        Holidays are paid time off that you plan to do something fun with. Usually 25 days plus. You can’t plan to be sick, so a planned number of days aren’t allotted for sickness.
        Sickness is something entirely separate that you have whenever you are sick. Of course you dont want to annoy a boss too much and they can require a doctors note for more than three days off in a row. They can also have a ‘whats going on here’ type chat with you, and may ask for documentation if you have lots of time off in a year, but a sick day is never considered a paid-for perk of the job.

        1. Bagpuss*

          Yes, in the UK there is a statutory entitlement for an employee to have 5.6 weeks – 28 days for a full time worker – paid holiday per year. This can include bank holidays but many employers give more. My place of work gives 25 days + bank holidays, so 33 days total, and we usually give an extra couple of days over Christmas, as well.
          Sick pay is not governed by statute so varies widely, in public sector jobs direct employees can have very generous policies – my sister is entitled to either 3 or 6 months at full pay and the same at half pay, for instnace. In the private sector policies are typically much less generous, but vary widely. I’ve worked places where I was entitled to anything from 6 days to 6 weeks.
          Statutory sick pay kicks ini f you are off for 3 days or longer, which is a set amount your employer is required to pay even if they don’t offer paid sick leave. It’s not very generous, about £92 a week, I think, but it means that you are not left with zer0 income.

          1. media monkey*

            also UK and we get 25 days holiday (paid) with a day added fro every year up to a max of 30. plus 10 paid bank holidays (easter, xmas, may day etc). plus we get an additional day for our birthday, plus the office closed between xmas and new year and we got given those days additionally. i have never worked anywhere (other than retail type work while at university) where there appeared to be any limit on reasonable use of sick days.

      3. Alexander*

        Like Tau said, sick days are just not a concept we have – if you are sick, it is the same as a normal workday, just ..you don’t come to work* (*in the first 6 weeks, after that see my OP). It is booked on a different account in your timesheet and there is some finance mumbo jumbo going on in the background of course, but for you, the effect is the same: nothing happens, you still get paid.
        The only thing I might have mentioned is that I was of course talking about salaried people, and that one of the things some people are getting an issue with is that it might be that if you call in sick/take a vacation day is that you only get your base salary, and not things that you might be entitled to like night work bonuses or hazard pay or anything like that.

        This is why a friend of mine has to budget for his vacation time/longer sick periods a bit as he is working security and a big chunk of his pay is hazard/night/weekened bonuses which he does not get while out on SL/PTO.

    2. cat socks*

      My company has unlimited PTO and a generous WFH policy. I’ve worked for a few different managers and the overall culture is to allow people to take time off for vacation and to stay home when they are sick. Not every company has awful policies. I’m also lucky that I work in software development and don’t have a butt in seat type of job.

      1. Alexander*

        Sounds very workable to me – the funny thing is, I work in Germany, and even though I would be totally allowed to take sick days if I’m not feeling super, I usually follow a consciousness model – if I’m feeling well enough to sit at a computer, I will do WFH as much as I feel capable off (and if I start feeling worse, I just stop).
        The employer has to pay me anyway if I call in sick or WFH, so I just try to find a balance between getting stuff done, still getting rest where needed, and not letting my team down.
        (WFH + the fact that nobody should come in if he is too sick to work / might infect others and has no penalty waiting for him/her is helping a lot as well)

    3. Tau*

      Also in Germany, and I had a really horrible year health-wise in 2018. A combination of a flu-like illness, followed by severe anaemia, followed by surgery to get rid of the thing causing the severe anaemia, meant I ended up out on sick leave for something on the order of six weeks in total. I was thanking our sick leave system on bended knee, because I really don’t know what I’d have done in a system with a strict cap on sick days.

    4. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

      And yet people STILL martyr themselves! I have a coworker who gets terrible migraines but instead of staying/
      going home they will stay at work, talking about how miserable they are. We have all tried; our manager has tried; we all take sick days for things like migraines etc so it’s really not an office culture thing where people look at you weird if you call in sick; the work we do is also not very time sensitive, so can easily be left for the next day or even the day after; but they will not go home and even ordering them home does not work. And we can’t physically drag them home, which at this point I think would be our last option.

      I really don’t get it. We live in a country with a pretty decent system for sick leave. Use it! Stop suffering!

      1. Alexander*

        Some people just like to torture themselves it seems.. but the old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but not make it drink” is very applicable to personal lifestyle choices as well.

  54. DCR*

    At my office, you accrue four hours a payperiod. Which sounds great, but if you want to get paid on maternity leave you have to use sick leave for the first six weeks and other leave for the second six weeks. So yes, I come in sometimes when I am slightly sick (which sucks for me and for the others in my office) . But because I plan to have a child in the next few years, I dont feel I have a choice. Even if I never take a single sick day, I will not have accrued six weeks of sick leave by that tine.

  55. erynlibrarian*

    My first “real” job gave us 2 weeks of PTO for the first 3 years of employment. This included sick time, vacation time, AND holidays when the office was closed. So by the time I used PTO for New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (when I couldn’t have worked even if I wanted to) I had 8 days left for sick time and vacation. I never called in sick.

  56. clunker*

    I really like my office’s leave policies and work-from-home policies.

    We have a single bucket of PTO, and you can only carry half of your yearly accrual rate over to the next year, so everyone has to use all of it on average every year so they don’t lose it. This isn’t discouraged, and it works really well, IMO.

    As someone who’s chronically ill and therefore has days sometimes where I can’t get to work, but I can do work, I can WFH on those days without losing any time. Then on days where I really can’t work, I can use my PTO and not worry that my manager thinks of me as someone who slacks or something because I take sick days, because I’m using the same as everyone else per year. In our team, one person being out for a day unexpectedly is really less upsetting to everyone’s work usually than taking a planned 2 week vacation often is.

  57. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

    I’ll throw this out there…how do your employers handle potential misuse of sick time? We’ve got a total of 5 days (after it took me YEARS to get it increased from 3). They feel this is plenty of time. Oddly, upper management RARELY get sick. They’re superhuman or something. So consequently, they feel that anyone needing more than the given 5 days is malingering. And those 5 days/year have to cover everything from your own illness, family member’s illness, doctor’s appointments, friend and extended family funerals, etc. We do get vacation time, but most of us don’t want to use vacation time for any of those reasons. So we know logic isn’t going to work…plus, they do not seem to mind when people come to work sick. It’s weird. Any ideas??

    1. Agent J*

      In an ideal world, I would love separate buckets of time for vacation, sick leave, and personal days. Personal days would cover some of those miscellaneous reasons why you would need a day off of work without having to call in sick or take away from your vacation time. Some places may have this but I think it would cut down on misuse of sick time if more places implemented it.

      1. Paris Geller*

        My workplace has this system, and it’s great. We get sick leave (I want to say it’s 80 hours a year), vacation (88 a year), and personal (40 hours). Personal leave is basically whatever you want it to be–you can schedule it in advance like you would vacation, or use it for when you have to leave two hours early for a minor family emergency or come in late because you had a flat tire.

  58. Blueberry*

    My current company gives only 6 sick days. I got quite ill in mid-January a few years ago and ended up in the emergency room and then admitted to the hospital for emergency gallbladder removal. I took 2 sick days and 2 vacation days and was back to work less than a week after surgery, which I really should not have done. But just those 2 sick days ate up 1/3 of my sick time for the year. It wasn’t even February yet.

  59. Ann O'Nemity*

    I seriously can’t decide if it’s better to have separate buckets for vacation and sick, or one combined PTO. Combined buckets offer great flexibility, but in my experience sick people come to work because they’d rather use their PTO days for vacation.

  60. 4Sina*

    I had 3 sick days left in 2018. Sure enough, Jan 31, I feel a tickle in my throat that turned into full on chest coughing, sore throat, the works and used 1.5 sick days right out of the gate in 2019. Of course, those 3 didn’t roll over so I’m stuck with my fingers crossed that I’m relatively healthy for the next 51 weeks because I use this time also for doctors appointments. It’s not great to come in sick these first couple weeks of January, but I understand the anxiety.

  61. Farther and Happier*

    I have a coworker who uses all her time every year. Honestly it is good that she does. She gets paid for it and frankly we should use it. Last year in November she had one and a half days left and she fell ill. Like seriously ill. Landed in the hospital and had to be out for 10 days. She got a call from HR while in the hospital to tell her that “this is why you should save your sick days or vacation days until the end of the year. You never know when something might happen.” Short Term Dis doesn’t kick in until after you are 5 days out. She wasn’t getting paid for those 3.5 days in the hospital after her one and a half days. And they were acting like “well it is all your fault, you should have planned for this.” I was so angry for her and there was nothing we could do to help. And, the icing on the cake, her first day back was the Monday after the Thanksgiving break. If she didn’t come in she was told she would not be paid for those 2 paid holidays. I get that everything they did was completely legal, but I feel like anyone who calls you while you in the hospital and then treats you like a child bc you don’t have enough sick days takes it to another level of petty.

    1. Indie*

      Or maybe “this is why sick days can’t be accurately numbered ahead of time and lumped in with normal time off”. Do they really want everyone taking time off together at the end of the year? Bizarre.

  62. TechWorker*

    I’m in the U.K. where I think we have better laws around sick leave in the first place but I also think my company’s policy is pretty good. In general we don’t work from home regularly but it’s 100% fine to say ‘I’m not feeling great I’ll wfh’ and then put in half a day sick if actually you needed a mid afternoon nap and didn’t get that much done. This is really great for the times when you’re well enough to do *some* work but sick enough to infect others and given being sick is pretty boring the option of working from the sofa and only needing to get a half day in is very welcome.

    1. Arya Snark*

      I worked in the US for a company like that and it was a great policy. They were Dutch-owned, so they had a very generous PTO bank to boot. Never really felt any pressure to work while sick except during accounting crunch times – QE/YE,etc. I wasn’t in accounting but I had to deliver the data they needed to do what they needed to do. Working from home was a good compromise.

  63. Seifer*

    Before I worked in offices, I used to work in restaurants, which is where there really, really should be better sick time policies. I worked as expo, which means that I took food from the line cooks and arranged it by which table it was going to, and sent it out of the kitchen. If I was sick… do you really want to be taking food from me. But I had no sick time because they kept me at under 30 hours to be able to consider me part time. I couldn’t get anyone to cover my shift because, oh no, Jill can’t come in, she’s at 30/40 hours already–even if Jill was willing, which was a rarity. If I called in three times without a doctor’s note, I could be fired, and I did have health insurance under my parents, but if I didn’t, since I was part time, I wouldn’t have qualified for health insurance and would’ve had to pay out of pocket for a doctor to tell me it’s a cold!

    So it’s like. I’m on the other side now, and I absolutely do not want to eat somewhere where I can see a sick worker. But when I was the sick worker? I was wearing a friggin’ surgical mask because I literally could not afford to be sick. It’s a ridiculous situation.

  64. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    My manager back at ToxicJob was kind of weird about time off for sickness. If it was for yourself, great, take as much as you want. If it was to look after a sick family member (sick child, spouse needing surgery, dementia-addled MIL who needed chaperoning to doctor appointments), you got a lot of side-eye. Still not sure what was up with that. It didn’t seem to be a company policy; I think she just had some issues (to put it mildly).

    1. mcr-red*

      My former boss was like that too – you couldn’t use sick days to look after a sick kid because YOU weren’t sick, it had to be a vacation day.

      So yeah. People whose kids were sick used vacation days or lied and said they were sick too (and then had to go through the fight of if you were REALLY that sick.)

  65. Jaybeetee*

    Paid sick leave! Even up here, in Soviet Canuckistan, I didn’t have paid sick leave when I was working hourly jobs. And as it happened, jobs that paid hourly tended to not pay very well, meaning missing a day’s pay could be a pretty big deal.

    I still remember a few years ago I had an hourly day job, and an hourly side-gig, and was barely making my bills on both. Hourly side-gig was mostly WFH, but they wanted me in their office for a few hours once a week. One time I had a horrendous cold, but couldn’t afford to call out for either gig, so slogged through 12 hours or so each day, including crawling into side-gig’s office, where my normally isolated work was, for the only time ever, paused in favour of a group thing they needed done. So I was sick as a dog working on a collaborative task with others. The next week when I came in, there was a container of Lysol wipes at my desk. I never learned who did that. (A colleague I became better friends with later joked that she remembered me from that day, that she made sure not to touch anything I’d touched – I was SICK).

    Nowadays, I have a bougie full-time office job that pays twice what either of those jobs did – and I have paid sick leave! Which I use as needed, and for the occasional mental health day! And it’s fine! Most people actually would prefer to stay home in bed when they’re sick than propping themselves up barely conscious (let alone productive) at work, but they feel like they have to go in.

  66. stitchinthyme*

    My boss in the job before this *hated* when people took sick leave. We did officially have it (though it was pretty skimpy, something like 5 days/year), but the boss made it clear that he did not like people to use it. He didn’t mind vacation time because that’s scheduled in advance, but he hated unscheduled absences. And he expected that because he’d come in sick himself (once he came in when he couldn’t talk at all — and a significant part of his job was talking), everyone else should do the same. There was one guy who was in the hospital for a couple of days, and came back sooner than his doctors advised, but our boss still yelled at him for taking time off. My immediate supervisor strongly disagreed with the company owner’s stance and told us in private to stay the hell home when we were sick, in order to keep from infecting everyone else.

    My current company has a combined sick/personal time bucket — they changed it from just sick leave a couple of years ago in order to give people flexibility about using that time, so now we can take a day or two if we’re sick or for any other reason. (Vacation time is separate.) I like this a lot better, because I rarely get sick (knock on wood), and I always felt guilty about taking sick time when I didn’t actually need to. Now if I want to take a long weekend or I need or want to stay home for whatever reason, I can use that time without guilt. I tend to ration it carefully in case I actually do get sick, though.

  67. Veronica Sawyer*

    I live in Europe, and I’m pretty sure it’s illegal where I live to limit sick days. However, two companies I’ve worked for here discourage it by requiring doctor’s notes from either day 1 or day 2. What often happens is people still come in sick, because if you have to get out of bed to wait in a doctor’s office anyways, you might as well come to work. The other thing that happens is that people go to a doctor for a sick note, and they will write you off for the rest of the week (or longer). Resulting in week-long sick leaves for things like the cold or flu, when you’d normally need maybe 2 days.

    1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      Yeah, my doctor seems a bit jaded by the whole ‘work note’ thing. I get anxiety around such things in general (like, ‘am I sick enough?’), and then I go in when I’m sick and he says ‘how long would you like to be off work?’

      I realise he’s not actually mocking me – he’s serious – but it still makes me feel bad!

  68. Justin*

    In S Korea, where I used to work, the kids had to come in sick. So they just slept at their desks.

    I asked, “is that kid okay?” Was told, “oh, he’s sick, let him be.”

    So everyone was kinda sick a lot.

    We don’t have a monopoly on “tough it out!” nonsense, sadly. But it’s still a huge problem here, of course.

  69. haddlewaddle*

    I stayed home sick today after much hemming and hawing this morning because of a meeting with external clients that I *felt* like I needed to be there for. Ultimately, I felt like walking in a snotty, coughing, sneezing mess would be a poorer reflection on myself and my company than just staying home. Seeing this post today made me feel WAY better about my decision so thanks for being here.

  70. Lynne879*

    I live in one of the few states that requires at least 5 paid sick days, but it accrues SO SLOWLY that I feel like I have to be very careful in how I use them.

    I’ve been working at my retail job for 2 months on an average of 20 hours a week & I still haven’t accrued enough hours for even one paid sick day, so when I was sick last week I had to come in sick. And in retail if you call out enough, you can get fired.

    I even had a customer say to me “Are you sick? I can’t afford to get sick.” Lady, do you think I want to be working while I’m sick? I literally can’t without being penalized AND losing money.

  71. Wintermute*

    I feel like you missed a MASSIVE elephant in the room that is all too commonly ignored. A huge reason for the opiate epidemic in the US is sick leave practices.

    In Europe, and other advanced countries, if you hurt yourself, pull a muscle, suffer a strain or sprain, etc. you are given mild painkillers, perhaps nothing except an NSAID and a low-grade muscle relaxant, and sent home for bed rest.

    In the US, there is no time off for a lot of professions that have long, hard hours and are incredibly physically demanding (plus working weeks average over 50 hours in many fields, and a general lack of concern for employee wellness). The end result is people have to take serious opiate painkillers and power through the pain. This leads to two nasty effects– first, you never actually heal properly, and other body systems start to suffer, the way you walk due to your back pain starts causing leg pain, compensating for a sprained ankle means you strain your back, etc. Second, when you are in pain EVERY DAY at your job, going to work on painkillers is a profound experience– it doesn’t hurt! that constant, everyday pain you’ve been in is GONE. No wonder people end up getting addicted to it.

    Of course no good thing can last forever, and eventually the supply of drugs is cut off, and they either suffer terrible withdrawal, or, more realistically, go cop street opiates like heroin to avoid withdrawal and maintain the ability to push their body past its limits.

    And lets not forget, as well, our sick leave laws and policies forces food workers into a terrible choice of breaking the law or getting fired! It’s illegal to work in a food-contact position if you’ve had certain symptoms (mostly GI related) in the last 24 hours, for fear of spreading foodbourn illness. It’s probably the most widely ignored law in the country after the 65mph speed limit on freeways, and that should be TERRIFYING: the idea that someone who spent all night curled up on the bathroom floor is now making your food, exposing you to whatever got THEM sick plus higher risk of fecal bacteria contamination (it’s amazing how much little droplets can spread!) just because they literally cannot afford a day off. I’ve seen co-workers have no choice but to work at a grocery store even though I was called up to take over their register so they could go vomit every hour like clockwork. Scary stuff.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      OMG. I didn’t realize your first point – but that makes so, so much sense.

      Again, I will reiterate what I said above: bad sick leave policies are literally killing people. Thousands and thousands of people.

  72. WillyNilly*

    I used to work in a small supplement shop in a Drs office. While the shop was literally in the medical practice, it was a separate business (owned by the Dr’s spouse). I was the sole employee, and as such I had no sick days. One day I dragged myself in sick, because I had no choice. Mid morning the Dr stopped in and looked at me, asked me my symptoms, felt my forehead, and ordered I pack up, go home and take the next day off. His spouse/my boss was in the office in back and he headed back there to say he was sending me home.

    I started packing up. My boss came up, and said I should stay a few more hours. And be in the next day. I split the difference, worked til lunch. And came in the next day… because I needed a job, and ultimately the Dr was not my boss.

  73. Marlene*

    Dear God. Seven days into 2019 and we already have the worst boss of the year winner.

    I’m furious on your behalf, letter writer. To go through what you did and at your age… they can all shove a prosthesis up their rears.

  74. nacho*

    I get 20 days a year combined sick/vacation, plus another one for each holiday I work (or I can take 8 hours cash instead). 108 hours/year roll over to the next, up from 40 last year. I’m pretty happy with it, though I’m sure others have better.

  75. Liane*

    It’s not just the (often pathetic) amount of US sick time that make for dysfunctional sick leave policies. At Infamous Retailer, the policy was no more than 3 call-out occurrences* in a rolling 6 months’ period, for any reason, with tardy/leaving early equal to 1/3 an occurrence, which is very little. BUT, 3 days for the same thing counted as 1 occurrence. That meant, “1 day = 1 occurrence, 2 days for same thing = 2 occurrences, 3 days for same thing = 1 occurrence.” It *didn’t* mean, “1 to 3 days for the same thing = 1 occurrence.” So we had a lot of people call out for 3 shifts for the same problem, even if they just needed 2 days to recover–because if they already had 2 occurrences, 2 more call-outs would give them 4, and the next level of discipline–but if they called off that third day, they wouldn’t hit the bar for a writeup. So a lot of short-staffed resulted from this.

    *not vacation, a separate bucket of 5+ days depending on how long you’d worked there.

  76. Anonny*

    Sweet with sour at my workplace – six weeks paid time off for sick leave, separate from vacation.

    However, if you’re sick three times in a rolling twelve month period you’re on a disciplinary, if you’re sick a fourth time it’s a final warning and probation for three months, and for a fifth time in the same rolling 12 month period or if you’re still on the final warning probation, you’re fired.

    If you’re off the day after or the day before a bank holiday, and you don’t have a doctor’s note, that also triggers the disciplinary route. If you’re off at the same time as another person in your team, even if they’re on holiday or off sick too, you’re on the disciplinary route too.

    The only people who use it all are people who are off with workplace stress.

  77. Incantanto*

    Reading these I’m suddenly loving my company.
    Technically contractually somewhere its 10 sick days at full pay, then stat pay, but recently I had to get a reference where they wanted my number of sick days, and the HR guy had no idea, they don’t really track it.

  78. TV*

    We get 8 sick days a year, with comp time being something most people end up accruing. I came back from vacation and ended up with 2.5 days of food poisoning over Christmas. I called out sick the day after Christmas because I was feverish and felt gross. But the next day I was feeling good except I could tell that a cold was coming on! We are allowed to work remotely and I felt good (aside from snot running down my face and coughing) so I worked from home the rest of the week as to not infect my coworkers and I told them that in my emails and phone calls.
    When I got back to work I got a round of applause at our weekly meeting because I stayed home when sick. We all get 8 days of leave, we all get a generous amount of vacation, but I guess I’m not the only one who doesn’t like the saints who come in while hacking and sneezing thinking we can’t work without them in the office…

  79. roisin54*

    I work for a city, and while we get a generous amount of sick time every year they still penalize us for using it: if you use ten “instances” in a rolling twelve month period you have to bring in a doctor’s note for every instance used thereafter until the rolling twelve month no longer has ten instances of sick leave used.

    Which means that, since I used more than ten instances of sick leave last April & May (spring was rough for me y’all), I will get a letter from city HR every month until this coming May reminding me that I used ten instances of sick leave in this period and am thus required to bring in a doctor’s note if I’m out sick again. Fun times.

    1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      My work is a bit like that, but an instance isn’t one day: if I’m out for three days, that’s one instance.

  80. Llamas!*

    Please don’t call the flu a minor illness that doesn’t require a doctor. People should absolutely go see a doctor who can confirm it is the flu and prescribe the appropriate meds.

    1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      Considering that thousands of people a year die of the flu it probably isn’t a minor illness. However if you’re healthy, you will probably recover just fine.
      I have to recommend going to the doctor for this though (if you can obvs). I have the flu right now and I felt so sick I actually went to the hospital (got my husband to drive me). While there is no cure for the flu itself, its symptoms can be treated very effectively, allowing your quality of life to be much better while you recover.

  81. Mellow*

    Something I can’t stand is when I call in ill – maybe a few days for a cold in any calendar year – and then return, it seems like I’m handed stuff no one else wanted to do while I was gone, as though I’m being punished for having been out. My department has a very low morale due to an ostrich boss and that’s one way in which it shows. Why I stay is a huge mystery for me.

  82. Earthwalker*

    I read somewhere that in Britain people are much more sensible about sick leave. How does that work? After all, most of the sick leave usage policies that force people to come in when they’re really sick are there to keep people from faking illness and playing hookey. How does a reasonable approach to sick leave allow people to stay home when sick and not leave their managers suspecting them of faking or demanding doctor notes for simple colds?

  83. CatMintCat*

    I’m so grateful for my sick leave (non-USA). 15 days per year, which accrues (used to be 20). I’m basically healthy, and after 20+ years with the same employer (different sites) I could take a year on full pay. I really hope I never need it but, in the event of catastrophic illness, I’m really glad it’s there.

  84. Teeth Grinder*

    It doesn’t matter if you officially have adequate sick leave, if you aren’t allowed to take it until you’re half dead.
    I’m retired now, but back in the day I worked in the accounting department of a bank. The entire department had a “no time off during year-end close” policy.
    One of my responsibilities involved preparing various complex schedules for the annual report.
    If I weren’t there, no one else would have covered for me; I would have had to do everything when I got back. The deadlines did not move. Well, the SEC doesn’t care if one accountant gets sick – that part I understand.
    I worked at that place through nine annual reporting periods. One year, just one year out of nine, I did NOT have pneumonia by the end of it due to working through a cold followed by bronchitis.
    As a side note, I previously put in my time in public accounting where 70 hour weeks are the norm during busy season. If someone got sick there, another auditor took over their assigned tasks. Perhaps it was partly that we were younger and generally healthier, but I don’t remember anyone working sick. It just wasn’t expected. Maybe because sniffling, coughing auditors don’t present a professional appearance to the clients?

  85. Chris*

    When I read that, I’m happy I live and work in Germany. For the first two sick days, we don’t even need a doctor’s note and can just stay at home. After that we can get a note from the doctor and stay at home. After six weeks your salary is paid by the insurance company and drops to I think 60% but before that, you get your full salary and it does not count against your vacation days.

    There is still some trouble with people coming to work sick because you don’t want to leave your coworkers in a lurch and the line between “I’m still fine to work” and “Please stay home” is kind of blurred but it still sounds a lot better than the U.S. way.

    1. Linda Evangelista*

      My U.S. job offers similar benefits minus the need for a note – not the norm here, I’m understanding, but I’m very grateful knowing I can take the time I need. I also lucked out with a wonderful manager.

  86. Pandop*

    My former team leader is one of those who come in sick because they think they are indispensible. I am based in the public sector in the UK, so to a certain extent if you are sick, you are sick, don’t come in. He came in sick all the time, making the rest of us sick. Fortunately he was ok with sick leave for other people, but my sickness record has improved so much now he is no longer breathing his germs all over me (asthmatic so I pick up colds really easily and get them worse).

  87. Jennifer Juniper*

    At OldJob, I once had co-workers spray Lysol around my desk because I was coughing. It is company policy to only allow 32 hours of callout a year, so I had no choice but to come into work. At that same job, it was common to hear someone in the next bathroom stall vomiting and then go back to her desk.

  88. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    I believe that the VAST majority of people would prefer to call out sick when they are ill, but due to workplace culture (including negative perception of taking sick days), workplace policy, workload, mangy bosses, lack of pay, etc., they can’t or they feel that they can’t. Frankly, I don’t think there are a lot of true martyrs out there, who come in sick solely because they believe they are indispensable.

    Under-staffing, heavy workloads and lack of coverage increase the pressure on workers to *not* use paid time off. Who wants to take a day off when the 10 hours of work that you didn’t do on a sick day, still must be done that same week, as overtime? Who wants to take a week of vacation, when you come back to an 80 hour week because of all the urgent catch-up work? Employers can talk a good game about using paid time off and taking sick days, but then don’t accommodate that in work output expectations. Same old work output expectations, whether you were in the office or not. Employers must think that PTO is magical time, happening outside the Space-Time Continuum!

    With remote work capabilities has come the latest workplace EVIL: Sure, stay at home because you are sick, but your employer expects you to work remotely, or at minimum review and respond to emails all day. So no real sick day.

  89. coffeeandpearls*

    I worked with someone in the C-Suite who apparently, in their 45 years on this planet, never ever got sick. They often expressed “I hate people that take sick days; there’s no excuse to not be here”. Then, they got this really terrible respiratory virus that lingered and took their first sick days EVER. I hate that they had to be sick to learn this overdue lesson, but now they are all about people not being here when they are sick!

  90. anon anon*

    This is especially frustrating in my current job because I’m pretty much the only one in my department on hourly pay and thus not getting paid sick days, but the culture is such that coworkers with paid sick days almost never use them. So I’m sitting there surrounded by germs knowing that if I get sick I’ll have to choose between not getting paid or sticking around and being part of the problem. So glad I’m moving into a role with paid sick leave soon!

  91. Urdnot Bakara*

    At my current job, we have pretty generous PTO, but sick leave is lumped in, and it’s accrued over time (you can technically go 40 hours in the negative but it’s strongly discouraged). I had saved up my PTO all year but then an unexpected death of a close family member caused me to miss multiple days of work (I got one “free” bereavement day but I had to travel out of state for the funeral and stay a few extra days to help with various things). As soon as I returned, I developed just about the nastiest cold I’ve ever had. I took a sick day, but then had to force myself to return to work the next day or else I wasn’t going to have enough time off left for a vacation my husband and I have been trying to take for literally years. Multiple people told me I looked terrible and that I should go home. Would if I could, dude!

    Anyway, I realize this is already a lot more flexibility than most people get, but it’s still an example of why you shouldn’t lump sick days and vacation time together.

  92. Oaktree*

    I came in with bronchitis once- I got sent home immediately. This is the legacy of working part time (read: just few enough hours that they don’t have to legally consider you FT) in fast food, where missing a shift at minimum wage means losing the equivalent of your weekly grocery budget. Now I work in a corporate office with no official limit on sick days (short of them suspecting abuse of the policy) but I still very rarely call in. After the bronchitis day, I spent the rest of the week at home. And a good thing, because I could barely move and ended up losing ten pounds from being unable to eat.

  93. Aerin*

    When I was at The Mouse, I’d booked a trip to Florida right after the holidays. And I got really sick. Like fever, lying down on the floor of the Tiki Room office between shows sick. But they had a policy that if you had called sick and then came into the parks on your ID, you were instantly terminated. (Which I kind of get. If you’re too sick to work, you’re too sick to play on their dime.) So I came to work anyway.

    Luckily, my lead knew I was planning the trip, and that I was flying out for it that night. She pulled some strings to pull someone over from a much bigger attraction, giving her one mystery extra person that she could send home early. I was extremely grateful, and being able to sleep all day meant I could actually enjoy my vacation. (Aside from the fact that my nose was leaking for the entire trip, and I learned where every park’s first aid was so they could supply me with plenty of Sudafed.)

    Current job has discipline kick in with a warning after 8 days in a calendar year. (Which, since I work 4×10, is only 6.5 days for me.) You’re entitled to more than that, I think something like 20 days paid in total. FMLA doesn’t count toward disciplinary absences, so I think a lot of people with chronic illnesses probably take intermittent FMLA. I jumped through all the hoops of getting on FMLA last year when my husband had surgery, because I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t count against my sick buffer.

  94. OyHiOh*

    My spouse accrues sick leave at a rate of 8 hours per paycheck. It’s a quite generous benefit that they use for themselves as well as for taking our children to medical appointments. However, due to the nature of spouse’s work, when they take sick leave, they know someone else in their unit will have forced overtime (on top of a standard 13 hour shift) to cover while spouse is gone. So it’s always a balance – is this medical need/appointment significant enough to warrant forcing someone else to work an 18 hour day?

    Aside: Yup, spouse’s supervisors are well aware the staffing situation is untenable long term. They’re trying but caught in a situation where a difference between state and federal law eliminates many otherwise qualified candidates.

  95. SD*

    As an Australian full time employee I’ve always had 4 weeks paid vacation, 4 weeks paid sick leave. In some places the sick leave accumulates so that long term employees who become seriously ill can get quite a lot of weeks off on full pay; other places they start it fresh each year, but 4 weeks is usually plenty for your average coughs and colds type illness. We do still need medical certificates for more than a few days off though, I think.

    (My last employer had a very clear policy – any absence of more than a day needs a certificate, and you could only have 5 days without a med cert each year)

    Of course the Australian govt is trying to lead us to a more US-style system of healthcare etc, so the future looks bleak, but for now, in this specific thing, full time employees have it pretty good.

  96. cncx*

    late to the ball game, my company not only has great sick leave, we also give every employee a laptop and have a generous wfh policy. Like if you have stuff to do and you’re sick, you can use your laptop from home or, you know, take the day off sick. No docked pay, no sick days, nothing, just work off your laptop at home if you have deadlines or don’t work if you’re too sick to work. People STILL come in sick. It makes me RAGE.

  97. Ladysplainer*

    My first job in FL, the company reserved the right to override sick leave. I called in one day to say I had a horrible sinus infection & would be staying home.
    I got a text from my boss an hour later saying I was needed for a meeting, and to come in or be fired.
    I came in, and my coworkers were furious, and extremely nasty, about my doing so. One gleefully told me she’d met with my boss about whether or not I was a malicious danger to the office & let me know that if this month’s fertility treatments didn’t work it was my fault. A petition went around to have me banned from the kitchen and bathroom.
    Two months later a coworker’s wife miscarried and I was blamed.
    I’ll never work at a startup again.

  98. Laurelma01*

    When I worked in banking, early 1990’s. We got 6 paid sick and 6 unpaid. I got a 12 cents hourly raise. I had been penalized for taking my sick time.

  99. Monroe*

    I was a Supervisor for Aerospace and Semiconductor production in a factory. Hired on employees (there were many temps) had yearly PTO for sick leave and vacation time that were separate. It totalled around 14 days. There was never any wiggle room – if you used up all time off you were given 3 “grace call-ins” and then after that you were fired. There were strict policies around this. Almost everyone on the floor was hourly so we clocked in at an electronic card readers that we swiped. You were not allowed to clock in even one minute late so if you were going to be late you had to put in for an hour time off of sick leave to save your ass. If you went against being forced to put in for that hour off you’d get a strike and after 4 of those you were fired. The vacation time also had to be used in 4 hour increments and you were required to give 24 hour notice. If you did not provide 24 hour notice you got a strike. If you called in but refused to put in for time off you were given a strike or a higher up would go in and manually put in for you. I saw so many good employees get fired due to illness and emergencies that used their time off. I had a welder that had a brain tumor. She used all her time off and was on her last strike due to the many doctors appointments, hospital visits and not feeling well. She was waiting on short term disability to be approved for her first surgery. One time she started feeling very ill – she was extremely dizzy and experiencing blurry double vision. Myself and other employees kept telling her to go home but she was terrified that she would be fired. It was heartbreaking. She absolutely could not continue her work as she was a welder. That would obviously be extremely dangerous. We had her sit down in our area to rest and then she rested in the lunch room. She ended up leaving and had to leave her car and get a ride due to the state that she was in. Luckily there were no repercussions to her for this. It is just such a sad state of affairs for so many workers in America to the point to where a person suffering from the effects of a brain tumor is petrified of leaving due PTO policies.

    1. Monroe*

      Oh and also there was constant mandatory overtime so on top of being horribly sick or having an injury you got to look forward to running around a production line 10 hours a day Monday through Friday and 8 hours on Saturday. Yeah the turn over rate at that company was insane.

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