how can we stop people from coming to work sick?

A reader write:

What can I do about loose sick attendance policies in the workplace? In my office, people frequently come into work very obviously sick and many times get other people sick. Most people do not have the ability to work from home, so that isn’t an option for the masses. The director of the company even sent a firm-wide message telling people that he preferred sick employees stay home, as to stop the spread to the rest of the staff. Unfortunately, this didn’t make much of a difference. I understand that people want to save their paid time off for more enjoyable times, but it’s not fair to the coworkers to whom they spread their germs. (We also offer six paid sick days, separate from vacation and personal leave.)

I wonder if there is anything that can be done on a grander scale? Not just in my place of work — for example, my wife and mother work in places with a similar problem. So even if I were able to reduce the issues at my office, I would still be exposed through family.

Is there any way to encourage self-quarantine for illness at work? Do you have any advice on how to navigate these issues otherwise? I have to imagine that in addition to my simple preference for not being sick, there are people out there who are forced to expose children and the elderly to illnesses because of their coworkers.

There are three very effective ways of getting sick people to stay home, but companies have to do all three to get it to work:

1. Offer generous paid sick time. Six days a year is on the low side; the average in the U.S. is seven days a year, with over half of employers offering five to nine, and another quarter offering 10 or more. (And of course, the U.S. is notoriously stricter with paid time off than most other industrialized countries.)

People are far more likely to come to work sick if they don’t have a generous sick leave set-up. Even if they technically have days available, they might not take them, figuring they might need to save them for later in the year. For example, if you have a bad cold in January, are you really going use half of your annual sick leave on it, leaving yourself only a few days for the next 11 months? And if you do, that makes it more likely you’ll show up at work when you get ill in October. This is even more true for people who struggle with chronic health problems who have to choose between staying home with a virus or keeping that time off for more serious issues.

Employers who really mean it when they say “stay home if you’re sick” need to back that up by giving people enough days off to do it without worry.

2. Don’t just give lip service to the idea that people should stay home when they’re sick. Things that will quickly cancel out any campaign to stop sick people from coming in: managers who grumble or seem put out when people call in sick, managers who never take any sick time themselves, awards for perfect attendance, and other signals that what the company really wants is for people to never get sick in the first place.

3. Have enough coverage available so people feel they can take the day off. If you’re so short-staffed that there’s no practical way to miss a day of work without problems (either with coverage while you’re gone or with the crapstorm of work that will await you when you’re back), a lot of people will decide it’s better to just drag themselves in.

If employers are serious about wanting sick people to stay home, they’d do the three things above. If they don’t, they’re not putting their money where their (germy) mouths are. In that case, they don’t really want it — they just want not to have to deal with the reality that their employees are humans who get sick.

{ 701 comments… read them below }

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      This – you may be perfectly healthy one year and get hit with something horrible the next and only have five-ten days to work with. That’s terrible. Or, if you have a chronic illness (I have many), only being able to have six days a year is not enough – hell, I wish I only got ill six days out of a year!

      My current company allows sick day rollover (we get 10 days a year) with no cap (unlike vacation time, which gets capped at 15 rollover days) – even though I work from home full time, I feel so much better knowing that if I need the time, it’s there and no one’s going to give me shit about using it (my manager is also regularly ill, so that helps).

      1. Kiwiii*

        We do leave banks here, too. Thirteen vacation days/year, able to accumulate total up to 26; twelve sick days/year, able to accumulate up to 36. Makes things a hell of a lot easier.

        1. Mama Bear*

          My spouse contributes one day of leave to a company leave bank. This buy in gives him the ability to ask for donated leave if he’s struck with a serious illness or something. Being able to donate time to coworkers is something else a company can consider, though that’s beyond the “how do we get them to stay home sick” question.

          1. Michelle*

            This is a great idea and I wish more companies would do it. We have people who have up to 300 hours of sick leave and would like to donate some to those who are chronically ill or a coworker who may be in chemo but the company won’t allow it. It’s paid time off and does it really matter if you’re paying Jake or John sick time? If more senior people with higher salaries donate to workers with much lower salaries the company saves money, right?

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Where I work, donated time is actually a dollar amount. When someone who makes $30/hour donates a day of PTO, they’re actually donating $240 of leave time. So if the person on the receiving end makes $20/hour, they’re actually receiving 12 hours of PTO instead of 8. It’s pretty wonderful, actually.

              1. Yorick*

                That’s a really cool way to do it.

                We can only donate vacation time (we have separate vacation and sick time), which I think is lame. I have six weeks of sick time built up, I’d rather give away some of that than some of the vacation days that I do plan to take some time soon.

                1. AnnaBananna*

                  I think it’s lame too. I was unpleasantly surprised when I moved from my university job to a position in our research hospital and discovered that 1/3 of PTO is banked and only can be accessed if we’re sick three days or more in a row. So ever uses it unless it’s for something like planned surgery, which means we basically have 1/3 less PTO than our similarly roled counterparts at the university proper. It’s total bullshit.

              2. Derjungerludendorff*

                That’s a really neat way of doing it!
                It also means that highly paid employees will contribute more (with a higher salary and more time off), while lower paid employees will get more out of it.

            2. Caroline Bowman*

              I know this is a bit off-topic, but just the suggestions that employees should even have to consider ”donating” their already-skimpy PTO to a sick colleague is hideous. The company should 100% be underwriting and encouraging a person who is being treated for a serious disease, whether by chemo or anything else. It should not even be a thing.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Ooh I like this!

            Question, what happens if he does ask when he’s struck with a serious illness or something, and they say “sorry, we are all out of donated leave at the moment”? or is it not something that can happen?

            1. DC Cat*

              Don’t know if this is the case at Mama Bear’s spouse’s work, but at mine, HR will send out a request for people to donate more time if someone is having a longer-term health situation and needs the extra.

              1. Scarlet2*

                So they just pressurize other employees instead of offering extra leave to people who genuinely need it? Wow.

                1. Yorick*

                  Our vacation and sick time are negotiated by unions, and it’s a pretty good amount by US standards. But people can still run out. I’ve been happy to donate a day of vacation to someone who needs it, knowing that I still have plenty for myself.

                2. AnnaBananna*

                  Pressure? Hmm. How else would they communicate that the donation banks were low? I seriously doubt they guilted them into it. We get those emails here from time to time and it’s very hands off ‘this program exists out of generous folks like you, yada yada, here is how to donate IF YOURE INTERESTED, etc’ and that’s it.

                3. observerette*

                  not that different than a blood bank or the like. Not like that guy here a few years ago asking to donate a liver to his brother!

            2. Wintermute*

              That’s why these systems look good on paper but actually suck. They suck even MORE if leave must be donated to a specific person not a bank (a system some employers actually use!).

              How about just… making compassionate decisions? Nothing about the law says an employer can’t look at a situation and decide to give someone the leave they need without forcing other people to give up leave to enable it.

              And if you are donating to people not banks you can get the awful situation where someone with a much more objectively serious problem that just isn’t well-liked can end up stuck while a popular and well-liked employee is taken care of completely.

              1. Caroline Bowman*

                Yes! This. It’s just revolting that this is how beleaguered people have to deal with desparate situations; by relying on charity. Why should one’s co-workers donate part of their own compensation? I think it’s wonderful that people are generous and kind, but that they should have to be is just wrong.

              2. rigger42*

                Also, when I’ve seen those appeals they’ve had more details than the person might normally have shared if they weren’t in desperate need.

          3. Inigo Montoya*

            I truly hate the idea of employees donating leave for other employees. Sick leave is not a finite resource, like there’s a pile of it in a mine and once it’s gone, that’s it! The company should just give more to people on a case by case basis. I mean, that’s essentially what they’re doing anyway, but don’t be so cheap about it that you take it away from others. I think it’s shitty of the company to make it the problem of the sick person’s colleagues.

            1. Perpal*

              Yeah I’m a little iffy on it too; what if someone who didn’t/couldn’t bank gets majorly sick? Are they screwed or do they get it anyway? It’s kind of a guilt trip?

            2. Scarlet2*


              Also, there’s no way you can predict how many days you’ll need from one year to the next. You can be generally healthy, but get sick just once and then need all your days. It’s pretty crummy to make people feel like they have a choice between giving away a day that could turn out to be very necessary later on or feeling like selfish jerks who don’t help their sick colleagues.

            3. crampus grumblesnore*

              Yeah, this whole cheery thread about leave banks and what a wonderful solution they are is a bit… Dystopian. A stop-gap, maybe, but not a solution. Especially with these arbitrarily low limits – 36 days banked? Wow. A whole 7 work weeks. Why, that’s *almost* two months of maternity or chemo or transplant or full-body-cast leave!

              The idea that any single job is so important that an organization can’t handle a single absence, however prolonged, is just a testament to how the upward-concentration of funds instead of even distribution to hire more bodies, in *every* industry, warps our priorities profoundly, and leads us to thinking things like “wow it’s so great that we can donate leave to employees who need it” instead of “it’s pretty gross that the company won’t provide for those in need, huh”. And I apply this to every single industry – yes, even emergency medicine, which fundamentally requires round-the-clock coverage. (Hint: hire more doctors and nurses, but fewer administrators/executives.)

              Honestly, it reminds me of those “heartwarming” stories about kids who, I don’t know, take a paper route so they can pay off their peers’ lunch debt at school. It’s only heartwarming if you focus only on the charity and refuse to examine how truly disgusting it is that something like “lunch debt” exists in the first place.

            4. EmKay*

              *smacks table* THANK YOU.

              Reading the happy comments about having 10 sick days in a year, and the wonderful ability to donate “your” sick time to someone else who needs it is so bizarre and disheartening. People *shouldn’t* be happy to have those piddly crumbs, they should be angry and demanding more.

              But yay american capitalism, I guess.

              1. Lavender Menace*

                It is, in fact, possible for human beings to hold more than one feeling at a time. It’s possible to be both happy that you have what is considered a lot of sick time in our culture and/or happy that your company is more humane than most in your country and acknowledge that’s still not enough.

            5. Wintermute*

              I’m 100% with you. There’s nothing on earth to stop a company from just making compassionate decisions to keep someone on payroll or offer extended leave if they wish. They could just say “wow this looks really serious, we will give you what you need.”

              FMLA and state/city sick time laws set a MINIMUM bar, often a very low one, nothing says you can’t treat good workers with kindness.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Also if possible- let people work from home! If you don’t allow it just because you don’t think as much gets done vs. actually logistical issues, let people take an occasional work from home day. It really is a huge help if you are sick but could get work done to be able to do it at home and save your sick days for when you are too sick to get out of bed.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Yes, OP says that it’s not an option for most people, but is that a matter of policy or is it that it’s not possible to do the job remotely? Are there things that can be done to allow remote work, even occasionally? I know that there have been many times when I was well enough to struggle through the day at the office if I had to, but working from home where I could put my feet up, save the commute, and nap during lunch made it so much easier.

        1. Jellyfish*

          Over half the workers in the United States are in some kind of private service industry like food, retail, etc.* Those generally don’t allow WFH options.
          Other major industries like transportation, education, healthcare, and manufacturing also require on-site work. Plenty of jobs can include WFH options, especially on rare occasions, but certainly not all of them.

          *According to Pew Research in 2019

          1. Hills to Die on*

            I believe it, and I am not saying that everyone can always work from home if they just have a laptop and a good VPN. I’m wondering about the phrasing – if it truly is not an option or simply Not Something We Like at the company.

            1. Zillah*

              right – it’s not like the only employers who don’t allow WFH are the ones for whom it’s truly not possible.

              1. SatsumaWolf*

                I’m in the UK and at my company there is no stated cap on sick leave. We need a doctors note for anything over 3 days (I think) which is easy to get (and free ‘cos UK National Health Service but so many people are not asked for one if its a reason like flu (we shouldn’t go to a docs with flu). If there are multiple instances of sickness HR get in touch so they can ask what’s going on and if they can help e.g. do you have a medical condition we need to know about. Most of our managers are very cool about people taking time off if they are ill. In their words, nothing we do saves lives: stay home.
                Despite this, people will still come in when ill. Some are bored at home, some feel they have too much to do, some feel guilty. Even with the best company incentives I don’t think you’ll get all employees staying home when ill unless there’s as disincentive to come in somehow.

                Also I think in the UK it’s understood and taken into account not all people need the same amount of sick days – theres no call to donate time. Ive taken maybe 7 in 7 years. Others will have taken a lot more. Thats life, that’s business.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  I assume we’d be able to take fewer sick days in the states, on average, if we were able to get necessary medical care when we need it instead of waiting until we’re so sick we know we’ll definitely need meds/treatment to resolve it so as not to waste the $150 it costs to walk in the door at urgent care or the $50 copay if your primary doc has an appointment available same day.

                  Literally the only valid reason we have in the states to not implement socialized medicine is to continue serving as some kind of fucked-up object lesson for every other industrialized nation to point to when someone asks how bad private healthcare could really get.

                2. JasperJ*

                  Here in NL, I’ve taken maybe 1 or 2 days a year on average for the last 11, but right now I’m having a 2-3 month issue — I spent Christmas Day at Urgent Care, and then the 28th at the ER getting admitted for what ended up being ten days in hospital including 2 emergency surgeries. So that was a fun New Year’s Party, for sure. Since then I’ve been recovering from the post-surgical trauma. I still have daily wound care nurses coming to visit me at home.

                  If I was in the US I would almost certainly have lost my job (thus possibly my insurance) and might hope to reapply to return to my job eventually. I’m sure the stress would have done wonders for my recovery rate.

            2. Jellyfish*

              That’s fair. Lots of jobs could be remote, especially for sick-ish days, and are not due to tradition or a micromanaging boss.

          2. HBJ*

            Thiiiiis. I get the feeling lots of commenters on this site think remote work or wfh is the answer to everything. And I sit here thinking, “maybe some office jobs, sure.” I’m glad to see there are some legitimate statistics out there showing that it’s probably really not an option for most jobs, which is what I’ve always thought was the case. And that that “over half” statistic only includes private service industry and doesn’t include all those categories you mentioned. I’d like to see a study that includes that.

            1. Hills to Die on*

              I believe it, and I am not saying that everyone can always work from home if they just have a laptop and a good VPN. I’m wondering about the phrasing – if it truly is not an option or simply Not Something We Like at the company.

          3. Nonny Maus*

            Food Service/Retail and other areas that require someone to BE PRESENT physically SHOULD have even more reason to have Generous and Full options for sick workers. I can’t speak for many, but in food service/retail? NOPE
            Many was the time we were a bare skeleton crew already, when someone was legitimately sick/unable to come in, leaving us even MORE strapped for coverage. It’s endemic in food-service and retail and there really isn’t much a line worker OR manager can do, even when they’re supportive.

            I wish I had answers. I’m a Temp now, but my ‘boss’ in the office is awesome at reminding me “It’s okay to be home when you’re sick!” SUCH A CHANGE, because she MEANS it.

            1. Terri*

              I’m a waitress and when I hear people go on and on about how food service workers should NEVER work sick, I roll my eyes. “Sick days” in food service are virtually non-existent. Where I currently work we get PTO (which is rare for restaurants) but for tipped employees, our PTO hours are paid at minimum wage ($7.25/hr)- obviously, that’s much less than we’d make normally. So people work sick, because otherwise you lose a significant chunk of money.

              1. Hills to Die on*

                Oh, exactly! If you don’t work sick, you aren’t getting paid. And serving pays SO well that of course you have bags of money saved for just that purpose. *eyeroll*

              2. JasperJ*

                It’s still true though: Food service workers should never work sick. Clearly it’s not the individual worker’s fault that it doesn’t work that way, but the system is rotten.

                This is, by the way, another way in which the tipping culture fucks everything up — even if your restaurant followed the healthcare policies of a european democracy’s company, the fact that your base pay is like 3 bucks an hour and you make the other 75%+ as tips would fuck you over. You’d get paid your base pay on a sick day, you might even get paid enough to raise that to minimum wage, but your not getting as much as your full wage+tips would be if you did work. It’s not the *reason* the sick leave part of service industry jobs suck.. but it *is* yet another barrier to fixing it.

            2. crampus grumblesnore*

              With respect to

              [quote]It’s endemic in food-service and retail and there really isn’t much a line worker OR manager can do, even when they’re supportive.[\quote]

              The solution is to hire more people. That’s it. They’ll always claim they can’t. The truth is, they don’t want to cut into their bottom line.

              But hearing people talking about “rolling eyes” at the prospect of food service workers staying home when sick is off-putting at best, jarring at worst. Think of all the food poisoning crises that could’ve been averted if people stayed home (and also washed their hands). It makes me not want to eat out, every time I think about it – and managers, take note: imagine how that would affect your bottom line.

              1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                Yes, in my waitressing days I worked sick because I was barely making enough for my bills and couldn’t afford to take the day off. Restaurants don’t have benefits, don’t have paid days off, don’t have anything except cash. When that changes, restaurant workers will stop working sick.
                The best you can expect is they will use good practices like not coughing on their hands.

            3. TardyTardis*

              I know, at the tax place they were actually serious about sick people staying home (and we had enough people that we could cope, even during peak season). It was such a change from the other ExJob, where you didn’t call in sick during month end and didn’t call in dead during year end.

        2. Jen S. 2.0*

          I also want to be careful with this, because then you have people staying home because they feel terrible, but being expected to work so much that they don’t actually get to take the day off (I have seen this discussed in the comments around here; I’ve seen people describing as the standard “sick day” at their office what I would describe as “working from home,” which I fortunately get to do a couple of days a week). OP’s Company needs to create a culture where if you’re sick enough to stay home, it is very acceptable not to work at all; ie., announce to the proper person that you are sick, and then not think about work again until you are well enough to do so.

          Note that I’m not saying you should only stay home if you are so sick you can’t work, but that the company should have a culture where the employee can be trusted to do what they need to do. If working a half-day works, fine. If you can put in a full-ish day, just from home, fine. If you need to take the day totally off, though, that should be very doable.

          1. Perpal*

            I think work from home might solve problems of “not sure if sick or allergies” “mostly recovered but not 100%” etc.
            On days I have to come in to work sickish (health care it’s hard for docs to call in sick unless REALLY CAN’T STAND UP OR LEAVE THE BATHROOM FOR MORE THAN 10 MIN levels of sick; your patients usually have something worse and you know them best and they are booked to see you!) – I wear a mask (and change it between visits); hand sanitizer multiple times (between visits and often during visits); lots of dayquil
            If not patients scheduled then I can work from home on charts etc as much as I feel up to

            1. Yorick*

              Yeah, work from home is great for “I feel fine now but coworkers will nag me about my sniffles or coughing.”

          2. Bob Dob*

            It has become expected in my industry that a sick day means one will still be working… from home. Sad.

      2. sofar*

        I can see both sides of this. What I dislike is people using WFH as a replacement for taking a sick day. If someone is taking a sick day, I can consider them officially NOT working. I won’t contact them, I won’t expect them to do anything, I won’t rely on them for any quick-turnaround stuff. But I’ve had employees who will “work” from home because they “feel OK but don’t want to spread germs, etc., etc.” but they aren’t responsive and don’t get much done because they truly do not feel well.

        Part of the problem is that, while our company has generous sick leave (10 sick days that can be used ONLY for sick days), we have an “unofficial” policy that, if you have sick days left in December, you can use them for whatever you want in December. So people hoard them and ask to “work” from home when they’re sick throughout the year.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          On the sick person side, the option to WFH actually messes with my ability to say I’m taking a proper sick day. “Oh I’m unwell but there are just a few things I need to do.” And then I accidentally fall alseep or my fever breaks the next day and I realize that I was considerably sicker than i thought.

          This is a “me” problem: I’m working on not minimizing my problems when they’re real, but it’s a dynamic that I’m sure is not unique to me.

      3. AnnaBananna*

        As a previous manager I used to see the argument that some jobs can’t be done at home, but now with automation and newer technology, this reasoning no longer feels relevant, in fact it’s rather lazy on a manager’s part to not consider – always – the most efficient way to do something, including cross training coverage and faster service delivery regardless of where someone’s logging in from. This obviously doesn’t work if someone has a non-office job, but even highly secure systems are no longer an excuse with the newer remote viewing security.

        Let them work from their jammies, for the love of malaise. Find a way to make all positions location-independent. And I would really like to see a few economic evaluations on how this can positively affect all parties. There’s gotta be a few out there…

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      I’m not sure I agree with this – it may create an urge to “bank” sick days. Having a generous amount and a system of getting more if needed would be better.

      1. Stormy Weather*

        Being able to bank sick days is helpful for expectant and new parents in the US because maternity leave is less than generous.

        A job I had *mumble* years ago allowed us to use two sick days to ‘buy’ a vacation day. I liked that.

          1. Stormy Weather*

            I see your point. If I remember right you had to have accumulated over a certain amount of hours in order to us the buying option.

          2. Alli525*

            I can definitely see that, so the company would have to have a culture where managers can and do send people home who are visibly sick, unless the employee can reasonably justify their presence. (I don’t think a diktat would go over very well.)

        1. Jo*

          YES to banking! I have worked in my current role for over 5 years and am going to most of all my accrued sick leave to pay for second maternity leave because my employer does not offer any paid leave. The only thing that exists is FMLA and that is unpaid.

          1. Double A*

            A bad maternity leave policy also encourages a subset of people to come in sick because they are banking their sick leave for maternity leave. I know I’ve done this.

            1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

              Banking sick days for a potential maternity leave is one of the things that keeps me from calling in sick, too. The bigger issue is that I know no one else will get any of the even vaguely important or difficult parts of my work done if I’m out so a sick day just means longer hours for me another day as soon as I get back, though. (There really isn’t anyone else who could cover for me because what I do is pretty specialized, so anything but the most basic questions will just pile up until I get back.)

              1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                This is a management fail. There should always be someone who can do the work, which means at least two people.
                What if you quit? What if something happened to you that kept you out for several weeks? How would your work get done then? Management is supposed to have a plan for this.
                And management is supposed to take the pressure off you when you’re sick so you won’t have to stress about your work piling up.

        2. pancakes*

          Having nationwide maternity and paternity leave the way just about every other country in the world does would be much more helpful. Of the 193 countries in the UN, only the US, New Guinea, Suriname, and a few South Pacific islands don’t have it.

        3. Kasia*

          Or any sort of more serious illness, not just parental leave. I have had 2 surgeries in the past few years that had two week long recoveries.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        My workplace lets you build up to several hundred hours. I don’t even know how many–our separate vacation/personal time is 240 hours but sick is more than that. You can donate hours to a pool if you want, and other people can use them if they need extra. But at some point you have so many that unless you get hit by a bus, you’re not going to use them. And if you do get hit by a bus, you can just ask for some from the leave pool.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          My boss was in a bad car accident a few years ago and was out for over a month and still didn’t use all of his own time, never mind need extra.

          (I should clarify: Our time builds up to a limit and then stops accruing until we use some. But sick leave is a lot higher than personal/vacation.)

        2. Quickbeam*

          I worked for a state government for 12 years.Never took a sick day. It was banked and when I retire I can convert it to cash to pay for health care premiums.

          1. Zillah*

            On one hand, I’m glad it worked out well for you, but on the other, that kind of policy does effectively turn good health into a virtue, which is… problematic. It’s penalizing people for getting sick and discouraging people from using their sick time.

            1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

              I guess maybe? In practice I haven’t really seen that.
              I also work for a state government, as a supervisor. I’ve used bank sick time for maternity leave, and also have a chronic health condition. I miss a fair amount of work. Even with that I’m at well over 400 hours banked.
              The people I’ve known who didn’t want to take sick time were generally not motivated by retirement. It was always either some internal sense that working sick meant they were tougher, or sheer workload.
              Nor do I care that my coworkers who aren’t out sick as much may get a bigger HSA dump when they retire. I’m getting the same benefits they are, just paid out right now while I’m working.

            2. Yorick*

              Unless you’re very close to retirement, I can’t see this policy affecting your decision to take a sick day.

              Rather, it lets you use your employee benefit later even if you were fortunate enough to not need much sick time while working.

          2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            “when I retire I can convert it to cash to pay for health care premiums.”

            Sounds like an incentive to come to work a little sick.

            1. doreen*

              I have the same deal (plus extra pension credit) – and it really isn’t an incentive not to come in when you are sick with anything worse than a cold. I can build it up to 1500 hours – which is much less than the amount of sick leave I’ve earned over the 25 years I’ve been working here. It is, however, an incentive to schedule some other sort of leave ahead of time when I just need a day off, rather than just calling in sick one morning, This kind of deal tend to come with generous time off- so much that my coworkers used to take vacation or personal days for short term illnesses in order to save their sick leave.

      3. Ace in the Hole*

        Provided sick leave is reasonably generous, I think banking it is a great idea. We get 12 days sick per year (separate from vacation), and can roll it over indefinitely. In practice this means people call out when they’re sick but can save time for bigger issues that might take weeks to resolve. For example one of our equipment operators broke his leg (can’t operate with a broken leg!), one employee took several weeks off for a hip replacement, another was able to take a full month off paid when his wife had a serious medical emergency.

        1. lucie*

          As someone who works for a company that’s 5 sick days, and 10 vacation, getting 12 sick days sounds magical.

          1. Marmaduke*

            Doesn’t it? My husband gets twelve days of PTO (sick and vacation in the same bucket) and we’ve canceled several plans because one bout of food poisoning wiped out a third of his yearly leave.

            1. Paquita*

              We had both flu and stomach bug go through my department last month. Some people have used up half their time for the year. (I didn’t get either, fortunately)

          2. PMP*

            I get 3 sick days. 3. Granted we have the ability to work from home, but it all sorta hits on #2 & especially #3 and creates this whole new problem that there’s this pressure that if you are sick then you should still work from home. With only 3 sick-sick days I feel like I can never just call in and say I’m sick, I’m not coming in, and I’m not well enough to work from home.

            1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

              Three days is insane. That would have just covered my outpatient surgery last fall. I could maybe have worked from home on day #3 (day 1 was surgery itself, and I was still on enough painkillers on day #2 that I did not trust myself to function at the level I needed to), but it would have been pushing it. And even if I only used 2 days, I would have effectively wiped out day #3 with the hours I needed for radiation treatments (I arrived 1-1.5 hours later than normal on treatment days, so less than half of my 21 treatment days would have been covered).

          3. pope suburban*

            Yeah, my old job was 5 and 5 (Though people who had been there many years could get more vacation days, but not much), which was brutal. Where I am now is theoretically better, except it all goes into one PTO bin, and I have to make up for district holidays out of that. I used to have a big bank, but then I had surgery last summer and I haven’t been able to build it back because holidays kept chewing through it. There’s a huge gulf between regular part-time staff and full-time staff, and leave is one of the hardest ways to think about- though I also grant that there’s some department-specific b.s. that I’ve had to put up with that makes is much worse. Still, it’d be nice to be able to take a day off now and again that isn’t a mandatory holiday. Sigh.

          4. Ellie*

            I get 15 sick days a year… plus vacation leave, plus long service leave. They all roll over, and since I’ve been here a long time, I have hundreds of hours saved. Its a nice feeling knowing that if I was struck down with a terrible illness tomorrow, my job would be the one thing I wouldn’t have to worry about.

            I live in Australia. I don’t know how you US people manage… we’d be on the streets if they tried to do that here.

            1. Ellie*

              Oh, I should mention that we still have people coming in when they’re sick… mostly due to the workload, or some kind of hero complex. That kind of culture is hard to break.

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          Same here. I’ve been here for 12 years and between the pretty generous base sick leave time and the fact that we can roll it over indefinitely I have something like a month of sick time saved up if I ever need it. And I’m not shy about taking sick time; I’m just fortunate to have had relatively few long illnesses/surgeries/etc.

        3. crampus grumblesnore*

          Now THIS is what I like to hear! This is what we should be striving for, this should be the standard, at a minimum. (I say “at a minimum” because I’ve heard that at some magical organizations in some very labor-friendly countries, you aren’t even required to use formal sick leave unless it is a prolonged illness. Think “cancer,” not “the flu”, even. For basic “costs of being human” illnesses, you notify your employer, take the day to recuperate, and aren’t docked one way or the other. Longer, formal leave is statutory.)

          My employer has a similar policy to yours, Ace. I have hundreds of hours banked toward come-what-may, without having had to come in sick, because of it. I can also cash-out at retirement, up to a certain upper bound. We have generous holidays, as well, and while I try to schedule what appointments I can on those days, last year was a bad year healthwise and I had some issues that took me out of the office for 8 whole days (and change). And despite that, I still had a full workweek of 2019 sick days to add to my bank. Yes, even after taking 8 whole sick days, my balance at the end of the year grew compared to the previous year.

          I don’t mean to brag. I fully acknowledge my good fortune and I wish everybody could be so lucky.

      4. AnnaBananna*

        But even that doesn’t work. Think about all of the never ending PTO policies that don’t get used because it conflicts with the company’s cultural expectations? There’s a ton of reasons why but I guarantee you that there’s still a bunch of sick folk walking through their office doors every day.

    4. Going anonymous for this one*

      And if you change how sick time & vacation time is assigned/accrued, put it in writing early enough that employees can plan ahead. This is particularly important if you’re going from “lump sum assigned January 1, use it or lose it by December 31” to “accrue a few hours a week starting from January 1, and carry over up to X days from the previous year.” *MANY* people here have gotten used to scheduling doctors appointments in December to use up time they didn’t use for getting sick in the preceding 11 months. I know I did. But at the end of this calendar year, the policy changed. We were sent a notification email over Christmas break — just in time for winter viruses to run through the place.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Oh, that’s f*cked up! That would actually make me start thinking of moving to another company. Dirty.

    5. Quill*

      Yes, especially because some years you have one light cold on a weekend, other years the stomach flu goes through your local kindergarten twice and lasts 9 days each time.

    6. amianai*

      Yeah, I’m young, healthy, and rarely get sick. I used maybe 2 of my 5 paid sick days last year. Then I got assaulted in January, ended up in the hospital, and used my entire 5 for this year plus PTO days because I wasn’t cleared to return to work. Even really healthy people can’t control when and how much sick time they’re going to use, and letting people bank/roll over and donate time can go a long way towards many employees being able to cover their needs.

    7. Venus*

      I do my best to avoid commenting that the US tends to have the worst policies, yet it is hard to read that 7 sick days with no accumulation is average and not think that there is a fundamental problem with leave policies. I have more than 6 months’ of sick leave accumulated and have been working here for about a decade. We also have ‘generous for the US’ vacation leave, starting at 3 weeks (vacation leave can be banked, but there is a cap).

      We don’t get paid out for any sick leave, and can’t share it with others, yet it is sufficient for many people (except someone who gets really sick in their first year but we are working on changing this).

    8. Work Aunt*

      But they can’t Be allowed to accumulate to use when they quit or retire. So generous and rollover but user only for sick days.

    9. Phil*

      My company switched to this a few years after I started. It’s amazing. I’ve been here just under ten years and I have 14 weeks of sick leave accrued.

    10. Clisby*

      Or at least allow rolling over up to a certain max. When I had my first child, 6 weeks of my maternity leave was paid from my sick days, and I didn’t use all my sick days up. I can’t remember how much we *could* carry over, but it was a decent amount.

      1. Mizzle*

        Absolutely. That’s how it’s done in the Netherlands (and, I would guess, many other countries).

        I’m not sure about the details – I think it’s legally possible for the first two days of an illness to be unpaid, but the days after that are paid, first by your employer, then by an insurance which the employer must carry. At some point (two years, I think) the government takes over.

        The idea of limiting the number of sick days is baffling to me. You might as well put limits on the weather…

    11. joss*

      There is of course also the definition of “sick” that varies from person to person.If I am coughing, have a sore throat and a fever, I do think that I am sick. However, if I am just coughing and sneezing I have a cold and I am not “sick” as in “I should stay home” .

      I should point out that I do have a hard office and can close my door so my contact with others is limited

      1. Anax*

        There’s also the fact that you can be healthy enough to work, but contagious – and sometimes contagious with something nastier than it seems.

        Whooping cough, for instance, looks like a mild cold for the first week or so… which I know because Dad brought it home from work. Not a fun time.

        (We’re vaccinated, just unlucky.)

        1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

          Even if I am not afflicted with something more nasty than it appears, I still feel irresponsible for coming in to the office contagious. There have been a few people I worked with over the years for whom I knew immunity was compromised (transplant recipients, chemo patients), but there are probably even more I have no idea about.

    12. AH*

      I’m not a person who gets sick very often, and we’re allowed to accrue without limit. It all goes away if I leave, but if I ever have a major illness, or even come down with a cold, I don’t have any reservation about not coming in.

      I have 285 days of accrued sick leave.

    13. Doctor Schmoctor*

      We get 45 sick days over 3 years. I’m not sure why they use a 3 year cycle. I’m in South Africa, and I think the 45days/3 years is the law. Our labour laws are actually quite worker friendly.

    14. Mel_05*

      Yes! My employer gives 10 days of sick leave esch year and you can roll them over for something like 12 years.

      I don’t often get sick, but it’s nice to know that if I do – or if I need surgery or something- the time is there.

    15. aebhel*

      This! Also, consider separating out sick time and vacation time into two separate pots and treating them differently. My employer has rollover for both, but you can only roll over 3 days of vacation time, whereas sick time accumulates at a rate of 1 day per month up to 90 days, and they allow employees to borrow against the pot–that is, if they need more time off than they actually have, they can forego accumulating sick time for the next however many months. That’s what I ended up doing for my first maternity leave, when I hadn’t been there long enough to accumulate enough paid sick time to cover my whole leave, and I know a couple of other employees have done this for surgeries.

  1. Liz*

    My boss made a big show of announcing “you must stay home when you’re sick.” We have no separate paid sick time, only a PTO bank (a mere three weeks total for newer employees). Boss, who has six weeks, then comes into the office sick this week instead of taking any days or working from home. I’m job searching.

    1. LeahS*

      Yes, the same at my workplace. I (manufacturing office) and those on the floor do not get any sick time. It’s really upsetting to have the people who make the decision not to give sick days yell (and yes I mean yell down the hall, but it’s in a good natured way I guess) at me to go home or go see a doctor. I only have 5 vacation days in the first place and it’s not financially feasible to miss a day of work. So I don’t.

        1. LeahS*

          Yeah… I was so miserable at my last job where I did have 10 vacation days and 5 sick days. I was so excited when I was offered this job and the raise it provided that… I didn’t even ask about vacation and sick days. I just assumed that I would have around the same PTO as in my previous job. My assumption was very very wrong.

          1. ASW*

            Same here. I took my current job and got a huge pay bump. Didn’t even ask about vacation or sick leave. I’m going to have to work here for almost two decades before I have the same amount of vacation time that I had at my old job (that I only had for 5 years). It wasn’t a big deal at first, but the longer I’m here, the more it irritates me that I’ve now been at the current job longer than the old job and I can’t take more time to relax and recharge.

            1. LeahS*

              That is frustrating! I feel a little bit better knowing someone else has done the same thing. I’ve kind of been beating myself up over not trying to negotiate it.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                I did it at my last job, though my mistake wasn’t as severe – I went from a company that provided 18 days/ur PTO combined bucket that rolled over (I had five weeks of PTO in my final year with them) to 10 vacation and 5 sick days that did not – it was a struggle. For my current position, I remembered to negotiate both salary and vacation time.

        1. LeahS*

          It really sucks. I have a few health conditions that are very under control but mean I have to see a few different doctors on a very regular basis. So my vacation days are all just half days used for appointments.

        2. Paul*

          Well, it isn’t legal in many civilised countries. Eu minimum leave is 20 days, and sick days don’t exists as a system. There are checks for sickness though, and legal rules for long term sickness.

      1. she's a killer queen*

        Do these people know you don’t have the days? Because I once had a boss who told me to go home early one day and then I got paid less for the week (because… hourly), and he was shocked, shocked, when I wanted to make up hours the other times he wanted me to go home early. But he wasn’t hourly. So it never occurred to him. He was being “nice” by letting me go early. But telling me to leave early = less money.

        1. Leah S*

          It’s hr making the comments. My boss is great and he gets that I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Yeah, I work in healthcare but we don’t get paid parental leave, so one thing that happens all the time is that parents of young kids have to call out so much due to childcare/sick baby issues that they then have to come in sick when they have a cold themselves. Our PTO is all in one bucket; new employees start out at like 16 days’ worth for the year. At least it does roll over though!

      1. Well Then*

        Yep. My kid is sick, so I stay use my PTO to stay home. My kid then gets me sick, but I have to go back to work. I think that’s something all parents of young kids have to deal with.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          My daughter was so prone to catching colds & stomach bugs –and giving them to us the parents — that if I hadn’t had WFH available, I would have been infecting my co-workers multiple times a year.

    3. Lynn*

      “A mere three weeks”


      I have been at my job for five years and feel lucky to have 3 weeks; when I started it was five days (and we don't get standard bank holidays). It's all a matter of perspective — but I think 3 weeks is actually generous on average.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          While I fully understand it varies by industry and location, for an office job where I live 3 weeks is considered the most basic starting point and nothing to write home about.

      1. Elenna*

        My vague understanding is that three weeks for a new employee is on the generous end in the US, fairly average in Canada, and below average (possibly illegal??) in some European countries. So, yeah, mileage may vary and all that.

        1. SarahKay*

          Three weeks vacation is totally illegal in all the EU countries in Europe and in the UK. Basic EU law is four weeks; many counties give more. UK law is 5.6 weeks = 28 days for full-time heads, although those 28 days is allowed to include the 8 bank (public) holidays.
          The above is specifically holiday days; sick pay comes on top of that.

      2. A Poster Has No Name*

        3 weeks might be generous if it’s vacation time only. Not necessarily for sick + personal + vacation.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            At my company, personal time can be used for whatever and doesn’t necessarily have to be scheduled in advance the way vacation does. I get two paid personal days a year (that don’t roll over if unused) in addition to my 10 sick days and 15 vacation days (that do) and 10 paid holidays – I usually use my personal time to go get my hair done or to take care of my mom if she’s ill.

            1. Clisby*

              Ah – at my last job (where I worked > 20 years) vacation days didn’t necessarily have to be scheduled in advance. This was an IT department. Of course, a 3-week vacation had to be scheduled in advance, but it was entirely common to come in one morning to an email from a team member saying “The weather’s so nice I’m taking a vacation day to do yard work. Call me if there’s an emergency.” Or “Taking a half-day vacation this afternoon!”

        1. Minimax*

          Exactly. Plus you usually have to pay PTO on company mandated holidays.

          Our company has 6 holidays and if we dont want to go unpaid we have to save those days. Leaving only 9 days for sick time and vacation. Which is less then the average # of just sick days in the US!

      3. Lucy Honeychurch*

        This new trend of ONE WEEK (5 days) off is unbelievable. For years, I have been thinking that starting people off with just 2 weeks vacation is stingy as can be, but now I’m seeing that one week is the new trend.

        (And yes, I know we’re talking about sick time, but it’s all intertwined, and I’m sure a company that is stingy with vacation time will be stingy with sick time, too). We need a huge overhaul in the mindset of work/life balance in the US.

        1. greasy turtle*

          Not really new though.At my first job in the heavy maintenance industry,5 days was standard, and only after you worked there a year.Zero PTO before your first anniversery.

        2. crampus grumblesnore*

          My first “professional” job (i.e. full-time after college, with benefits) had a policy like this. Actually, now that I think about it, you didn’t get anything during your first year. Nada. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Bupkis. Not sick, not vacation, not personal, and, get this: no holidays either. If you got sick you were just screwed. If you had a family emergency: screwed. Inclement weather? Screwed. Mode of transportation broke down? Actually they were pretty lenie- nah I’m just joshin’, you were screwed.

          Mind, this was not healthcare or some critical operation where if our entire office were closed for a day, or even a whole week, anybody would even *notice*. It also was not the military.

          After you completed your first year, you got 5 whole days of vacation time, but it seemed to be discouraged to actually use them.

          I didn’t stay long enough to find out if that 5 days ever grew; from conversations with colleagues, I got the impression it didn’t, but it also seemed like the only people with any real tenure there were the management staff, and they seemed to hold themselves to a different standard.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            “the only people with any real tenure there were the management staff, ”
            Gee, I wonder why. /s

            “and they seemed to hold themselves to a different standard.”
            another big mystery, right? /s

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        Three weeks PTO pool sucks. It works ok for young, able bodied, single and healthy people. It doesn’t work for parents or people over 40. At the university where I work I have 20 days of vacation and 12 days sick, and it can accrue up to 6 weeks. I use it.

        1. pancakes*

          This isn’t an age thing. I was in my early 30s and otherwise in very good health when I was diagnosed with cancer. Lots of people are younger. And single people might have aging parents to care for, etc.

    4. Laney Boggs*

      Yeah, I have two weeks and one floating holiday with no sick/personal leave. If I can get out of bed, my butt is at my desk.

      … with hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes. I’m not a monster.

    5. Hey Nonnie*

      And 6-7 days for a YEAR is just not realistic if you’re serious about people staying home when contagious. Your average cold is symptomatic (and contagious) for a week or more. And who realistically thinks that people getting sick is limited to one cold per year? This season the cold viruses around here have been brutal. I rarely get sick, and yet I caught a cold, twice, that was symptomatic for nearly a month each time.

      1. BRR*

        Definitely not enough. And if you add in needing to take off for doctor appointments, which should be sick time and not vacation, that’s just not realistic.

      2. Artemesia*

        Glad in a way to hear that as we have both been sick for weeks with ‘just a cold’ — it feels like we will be sick forever.

    6. Escapee*

      This. So much this. At my last job, everything was in one bucket (PTO, sic days, etc) and you only got PTO after your first year and you only got 5 days at that (you got 10 days after 2nd year.) No one wanted to burn their precious vacation days staying at home sick, so almost everyone came in sick at some point.

      Apparently, the company did have separate sick days at one point, but got rid of them because and I quote, “People took advantage of it.” You mean, they took advantage of the days alowed to them to recover from being sick? Or god forbid take a mental health day because the work was so stressful.

      I’m well rid of that place. My new company has 8 1/2 “flex” days to use as you want that are separate from our vacation days.

        1. Lynn*

          I used to work in a company like this — people took advantage of their sick days by “getting sick” right before a long vacation. We didn’t have enough time in either bucket so people got creative

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        only got PTO after your first year and you only got 5 days at that (you got 10 days after 2nd year.)

        These people are horrible.

    7. snowglobe*

      Even if the number of days is very generous, if all PTO is in one bucket, then people are liable to come to work when sick in order to use their PTO for vacation days. Every day you stay home sick is a day that you don’t get for vacation. Separate buckets for sick and vacation is, I think, a key part of getting people to actually use their sick days when they are sick.

      1. Stella*

        The other trick with sick time is that you end up being bound by what your coworkers do to some extent because if they take 5 sick days and you take 15, that is 10 fewer days to produce work, and if you are going to be seen as less valuable for producing 10 days less of work, you are still being punished for getting sick. It is also tough if you have multiple disabilities that you can work in spite of but where you have a lot of doctors appointments given how limited most doctor’s offices are with hours. I don’t think I’d still have a job if I worked in a lot of other fields.

  2. AnonEMoose*

    And if it’s feasible, see about offering at least occasional work from home options for people who may be dealing with a cold or otherwise mildly ill, but are still able to work at least some hours.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Yeah, there’s something about “most people do not have the ability to work from home” which makes me wonder: does LW mean they’re not currently set up, or that it’s impossible?

      If it’s just that they’re not well set up, could that change? Does an office definitely need desktops rather than laptops? Can you set up a virtual desktop that people can VPN into from any location? Are there training videos people could access remotely?

      Or are there ways for contagious workers to self-isolate within the workplace? If it’s all on the same a/c circuit then that wouldn’t be possible, but maybe someone who really wants/needs to be physically in the building could spread out their materials in a meeting room with a big box of Kleenex and a mug of honey and lemon.

      But ultimately I think it’s the six days that are dragging people into work while they’re ill. The gross infectious stage of a cold (say) where it would be preferable to stay away from people but you’re at least 75% capable of working lasts a good three to five days. Nobody is going to waste that great a proportion of their PTO on something they feel they can power through.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Many companies still don’t allow working from home. It was just last year the company I work for finally started allowing us support staff to work from home, even though other divisions let people work from home.

        That being said, back when I was a temp (10 years ago), it was very common for temps not to have any sick leave if you had been someplace less than 6 months. You were lucky to get sick leave after 6 months, and probably only got a week of PTO at most. So yeah, you chose to either stay home without pay or come in sick, albeit on meds and with lots of Kleenex. Every year, I still get my flu shot even though I’m no longer a temp. It was cheaper to get the flu shot than to stay home without pay.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          It wasn’t clear in the letter whether working from home would be impossible or just not permitted. You’re right that some employers don’t like it, but I would suggest that an employer who really doesn’t want people to come into work sick might benefit from spending time weighing up the relative pros and cons.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            I agree with you that they should allow it whenever possible. We literally didn’t have the option (as in, would have been fired had we done it before it was permitted).

        2. Salsa Your Face*

          Many years ago when I was a temp, I caught a really bad flu. (It was one of the years where there was a shortage of flu shots and they recommended that young, healthy adults didn’t get one.) They were “kind” enough to let me stay home without pay for two days. On the evening of the second day, they told me that I had better come in the next day if I wanted to still have a job. So I went in–what else could I do? Of course, I looked like death warmed over, and the same guy who threatened my job on the phone said “you look terrible, why the hell did you come in?” It took every ounce of strength for me to refrain from vomiting on his shoes in response.

          1. Batty Twerp*

            It’s almost a shame your strength didnt desert you. I definitely would’ve gone with the shoe vomit

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              Me too. I was a temp and headed in to work very sick one day. When I vomited into a cup in the car on the way there, I called and told them I couldn’t make it. They were annoyed, so I offered to come in with my barf cup. They declined.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        And even if people can’t be quite as effective from home, could people manage to stay on top of some urgent stuff or respond to some email during a sick day, take only a partial day of sick time, and not feel that sense of dread of what will be waiting for them the next day or the frustration of having important projects delayed?

        I’m allowed to work from home, but I’m usually much more effective in the office for various reasons. But when my kids are sick or I’m under the weather but not seriously ill, I’ll be logged on to email sporadically through the day and do the kind of work that can easily be done remotely – reviewing documents to prepare for a meeting, writing notes to plan out a project, replying to emails, occasionally some focused writing, calling in to a conference call where I’m not a main participant, etc.

        I’ll never be a full time WFH employee in this job, or even a once-a-week WFH employee, but having the option available as needed makes me much more likely to keep my germs at home.

    2. Quinalla*

      Yes, there are some jobs where work from home isn’t possible, but for most office jobs it is at least on some level and on some days when you are sick or still contagious but mostly fine, you can get 50-75% or more of a regular day in and not have to use so much sick time or get so far behind. I’ve been out sick all week with a really crappy cold that I’m trying not to spread (it presents with flu like symptoms, but isn’t actually the flu, fun!) and if I couldn’t work from home I probably would have needed to go in at least some this week sick and spread germs. No thanks!

      We actually don’t get a ton of sick days (only 5, though up from 3! previously, though this is actually good for our local industry /sigh), but since I can work from home I only really have to use them when I’m sick as when a kid is sick, I usually have no issue getting in an 8 hour day even if I have to do some work early in the morning or in the evening. We highly encourage people to work from home when they are just a little sick and to just take the time to rest and recoup-orate when they are really sick. And my boss and I (the two senior people in our regional office) make sure to set the example and never come in sick and if we notice someone under the weather, encourage them to stay home the next day or leave early.

    3. Stormy Weather*

      I clicked the comments to say exactly this. Open up the work from home options. Saving someone their commute on a day when they’re not feeling well will prevent them from getting worse, and you still get their productivity.

      6 sick days for 12 months is not nearly enough. I once had an employer provide 10 days, but you got dinged for excessive absenteeism if you used more than 5. A state university hospital I worked at allowed us to use sick time to ‘buy’ vacation days 2 for 1, an everything rolled over.

      1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

        Thankfully my company has unlimited sick time, but I have a spreadsheet that I log my days taken just for personal information to have an idea of reality vs perception.

        Last year I used 5 days, all of which were because my children were sick and could not go to daycare, none of which were for me. And these were sick-sick days, where I did not do any/much work. I had 5 additional “sick days” where I worked from home due to child illness, but things were such that I was able to actually get work done, and 3 days where I worked from home because I was ill. If I did not have the ability to work from home I suspect I would have come into the office while sick (and obviously had to figure something out for the other WFH-with-kids days, vacation days probably).

        And that is not counting the doctor, dentist, and therapy appointments I schedule that often overlap with working hours (a 7:30am appointment will cut into my day by 30 minutes, a lunchtime appointment wherein I eat at my desk while working instead will still cost me 30-60 minutes in the drive time to/from the appointment etc…) that I am theoretically using “sick time” for.

  3. Eillah*

    This kind of ties into #1 but– make sure you’re paying them enough where losing a day of work/having to pay to go to the doctor isn’t a huge financial imposition.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Also good points. My last employer had a horrible sick leave policy (five days a year with no rollover and you had to fight like hell to be able to work from home even though we had laptops), and they also had terrible insurance ($2700 or $6300 deductible for singles depending on what plan we chose). Most people only called out if they were in the hospital.

    1. MuchNope*

      This is important. I almost never get sick, so when I need to see a healthcare worker my insurance deductible hasn’t been met and it costs me around $200 for 10 minutes and a prescription.

      1. Quill*

        Even if my deductible wasn’t so high, the ‘insurance’ I’m offered via work changes over without any notice and resets the deductible…

  4. Kate*

    Combined PTO policies (all sick/vacation lumped together) discriminate against people who are sicker or who have family that are sicker. They basically say “if you get sick more often than others or have a disability requiring ongoing treatment, you deserve less vacation time.” Unfortunately, these policies are becoming all too common and they also encourage people to come to work sick.

    1. Anonymeece*

      Thank you for articulating something that has always bothered me about those policies. For people with chronic illnesses, the company might as well be saying, “You don’t deserve any vacation time” when obviously these people would prefer to be well over being sick!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I have a ton of chronic illnesses, but the one company I worked for that had a combined PTO bucket gave us 18 days to start and allowed us to rollover time – I loved it when I had it. I didn’t use nearly as many days for sick leave as I thought I would (but then again, I also had a reasonable workload with low to no stress, which meant that didn’t exacerbate my conditions) – I ended up taking about three weeks of vacation a year and still had a week or two for sick time left over by the time I moved on from the company.

        Now, my last company with the separate buckets? That was awful. I ended up having to get special permission from my manager to use PTO time for when I was ill because I only received five sick days a year and ran through them (there was no rollover).

      2. she's a killer queen*

        I have chronic pain and belong to a minority religion that requires me to use vacation time for my holidays.

        In 10 years, I have taken one real vacation. It lasted a week. It was great.

      3. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I don’t know if that is really the case. If a job offers 3 weeks of PTO but changed to a separate bucket system they would probably just offer 2 weeks of vacation and 1 week of sick time, or if they offered 4 weeks they might do 2/2 or 3/2. So if someone tends to get sick more they are likely to burn through their 5/10 sick days, after those days are up the options become take unpaid sick days or use vacation days. I think most people would probably end up using a vacation day when they are sick.

        For people who have a disability, a chronic illnesses, or are taking care of ill family members that is what FMLA is all about. FMLA does not have to be a big continuous block of time off but it can usually be taken intermittently. FMLA does not have to be paid, but more and more companies are providing it as paid.

        Ultimately the problem is that US companies in general do not provide enough paid time off, giving employees 6 to 8 weeks off would help everyone.

        1. Anonymeece*

          I had to use FMLA and it was unpaid, which is more common where I’m at, and it’s completely unfeasible for me to not get paid for weeks at a time.

          1. joss*

            from others I have also hear about more and more companies that mandate that you use up all your vacation days and sick leave for the year prior to taking time off under the FMLA. That really works well if something happens early in the year . At least they have not reached that low at my company yet…

            1. doreen*

              I’ve never heard of that, requiring people to take paid time off prior to taking FMLA- what I have heard of is employers requiring to use their sick/vacation time concurrently with FMLA. It makes little difference at an employer that’s on the stingy side with leave accrual/banking- two weeks of paid leave and 12 weeks FMLA isn’t that much different from 12 weeks of FMLA with pay for two of them. Its 14 weeks or 12 weeks. It’s a much bigger difference if I could take 12 weeks of FMLA and then follow it with 40 weeks of sick leave versus having 12 weeks of the sick leave also counted as FMLA. One is 40 weeks total and the other is 52.

            2. Tidewater 4-1009*

              That’s how it was at my old company. When a colleague had a baby she had to use 10 – later changed to 12 – days of PTO before the FMLA started.
              I helped with PTO administration and I got the impression the 10/12 days was required by the organization’s insurance company, or was part of FMLA law. They definitely gave the impression it wasn’t their choice.

            3. The Other Dawn*

              That’s how it is at my company and was at previous companies. We had to use five PTO or sick days before STD and FMLA kicked in.

        2. Antennapedia*

          I have literally never seen an employer that provides FMLA paid time off. The letter of the law simply states that they must hold your job for you in the event of extended absence due to family or medical leave. Are there actually employers who pay during FMLA???

    2. Marny*

      My last job had them lumped together (and didn’t roll over days to the next year) so I’d always make sure to bank a few in case I got sick. Then when I didn’t need them and it was the end of the year, they’d get annoyed that I’d take time off at the end of the year to use up my leftover days. They had no one to blame but themselves.

    3. Zillah*

      yup – and if one needs a non-humanitarian reason, it also ends up hurting the business long term, bc people need unwind time to unwind.

    4. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      So true! Combined PTO also makes people less inclined to take vacation days because “what if I get the flu in December and need to stay home for a week?”. Just not good for employees, all the way around.

    5. Smithy*

      Absolutely to this.

      I believe it was Shaq – or some other professional athlete – who used to say something about scheduling surgery/recovery during the season versus during the off season. The basic point was that he was going to go through medical treatment related to his job during the job’s time and not during what was his vacation time. Being sick is miserable no matter where you are, but if your options are having a low productivity day at the office with a cold vs extending a three-day weekend into a four-day weekend…’s not a hard call.

    6. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yes, these policies are terrible. Vacation time is for rest, relaxation, and recharging.

      Sick days are for being sick. We shouldn’t cross the streams.

    7. Jay*

      Agree 100% All of my professional office jobs have lumped together PTO like this and I absolutely hate it. I often come to work sick because I would rather not lose my vacation. I would be in HEAVEN with 6 sick days per year.

      1. Kat*

        Consider moving to the UK?

        I can’t get over this, I’m UK based and my company has an insanely generous policy.. 6 months full pay, 6 months half pay, then the group income protection kicks in and we get 2 years half pay from the insurance. Throughout this time we still have a job to come back to.

        We also get 27 days annual leave plus bank holidays as standard, plus the option to buy more.

        Most of the time I don’t take any sick leave (I’ve had multiple periods of 12 months+ without sick leave), but it’s insanely reassuring to know it’s there if anything ever happened.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          It’s not a panacea – British people still can’t always afford to take time off for various reasons – but it does mean you’re more protected.

    8. Not Me*

      So 20 days for anything is worse than 5 sick days and 15 vacation days? You’re still getting the same amount of time off, and I’ve never seen a vacation policy that dictates how vacation days are used so you can use them for sick time or vacation. I don’t understand how the title of leave matters, but the amount of it I can understand.

      I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m seriously asking: how does separating the time matter?

      1. Zillah*

        For one thing, people are more likely to use all of their vacation days than all of their sick days, so it probably does functionally mean fewer sick days.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          But then that problem is on the individual person not the companies. If someone gets 20 days of PTO and uses all of them for vacation days and then they don’t have any days to take off when they are sick that is their fault. I find it hard to have sympathy for that person if they are sick and have to take a few days unpaid, but they better not come in to work and get everyone else sick.

          I have a combined PTO of 20 days. I usually only use 10 to 15 days for vacation or days off, and save at least 5 days for sick time. Some years I use more than 5 days for sick time, and others I don’t use all 5 so then I just rollover what I don’t need.

          Having one single bucket allows people to tailor their time off the way the need. If someone knows that they tend to have more Dr.’s appointments or get sick more often they are able to plan on using 10 days for sick time and 10 days for vacation. But if the job separates it as 5 sick days and 10 vacation days, a person that gets sick more often will probably end up having to dip into the vacation days for sick time anyway after they exhaust all the sick days.

          1. Zillah*

            That’s not really what I mean, though – I mean that it’s not necessarily 20 days either way. If many people don’t use all their sick time, you can probably offer more sick time and still break even – so maybe 20 total days in one bucket and 15 vacation days+10 sick days would mean the same amount of people out.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              But then you are offering 25 days total, why not just offer 25 days in a single PTO bucket. I am all for more PTO days for people and in the US we get way less than many other countries offer.

              If I understand what you are saying that with a 15 and 10 split people would use all 15 days of vacation and maybe just 5 out of 10 of sick days, so that in effect they would only be out 20 days? I think offering more days but expecting/hoping people not to use them all is acting in bad faith. If a company offers 15 vacation days and 10 sick days, they should expect for people to be out for 25 days total.

              I think just offering more days 25/30 in a single PTO bucket allows people who have chronic illnesses or get sick more often to take the paid sick time they need, while still being able to use some vacation days. But it also allows flexibility for people who do not get sick as often to use more days for vacations if they wish.

              1. doreen*

                I don’t think it’s a matter of bad faith, it’s just reality. Once you get past a certain number of sick days, most people aren’t going to need the full allotment every year. Sure, if you only get one or two sick days most people will use them up. But I used to get 13 sick days a year- I never once used that many, not even when my kids were little. ( They had a talent for getting sick over vacations) So yeah, you can offer everyone 15 days vacation and 10 sick days a year knowing that historically the average is 5 sick days and you therefore are unlikely to have to pay everyone the 10 days. It will cost you just as much as offering 20 days in a single bucket. Some will take 10 days and others none. Which is why people who don’t get sick often tend to prefer one bucket- even though that bucket is probably going to be fewer total days than a split.

                1. Zillah*

                  yep, exactly. as someone who gets sick a lot, i’d much rather have access to more sick time than i need than have it all be in one bucket, because one bucket usually means fewer days overall. it makes sense to expect everyone to take every vacation day – i don’t see sick leave as the same thing at all. it’s not there for me to use every minute of – it’s there so people who are sick don’t get fucked.

    9. Lisa*

      I kind of disagree. If you had 5 sick and 5 vacation days, then you only had 5 days to use on being sick. After 5 days out, what then? I assume you either took an unpaid day or you came in sick. If you combine them, then you have 10 PTO days, so at least you get paid!

      It’s not *fair* to be sick more, but it’s not saying anything about what people deserve. Single people are out less because they don’t have sick kids, people who manage not to get sick at all can use all the time on vacation, if I catch every virus going around this year, I’ll burn through my whole bank – it’s random.

      The nonprofit I work at combined all our time off into 1 bank a few years ago, and I prefer it. But we also have the ability to roll over 5 days each year, and if you have more leftover than that, it gets rolled into a “disability bank” so you never lose the time. (But even then, you’ll have people who never get sick who never need that bank, so they really do lose it if they don’t use it. It’s a calculated risk either way.)

      1. Lisa*

        I should have added, our total PTO bank for anyone who has been here at least 5 years is 34 days per year, so it’s usually enough for everyone.

      2. Clisby*

        I don’t quite follow this. If you have 5 sick days and 5 vacation days, why couldn’t you use all 10 as sick days? Of course, you couldn’t if you used up the 5 vacation days first and then got sick, but it seems logical to me that if (1) you’ve used up all of your sick days; (2) you’re still sick; and (3) you haven’t used up all your vacation days, then you use your vacation days to cover your sickness.

      3. Kasia*

        A lot of the issue has to do with rollover to me.

        I’m a federal employee. We have annual leave, earned at variable rates depending on how long you’ve been employed, and capped at 240 hours rollover. We also have sick leave, earned at 13 days per year without cap.

        I’m currently home from a very rough and much earlier than expected childbirth. My son is still in the hospital at almost 5 weeks old, and cannot go to daycare for medical reasons until at least May, possibly longer depending on his lungs. I had banked 700 hours of sick leave from my 15 years of employment, during which I’ve been fortunate to be pretty healthy. If we had PTO bank and had caps on PTO rollover, which almost everyone does, I’d have at most 10 weeks to take to spend with my son, and I’d have to take unpaid time while he is on oxygen and can’t go to daycare. Due to separate sick leave, I can take this time paid.

        I really don’t understand what people earning 6 days of sick leave per year are expected to do in a situation like this, but I am grateful to be in my situation. I’d be even more grateful if they’d implemented the paid parental leave one year earlier and I didn’t have to decimate my 15 years of sick leave time in a few months.

        1. Clisby*

          You’re fortunate that you can use your sick leave to take care of a child. For most of my employment, that wasn’t allowed. It was for the employee only.

    10. Employment Lawyer*

      Combining vacation and sick time makes sense for the employers. Here’s why:

      Many of the people here are talking about folks who get sick more often. We all know these folks, right? Here’s the rub: Those people are generally worth less than their hypothetical non-sick equivalents. “Lee who is often out sick” is less valuable than “Lee who is rarely out sick”.

      If you want the opposite analogy, try this version: an employer who randomly sends you home early with short pay and who cancels workdays with little notice is not as good as an employer who offers steady hours.

      If you’re an EMPLOYEE, the above analogy is simple. Folks usually demand a higher hourly rate for unstable work, then for a stable job. It makes perfect sense, right? You might agree to a $40,000 full time salary ($30/hour), but bill out at $35/hour for piecework.

      But EMPLOYERS want to capture that difference in value, too! Just like employees balance these things, so do employers.

      Some employers are unstable for reasons they can’t control (employers are people too, and are subject to markets, regulations, etc.) We all agree (including me) that it’s OK to try and cherry-pick the best ones, and we all want to work there. You don’t need to work for a low wage; you don’t need to work irregular hours; etc.

      Similarly, some employees are sick for reasons they can’t control. But some folks assert that it’s improper for employers to try to cherry-pick the best ones. Obviously that makes no rational sense.

      Now, you may reasonably wonder why people don’t just bargain. If you’ve got young kids and tend towards catching the flu, maybe you can take more sick time in exchange for less hourly wages when you’re actually working, right? But employers often can’t do that under the law, not to mention that they risk getting raked over the coals on the internet.

      So employers do the smart and defensible thing, which is to combine sick and vacation time. That allows them to functionally and legally reward their rarely-sick employees, who give extra value by their continued presence. And it allows them to filter out some often-sick employees (who may prefer jobs with different benefits.)

      1. Zillah*

        I… am kind of not a fan of being told that I am worth less than people who have the privilege to be healthier, especially since it is not actually true.

        1. joss*

          No kidding and I actually tend to be rarely sick. Like being sick is a choice or means that you don’t have the same or better qualifications for your job than someone who is lucky enough not to get sick

        2. Employment Lawyer*

          You’re not worth less as a PERSON. You are who you are. You could not possibly have thought that was what I meant, unless you imposed an extreme bad-faith interpretation.

          But if you’re talking about value-to-employer, which is the context we’re discussing, worth varies between people all the time. I’m barely worth minimum wage as a programmer; I have injuries which make me worth next-to-nothing if I’m doing some types of manual labor. In those job contexts, I’m “worth less” that a programmer, or a non-injured person. And if I was ill all the time (which has happened) then I’d be worth less then as well: just like nobody wants to pay me to be a bad programmer or an injured ditch digger, nobody wants to pay me to stay home sick.

          I’m personally a fan of more sick days, myself. I run my own office as an “unlimited sick days” policy; it is heavily used. But I frankly don’t think it is possible to figure out a solution (how do you get an employer to offer more sick days?) if you refuse to accept the underlying problem (sick days cost the employer money; sick people cost the employer money; and so they are trying to avoid giving sick days and/or they are trying to avoid hiring sickly people.)

          Seriously: I know it’s 2020 and we’re in the era of wokeism, but can’t we anonymous grownups at least have conversations which are reality-based? Fighting a problem requires accurately stating the problem: Employers lose money when you’re sick, and employers lose more money if you’re sick more. “losing more money” is pretty much the literal equivalent of “worth less.” If you want to figure out a way to work with it, it helps to discuss it openly.

          This is exactly why the ADA had to be passed
          Precisely! Given the choice, an average rational employer would prefer to hire “ready to work Ron” over “Needs expensive accommodations Al” The ADA changed that by imposing alternate external costs, so saying not to Al would result in a fine which was higher than the cost differential. It’s a penalty to force compliance.

          Personally, I would probably have come at it from the other side and created a positive incentive to hire folks, rather than a penalty that deterred employers from not-hiring them. And I would have spread the burden across everyone, not randomly-selected employers, to reduce cherry-picking and high variance. (If everyone thinks Al should have an accommodation which costs $10,000, it makes no sense for “everyone” to stick that $10,000 burden on a random single employer who is selected by Al, but who didn’t cause the problem. The predictable result is that the would-be employer will try to shove that burden onto someone else, by trying to find a way to avoid hiring Al–which is, of course, what happens in real life despite the ADA. In my ideal, we should just give Al a tax-funded $10,000 support that is portable between jobs, to maximize the number of jobs who will hire Al; keep Al from being trapped in a single career; and spread the cost of accommodations across everyone equally. But the ADA is still much better than the pre-ADA.)

          Certainly you could try to figure out an ADA-equivalent law for sick time as well. But by and large that requires realism, and again, you can’t really solve a problem that you refuse to acknowledge.

          1. MsSolo*

            Considering this isn’t the only post in which you’ve been called out for dehumanising descriptions of employees recently, I would maybe think harder about the language you’re using, and your motivation for posting – no one here is going to be stunned by the shocking revelation that employers get more work out of healthy employees, but you seem to think that’s a PoV we need to hear. The discussion is whether the current system penalises unhealthy employees unfairly, and how that, in turn, results in those employees coming into work sick, leading to even more unhealthy employees. Incentivising people for things largely outside of their control doesn’t solve that!

            1. Employment Lawyer*

              Meh. People can find things to be offended about wherever they look, and most of these complaints are childish or deliberately looking at the worst-case interpretation of my words. I’m not going to Gertrude all of my expertise and pretend people are right just to make someone feel better about my tone, unless they pay me for it. This is Ask A Manager, not Ask An Emotional Support Counselor.

              And moreover, given the responses and the assumptions therein, it seems pretty clear that many people ARE in fact ignoring, or pretending to ignore, the realities of the situation. Even in this thread you have folks claiming there’s no productivity difference, for example. Maybe those people won’t listen anyway, but I will try nonetheless.

              “The discussion is whether the current system penalizes unhealthy employees unfairly”
              No, it’s not. The discussion is about WHAT TO DO. Bitching about unfairness /= solving the problem. Moreover, if you really wanted to have a discussion about “unfairly penalizing” unhealthy employees, you need to make your assumptions clear and precise (which I like) and not waffly (which the Internet likes.) And that requires going to some complex issues.

              For example:
              Do you think that employers should care if they are paying people who are not at work?
              Do you think a system which relies on employee self-identification of problems will produce reliable results? (Remember, you have folks in this thread talking about “taking a dog to the vet” as a use of a sick day.)
              If Sally takes 30 sick days / year and Henry takes 3, and they work the same speed while at work, how identical do you think the outcomes should be for Sally and Henry? Should the “subsidy” for Sally come from Henry? From all of us?
              Do you think a randomly-selected employer should have individual responsibility for every health issue of their employee? When does that end? Does any of that burden get shifted onto society at large? Etc.
              -What is the expected behavior of employees and employers under your new proposal? Why?

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Re: your first paragraph – so, you’re admitting you don’t give a crap about how hurtful you’re being. Nice to know.

                It’s entirely possible to talk about sick leave policies without literally actually saying people with illnesses and disabilities are “worth less.” People do it all the time, including elsewhere in this thread.

              2. MsSolo*

                I think you are deliberately misunderstanding people, more so than they are you. For example, the obvious interpretation of my words were that they were in reference to this thread, not to the whole topic. And I don’t see anyone claiming there is no productivity difference, just that that isn’t the sole basis a sick leave policy should be decided on (especially since the definition of productivity you appear to be providing is based solely on butts-in-seats, which, as has been discussed many, many times here, is a really poor metric for productivity).

                Answering as a European who has the ability to take up to six months off work on full pay, plus 28 days annual leave, plus up to a year’s p/maternity leave:

                Do you think that employers should care if they are paying people who are not at work?
                I don’t think the majority of employees are paying people to be present, I think they’re paying for their output (even in scenarios where having someone present is seen as vital to the role, like a reception desk, the output is still ‘satisfied customer’ and presence is deemed the best way to satisfy them)

                Do you think a system which relies on employee self-identification of problems will produce reliable results? (Remember, you have folks in this thread talking about “taking a dog to the vet” as a use of a sick day.)
                Honestly, it seems to work just fine over here! Most organisations require a doctor’s note if you’re off for more than a week (since anything that’s bad enough to take you out for that long is something you should be seeing a doctor about). Do people take the mick sometimes? Sure. Are they usually the same people who have other performance issues that are actionable without penalising people who genuinely need the sick leave? Almost always.

                In countries with decent PTO, you don’t need a sick day to take the dog to the vet – that comes out of annual leave. The problem, as being discussed in this specific thread, is that when you combine all forms of leave in one bucket you don’t distinguish, which has a knock on effect because you can’t calculate the true cost of doing business.

                That the one pot method appears to benefit healthy employees is a smokescreen, because those employees are coming into work with what they deem to be minor illnesses because they’re saving up their PTO for holidays, passing the illnesses on to more vulnerable employees who are forced to take a more significant chunk of time off to handle the same germs, while also benefiting from having more scope to take holidays making them less stressed and better able to fight off bugs themselves. Healthy staff get healthier, unhealthy staff get unhealthier, the number of days taken off by all employees levels out because one portion of the staff is carrying the unfair burden of getting sick more often.

                If Sally takes 30 sick days / year and Henry takes 3, and they work the same speed while at work, how identical do you think the outcomes should be for Sally and Henry? Should the “subsidy” for Sally come from Henry? From all of us?

                Honestly, I think most outcomes should be, because Henry isn’t subsidising Sally, the business is taking into account the cost of using human beings to meet their desired goals. If there is too much work for them both to complete with 33 days sick between them (plus holiday) then the business needs to hire another employee or reduce its expectations. Maybe that means the product the business makes gets more expensive, because that reflects the real value of it, not the wishful-thinking value. See above paragraph about the unfair burden of sickness being unfair for the sick, not the healthy.

                Do you think a randomly-selected employer should have individual responsibility for every health issue of their employee? When does that end? Does any of that burden get shifted onto society at large?

                I think every employer should have responsibility for the health issues of their employees. It’s the cost of capitalism. If you think individual employers shouldn’t, that they should provide no sick leave and only employ people who don’t currently need it, then you need to move to a system where the state provides significantly better benefits (healthcare, america, it’s a basic human right) and support because the people out of employment are still vital to the ongoing function of that society.

                -What is the expected behavior of employees and employers under your new proposal? Why?
                Businesses employ enough people to meet their needs, taking into account the fact they’re human. They adjust the amount they charge for their goods and services accordingly. Everyone lobbies for better, cheaper healthcare options. End result – illnesses spread more slowly, stress levels are lower, everyone is healthier (because most people with the disabilities and chronic illnesses being discussed here are disproportionately affected by colleagues coming in sick), employees are more productive and able to work more days than under the old system, and both employees and employers are better off and more able to afford the goods and services.

                Look, being self-employed has pros and cons, and the lack of paid time off is definitely a con. I get the impression you do have employees, and I really hope you give them decent PTO. Honestly, I think you need a few days off at this point, because the extent to which you’re dehumanising the very people you’re talking to suggests you’ve slipped out of touch with why I assume you went into employment law in the first place (based on how you’ve described your work).

              3. EmKay*

                “Those who call me out for telling sick people they are literally worth less than healthy people are just special snowflakes who are hellbent on finding something to be offended about” is a helluva take, my guy.

              4. TardyTardis*

                So if people come in with coronavirus because they have to prove their worth, that will increase the company’s productivity? Uh huh.

          2. Stella*

            …Has it ever occurred to you that it is really hard to compare even worker productivity like this? Like gee, maybe Sally is out more often but every day she is in, everyone is notably happier and does better work. Frankly if employers really wanted to try to calculate like this, no one would have a jerk boss or coworker. Plus the messed up thing is that work is how you get health insurance. If you’ve ever tried to work while ill, you might realize you actually caused morenoroblems than you solved. You got other people sick so they missed work instead, you were tired so you put some wrong data in that had to be fixed by someone else later, etc. Moreover, anyone can suddenly become disabled!

      2. what*

        This is exactly why the ADA had to be passed and needs to be strengthened. Your attitude is horrifying.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          + 1

          So damn horrifying and offensive. Every manager I ever had would tell you I was “worth” more than all of my non-chronically ill coworkers, probably combined, lol.

      3. CleverGirl*

        Wow so you really believe that people who are lucky enough not to have any chronic illnesses not be prone to getting sick more often are *worth* more, and deserve to be happier and have more vacation time? This is why we have to have laws and regulations, because employers are like you. This is a terrible, terrible attitude and I can’t believe you actually typed it out and didn’t realize that.

        Also, employees who are able to relax and go on vacation are happier, less stressed, and generally perform better at their jobs. In your world, people who got sick more would then be denied any relaxation and vacation, which would then make them even less happy, more stressed, and probably cause them to get sick *more*. Humans are not robots. Being an employer is not just a “how much work can I get out of this cog in my machine for the least amount of cost to me?” approach (or shouldn’t be, if you have any decency as a human being).

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Oh, I can well believe it from this particular commenter. They’ve expressed a fair number of similarly vile statements before.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Look up what Employment Lawyer said in the thread about how to support transgender employees. Or… don’t.

      4. Dan*

        Thanks. For those that argue about “fairness”… I’m single with no kids and generally very healthy. I have the option to work from home at my discretion, and even have lots of flexibility within a two-week pay period to get all of my hours in.

        I simply have very different needs than someone with a large family or who is otherwise prone to sickness. I burn a large chunk of my combined PTO on leisure travel/activities, and I would be livid if I had to separate that out into “sick time” that I have a *very* big chance of having no need for.

        I’m also allowed to bank time and “borrow” a week without question. Push comes to shove, I can take unpaid leave.

        The last thing I want is designated sick time I likely won’t use, or have to play games to use. And for people who are prone to sickness or have large families or something, well, we all have different needs and circumstances, so one size fits all is the equivalent of jamming a square peg into a round hole. It’s simply not going to work for everybody.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          I personally loved my combined PTO bucket when I had it – but then again, any unused time I had rolled over. I liked being able to use my time however I wanted to without having to explain myself and what it was for – I’m an adult and I can manage my time. The separate buckets are okay I guess, but now that I work from home full time, I’m not really seeing the need for my 10 days of separate sick leave because if I’m not well, I’m already home and can rest. I wish I could use those 10 days as extra vacation time.

          1. Clisby*

            I never had that, but I’ve always thought I’d like it, too. It seems like – you have X number of days you can take off for whatever, and it’s really none of the employer’s business why. So, if I had to stay home with a sick child it could just come out of that bucket (for most of my working life, employee sick leave was not for taking care of anybody but myself – if I stayed home to take care of a child, that came out of my vacation pay. Sure, I could have lied about it, but I wouldn’t.)

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Yeah, every sick leave policy I’ve seen has been for your illness and only your illness (some managers would allow you to use it for others in your household though, especially the ones who had kids and knew the deal with that) – if you wanted to take care of someone else sick, you either needed to use vacation time or apply for intermittent FMLA and take the time unpaid/or make it up.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                That seems unnecessarily restrictive, and particularly harsh toward employees with caregiving responsibilities.

      5. Anonya*

        Wowwww, this attitude is appalling. And this is coming from someone who rarely needs use sick leave. That’s because I’m lucky, not because I’m inherently worth more.

      6. TiffIf*

        So employers do the smart and defensible thing, which is to combine sick and vacation time. That allows them to functionally and legally reward their rarely-sick employees, who give extra value by their continued presence. And it allows them to filter out some often-sick employees (who may prefer jobs with different benefits.)

        Which allows them to functionally and legally discriminate against those with chronic health problems. And filter out those pesky people with higher health care costs.

        1. Employment Lawyer*

          Yes! That is precisely what they often try to do.

          And then people like me get called to sue them, and we do. (I exclusively SUE employers; I don’t defend employers. I am here at work at this hour working on an employee claim.)

          But in order to successfully sue employers and help employees–which, again, is my job–it is necessary need to understand why employers do what they do. Know your enemy and all that, as they say in war books.

          Similarly, if you want to change something, you need to know what it is and how it works. If you don’t understand it (or if you’re in denial) you can’t fix it. I don’t understand how any smart employee can operate as if their employer doesn’t/shouldn’t care about the employer end of things, just as much as the employee cares about the employee end of things. You want flexibility; they want commitment. You want vacation; they want you at work. You want not to work too hard; they want maximum productivity. You want to take the maximum number of sick days which can be justified; they want you to take the minimum. And so on.

          1. Zap R.*

            You have personaly and singlehandedly turned me into a Marxist with this comment so thank you for that.

      7. Giant Squid*

        Employee productivity is not linear, at all. I appreciate seeing the heartless perspective, but you’re writing like you actually believe it’s linear.

        Not separating sick leave encourages “minmax” types to never take sick leave. Which encourages getting other people sick.

        “hypothetical non-sick equivalents” — This is complete fantasy. You can’t apply a real policy to a hypothetical person who somehow has an equivalent. You can’t apply toy problems from economics 101 to real people, let alone try to make policies off of it.

        I’m saying this as someone who almost never takes sick leave because I’m that type of person (minmax). There’s no way in absolute hell I’m giving up a vacation day for the benefit of the company. Generally I can WFH, but in places I couldn’t, I’ve come in, gotten very little done, and extended my symptoms dramatically.

      8. TechWorker*

        I think ‘smart’ and ‘defensible’ is pretty dubious, but I can see the point that if an employer is choosing between two otherwise *identical* employees they might choose the one who is sick less. But that’s not how work performance works, and that’s not normally the choice being made. Even forgetting that employees are you know, humans, who deserve to be treated as such, punitive sick leave policies are *not* good business – they mean you lose out on people who might be great employees but (shock horror) need to use more than 5 sick days one year.

        1. Stella*

          You also miss out on the supposedly more valuable employees who don’t get sick often but can smell an employer who isn’t going to treat then like a human being and thus decides to work elsewhere. Frankly, given the complete lack of regulation, the fact that sick days and vacation days exist is evidence that they do provide something for the employer.

        2. TardyTardis*

          Plus, one employee might be healthier because they don’t kill themselves for the company’s sake. (Wally from Dilbert, for instance). Another employee might fall ill because they work 60 hour weeks to make your bottom line better.

          But hey! Wally hardly ever gets sick!

      9. pancakes*

        I’m happy other replies to this comment have already covered most of what I intended to say about it, but I want to highlight the irony of “they risk getting raked over the coals on the internet.” Amazing.

      10. Curmudgeon in California*

        > ‘Many of the people here are talking about folks who get sick more often. We all know these folks, right? Here’s the rub: Those people are generally worth less than their hypothetical non-sick equivalents. “Lee who is often out sick” is less valuable than “Lee who is rarely out sick”.’

        This is… disgusting.

        Are you really saying a person is “worthless/worth less” for getting sick? Do you realize that having a chronic illness does not make you stupid, or unproductive?

        Sure, I suppose if you are in a “butts in seats” type situation where a person’s sole value to the company is a warn, or even slightly feverish, body in a seat. But that assumes that your employees are completely and easily replaceable cogs in your nasty little machine.

        Here’s a piece of advice for you: Never get old, never get sick, never have kids, because your employer will likely take the same attitude as you do, and all of your education and experience will be “worth less” because you got sick.

        1. Employment Lawyer*

          Are you really saying a person is “worthless/worth less” for getting sick?

          No, because people are people whoever they are, and all that. Seriously: Do you actually think I am deliberately dehumanizing people who happen to be ill, rather than discussing the cold hard realities of employer/employee relations? Sheesh, people.Principles of charitable interpretation, etc.

          Do you realize that having a chronic illness does not make you stupid, or unproductive?
          Well, it doesn’t make you stupid, of course (where did that even come from?)

          As for the second part: It depends. A chronic disease which affects your productivity in some way (including absences) will, obviously, make you less productive than you would have been if you did not have the disease. If you were otherwise roughly equal in productivity to your peers–i.e. not a super person–then the result with the disease will be less productivity overall.

          This, again, is pretty basic stuff. It’s why so many people with chronic disease tend to really aim for specialties where they can overproduce, as a means of compensating for disease-related loss of productivity. I may be reading you wrong, but are you seriously disputing that latter part? Or are you just setting up a straw man for battle?

          Here’s a piece of advice for you: Never get old, never get sick, never have kids, because your employer will likely take the same attitude as you do, and all of your education and experience will be “worth less” because you got sick.
          Actually, I’m self employed: When I am sick or injured, I don’t get paid anything at all. I haven’t had a paid sick day or a paid vacation day in decades. Nice try, though ;)

      11. SpaceySteph*

        Sure if your job requires physical coverage then having employees who are usually present is useful and there is a higher value for those employees who don’t call in sick as often. But many, many jobs are more about productivity and skill than about physical presence. In those cases its highly likely that the winner of perfect attendance is not the best or most productive employee.

    11. Jackalope*

      At my job the benefit to sick and vacation in separate buckets is the flexibility of sick leave. We get a certain # of hours of each per pay period, and sick leave can be banked indefinitely. You can use it for being sick, for doctor appts, and for caring for certain I’ll family members. With vacation time only a certain # of people can be out of the office per day (say, half the unit). With sick leave, if you need it you can take it, doesn’t matter if only three people won’t be in the office bcs everyone got the flu, you’re still approved. And you can request it last-minute, which is sometimes not the case with vacation. So I love having the separate bank of sick leave. I can still use vacation time if I’m out sick, but there are more restrictions (like not having the assurance that leave for a doctor’s appt would be approved, for example).

  5. agnes*

    Thank you for this guidance. This is why I am not a fan of all leave being PTO. If you have a separate sick bank, only for use when you are sick, then people are more likely to take sick time. Nobody wants to use PTO for being sick–psychologically it feels like wasting a vacation day, whereas sick time is dedicated for being sick.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I disagree. At the places I’ve worked where it was separated, I had a ton of sick time built up but my vacation disappeared in the blink of an eye. As someone who rarely gets sick, I’d rather have it in one bucket. The bigger issue is providing enough time, whether it’s in one bucket or separated.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Same here. We only have three sick days and I always lose one or two at the end of a year. I liked it better at the previous job, when it was in one bucket. At the same time, we have people who do get sick a lot and use up their three sick days within a month and are then told to take vacation when they get sick next.

        Granted, we have a generous WFH policies, including “WFH if you are contagious no questions asked”. I’d be blowing through my sick time (or my PTO time at the previous place) very quickly without those.

      2. Sharkie*

        I work where it is separated (5 sick days, 10 vacation) but since sick days don’t rollover HR lets us use them first even if is not non sick reasons, or at the end of the year let you retroactively change vacation days to “mental health days” so you dont have a ton of days banked and can’t use them. I feel like flexibility would solve a ton of problems

      3. Zillah*

        I mean, that makes sense – it’s definitely better for you. But you’re actually illustrating what’s good about separate sick time – for a lot of people, it does build up because they don’t need it, which means that sick leave policies can at least theoretically be more generous than if it’s all in one bucket.

        If there are 20 days in one bucket, most people will probably try to use them all. If there are 15 vacation days that most people will use and sick time that not everyone will, you might be able to offer 10 sick days rather than 5 and have about the same number of days where someone is out. Is it annoying for people who are healthy? Sure, but I promise that being chronically ill and never having a vacation is much more difficult.

        1. Sunflower*

          How is this not a company coverage/staffing issue? The company should be operating so everyone is able to be out on the amount of days allotted to them without making anyone feel bad/guilty/fall behind on their work.

          1. doreen*

            It’s not about coverage or staffing. Lets say I have 10 employees, all at the same rate of pay and they get 15 vacation days and 10 sick days a year. The average employee takes 5 sick days -some take more and some less, but the average is 5. They take 200 days of leave total each year ( 150 vacation and 50 sick). Now I’m going to switch to a single bank of PTO – if I want to keep the total paid days off at 200, they will each get 20 days.

            1. Sunflower*

              And what is the issue with giving them 25 days in the total bucket? Your employees are still getting the same amount of PTO offered to them regardless of the reason?

              1. Zillah*

                the point that both doreen and i are making is that it’s not the same amount of PTO either way. in her first example with separate buckets, 25 days of PTO were available because not everyone will use all their sick time. in her second example, only 20 days were available because most people will use every day.

                1. Zillah*

                  to put it another way:

                  when not everyone will use a resource, you can offer it to more people and still functionally come out ahead.

                  to use a silly example: say there are four friends with eight beers in the fridge. if everyone wants to drink as much as possible, they’ll each be limited to two. if two of them only want one, though, the other two can have three without their having to have three per person.

                  yes, not everyone uses all their sick time, which is why people who rarely need it want it all in one bucket – but that’s the point. if we’re talking about breaking even with PTO, three days that one person doesn’t use are three days that another person can use without it impacting the company’s bottom line.

      4. CleverGirl*

        “As someone who rarely gets sick, I’d rather have it in one bucket.” Sure, but what about someone who frequently gets sick? What you really need is *more* vacation time, not to combine sick and vacation time into one bucket so that sick people end up not getting any vacations. And you need to stop looking at your unused sick days as a free day that was somehow taken from you because you didn’t get sick. Sick days are like car insurance: you hope you don’t have to use it, but you want to have it there in case you need it.

        1. esra*

          Yes, this ends up like crabs in a bucket. Decent vacation time + unlimited sick days is best for everyone, rather than punishing one group so another can squeeze by.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I would agree that unlimited sick time that does not in any way (implicit or explicit) come out of the vacation bank is best for everyone. But does that actually ever exist anywhere?

            1. Sunflower*

              Exempt employees had unlimited sick time at my OldJob and people definitely felt cautious about using it. It wasn’t all that different from places that have unlimited vacation and employees end up taking less.

            2. esra*

              I’m Canadian, so that might be a thing, but I had it at my last place. People actually didn’t take more than 3-8 sick days on average, but employees felt a lot less stressed about taking what they needed.

              People could also work from home, so a lot of time it was like, take a day if you need it, work a little, or work the whole day from home. Whatever worked.

            3. Tau*

              EU countries tend to do something like this. I’m in Germany and I think the law is six weeks paid for by your company, at which point you move to 70% pay paid by your health insurance. That has a limit too, but it’s something like 1.5 years or so, so most people are not going to have a problem. And it’s separate from your vacation time. I’m always weirded out by the “X days” model.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                Yes, I’ve always had it (UK so EU laws relevant) but it was in excess of statutory entitlement. In one instance an employee had been on paid sick leave for almost five years, covered by the employer’s insurance.

                In any case, I don’t think it would be legal to dump sick leave in with holiday leave, and we have an additional statutory entitlement to carer’s leave when dependants are sick (though that can be unpaid which is a whole other problem for decision making).

                1. MsSolo*

                  I’m in the UK, and my organisation does long-term sick on a sliding scale based on how long you’ve been there. When I needed it (broke and dislocated my elbow, requiring surgery and physio) I was entitled to 6 months full pay and 6 months half pay. They’re very careful about not mixing it with holiday pay – if I got sick on holiday I’d have to change it with HR when I got back – for accurate accounting purposes (when you’re budgeting for new staff / projects, you need to have an accurate idea of what average sick rates look like vs average holiday taken). And parental leave is separate too, of course.

            4. Librarian1*

              The US Federal Government offers unlimited sick days to their employees. I’m slightly jealous. They also get to roll over a lot more vacation time each year than I do (I can roll over 150 hrs, they can roll over 240, I think).

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          But the total stays the same, no matter how many buckets it’s in. It’s either 20 days in one bucket that you can use however you like, or 15 days in a bucket that you use however you like and 5 days in another bucket that there are restrictions on how you are allowed to use. And at the end of the year, anything you haven’t used out of the 20 goes away. Sounds to me like another obstacle to keep people from using their paid time off.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Also this – the days off are exactly the same amount, just with a combined bucket, you can use the days however you see fit. If a company’s going to do a combined bucket, though, they need to give you at least 15 days and they need to let unused time rollover because even chronically ill people don’t always need a ton of sick days (I only did in 2018 because I was depressed, which exacerbated my illnesses and wore my body down). Last year, I didn’t take a sick day at all (I took two weeks of vacation) and now I have a little over a week of that time (and vacation time) already banked for this year thanks to rollovers.

      5. Stella*

        Thus indicating that you might indeed come in when sick to save days for vacation given that you find vacation more valuable.

    2. Clisby*

      The flip side is the people who don’t need much sick leave and decide they’ll use a few days just to get some free time – like they think if they get 10 days of sick leave a year, that’s 10 days they can take to do whatever.

  6. SufferinSuccotash*

    6 days?
    If just ONE of my kids gets sick on ONE school day and has a fever then that’s 2 days gone! the first day and then one buffer day for the 24 hour fever window. I have more than 1 kid. Kids tend to be ill more than never. HOW ON EARTH is 6 days enough for anyone to feel comfortable using them for themselves? If I had but 6 paltry days of sick time I would have to save every single minute for a child.

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      This is why most of us parents pretty much drag ourselves into work unless we’re unconscious. Emergency sick daycare is Not a Thing in the vast majority of the US, and plus when a small kid is sick, they feel lousy and just want a parent. Lots of people love my kids, but not “wash the vomit out of their hair” love.

    2. TechWorker*

      +1 – I am a genuinely fairly well person, though with chronic migraines. I don’t have kids, and I reckon I’d blitz through the 6 if I wasn’t allowed to wfh. (Atm I take less than that on average, but only because we can wfh so fairly often if I have a migraine I will stay home and do half a days work over a day, so only taking half a day sick). My friend has been working from home for 3 weeks due to a virus!

    3. LunaMei*

      I have a really generous sick leave policy at my institution, but even then I’m using most of that time on my kids! Doctors appts, daycare plague, etc. Thankfully I am able to work from home when I get sick. I also have an understanding boss who has let me use vacation time when my sick leave got down to zero.

    4. Rectilinear Propagation*

      And that’s for bog standard school/daycare crud. G-d forbid you have a kid that has any health issues beyond what’s typical. Actually, for a newborn, the normal wellness visits would blow through those 6 days in the first 3 months.

    5. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, when my kids were in daycare and sick all the time, my husband I worked at the same place. I was salaried, so if I worked a partial day I didn’t have to take sick time, and he was hourly. We’d tag team the day–one of us would stay home in the morning, the other in the afternoon, so I wouldn’t take any sick time and he’d only need a half day. We did this until he ran out of sick time then I took over. I don’t think they were ever sick more than 18 work days in a year.

      Then WFH became an option for me. Then he got laid off. Then the kids got older and rarely get sick now, so I can actually take a sick day when I need to.

    6. Public Sector Manager*

      I work in state government and we give employees a choice: either annual leave or vacation/sick leave. And if they elect to have vacation and sick leave, you accrue 8 hours of sick leave per month (12 days a year) and it rolls over from year-to-year.

      6 days a year is subhuman. That’s the problem right there.

    7. Sandman*

      This. I have three kids that are pretty healthy; I would literally never take a sick day myself if I only got six per year.

      1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

        Yep. I was out 3 days straight earlier this month because one of my children had a fever for a day and a half. I didn’t have to use sick time because I was able to work from home (luckily it was the easily-entertained 3 year old who was ill), but if I wasn’t able to WFH then there’s half my sick bank right there.

    8. SC*

      Truth. I have 6 sick days. My spouse now stays at home, and his ability to cover doctors’ appointments and sick days is really valuable. Before he stayed home, I had a list of 4 babysitters who were sometimes available during the day and at the last minute, and I budgeted $300 per month for backup care, which covered 20 hours–basically 2 workdays plus my commute. My kid wasn’t necessarily sick 2 days per month, but he was definitely sick/in the 24-hour fever window for 24 days during his first year of daycare. There was one February when he was out of daycare more often than in.

    9. Ann Perkins*

      And this also shows the need for paid parental leave. I’ve had to use all my PTO and sick time for maternity leaves in order to minimize the amount of unpaid time off, just to take 10 weeks off for each of my two kids. Then when I get back to work I have no sick time left for new baby in daycare gets a fever, tummy bug, etc. It’s caused major burnout for me over the last few years because I have to hoard my PTO.

      1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

        Yes yes yes.

        My sister is opting to take unpaid maternity leave and her husband is also planning on utilizing some unpaid FMLA (and budgeting for that time accordingly) so that they still have paid sick and vacation days available for the rest of the year for when their baby inevitably gets sick.

        I was “lucky” in that we have unlimited sick time – so the ability to take time off post-baby wasn’t a worry. It just meant there weren’t any paid sick days to take while on unpaid leave, as once you’re out for more than 5 days it falls into FMLA/Short Term Disability blah blah blah.

      2. Double A*

        Yes. Most new parents (especially mothers) come back to work with zero sick or vacation days. ZERO. And they have a baby at home, so any time off they take is unpaid. After they’ve likely taken a financial hit during their leave because it’s unlikely they had enough leave to cover it all.

        1. Librarianne*

          My kid is 2 and I only have 2 sick days accrued now. I had to use all my paid time off before FMLA kicked in (and it didn’t add any time to the amount of time I could take off, max was still 3 months but I had to use my PTO as part of that). So I came back from maternity leave with 0 PTO. Add in the postpartum health issues I had (didn’t heal properly after delivery) and my kid’s checkups and illnesses and I’m stuck in this cycle of using all my sick time every year after starting over at 0. And I get 12 days a year, so my amount is good! My husband traveled 100 days of the first year of our child’s life for work, so I did all of the staying home when the kid was sick, plus the physical recovery from the ways pregnancy and labor messed up my body.

    10. Nita*

      I don’t even know what the answer is, when you factor in kids! I can work from home, but doing that with a sick kid is not very productive. And by the time you realize they got you sick, you’re so behind that staying home until you’re better is not a great option. I’ve been washing hands like a madwoman this winter – come into the pantry, wash hands, make coffee, wash hands again. Go into meeting, wash hands. Put on gloves before going anywhere near public transit even if it’s 60 degrees out, get off public transit, wash hands anyway. Usually it’s to keep whatever is going around the office away, sometimes it’s to keep whatever I’ve brought from home away from my coworkers.

      I’m still shocked by that recent thread where so many people said it’s no biggie to lick your fingers in an office! I think I’ve upped my hand washing even more after reading that one lol.

    11. Mim*

      Yuuuuuup. I feel very fortunate that my kiddo doesn’t get sick very much anymore. Even skips most of the colds and stomach bugs that go around school.

      But as a toddler/preschooler there was this pattern of cold turning into ear infection. But you didn’t know at first if it was an ear infection, and those need to be diagnosed by going to the doctor. Which is a PITA with a sick child last minute, trying to get an appointment or go to a walk in clinic. (And when kiddo was that young the only pediatric walk in clinic available to us only had morning hours.)

      So this was the pattern: Kiddo gets a fever and I get a call from daycare early afternoon to pick him up. We go home, medicate, and hope it’s not an ear infection. Wakes up and seems okay, but can’t go to daycare because they had a fever yesterday. By mid-morning has a fever again, so we go to walk-in clinic and get diagnosis/meds. First dose that evening, but it’s just one dose so they might have a fever again in the morning. Obviously can’t go to daycare that next morning. And if they do have a fever again that morning it means they are out of daycare the following day as well because of the 24 hour rule, plus a rule that you can’t drop off after 9.

      So let’s see. There is day 1, when I miss almost half a day of work. Day two ear infection is diagnosed. Day three it’s mostly under control, but since they probably had a fever after 9 that morning because meds aren’t immediate they also need to be home for day FOUR. That’s almost 3.5 days of work missed (if those are all weekdays) because of an ear infection.

      Multiply times 3 or 4, at least. If more than that, your kid may get referred for ear tubes. Which is… more time off work because now your baby is having a medical procedure under general anesthetic.

      And that’s before well visits, preventative care stuff, dentist, eye doctor, and heaven forbid anyone has a chronic condition that requires specialist visits, etc.

      I have had panic attacks about this stuff. I have skipped lunches for weeks on end to make up scraps of time here and there because every hour or part of an hour you can scrounge up counts. I have gone to work with a fever because I knew I’d probably have to take off when my kid got the same illness, and I didn’t have time enough to miss work for both of our illnesses.

  7. Marny*

    #2 is a good rule of thumb for any kind of time off. My old job had a certain number of vacation days (and a use-them-or-lose-them policy), but they also made you feel guilty for using them. Any time I announced I’d be taking a day off, even if all my work was caught up and I had no appointments/meetings to reschedule, I was faced with grumbling and displeasure at the mere idea of wanting to not be at the office. It sucked.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      This is why we need a push to normalize a four-day workweek like several countries are doing now. With the US so far behind on these kinds of issues it’s likely to be forever before that idea is actually accepted, but maybe we’ll land in the middle with “it’s normal to take all of your vacation time” at the very least!

      1. Nonny Maus*

        A four-day workweek would be awesome! I’m simplifying it greatly, but I often grump about how we (US) work ‘either the same or harder’ in terms of amount as Japan, and they have a term for DEATH FROM OVERWORK. We don’t see their benefits though (and that’s not getting into the ways their own culture has its issues…)

        I wonder how much culturally it’s all tied in to morality linked with working. I.E: It’s immoral if you don’t work, you’re seen as lazy if you don’t do as much, and the whole it’s more virtuous to not take time off >.< I'm not even sure where to start with that Gordian Knot.

      2. Clisby*

        Yeah, US hospitals are somewhat ahead of this curve – it’s pretty common for nurses to work a week by putting in 3 12-hour shifts. I’m not sure I’d have been up for 3 12-hour days, but 4 10-hour days would have been great.

    2. BluntBunny*

      Yes I’m wondering if the bosses and supervisor would step in and send the worker home if they were very sick. If you are too sick to work you are to sick to work it mostly should be a voluntary thing but if you are physically struggling like have no energy to do the job you’re better off taking half a days rest. If they start saying look you need to go home people will realise they don’t need to break their back to do the job. But 6 days is not enough sick leave especially if that includes medical appointments I would push for 10 days.

    3. Julia*

      Same, or I wasn’t allowed to take that specific day off for some reason, but then later a more favored coworker spontaneously wanted the same day off and immediately got approved.

  8. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Also – don’t require a twelve page essay about why you’re calling in sick. I know simply saying “I don’t feel well, I won’t be in” SHOULD be enough. For there are many places where it’s not the case. If I know I’m going to have to go through a play by play regarding my sinuses and knowing I can just struggle though by taking DayQuil like it’s candy….I’m probably going to go with the second option.

      1. annewithanE*

        my state has this awesome law that doesn’t allow employers to ask for a doctor note until the third consecutive sick day taken. it also requires 5 sick days be provided per year. before this, so many stingy “small business” types just offered no paid time off at all.

        1. DecorativeCacti*

          I have the same, AND there is a stipulation in the law that the employee can refuse to get a doctor’s note at all if it is an unreasonable burden to go to the doctor (financial or just getting to the doctor). I haven’t had to use it yet, but I’m ready. My office is twitchy about doctor’s notes.

      2. Just Another Manic Millie*

        I was about to say that at one of my jobs, the new office manager said that we would need a doctor’s note if we were out sick for even just one day. How many people go to the doctor the day they miss work due to a cold? I wound up leaving the company a few months later and fortunately did not get sick during that time.

        1. she's a killer queen*

          I’m just imagining how I would go through getting a doctors note. My doctor would probably send me to urgent care near me. I’m sure my insurance will love to cover me going to urgent care with a very bad cold, just to get something to send to my boss.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            And on most health insurance plans, the copay at urgent care costs about twice as much as the copay at your primary care doctor’s office. When you consider how many sick days are taken for reasons that don’t necessarily require medical intervention (a cold, a migraine, a flare up of a chronic condition the person already has meds for, etc.), making your employee give up their valuable resting/healing time AND $50 for an urgent care copay is just terrible

        2. Liz*

          Ugh. that’s ridiculous. I am blessed with a pretty robust immune system so rarely, if ever get sick sick, even a cold. But sometimes I’ve had a really bad sinus headache, or just felt blah, or a slight fever, which prevented me from coming in but wasn’t anywhere bad enough for me to need to GO to the dr.

        3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          I don’t think I could even get an appointment let alone a sick note for a single day for something like a virus. The general advice is stay home and don’t waste NHS time on something where the best course of action is to rest and drink fluids.

      3. Amethystmoon*

        Yeah, where I live in the upper Midwest, no one goes to a doctor for a severe cold unless maybe it’s a parent with a small child and the child is sick, or someone with other immune issues. Forcing a doctor’s note may be forcing people to admit things they would rather not have to admit.

      4. Turquoisecow*

        My mom worked for a school bus company and only had so many sub drivers, so they’d have problems if too many people called out sick. They suspected (not entirely incorrectly, probably) that people were using sick days fraudulently, and they wanted to cut down on the number of people out any given day. So they said they’d require a doctor’s note for a single day’s absence.

        Now this is flat out ridiculous for many reasons. One driver raised his hand and asked “what if I have diarrhea?” It’s probably just a short bug or something you ate and you’re not going to go to the doctor over it, but it’s not a good idea to get on the bus (especially since they usually don’t have access to a bathroom.)

        The boss’s response? Take an Imodium and get on the bus.

        And the company gives ten sick days a year (which is ten months for the school year), so it’s not like the time wasn’t available. But if you took too many of those sick days, you’d find your contract not renewed the following year. Because they didn’t have enough coverage.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          This is a thing in school districts. The number of substitute teacher days the district has in their budget tends to be lower than the number of sick days they offer their teachers, so teachers come to work sick because they know the school has already spent their sub budget for the month and there will be no one to teach their class.

    1. Leela*

      This always surprises me. If I was the kind to lie about being sick, I would just lie about why I’m calling in sick. I’m NOT that kind, but if you’re doing this to vet someone to see if they’re “really” sick, they’re just going to tell you whatever will get them the approved sick day, why bother?

      1. Liz T*

        Yes! And does my boss really want to know exactly how my menstrual cycle is wreaking havoc on my digestive system?

        1. LL*

          I say let’s assume our bosses (if we have the kind of bosses who ask for details to ‘vet’ our sick time) DO want to hear all of this, in as much detail as we can possibly provide. Let’s send them text message updates throughout the day with details demonstrating that we’re still sick. Let’s send photos. Let’s do this until they not only stop asking us for medical details, but also start saying ‘okay, that’s fine, no other info needed! please!” when we tell them we are sick and won’t be in today.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Exactly, send photos of worshipping the porcelain deity. Make sure to highlight the very interesting contents.

    2. Admin in Arkansas*

      I am so thankful that ever since I started my new job that is no longer A Thing. All I do is text (not email, not call…text) my boss “Not feeling well, going to stay home today. Text if someone’s hair catches fire.” and then I go back to sleep. I say this whether I have a fever and sniffles or am just not Able To Deal that day.

      At my former jobs at Red Big Box Retailer and Red Telecommunications Company I had to basically plead my case every time…until I learned the trump card. One word and the conversation was over – “diarrhea.”

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Ahahahaha! I’ve had to leave work early for that reason. I didn’t tell them that, I merely stated that I felt like roadkill.

        OTOH, I probably overshare when I’m ill, because I feel guilty being sick and not getting things done. Between colds, migraines, IBS flares and medical appointments, I end up dealing with a lot of guilt – all from myself.

    3. Julia*

      This. Don’t interrogate employees on what they have, how they are treating it, and how you think that’s unacceptable. If I am taking a sick day (that I am entitled to), assume I am sick. I hate missing work because it makes me feel guilty, and I don’t need my boss to make it worse. At least my coworkers were always very nice because we covered for each other, but the “what did you have? Not a cold?? Hm…” from our boss was frightening each time.

    4. Curmudgeon in California*

      The only time I got a doctor’s note is when I was out for three weeks (unpaid, because contractor) because I literally had pneumonia (caused by an open plan cesspit full of contractors who had no sick leave.) Between the cost for urgent care and the loss of pay, it screwed up my budget for six months.

  9. Doug Judy*

    Sick time should be a a separate bucket than other PTO too. Ours is all lumped together and it makes it hard for less tenured employees to take more than one or two sick days.

    But also accept that sometimes, no matter what, illness will spread. Some illness are contagious long before symptoms appear or long after. I had a case of norovirus a month ago. “Fortunately” it hit me on a Saturday, however that can be contagious up to two weeks afterwards. It’s unrealistic to expect people who feel fine but might be contagious to stay home and ask their team pitch in. I did the best I could, carried around hand sanitizer and wipes to hopefully contain things, but taking off that much time would never have been feasible.

    1. Burned Out Supervisor*

      Word. I got my yearly cold a few weeks ago and the majority of it hit me on the weekend. I felt well enough (with the help of sudafed) to go to work on Monday. I sounded awful (laryngitis) but wasn’t sick enough to stay home. I washed my hands A LOT, used hand sanitizer after coughing, and generally stuck to my cube. No one on my team got my illness, but people treated me like I had the plague (one person even asked if I had the Corona Virus…uh. no). Like, I get it that getting a cold is a complete drag, but I’m not staying home for 2 weeks to be symptom free and you don’t need to make me feel like a leper.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        The cold I got over the Christmas break lingered on for over a month with cough and sinus congestion. Ugh.

    2. uncivil servant*

      Yup. Once you add up the contagious period, the feeling yucky period, and the visibly sick period, a mild cold lasts well over a week. Even my generous 15 days per year would be used up by most people pretty quickly if you never came in a bit sniffly.

  10. Might be Spam*

    I used to work at a company that included sick days use in the yearly review. If you used more than one sick day your score dropped. One year I used 3 sick days and my supervisor told me to stop getting sick.

      1. Antilles*

        The US has no federal laws requiring sick leave and most states also have no required sick leave, so OSHA doesn’t have any jurisdiction here (except insofar as “hearing that might piss off an inspector enough to find a completely unrelated violation to cite the company for”).
        There might be some exceptions for certain industries where your health affects the public…but having put in a few years in restaurants, I can assure you that (1) the official policy will very clearly state that you should take time off in accordance with municipal/state law AND (2) the actual policy enforced on a day to day basis will bear little resemblance to the fancy policy document written by corporate.

    1. AyBeeCee*

      To which my response would have been “Quit being an asshole” and oh hey look suddenly I have a lot of free time on my hands now that I’ve been fired…

      Okay really I’d probably just say “What? Did you – you just … ” and then I’d quiet down for the sake of getting that farce of a review over with before returning to my desk to start job hunting.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That’s a perfect way to make sure your office is a permanent germ factory. WTF!

    3. High School Teacher*

      My first job factored in how many sick days you used to determine the amount of money you got for a raise. It was unofficial so not documented, but well known. Infuriating.

      1. Might be Spam*

        This was part of the paperwork used for the review meeting. So it was an official policy. Except for the part about being ordered to not get sick.

    4. Junimo the Hutt*

      Yeah, I lost out on quite a bit of a merit raise a while back because the year before I’d had my gallbladder out and had taken a lot of sick time prior to going on FMLA. My over-use of sick days (I used 45 hours last year, when we’re supposed to use no more than 40) was noted on my review this year. What a great thing to have to worry about in addition to (and because of) the chronic migraines I suffer.

      1. Red Fraggle*

        Ugh, I’m so, so sorry. I hate it when they use your body against you. “I’m not a robot, I can’t make it stop!”

        Signed, a fellow chronic-migraine-haver (who used to work for a boss who Did Not Get It until I finally literally threw up on his shoes one day)

        1. Junimo the Hutt*

          Gotta second Curmudgeon on this one: congrats on the aim, you are a hero to us all. I wouldn’t wish migraines on my worst enemies, so *migraine-y fistbump*

    5. Vicky Austin*

      I hope you told your supervisor to stop being an asshole. (Not really, but your supervisor IS an asshole.)

  11. metageeky*

    Permit telecommuting and working from home. People tend to be more contagious when they are in the early signs of being sick. That light cough or sneezing fit may be the sign of more to come. Or that really bad stomach may be norovirus that erupts into your trashcan. Allowing people to work remotely can keep people productive but less likely to spread illness. Really good too if you’ve been exposed. You might not have the flu, but if your spouse and kids have it, you’re a minor vector in some regard.

    1. CL Cox*

      That is not an option in many industries. More generous leave policies combined with a wfh if feasible option make more sense.

  12. Czhorat*

    Yeah, this is easy.

    If I have to use a PTO day to stay home sick, I WILL drag myself in unless I’m literally dead – and even then I might still come in if I’m down to my last day or two.

  13. metageeky*

    Also, separate sick leave and vacation time. If it’s from the same pool, people will want to use precious time off for fun things and not blowing their noses.

    1. AyBeeCee*


      Once upon a time during the recession I started at a job that gave me a grand total of five days off for the year. Five days. For the whole year. But hey, bills needed paying.

      1. Watry*

        This. When I started my first full-time job, it was August and I was given 10 days for the year. In January, they knocked it down to 5. We (meaning both general staff and management on our behalf) pitched a fit at corporate until we were grandfathered in.

  14. K8 M*

    My company just introduced a new system where we have to accrue sick time before we can use it. Because we should plan for being sick. Plus we only get up to 5 days per year. Then in the next breath they told us this system was to incentivize staying home when sick. I can’t tell you how much that irritated me.

      1. Antilles*

        I don’t know about logic, but they certainly don’t understand “flu season”, because yearly accrual of sick time means you won’t have days built up during the peak of flu season in late January/early February.

        1. K8 M*

          We can “roll over” days from last year, but we still have a limit of 5 days per year. So, if you manage to not get sick at all one year, you’ll have time in Jan/Feb, but you better not get sick in December that year. It boggles the mind for sure.

    1. Bunny Girl*

      Yep we have to earn ours. We do get more than 5 days per year, but it did suck when I was first starting out at our company. I had been in a car accident right before starting and needed to go to a lot of appointments and physical therapy a couple times a week and didn’t have the sick time to cover it…

    2. Amethystmoon*

      We have to also — it’s in the same bucket and get less than 3 weeks. So then it means you don’t take vacation days in the winter lest you get the flu.

    3. UnabashedVixen*

      I just finished my probation period at a new job, where I get generous sick time (5%), but it accrues as I go. This month, I had a severe cold, followed a week later by the flu. I work with people with HIV, so coming to work sick is inadvisable. I missed 5 days of work without pay because sick days accrue instead of starting the year with them. Accruing sick time makes no sense.

  15. Zillah*

    I’d add a work from home option to that list as well – it’s not uncommon to feel well enough to work (so you don’t want to blow your sick time) but still be contagious.

    seriously, though, six days is not enough. it’s not like people are selfish for wanting to use their vacation time to unplug from work – that’s the point of vacation time!

  16. A Poster Has No Name*

    I feel like #3 is an important part that often gets overlooked in the “just stay home when you’re sick!” type arguments. Even if you have generous leave, people aren’t going to want to take it if they’re going to end up screwing over their coworkers and/or clients or have to catch up on a huge work load when they come back.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      #3 is why I have 12 weeks banked PTO. I am blessed with good health and healthy kids, but I would rather be at work during my work hours than have to catch up after hours and on the weekends. I have some backup and can get vacations covered, but it’s harder for unplanned time off. Never mind that the days that I do get sick almost always fall on that one day when clients are coming in for a meeting or I’m traveling. (I genuinely haven’t had anything more severe than a bad cold since ’05, so I am not the person spreading the flu or a stomach virus, but I am guilty of being the office sniffler.)

    2. zora*

      I agree that #3 is the most underappreciated.

      I currently work in an industry where you have to bill your time, and that means that #1 and #2 are moot most of the time. People have a billable requirement by the month, so even if we had generous sick time (we don’t), most of the time you can’t actually use it without reducing your billability regardless. Even if you are so sick you can’t work, you have to do more work to make up the hours once your better anyway.

      Fortunately, the vast majority of our work can be done from anywhere, so there is a lot of working from home when people are sick, which helps a little bit with sicknesses not getting passed around. But some people feel like they have so much work they just have to come in anyway, and share their germs with everyone.

      Are there any billable businesses that are not just giving lip service to taking sick leave? I haven’t seen any personally.

    3. Red Fraggle*

      My spouse has duties no one else in his region can do, as well as sweeping black-out dates when no one in the company can be out of the office more than 3 days in a row.

      This combo predictably results in frequent, bitter-yet-hilarious conversations with HR when they call to fuss about his massive PTO bank. “When, exactly, am I supposed to take it? That stuff won’t get done and everything will grind to a halt.”

      1. Julia*

        My husband also seems to be the only one in his office who can do his job, so when he’s out one day he works much longer the rest of the week, despite still not feeling great.

        He also took a half day once because he had an appointment in the morning, and then ended up working a full day anyway, just later in the day. They still charged him PTO. I was furious.

        1. Anonymous Right Now*

          This! I am the only one in the office who does my job! I feel like I can’t take time off because of the shit ton of work that will pile up. I am so sick of working overtime to try to catch up. I get 24 days of leave a year, combined personal, sick, vacation days, but feel like I can’t take any because of how much I have to work before I go and when I get back. The leave rolls over every year, but when will I get to use 65 days? I feel trapped. AAM is right. Lack of coverage is a real problem for some workers like me. Sigh.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I had a job where if I took vacation or was out sick, a certain function literally didn’t get done. I was one of the two people in the company with enough laboratory experience to QA incoming lab reports. If I took a week off, I came back to a stack of unvetted reports and people whining for them.

        I do not ever want to be an “irreplacable” single point of failure again.

  17. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    Do you seriously only offer six sick days and don’t understand why people come to work sick?

      1. merp*

        No chronic illnesses here right now, but I’m doing the math and even as a reasonably healthy person, it barely covers my dr appts! If someone has one cold, sees a dentist twice a year, and gets a physical and/or other annual exam, 6 days are gone, easy. Especially if you work for one of those places where you can only take time off in 4 hour blocks, like my last job.

        1. Don Duck*

          You can use sick days for doctor appointments? That comes out of PTO. I try and do all my appointments on the same day

          1. Zillah*

            That’s often not an option if you’re seeing doctors with significant wait times or for longer procedures. When I’ve tried to do that, I’ve had to cancel appointments.

            1. Zillah*

              Like, I’m not saying it’s not a decent strategy if it’s possible! But if we’re talking about how many sick days/PTO is reasonable, I do think it’s worth pointing out that some things that are good strategies aren’t feasible for everyone, especially since people who they do work for don’t necessarily realize how much things can add up.

              All appointments in one day can also be tough in a lot of areas, IME – if it takes 30-45 minutes to get from one doctor to the next, that can also eat up time quickly.

          2. merp*

            Well in my case, I’m lucky enough to have 12 vacation days and 12 sick days per year, and yes, I take medical appointments as sick time and have been encouraged to do so by my supervisor. Here I can that that time in shorter increments but I know there are plenty of places where someone can’t do that.

              1. merp*

                lol I felt that when I was writing it (it’s the most I’ve ever had at a job! which is even sadder!), but since LW’s company offers even fewer sick days, it seemed apt.

        2. Risha*

          My company offers slightly substandard leave – 3 weeks PTO for your first five years, no sick days. I don’t mind in the least because they have a policy where if you work a substantial portion of the day (officially undefined, but the example given in the employee handbook is someone working 3 hours), you don’t need to use any PTO time to take the rest of the day off, subject to managerial approval. And it’s not a requirement that you hit 40 hours a week, as long as you average out to that over an extended period of time – something like six months. So I get to schedule all of my doctors appointments during the day and not burn any time for it. This has been HUGE this past year, which has featured visits to multiple specialists for various reasons, plus starting IVF.

      2. she's a killer queen*

        It’s mid-February. I’ve had 3 doctors appointments this year so far and have another one next week.

  18. Antilles*

    These are really good points. As an addendum to #3: When employees call in sick, let them be sick. Nothing ruins a “stay home when you’re sick!” message faster than getting a flurry of calls about minor issues when you’re trying to rest.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I don’t mind getting Slack messages, but if I’m sleeping? I won’t respond immediately. If I get called, it better be important, because it will wake me up and I’m cranky when I’m sick. (In fact, that’s part of how I know I’m coming down with something – my patience gets much shorter.)

  19. Kai Jones*

    Do you have an open work space? This increases the odds that a sick employee will make other employees sick.

    I’d definitely provide more paid sick leave. At a previous employer I had 12 sicks days per year that rolled over to a 2-year maximum and which were separate from vacation (which was also generous); that’s enough time to stay home with two separate colds or one bad flu, see the doctor for your annual physical, go to the dentist for two teeth cleanings, and hit the lab for any necessary tests. I never hesitated to get proper medical care or stay home sick when I needed. Where I work now there’s less sick time (8 days, still good) but better coverage-I never have to return to work that wasn’t done.

    1. OP*

      My question is hard to generalize, because some people can work from home, and some people have offices, some are in cubes. I have a sneaking suspicion that someone familiar with my organization will see this, so I will wait for it blow over, but i am going to propose that sick days can roll over. That seems like the easiest change to make for the better here that isn’t asking much from the company. Having been here a long time, I don’t always use my sick days but would be more inclined to, if I knew they would rollover.

      1. Smithy*

        In addition to sick days rolling over – I would highly recommend stressing that those who can work from home be allowed to work from home on days when they feel like they might be getting sick or are recovering from an illness. The vast majority of colds – not to mention the flu or more serious ailments – are not 24 hours of symptoms. While most Americans are unlikely to take more than 1-2 sick days, that then leaves folks returning to the office still infectious.

        If folks are more empowered to work from home while “under the weather but not so ill they require a sick day” – that will increase the number of sick people at least not in the office. This both helps people who feel unable to take sick days because of work load as well as those concerned about not having enough sick days. Just this winter, I had a direct report with the flu take one sick days and then work from home for 4.

        If the point really is reducing the number of infectious germs in the office – then the reality that some people may get more work from home days because of this shouldn’t be the issue. But if there’s a fear that this type of situation may increase people being viewed as abusing work for home – then there may be other cultural factors at play at work and why people are fixated on attendance.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I would highly recommend stressing that those who can work from home be allowed to work from home on days when they feel like they might be getting sick or are recovering from an illness.

          I would even make it almost “required” instead of “allowed”. The message needs to be that they owe it to the rest of the office to keep their germs to themselves. We had a guy at OldJob come into work with pinkeye in both eyes one day. What saved us all from getting it was that 1) he came in an hour earlier than the rest of the team, 2) so did our boss, 3) the idiot decided to stop by the boss’s office to brag about his work ethics. “Look at me, I have pinkeye and I still came in!” The boss sent him home and told us about it when we arrived. The guy had the nickname Typhoid Mary for a while after that.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            The message needs to be that they owe it to the rest of the office to keep their germs to themselves.

            This. Even though I’ve had to come to work sick because of no PTO, I still hate to do it, and will stay out even at no pay if I believe that I will make others sick. I have gotten sick so many times because other full-time, salaried people came in sick when I was a contractor without sick leave that I have a real sore spot about it. I will tell coworkers to go home if they are sick, even though I am not their boss.

      2. Stormy Weather*

        If you’re someone who has been there a long time, you may be in a better position to ask for more from the company than others who have not. If you have some people that work from home, push for an expansion of the policy.

    2. Chinookwind*

      Also pay for a deep cleaning/sanitizing of the works pace during flu season. There are companies that will come through and sanitize electronics and desktops more thoroughly than your average custodian. I had one employer do that and it at least gave us a placebo effect.

      And make sure you supply bleach wipes to be used by people at their desks to do their own sanitizing.

      1. tangerineRose*

        You may want to be careful about what products are used for the cleaning/sanitizing. Some people are sensitive to various products.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, I’m allergic to the scents in a lot of industrial cleaning products, to the point where I’m doubled over coughing and can barely breathe. It’s hard to run out of an area when you’re coughing.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Yeah, we have to print everything off and I’ve been like, using fingernail only to touch the printing buttons during cold/flu season. I also keep a bottle of hand sanitizer at my desk. So far this year, it has worked.

  20. Sarah*

    I was sick recently with a nasty cold. I told my boss (who is generally awesome) I needed to stay home the next day, and asked if she would prefer if I work from home (which I was capable of doing and happy to do — just in my pjs on my couch with access to lots of tea and soup), or if she would rather I take a sick day. Because my company frowns on administrative people working from home (even though we are entirely capable of doing so), she told me to take a sick day.

    So I did. The day after that? Still sick. You know what I did? I hopped myself up on meds and went to work, because I did not want to be YET ANOTHER day behind on all my work. You all know what happened, right? I GOT SICKER, NEEDED TO TAKE MORE TIME OFF, AND ALSO INFECTED EVERYONE.

    Look, I know I should’ve taken another sick day. But it’s so counter to our culture (we’re in healthcare and providers don’t call out unless they’re basically dying), and I have a vicious work ethic, so I didn’t. What would have been a wonderful compromise was permission to work from home and take it easy. It drives me nuts that my workplace won’t support that.

    1. TechWorker*

      It does sound nuts!! Do you understand the objection at all? Is it basically ‘we don’t think people who wfh are productive’?

      One option might be to ask if you can wfh for half a day and use half a day sick.. if the system allows it. I do this sometimes because there *are* bits of my job that need doing in person, but it allows me to keep up on everything else, whilst also not having to work a full day when I’m a bit ill (& thus hopefully recovering faster). You might be able to bill it as a compromise…?

    2. WellRed*

      “we’re in healthcare and providers don’t call out unless they’re basically dying)”

      I really wish this wasn’t such a common mindset in healthcare. I was checking in for lab work, there were people with compromised immune systems from chemo or what have you, and the intake workers at the desk were all “Oh, I’m sick, I’ve got the flu” to each other (I doubt she actually had the flu, FWIW). It was appalling!

    3. BRR*

      Something similar happened to me recently. I was sick, I really would have liked to take off to rest, I had a ton to do, I wasn’t sure if I would feel worse the next day so I worked a full day, coworkers and boss didn’t understand that having to work twice as hard the next day to make up for being out.

  21. Amy*

    Those 6 or 7 days are used up pretty quickly for the parents in the office. Not only might they need to take off time for themselves, but they also need to take time off to care for their children. I’ve used up all my PTO for the year by February before, because me and my kids got really sick. So, for the rest of the year, I had to go to work even when coughing or feverish because I worried about paying rent. I’m not sure what the answer is, except adding days to PTO, offering work from home options, and offering flu shots every fall.

    1. Stephanie*

      My company offers flu shots at no cost every year–it’s great. Of course, I still got the flu this year, but I think that was more an issue with this year’s shot…

  22. Stephanie*

    My department doesn’t track sick time and has a culture that okays working from home if you’re a bit under the weather or just letting you be home sick. If it’s something that looks like it’ll be long-term, then they look into FMLA or short-term disability. It mostly works and keeps people from dragging themselves in sick.

    I did have a job that gave us two sick days a year and didn’t really allow remote work and I’m sure all kind of bugs were incubating in that office.

    1. TechWorker*

      Yeah I think we basically have this. We have a policy that if you take x days off in a row you need a doctors note, and if you were taking *loads* of sick I can imagine you might be asked about it. Worst case scenario if you’re ill enough to need extended leave we have insurance that will pay out at 75% of your wage until you are capable of working again.

      I’m sure some US companies are better but this is sick and vacation policies are the main thing that hugely put me off ever moving to the US to work.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        I think if we’re out more than 3 days, we need something from a doctor or short-term leave. But that’s generally up to the managers, as we don’t really have sick leave as exempt employees. We just take time off if we need it.
        Obviously any major need to be out due to illness or surgery or whatever would be handled differently than just typical calling in sick for a few days in a row.

  23. Celeste*

    Six days is not enough, especially when you consider that people need time to go to medical appointments of all stripes: preventative and during illness, for themselves as well as their children or occasionally to drive a spouse for a procedure. People in the OP’s workplace are definitely saving up for a rainy day with only 6 days to use.

    1. OP*

      To be fair to my firm, they are very lax about doctor’s appointments and being easy going about needing to be away from the office from time-to-time. This means the 6 sick days are truly for being sick and are not burned for a mid-day doctor’s appointment

      1. Oxford Comma*

        That’s still a really low amount. Look at coronavirus–you’re supposed to self-isolate for 14 days with that. If you’ve ever had the flu, that’s knocked me on my butt for at least a week.

        If you have kids, you could cycle through that in no time.

      2. Quill*

        Unfortunately, not all doctors’ consultations are created equal: a normal wellness check is probably something most of your people can swing, but specialists might actually burn that day of PTO.

        1. Zillah*

          yeah, I’ll easily spend 2-3 hours just waiting to see a specialist sometimes because they’re running so behind.

          1. Quill*

            For my custom orthodics I’ve had a range between 20 min appointments and being there 4 hours.

            Granted, the only time it made it to 4 hours was the original assessment and getting a perscription for physical therapy so that insurance would cover it… plus x-rays.

      3. Alex*

        I’ve been out 10 days in 2019. I consider that one of my best years.

        But – I live in a country with unlimited* paid sick days and where a doctor gives you bedrest for a week or two if you catch a flu to REALLY get rid of it instead of “just good enough to go back to work, but have symptoms for months”…

        1. Mr. Shark*

          Really? I’m looking over where I track my vacation and sick time off, and I only see that I’ve been sick (not in the office) 7 times since 2016.
          I don’t have any kids, so I’m sure that helps.

          1. Zillah*

            having kids, chronic illnesses, disabilities, and/or injuries can add up very quickly if you fall into one of those groups – which collectively contain a lot of people.

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        My chiropractor takes over an hour of drive time plus anywhere from 30 min to two hours in the office waiting/treatment.

        My dentist is worse – two hours each way, plus four hours for the appointment. I have to take off the entire day. But to stay within my dental insurance, that’s what I have to do.

  24. kathlynn (Canada)*

    I’m feeling sick for the 3rd time in 3 months. Luckily it’s a new calendar year. I have my 5 days of paid sick leave. But no one to cover my shifts, if I need to take the next day or two off. Because the only person who is available I’m already working with. And he’s not trained enough to work without an experienced coworker. Besides the store would be closed. (we’re supposed to be 24/7).and I think I already used 1-2 days off when I was sick last month and hurt myself, requiring 2 hospital visits and resulting in a new scar on my arm. So there’sno way I can afford to miss work now, not when I usually do get sick in the last 3 months of the year. Or maybe this summer we’ll have forest fires really bad again and I’ll need to have at least a couple of days off because I can’t breath well enough to work. (this year though, I will see if I’d be considered sick enough to go on temporary disability, as this state usually lasts 3-4 months)

    1. WellRed*

      So you’ve got a coverage issue more than anything? Shouldn’t a manager come in and cover? What if you both got hit by a bus?

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        lol, I’m sure she would do so. but right now she expects us to either find someone to cover our shift or show up

  25. ThatGirl*

    My company does a decent job of this – we have 5 sick days per year (on top of PTO) and generally people are encouraged to go home/stay home when sick, and coverage isn’t a big problem in most departments. We also do have the ability to work from home in most cases when illness, injury or unexpected emergency. I have sometimes wished it were a combined policy because I don’t get sick often, and only took 1 sick day last year as a mental health day, but I also appreciate that it’s there if I need it.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I have to say, too, this is actually the first place I’ve worked that had separate sick time – so I find the idea that 5-6 days is not enough interesting. But! I’m privileged – I’m youngish, healthy, have always worked jobs with some schedule flexibility and don’t have kids to care for. So I can definitely understand the argument that 5 days would go real fast for someone with kids, a chronic illness, etc.

      1. Liz*

        People at my office were pushing back when I advocated for more sick time – “but I’ve never needed more than the three days we’re allotted.” Wow, how nice for you? I wanted to punch one guy who said that. Could he not see how much immense health privilege he had encapsulated in one short sentence? I’m glad that you are not like him.

        1. Quill*

          If I had to stay home whenever my arthritis flared up I’d have run through at least one of my sick days for this year already…

          If you get 1 sick day per 2 months it’s not enough to cover anything except the very healthiest of people.

        2. RUKiddingMe*


          I’ve needed five days in the past three weeks. Fortunately I don’t have a boss to worry about (other than clients if course) and an excellent office manager that can take care of things, but the loss of production and catching up I’ve had to do…

          I pretty much always wfh, or Starbucks, or wherever, but when the Lupus/Fibro/Söjgrens/etc. decide to rear their heads, in any combination…the laptop isn’t even getting opened. Not even my personal one I literally just cant.

          I cant imagine going back to having only a few days.

          Or better yet zero days like we did in the olden times. No sick, PTO, or vacation time…just more work.

          Ahhh good times.

      2. Epsilon Delta*

        I was surprised too! 5 days of sick time seems pretty generous if it’s on top of vacation time. I mean, I personally feel that there isn’t enough vacation time given in the US by most employers, but 5 days seems generous by current standards.

        1. doreen*

          I wouldn’t say I think there are any circumstances under which I think 5-6 days of sick leave is generous – but I am a bit surprised to see that people are citing medical appointments as a reason for 5 or 6 days not being enough time. I would assume that an employer providing that little sick leave doesn’t intend for it to be used for appointments. My employer is much more generous with sick leave- but I still try to make most of my appointments for evenings or weekends. If I only had 5 days of sick time, everything possible would be outside of working hours ( Certain procedures require taking the whole or at least a half day off, but my quarterly visit to the cardiologist can be after work or on a Saturday)

          1. Zillah*

            Specialists can take a long time, though – they’re often running behind, and if you’ve spent 3-4 hours at the doctor’s office, you’re not necessarily going to trek into work for a couple hours even if you are emotionally in a place to do it. And the later the appointment, the more likely that is to be a problem.

          2. ThatGirl*

            I mean, we can use sick time for appointments, in hour increments, if we want to – but my manager is also flexible enough that I can leave an hour early and then maybe take a shorter lunch or come in a little early for a day or two to make it up. And while I understand that some appointments may take all day, for the most part I feel like they would require, at most, a half day – so I don’t really understand “regular dental checkup/cleaning” being a “need a full day of sick leave” thing.

          3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            It’s good to have evening or weekend appointments but many places don’t have this or it is very limited. Also if your commute time is too long you might not be able to get to the doctor early enough which could be a problem if you don’t have the ability to leave early.

            Mostly this discussion shows me just how variable sick time and medical access can be. My current GP has evening hours once a week I think. My previous one had more but they were weird about scheduling certain things at inconvenient times. In order to register you had to bring in your ID and fill out the forms, which is fine, but they would only do this between 10-2 or some such. And because you can only register with the practice for the area you live in it could take over an hour to get there from work depending on my job site. For me it wasn’t so much of an issue because my field is pretty laid back but my husband had problems.

            I think the main thing is to try to be compassionate. It’s far from ideal if people come in sick but it seems that most of the time there is a good reason why they do.

            1. doreen*

              Every doctor I see regularly (primary, gyn, gastro,cardiologist, dermatologist ) has evening appointments at least once a week and Saturday appointments at least twice a month. I don’t remember ever having a doctor with no evening or weekend hours.

    2. Chinookwind*

      I like that your office tells you to go home when you are sick. There is something reassuring about your boss telling you to leave. It is like seeing a boss tell everyone that he will be on vacation without internet and to only call him if something blows up. Leading by example is often the best way to get employees to do something.

    3. introverted af*

      I have worked in nonprofits since college, and my husband has been in marketing and advertising businesses. I’ve had separate PTO and sick time buckets, with at least 12 days sick time provided at both my jobs, and as much or more PTO. My husband has had 12 days of PTO for everything, and it’s super frustrating. Especially now that he has the flu and has to be out of work for a week.

      It does lead to me just taking a day off occasionally when I know I’m not going to need the PTO for something else later, or an extra day on vacations to pack for them or unwind after, but I just find his company’s policy so ridiculous. Like, that’s it. For everyone. Regardless of seniority or time served.

      He wants out bad, and I want him out too.

  26. CaliCali*

    My last company offered 10 days, separate from PTO. It was also clearly spelled out that the days were to use for when you had any sick children as well (as my son got older, if he just had a fever/head cold, I could work from home and not use a sick day, but your company doesn’t seem to have that option). Hell, I’d argue if your pet needs to go to the e-vet, that should qualify. That’s what often gets left out of the “sick time” calculus — many people are banking for multiple possible reasons to use it.

    1. Mr. Shark*

      My Old Job had 10 days of personal time, that you would use for sick leave or whatever, along with 10 (or more, depending on how long you were with the company) of PTO. The personal leave didn’t roll over, and in fact, got paid out near the end of the year. So it was always sort of a bonus paycheck if you didn’t take sick time or any personal leave time.

  27. Jeanna*

    Easiest answer ever:
    Give them plenty of PAID sick time from day one, make them use it when they’re sick, put structures in place where people can easily cover for each other, don’t hassle people about doctor’s notes and excused/unexcused absences.

    Pretty simple.

  28. Leela*

    I frequently come in sick because they’ve cut our staff down to the barest bones possible to save money (despite reporting high gains) and it’s such a demoralizing pain in the ass to know that when I come back, my work has now doubled, tripled, or however many days I was gone because there isn’t anyone who can pick up the slack and even if they tossed my work to a similar member of a different department, they’d be way too overloaded by their own work load to take on mine. Unless I’m so sick that I don’t think I can physically work (like I keep zoning out/almost falling asleep/stomach feels to sick to move around the office in a regular way), I’m coming in. We’ve had similar requests that we stay home but it’s not backed by support that would allow us to do so, frankly even taking a vacation is an enormous pain because the work isn’t picked up in the meantime and then you have to work twice as hard and fast when you’re back to catch up, negating any relaxation you’d gotten from the break.

    If they want me to stay home, they can hire an appropriate number of people.

  29. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    Six days of sick leave a year is shockingly low (and, even worse, more generous than many workers here in the US receive!). I’ve personally never worked anywhere with less than 12 days a year and probably would turn down any job that gave less than 10 (two full work weeks).

    Think about it – 6 sick days can easily be wiped out by:
    – two or three minor colds
    – one bad case of the flu or stomach virus
    – having a kid in school/daycare who gets sick frequently and needs a parent to stay home
    – a health condition which requires semi-frequent medical appointments
    – a physical injury that would keep someone from physically getting to the office for a few days
    – any number of other things which would keep someone out of the office for six or more days per year

    I also agree with other commenters that what sick days are provided need to roll over from year to year, and Alison is so spot on that the workplace needs to have a culture of accepting sick days – from the top down, staying home sick needs to be accepted and not in any way penalized.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I had a moderate cold back in November. I took 2 days off work (Thursday and Friday), and if they hadn’t backed into the weekend, it would’ve been more. I came back into work on Monday, but left 2 hours early. If I hadn’t had a bunch of meetings that day (one of which had already been rescheduled twice), I would’ve stayed home then, too. I had to take a few more hours the following Friday to go to the doctor, because by Thursday evening I was showing definite signs of a sinus infection. That comes out to about 2.5 days* of sick time, which is almost half the yearly allowance at the OP’s company. And that was for just one person, during one infection.

      *I only had to log 2 days of sick time, as my boss is reasonable about not nickel and diming us on short times out of the office.

    2. Stormy Weather*

      I’m a single adult and I can use 6 sick days up easily:

      1) Internist for annual labs like like cholesterol or A1C
      2) Annual GYN exam
      3) Annual mammogram and ultasound, which fortunately can be done in the same place.
      4) Annual eye exam.
      5) Annual skin check with the dermatologist
      6) Actually being sick

      Fortunately my dentist works Sundays.

      It’s also not always feasible to get multiple appointments on the same day, which I’ve had jobs encourage me to do. If one appointment runs long you might miss the next one (or two).

      I’d like to see ten days as standard, unlimited rollover, generous work from home policies.

      1. Clisby*

        #6 is the only one I could have taken sick leave for when I was working. The rest would have been no different from (1) Meet realtor about buying house; (2) Meet lawyer to make a will; (c) Go to kid’s school play.

  30. Ali G*

    Yeah 6 days is nothing. I get 12 per year and they roll over. I can accumulate up to 60 paid sick days (my last job was 90!). Yes I am in the US.
    Also, allow people to use sick time in hour increments. I get migraines, so sometimes I need to start work an hour or so later than normal and can’t make it up. So i just use 2-3 hours of sick time, instead of a whole day.
    Death to Doctor’s notes!!! If you think someone is abusing sick time, address it with that person. Don’t punish everyone else! Exception for if you work with vulnerable communities (i.e. health care) then you should have to get a Doc Note that you can return to work. But don’t make people drag themselves to the doctor to prove to you they are sick. We are adults and I know when I have a cold and when it’s something worse. I’m not going to the doctor so she can tell you “yeah Ali G has a cold.”

    1. Zillah*

      Yes to migraines! A couple times a year, I’ll get 3-4 in the space of a couple weeks. Sometimes I can WFH with them, but without that option and only six days, that’s all my sick time.

  31. Crivens!*

    The fact that 7 sick days is average here makes me depressed at what paltry “benefits” we accept as normal in the US.

  32. Lucette Kensack*

    An addendum to #1: You need to offer generous sick leave AND well-paid short-term disability or a separate, fully-paid leave category for extended medical or caregiving leave. Otherwise, folks are going to hoard their sick days — it’s the rational choice for them to make.

  33. LizardOfOdds*

    I hate to say this, but even with the ability to work from home at any time, 10 sick days a year (but unofficially unlimited, as no one enforces the limit), excellent medical coverage, and strong guidance from execs and the leaders under them to “use your sick time and don’t come to work sick, nothing is important enough for that”… people still come to work sick.

    I’m a director with a large team, and I’m currently home sick because 3 of my employees came to work sick on the same day, despite my strong encouragement to go home, take time to rest, etc., etc. (guidance I’ve reiterated several times over the years – this isn’t news). I have chronic health conditions, and a common cold that most people recover from in days will take me out for weeks. I am NOT working and taking sick days to try to lead by example. Sigh.

    1. TV*

      The policies and culture of managers setting a good example are similar in my office but I’ve found that some people don’t understand what contagious looks like with illness. There are people in my office who think that fevers make them contagious but not sneezing/coughing. So they come in because they are “feeling ok and don’t have a fever” but bring a tissue box to all their meetings because they are sneezing and dripping.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      Can you force people to go home? If you’re consistent, others will learn that dragging themselves into work is a waste of their limited energy and they’ll stay home like they should.

    3. cncx*

      yup, they do this at my job too. I work in Europe, we have between 25 and 30 days of pto a year and sick leave isn’t counted…still people come in. My coworker is like you- any kind of cold and he’s out for weeks. it’s frustrating.

  34. kittymommy*

    #3 is so important. I get pretty decent sick leave for the US – 104 hrs per year or 13 days and this is separate from vacation time. Unfortunately it is so hard for me to get out of this office for vacation much less illness!

  35. Delta Delta*

    I tried a case in court with a raging head cold yesterday. Court doesn’t stop for snot, unfortunately.

    1. Juror #3*

      Funny you mentioned this, I was a juror on a case where, the defense attorney had the flu, but came in anyway. By the second week of the trial, the judge, prosecutor, the defendant, and four jurors were sick.

    2. Coverage Associate*

      Yeah, trial is the one thing where coverage just doesn’t work. But I think firms can staff cases so sick lawyers don’t have to appear at most hearings. Also, judges can be generous in allowing court call.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Lots of judges are also willing to let attorneys call in if it’s a status hearing or other similar hearing. I don’t mind doing that if I don’t feel well. But if it’s a trial or other evidentiary hearing, the show must go on.

  36. Lemon Ginger Tea*

    I used to work in city government/public health and they gave employees an unbelievable amount of sick days – I left after two years with over 100 hours accrued. They would tell people to go home if they came in with a cold, and they meant it. The one thing they did right…

    Now I work in a private law firm; all the attorneys are allowed to work from home but the staff are not. They still drag themselves into the office when they’re sick to make sure we all saw them working hard. -_-

    1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      See, that’s where there is a huge divide between cultures.
      You say you got an unbelievable amount of sick days.
      A transfer from our South African office asked me about how many days we get, and I just stared at her.
      The Nordics, and I think most European countries don’t *have* a set amount of days. Where I live, it’s difficult to get sick pay after 180 days but before that?
      That doesn’t mean there are jobs where ppl who get sick get punished.

      1. Alex*

        Yes, It was hard for me to grasp the american concept of “Sick Days” when it came up in conversation the first time with an overseas colleague of mine.. (Germany here)

        1. Marzipan*

          Yes, it’s weird to me, too. Especially because people then seem to talk about using ‘sick days’ for all kinds of things that aren’t being sick (like doctor’s appointments, or looking after sick children).

          In my (UK) job, if I’m sick I’d get up to six months full pay and six months half pay – but equally, I couldn’t use that for other purposes; I have to actually BE sick to be off sick.

    2. Burned Out Supervisor*

      I guess I see this from the flip side too as “I’m not going to use a benefit that the staff doesn’t get. That will show them my solidarity.” I think it would be better that they just advocate to management that staff should also be able to WFH if they can.

  37. WTF?*

    I worked at a hospital where we got 8hrs of AL and SL a pay period. The hospitals policy was “if you’re sick STAY HOME!”

    The policy was generous (USA), because not just your coworkers were at risk, but patients as well. If you had to call in all you had to say was, “I’m sick” that’s it. If you’re sick more than two days you needed a doctor’s note.

    The hospitals big bosses cared more about patient care than having sick employees working spreading illnesses.

    Employees also got free vaccines (flu, pneumonia, etc)

    I miss working there

  38. Mama Bear*

    I have a generous bank of PTO that rolls over year to year. It’s incentive, when work allows, to take a sick day (or stay home with a sick kid). I agree the corporate culture also matters. Do employees feel like they can take a sick day without the third degree? Do you have reasonable sick day guidelines? Also, what is the company’s telework situation? There are times when you’re well enough to sit at a computer but probably shouldn’t cough on a coworker. My former job was very lenient on telework while sick, as long as you didn’t abuse it. It was very helpful, esp. when we were in an Open Office. But really, if people aren’t taking sick days, ask them why.

  39. Erin*

    There’s probably a low chance of this, but just throwing it out there – I have a chronic cough from cystic fibrosis and people often assume I’m sick/contagious when I’m not. And I don’t really like disclosing that I have it, nor do I think I should feel obligated to. Just be wary of employees who may appear to be sick/contagious who actually are not, and are perfectly fine to come into work. Again, this is unlikely, but possible, and people deserve the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Laura H.*

      I know you don’t want to disclose your condition, but I would encourage you to loop your manager in that it’s not a sickness cough at the very least. (Provided you have a decent relationship with them)

      1. Erin*

        I hear ya. I have at a prior job before. Sometimes it reaches a point where it’s awkward to bring up.

    2. SweetestCin*

      I sound like I produce hairballs from about March 1st til about October 30th. Allergies that are only slightly lessened by meds; can’t really take anything strong enough to manage them and actually drive.

      The number of times my third grade teacher called my Mom…Mom LOST her job over it….

      It may not be CF, and I am with you with feeling squicky about needing to disclose medical information with coworkers, but I’d bet there’s not a small portion of people who sound like heck and aren’t actually “sick”, too.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, even with allergy meds heavy pollen or smoke days I sound sick from the nasal congestion and coughing. Allergies suck, and I’m allergic to pollen, dust, apparently woodsmoke, and artificial fragrance, one of which is sure to be present in most workplaces.

    3. iglwif*

      Yeah, my spouse has the coughing kind of asthma and until he got it under better control, he had a horrendous cough for most of every winter … which was not in any way contagious, but I’m sure it sounded like it must be. Fortunately for him, “I have asthma” doesn’t invite as much prying into your personal medical business as “I have CF” does (I have a friend with CF, so I have heard … some stories….)

  40. OP*

    As the OP, I want to clarify that I am not in charge of anything at my company. I am really just working in a sales role, so I have limited ability beyond suggestions to management to see change. Because of this, I am hoping to see some replies on how to deal with this as an individual too. Thank you all for so much feedback!

    1. Fikly*

      There really isn’t much you can do, because the reasons your coworkers are coming to work sick are not something you have the power to change.

      The best thing to do is to focus on things you can do at work to prevent catching things from sick coworkers.

    2. Just a frog sitting on a log sipping tea*

      Can you and your coworkers band together to raise your concerns to management?

      1. Person from the Resume*

        But also does the person they’re sending home have enough sick days and PTO to handle it?

        This includes if they have 5 PTO days left but they’re planning to take a week long vacation next month. using up the PTO now could cancel their vacation.

        I’m sorry, LW, but the sick leave and PTO infrastructure must support the people staying home sick.

      2. OP*

        In the past, a manager (mid-level, not direct) essentially cornered the sick employee into going home. She forwarded to him the original email from the director and everyone avoided him like the plague. He eventually went home, but only after exposing everyone in the office, which kind of defeats the purpose. Still, this is better than nothing. I agree that we would benefit from a more generous sick time allowance, but otherwise we are incredibly flexible, especially for employees who put in the effort. So a doctors appointment here and there and leaving early for a special occasion don’t really count against your time.

        1. Zillah*

          I know this isn’t in your control, but I do just want to say that from the outside, this doesn’t look incredibly flexible or generous – it looks like what should be the bare minimum.

    3. Oxford Comma*

      Encourage your management to let people roll over the days.

      Perhaps talk to your peers about getting together to see if the number of days can be increased.

      You mentioned the company director encouraging people to stay home if they are ill–does that mean that all managers are doing that?

      Do workers have to get doctor’s notes? Right there that’s an expense of time and money many do not have.

      If you need examples, you could mention things like flu and the coronavirus. Right now it looks like the flu is more of a realistic risk, but coronavirus is in the media.

      It needs to be a cultural change in your workplace. There are many people with really strong immune systems who just cannot seem to wrap their minds around chronic illness. There are people who will proudly talk about powering through. That’s another thing you’ve gotta fight.

    4. Valprehension*

      Other than offering to pay your your coworkers to stay home, there’s not much you can do – they probably need the money.

  41. Rachel*

    I work in the US but for a global bank and have never had a limit on paid sick leave beyond “HR will want an explanation if you accumulate more than 11 days in a calendar year”. We have 20-25 days of holiday depending on length of service etc and then the policy is, if you are sick, or your kids are sick, stay home. We can also WFH too which is great. I say this as the only non-kid having member of my team – let people have this flexibility! It helps so much and really is great for team morale.

    1. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

      This is the answer to the question I just added below — I’m glad to see that there are companies out there that aren’t weird about providing unlimited sick leave, within reason!

    2. Cinnamon*

      This is similar to my company’s policy. We basically have unlimited sick time as long as you’re not out for 2 consecutive weeks and there isn’t something else going on that would force you to go on disability/FMLA/etc. If they start to notice abuse of the policy it is taken up with that individual person.

  42. Lauren*

    The award for attendance is something that caught my eye. I hate those!

    At my previous job (as a teacher) during monthly staff meetings, they recognized those that hadn’t been out the previous month and those that hadn’t been out all since the beginning of the year. Those people were put in a drawing for an award. Of course, by the end of the year, there were only two or three people that hadn’t missed work at all that year. And always, they were people notorious for coming in sick, including someone got me sick 5 times while I worked there. It was just ridiculous and just made everyone roll their eyes. I don’t think it did anything to change whether or not people used their sick time or time off.

  43. ACDC*

    Well damn – I knew my work benefits weren’t great, but hearing the average employee in the US gets 5-9 sick days a year was pretty eye opening. I get 2 weeks PTO per year, and that’s all one bucket for sick, vacation, personal, etc.

    1. ThatGirl*

      My first two jobs out of college were 10 days combined PTO for sick, vacation, etc.
      For about 4 years I worked as a contractor and got zero paid time off, though I could work from home (or “work” from home with a wink from my boss) as needed. Then I got hired there for real and had 18 combined PTO days, 2 personal days, a floating holiday. That seemed like a real bonanza to me.
      My current company starts with 10 vacation days/5 sick/2 personal but I negotiated up to 15 vacation days.

      So I don’t think your experience is that unusual, but there definitely is better out there.

      1. Alex*

        I know you can’t compare cross borders, but damn…

        I have 30 days of PTO, “unlimited” sick days (meaning after 6 weeks of full pay, I get reduced to about 70% of my pay… ), and 11 public holidays on top.

        And that is considered the standard here… the only thing is that 20 Days of PTO is by law, the rest is “on companies discretion”, although at least in IT, no-one I know would work for less than 30).
        Unlimited sick days are a law as well, there’s no company involvement there – they all have to follow the same rules basically.

        1. ThatGirl*

          capitalism is a hell of a drug.

          honestly, as nice as the EU/Canadian system sounds (or whatever country/region you’re in) it can get a little tiring hearing from non-Americans how dire our patchwork of employment law and policy is.

          1. Alex*

            I agree, and I’m obviously a part of it by posting stuff like this.

            However, the reason is, that unless you put people (not people as in you, people as in “groups”) in front of a mirror of “what could be”, they might just accept that their situation is normal, when it shouldn’t be.

            I remember the times when I still believed the talk of “land of the free”, and all that entailed.. and I think the american people should realize that the way their country has been treating them for quite a long time now is just not right. (Interesting read btw. is the Cracked Article from a few days ago that explained how the skewed healthcare system came to be in the first place).

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              We already know – you (and this is the general “you”) don’t need to keep harping on it.

          2. Kiwi with laser beams*

            It’s tiring for me as a non-American too, because the US’s presence is so incredibly dominant on the internet that for me it takes active effort NOT to hang out in places where American policies are talked about. I’ve learned not to comment on it and I no longer hang out in certain places because the American policy talk is more than I can handle hearing about, but it still comes with its own challenges.

  44. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    Serious question – why do we even bother with having a specified amount of sick days?

    My office has flex hours and and a generous sick leave pot (10 days), and I am still wondering why I even need to enter the time away. If you trust your employees to not take sick days willy-nilly, and you believe them when they report being ill, then why not just say, there is no limit, but we expect you to use discretion, and if we feel your use of sick time is disruptive, then we will have a discussion about it with you. Perhaps it is instituted for the people who WOULD abuse a system like that? And really, what usually happens to people who run through all their sick time–they either lose pay or have to use vacation days that they could have used for relaxation and recharge, neither of which is good for retention and morale. Like, if there is no performance issue with my work, what is the point of worrying about how much sick time I’m taking and allotting a limited number of days for me?

    1. Employment Lawyer*

      Because frankly, there are a lot of people who can’t be trusted to be honest and who do not use their time well, because they have no particular loyalty to their employer. So the employers account for that. Also, employee-friendly laws (for example, preventing retaliation for using sick days) can make it incredibly hard to control this kind of abuse.

      Also, if you’re committed to getting your job done right, not everyone else is. Even in this thread, I note somewhat cynically that multiple people are complaining that after they take vacations (paid, no work!) they have to work HARDER for a bit. Not “work extra hours,” not “work unpaid overtime.” Just work HARDER.

      1. JimmyJab*

        This argument is often used by people opposed to any social safety net. I believe that it is true that businesses have this attitude, but it’s a terrible attitude.

        1. Employment Lawyer*

          I don’t subscribe to the concept that you can only talk about positives.

          If you make the safety net bigger, will abuse go up? Yes, absolutely. Should we have a bigger social safety net anyway? Probably yes–but we should openly consider the likely avenues of abuse and consider trying to figure out a way to damp them down. And we should account for that likely abuse in our planning.

          I like the food pantry and it’s my main charity. I know some people abuse it and I would not pretend otherwise. I just don’t think that the abuse should reduce food access. But that is mostly because the “not really poor” people don’t actually take so much food as to materially reduce benefits for the “really poor” people who we are trying to help.

          W/r/t work benefits, that can really change. If you get a lot of abuse, that has predicted results which will change the solutions available for sick people

      2. KoiFeeder*

        As impossible as it is to believe, most people are not inherently untrustworthy and lazy.

        (and, if I may be so blunt, the people who /are/ so usually come from the higher echelons)

      3. Extroverted Bean Counter*

        I did not leave a comment to the effect you’re talking about (“taking time off means I have to work harder before/after, so what’s the point?”) but I am a person who would say that.

        What I personally mean by working harder: working through my lunch break (so I don’t have to come in earlier/leave later), working faster than I ordinarily would in order to get things done in a tighter turnaround time which means I’m feeling a higher level of stress and not being as diligent or detailed as I usually am, not taking the time to proofread e-mails, having to go bug my colleagues for answers and send more followup e-mails than usual since I don’t have the luxury of time to wait for their responses, having to make less-informed judgement calls due to a lack of time to really dig into a problem etc…

        One could argue I could work like that all the time and have a higher output and take more onto my plate than I currently have. That would make me stressed out and miserable, and my work quality would suffer. During the times pre- or post- taking a chunk of time off, I dislike my job and wonder why I even bothered taking time off if it meant just feeling more stressed out for a period of time. What good was a long weekend away when the looming prospect of feeling keyed up and frantic for a few days awaits me at the end of it?

        I don’t feel badly that I otherwise have a balanced job that allows me to work at a comfortable pace and not leave every day with my shoulders in a knot from stress, and don’t think that it’s necessarily indicative of a poor work ethic to be averse to having to “work harder” than is typically necessary.

      4. Amerdale*

        Then demand a doctor’s note.

        Germany has practically infinite sick leave – but for an absence of more than three consecutive days (or less if the company wants it earlier) you have to provide a doctor’s note confirming that you are unable to do your job (no details about the illness/injury; just “unable to work from date x until date y”). That’s it. Way more difficult to abuse.

        Of course that doesn’t solve #3. If the company is understuffed for whatever reason, you still might go to work to avoid stuff piling up. But that is not a problem of sick leave, that is just bad management.

      5. Fikly*

        Well, my company has unlimited sick, unlimited PTO, and unlimited personal days, and we’re doing extremely well.

        Shockingly, treating your employees like adults and humanely, means that they will work hard for you, and be loyal as well.

        If you have to work harder after your vacation, that’s not really a paid vacation. Because you are paying it back after you come back. For a vacation to actually be paid, the company has to get your work covered.

        The vast majority of laws come down in favor of the employers, so I’m not going to shed a tear for the occasional law that prevents retaliation against employees. Why should employees have loyalty to a company that has no loyalty to them?

      6. pancakes*

        It’s blinkered to say that a law preventing retaliation for using sick days is an employee-friendly law. Being perceived as fair and orderly is in the interest of employers too. As is being on a level playing field in relation to competitors.

    2. introverted af*

      God I wish this were the world we live in. Like, if you are actually sick, just stay home sick. I feel like if you’re the kind of employer committed to offering this, you’ll express how serious that is and be committed to hiring people that act like adults when they’re treated like adults.

    3. Renata Ricotta*

      This has been the system at all the law firms I have worked at (for attorneys – probably not hourly staff). It works better with salaried employees whose work is measured by goals on big projects or cases, and who have responsibility for outcomes rather than fixing X widgets per day or what have you. When that happens, you know people aren’t going to say they’re sick just to get out of work, because the work will be waiting for them no matter what, and they have ownership over the results so they won’t just shunt them to another person or cut corners.

      In those systems, I generally stayed home when I was contagious unless I had a meeting I couldn’t call into or had to travel. But, I can count on one hand the times I truly took a sick day in that I did no work and only minimally kept up with my email – I pretty much just worked from home, although probably logged fewer hours due to not feeling well. That’s because taking eight hours off didn’t actually get me out of anything – I’d have to find that eight hours somewhere else, probably an evening or weekend, to get the work done. If calling in sick actually got me permanently out of work … I would be tempted to occasionally pad my “sick” time, if I’m being honest with myself.

  45. irene adler*

    Why not have six “incidences of illness” rather than six days?

    One employer I had made it their business to prevent spread of illness. So if someone was sick, they could take up to 3 consecutive days off to get well. That counted the same as taking one day off. This way folks take the time to get better and reduce the chance of coming to work while still infectious.

    However, if you took one day off, returned to work the next day, but then called in sick the third day (i.e. a relapse), this was counted as two incidences.

    Management could pretty much plan for someone to be out for 3 days when they did call in sick.

  46. Anonariffic*

    Absolutely #3 – I have something like 750 hours of sick leave banked (it accrues indefinitely and I’ve been here a while) but we’re so short staffed (between health issues and unfilled vacancies) that we can go a week at a time with only one person in the office who’s able to go out and do fieldwork if needed. If I’m that person and I call out sick, the options are: send the guy on crutches, have him get somebody on-site on the phone and try to talk them through some 2very complicated work, or calling me in even though I felt miserable enough to stay home. All of those options are terrible.

  47. Gatomon*

    6 days is barely enough to handle one cold and a few doctor’s appointments. I’m on the healthy end of the spectrum and I’d say I use about that much on appointments, occasional migraine and a cold each year. I’d say that’s the biggest problem right there with the culture. Give people enough sick leave if you want a culture that encourages using it.

  48. autumnal*

    Sick days should roll over and be good for the duration of a person’s employment. It’s a solution to the coming to work sick issue and helps in case of injury/illness/pregnancy that requires longer leave. I had 6 weeks combined vacation/sick leave saved up before I gave birth, only to have to go on bedrest a week before I was due. My employer said I needed a doctor’s note before I could come back. I said I needed a paycheck to have a place to live and I’d be back when my leave was used up.

    With sick-leave that rolls over, you can add a leave-bank program where folks are able to voluntarily donate extra sick leave for people facing protracted medical issues. I was a state employee and this was a very popular program.

    And I’d second (3rd, 4th…) the issue of being a (single, in my case) parent with a sick kid. Sick care is not a thing. And to finish off my sandwich of a life, I’d also add being a caretaker to an elderly parent. Or a partner who is quite ill or has a disability. Or in my case, a trifecta of all the above!

    1. Quill*

      I’m so glad when people can donate the time. I’ll never forget the year that the retiring teachers at my school tried to donate their accumulated PTO to another teacher whose child had just been diagnosed with leukemia and the school denied it. (There was community backlash towards the school but it didn’t change their minds.)

    2. Fikly*

      I really loathe programs that let you donate sick time. It’s a way for employers to not do the right thing, but look like they are. If they really were doing the right thing, they’d grant extra sick time in exceptional circumstances, not act like they’re being generous by letting other employees pay for it.

  49. Health Insurance Nerd*

    My company is very pro-stay home when you’re sick, be it taking a sick day or working remotely. We do have one bank of PTO, but it is a super crazy amount of time off (I currently have 240 hours in my bank) so you could take a good chunk of sick time and STILL have plenty of vacation left over. With that said, people still insist on coming to work sick in my department. One lady in my area managed to take down me and three other people after she spent days coughing and sneezing everywhere.

  50. Murphy*

    Six days? I stayed at home 4 days last week with a sick child. That would be 66% of my sick days only 12% into the year.

  51. Chronic Overthinker*

    That’s why it’s hard working for a private/small company. We have a good amount of holidays but I only get one week (5 days) of PTO, that’s vacation AND sick days. It SUCKS. But I’m new and hopefully after a full year I can start grossing more. I still need to figure out if they can roll over or what the accrual rate is, but I really hope I can start banking more as six months in I had to take a sick day and now I have less than a week of PTO left. (sigh) I do love my job otherwise and the culture is great. Here’s to hand sanitizer and good hygiene practices.

  52. Doctor is In*

    Generous sick leave would be nice, but as a small business owner, it costs money. I offer sick leave that is competitive with my industry and area. That is 1 week a year. It would be nice to offer a lot more, but then I would also have to find and pay someone to fill in. Very hard to do in the real world.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      No kidding—everything costs money. Did you not realize this when you went into business? Do you think other people get stuff for free all the time?

      If you want better than average employees, offer better than average pay and benefits.

    2. Princesa Zelda*

      Thought experiment: if one of your employees was hit by a bus tomorrow and needed to be out for an entire month, what would you do? If they developed a chronic condition that required monthly doctors’ appointments on random weekdays, what would you do? Presumably you wouldn’t fire them, so what kind of measures would you need to put in place to cover these? Would these be made easier to you and/or your employees if you already had the mechanisms in place to make it work?

    3. Champagne Cocktail*

      but then I would also have to find and pay someone to fill in. Very hard to do in the real world

      The real world is full of contract and temporary workers in all kinds of industries.

      Five isn’t competitive. It’s the status quo and as a small business owner you have the power to change it if you want to. Look at the long-term benefits.

      1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

        To be realistic though, if it’s a typical American small business that has mostly part time employees or pays hourly rather than a salary, any paid sick time – let along five days – is actually very competitive. Of all the small businesses my friends and family have worked for (I’m thinking small retail shop, restaurant and tutoring franchises, two-person CPA office etc…) not a single one has offered paid time off of any sort. If you wanted or needed time off, you a) took it unpaid and b) had to make sure someone could cover for you.

    4. 867-5309*

      Sorry you are getting beat up with this comment, Doctor is In. Five days is standard and while I don’t think you’re claiming it’s perfect, you are correct that it is unrealistic for many small businesses to hire contract workers while also paying full salary to an employee.

    5. Employment Lawyer*

      Yes, it’s incredibly hard. Contract workers are useless short term as they require training. And small businesses have much higher variance due to small size and small overall gross.

    6. Joielle*

      I hope you’re not a medical doctor (as your name suggests) because that would mean you have sick staff coming in and exposing patients. That’s not great no matter what your business is, of course, but if you’re dealing with people who may already be sick or immunocompromised, that’s pretty unconscionable.

    7. Crivens!*

      If you can’t afford to cover your employees being human and having human needs (and sometimes illnesses), you can’t afford to stay in business. Too bad, so sad.

    8. Koala dreams*

      Isn’t it better to prepare for people getting sick and plan for someone to fill in, rather than just hoping people will not get sick, or get sick and work anyway? I can see larger organizations chancing that on any given day there will be enough employees to cover for those who are sick, but for a small business it seems very shortsighted. It can be very valuable to have someone to fill in, maybe a part time employee who is flexible, or a temp from an agency. Even if the temp can’t do all tasks, at least they can do some of them.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        Exactly! This is all about risk management and risk mitigation. Even having a part-time employee who is fully trained but only works ten hours a week but who can cover a shift or two when full-time employees need a sick day is much better than nothing at all.

        Of course, I do realize that hiring a very part-time employee has a tremendous impact on your personal income and you may have to spend less time at the golf course as a result.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        I’m sure they view it more as “Our employees love working for us so much that they come in even when they’re sick” rather than “Our employees have limited sick leave options and low pay, so they have to come in when they’re sick, so they can save those five measly sick days for the days their kids are sick because they can’t afford child care on those days.”

        I would bet good money (i.e., whiskey money) on this.

    9. Fikly*

      You know what else costs you money? Your employees working while sick, being less productive, taking longer to get well because they are working, and then getting other employees sick who are also then less productive and take longer to get well.

      It’s very short term thinking.

  53. Sympathetic European*

    This isn’t meant as a “rub-your-face-in-it” kind of comment, but just to give you some perspective on how truly horrific the US system of sick leave / vacation leave is. I live in Europe and work in the public sector (around 20% of the population is employed in the public sector) and there is a standard sick leave / annual leave (vacation / discretionary leave) that applies to everyone. It includes:

    – minimum 21 days annual leave per year (paid), but it’s usually around 25 – 30 days per year
    – 7 self-certified sick days (paid) (this doesn’t require a doctor’s note) every two years on a rolling basis
    – 60 certified sick days at full pay per year (certified by a doctor, but doesn’t have to be serious illness. Doctors notes generally don’t say what the illness is, it just says X was not fit for work, will be fit to return on Y date. Can also use this leave for hospital or doctors appointments)
    – 120 certified sick days at half pay (used when 60 days run out)
    – optional payment protection insurance (small % of your salary goes into this monthly, ensures you get your full salary if you are seriously ill and out for more than 120 days in one year)

    So yeah, that’s why we say that the US system is barbaric, because this is what we’re comparing it to.

    Disclaimer: the private sector here is a mess, annual leave and sick leave vary wildly between different companies.

    1. Thanks*

      Thanks for the information. I’ve been applying for jobs overseas and this was one of the things that I worried about, since I’ve only worked in the USA.

  54. Rebecca*

    Going through this at our workplace right now. We get 5 sick days per year. If you’re a new employee, there are 10 vacation days per year until 15 years service. So we have people who are sick and contagious coming to work because it’s February and they’ve already used their sick time for the year and can’t afford to take unpaid time. We are a non-customer facing office, and work can be done easily from home, but only a few people are able to do so. It makes ZERO SENSE!! Plus, we are also thinly staffed, so if someone isn’t here for a day or two, it’s really noticeable. Oh, and if you do manage not to use a sick day, it doesn’t carry over, and as with the paltry vacation policy, it’s use it or lose it. At least if we could carry time over it would help if there was one particularly bad flu season.

    Honestly, I think it’s disgraceful that human beings have to work when they’re sick, infect others, and be miserable themselves because they simply can’t afford not to take the time needed to get better. It’s an office job. We aren’t curing cancer or transplanting organs. If your gadget doesn’t arrive for an extra day or two, no problem. We are not machines. The older I get, the more ornery I get about this insane policy.

  55. I shall return anon*

    Or they could do what my employer did: reduce sick days by almost 60% on the theory that “no one takes them” and that what they’re now offering is “industry standard” (it’s not).

  56. Former Retail Lifer*

    For those suggesting that they find a way to let people work from home, I came here to say it depends on what industry you’re in. Some jobs simply can’t be done remotely. I’m a property manager for an apartment complex and it’s not possible to do most of my job from home. Yes, I can respond to emails, pay bills, and take conference calls at home, but I can’t show apartments (the most important part of my job), let repair people in, or address property emergencies from home. My job is very much an in-person job, which sucks because I only have two weeks of PTO and no sick time. I work at a small property where it’s me and a maintenance manager. If I don’t show up, the office is closed. For all of the emails we get from our corporate office urging us to stay home if we’re sick, I have to ask, HOW CAN I DO THAT?

    1. Mid*

      It sounds like some of your job can be done remotely though, and an office that is so reliant on one person to function isn’t a good office. Alison’s common refrain of “what would happen if you got hit by a bus tomorrow?” comes to mind here.

    2. Chili*

      I think a really common issue in the US is that companies are determined to squeeze every drop of profits out of employees and do so by putting the onus on employees to “just figure out” what to do when they’re sick or need to take time off. In a functioning business, there will be enough people to ensure coverage for humans being humans. It’s not a surprise that employees will be sick. Businesses can and should be prepare for that and have a simple plan in place, but they often don’t.

  57. Panic at the office*

    I interned at an office that was high stress, fast pace (stock market). Calling in sick meant you lost out on money and was greatly frowned upon.

    One day I came in and did a double take! One lady was wearing a face mask, surgical gloves, and had enough disinfectant to disinfect the whole building.

    I was half expecting someone to come dressed in full CDC outbreak gear…lol

  58. Is butter a carb?*

    We have a lot of PTO, but it is absolutely that people get so behind when they are out that they don’t want to take time. Everyone is always scrambling. And yes, our office is a petri dish.

  59. Donkey Hotey*

    I’m surprised no one else has mentioned this: at my OldJob, we had defacto unlimited sick time but employees were “loyal to the company” and would often come in while sick. Managers would make a point of sending employees home. Like stand-across-the-aisle and say “no really, get out of here” with all but a kleenex over their faces. That happens once or twice, people get the memo and start staying home simply to avoid the embarrassment of being sent home.

  60. Megan*

    My previous job did not have a set number of sick days, but encouraged sick employees to stay home as needed. Basically, if you were sick they encouraged you to work from home or take a sick day. Since there was no set number of sick days, there was no worry about trying to save them. The policy was basically just don’t abuse it. If you started to need a lot of days then they said they might need to discuss options or see a doctor’s note, but for the most part, this policy appeared to work. I always thought it was strange to offer a set number of sick days when you have no control over illness.

  61. Paula*

    I worked for a company in the health care industry that offered unlimited sick leave. It was refreshing to have a company walk the talk when it came to the health of its employees. I was a group manager there, and I can say that the policy was only very rarely abused (occasionally people would take a sick day if they were interviewing for another job). People had the ability to work from home, and did so if they were well enough to work at home, but otherwise I encouraged everyone to rest up and get better. People felt the company’s trust in them, and acted accordingly. At a certain point, this normal paid sick leave turned into short-term disability. One nice thing about this policy from the company’s standpoint is that because leave was unlimited, it didn’t roll over, so people didn’t have any incentive to hoard it, come in sick and then cash it out when they left. Win-win.

  62. JeNeSaisWhat*

    Six days a year is super low, dude (or dudette). I’m a public school teacher making under $50k and I get more than double that, and it rolls over each year. Never thought I’d consider my compensation generous! Granted, we don’t get paid vacation (don’t listen to the hype, teachers in the US get paid for a certain number of contracted days and elect to have it split evenly over the year; school breaks are NOT paid), and when you first start out in my county, we only get 2 days of personal time, so the higher number of sick leave days might make sense. But still, the point stands. Six days is way too low. Double it, and I bet you’ll see a real change, especially if your workplace doesn’t require coverage when an employee calls out.

  63. CommanderBanana*

    You have to walk the walk. My current manager got snippy with me for needing surgery – surgery and I got a snotty email reminding me that my surgery better not conflict with any events or her vacation time. How likely am I to take time off with a manager with that attitude?

    A big part of this is making sure that managers are not pulling stuff like this. My grandboss has no way of knowing she’s behaving this way unless someone tells him – so it’s entirely possible you’ve got managers making employees think they can’t take sick days.

    And yes, 6 is not enough. 6 is one bad bout of the flu.

    1. Red Fraggle*

      Seriously. My spouse and I just had flu Strain A (y’know, the bad one), and the doctor insisted that we both hunker down for AT LEAST 7 DAYS so we wouldn’t spread it, even if we felt okay. Our workplaces both agreed, but OP’s workplace? Chances are good it would have spread through the ENTIRE BUILDING, potentially hospitalizing or killing someone.

  64. What’s with Today, today?*

    Yep. I go in at 4 a.m., and am the only one at work until 8 a.m., but I’m also live on the radio, so it’s definitely got to be covered. No one answers the phone if you call them to cover you at 4 a.m. (Tested that theory when I went into labor around 2 a.m. five weeks early. We were dead air until 7 when my boss finally answered my husband’s call). So if I get sick, I need the illness to happen the day before so I can call in the night before. If I wake up sick, I pretty much have to go in sick and just leave when someone else comes in. Dead air gets you fired (unless you’re in labor five weeks early).

    1. Donkey Hotey*

      WOW. Nothing more of value to ad but holy crap, the idea of 2-3 hours dead air on the radio gives me hives.

      1. What’s with Today, today?*

        If I hadn’t been so out of it, I’d have been stressed beyond belief. They had maternity coverage planned, but not for a few more weeks.

  65. Person from the Resume*

    I understand that people want to save their paid time off for more enjoyable times, but it’s not fair to the coworkers to whom they spread their germs. (We also offer six paid sick days, separate from vacation and personal leave.)

    I rolled my eyes/snorted/whatever when I read this. By offering only 6 paid sick days your company might expect the normal human who needs more that that to augment their sick days with their PTO. By breaking it up that way your company is clearly saying you expect people to take off sick no more than 6 days a year so they will come in slightly ill but contagious. I’m not going to be excited about taking what sounds like vacation time as sick days if I can avoid it.

    1. OP*

      OP here – please remember that this is not my company. And from the sounds of it, my company is pretty average as far as sick time goes. I can’t be the only one who feels like they are being needlessly exposed to illness.

      1. SufferinSuccotash*

        you aren’t the only one who feels that way, but the sick people aren’t in a position to alleviate your feelings. The ability to affect any change that would reduce your feelings of being ‘needlessly exposed’ is at a different level, but your question was about how to encourage people to …not expose you? and that means staying home. Which means appropriate sick leave. Appropriate. not ‘average in America’, which most people would agree is not a great standard.

      2. Observer*

        It’s not your fault that the company only gives 6 days, but it doesn’t make it any better.

        One of the reasons that you are getting the kind of push back that you are getting is this:

        I understand that people want to save their paid time off for more enjoyable times, but it’s not fair to the coworkers to whom they spread their germs. (We also offer six paid sick days, separate from vacation and personal leave.)

        Firstly, regardless of how “normal” that amount of sick time is, it is NOT enough in many (if not most) cases to insure that most REASONABLE people can afford to take off for things like mild illness.

        What’s worse is your “understanding” of why people come in sick. It sounds incredibly smug and condescending. The reality is that most people who come in sick are doing so because they don’t feel like they have much choice. Alison and others have pointed out many reasons that people come in sick that have nothing to do with them prioritizing their “enjoyment” over your health.

    2. 867-5309*

      We uncoupled sick days (5) from vacation (15) because the feedback we received is that most people want to save “PTO” for vacation and having sick days made them feel like they could take time off to rest if they had a cold. I don’t think a company is “clearly saying they expect people to take off sick no more than 6 days a year.” I expect if someone is ill and they run out of sick time, we work with them on a plan that includes possible additional sick time, vacation days, holidays (of which we offer 10 + 2 floating), paid time offer and working from home.

  66. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    When I was in college I worked at a bank. Since this was a customer facing hourly role, people couldn’t work from home. The manager really frowned upon anyone calling in sick because then there wouldn’t be enough coverage and she didn’t want to have to deal with finding coverage at the last minute. She even frowned upon people getting surgery when they needed it because she didn’t want them to be out that long.

    My coworkers always came in sick with colds, the flu, strep throat, etc. It used to make me so mad because I knew that I would, in turn, probably get sick and then not be allowed to call in.

    One coworker I had to share the small drive-thru booth with had a nasty flu and she wasn’t allowed to go home. The poor thing could barely stand up and work. Luckily, I had my flu shot so I didn’t get sick that time, but I felt bad for my coworker. I didn’t work there for very long. I think this manager/company should implement the three things that Alison suggested.

  67. Anon for this*

    Our HR Director is a germaphobe. If you come in sick, she would chase you out posthaste and probably while wearing a face mask and with a bottle of disinfecting spray. Every staff meeting, she reminds us that we are not allowed to come in sick.

    Nobody dares come into work sick here. We also have plenty of sick leave and the ability to work remotely.

  68. SC*

    I get 6 sick days per year. None roll over. I can’t work from home, even though my work is conducive to working from home. If I can work, I’m coming in sick. What if I get the flu or need surgery in December?

    Last year, I had a cough that lingered for at least a month. I probably wasn’t contagious most of that time. I took a week off for a pre-planned vacation while I happened to have the cough. Still, my assistant complained that I was coming in sick. I can’t exactly take a month off work! (Not that she can control it.)

  69. Semprini!*

    I’ve been coughing/sneezing sick for 8 work days already in 2020 (two separate colds, one of which I’m still in the throes of), and I don’t even have children or anything. And yes, I had my flu shot! So yeah, 6 sick days a year isn’t enough if you actually want zero sick people in the office!

    Once a generous amount of sick days are available, one thing you can do is actually send sick people home – take their work off their hands and reassign it, and tell them to go home and rest and not worry about a thing. But if you’re going to do this, you do have to make sure that there really is enough paid sick leave that they won’t risk being in any way deprived if they use it now rather than saving it up for later. Employees who get sent home for being sick should feel like they’ve gotten a snow day, not like they’re being penalized.

    Another thing you can do is make it easy to work from home for those borderline days where people are contagious or seem contagious, but also are capable of getting their work done. Again, this needs to be really possible, not just lip service.

    And if you want people to come into the office and self-quarantine, you also need the physical and social structures that make this possible. Examples: office with walls and doors that close, an office culture where sending an email is just as effective as having an informal verbal conversation, etc.

  70. Mid*

    I have chronic migraines that are mostly managed, but sometimes I’ll have a migraine for what ends up being almost a solid month. My job has good sick leave and separate vacation, but I recently got permission to WFH as well. That way I don’t end up falling super behind, and I can avoid things that make my migraines worse (florescent lights, I’m looking at you!) My employer agreed to let me use 1/2 a sick day instead of a full day, which reflects about how much work I’ll be able to do. (Not saying everyone should have to work while they’re sick. That’s not healthy or helpful.)

    My point of saying this is: flexibility!! Be flexible with your employees, and make it possible for them to stay home when they’re sick. Let them be the judge of their own health, and don’t force them to take off more time than they need, especially if you have limited sick leave.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      FYI there are ballast inserts now that will convert existing fluorescent lamp fixtures into LED fixtures. It’s worth asking if your company could redo your area because you know that they are one of your triggers. It is one of mine, and when my building went to all LED as an energy saving initiative, I was shocked to get a long winter vacation! (Use it or lose it on vacation time too.)

  71. heatherskib*

    Let’s go to the experts! CDC stas on colds: Adults tend to catch 2-3 colds per year, kids have more. Symptoms and contagious period tend to be about 7-10 days per. So the average is a minimum of 2 weeks sick leave for just the cold. As mentioned above if you have issues with other ailments or get the flu or something more serious, then 6 days is nowhere near enough.

  72. Allison*

    I loved having a separate sick bank at my old job! I did try to budget it over the course of the year, allowing myself 3 Jan-June and the other 3 July-December, and usually ended up with an extra day in December and the temptation to take a mental health day around that time, but always worried about what might happen if I got sick on New Years Eve. It would have been better if those days rolled over, in case I got hit with a bad bug in January.

    I also agree that office culture can absolutely play a role in whether people use their sick time. If people are loudly doubting whether one person is “really” sick when they take sick time, or “joking” that they’re just playing hooky, that can make other people within earshot wonder if the same will be said about them if they ever take sick time, so then it becomes a thing of wanting to prove you’re sick, and people think “I’d better go in so people can see I really am sick, then I can go home after lunch.” Or you get the people who say “oh, you took a sick day? Must be nice to be able to take sick days, I could never take a sick day because this whole office would fall apart, I have to spend days briefing people just so I could take a long weekend, I’d love the freedom to get sick!” and it really sucks that they feel like they can’t take that time, but that’s a management issue, and I’m not a manager, but not every time I do consider taking a sick day, I think about whether Brenda will resent me and say something passive aggressive when I come back.

  73. Person from the Resume*

    It is difficult though, by the nature of my job, no one else does my job. I’m a project manager; the project doesn’t have two project managers (but even if it did we’d divide the work up for efficiency.) Certain things they legally can’t do, but most tasks are just assigned to me and no one else does them if I don’t. I can’t show up after a week off and delete all my emails because I’ve got to catch up.

    My friend asked me if I can take off the days I want and I kind of can. On one hand, my boss trusts me to manage my time, but on the other, I schedule around important meetings or tasks that I can’t miss (even when sick although I work from home full time.) Whereas my friend does knowledge work too but she picks up tasks from a pool and there are other people who do the same job as her and so her work doesn’t build up when she is gone but her team can’t have too many people out at once so she does really need her boss’s permission to be out.

    I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve been feeling bad and scheduled my sick leave around important meetings. Although the time I got the flu or lost my voice I knew I was too sick to try to work.

  74. pcake*

    OP, 6 days per year of sick pay isn’t enough if you’re serious. At the beginning of this year, I was sick with a flu for more than 2 weeks, so weak I could barely move for more than half that time. If I was relying on your job for my pay, I’d have had to some in sick. Luckily I work from home, so on week 2, I was able to sit up for a couple hours at a time and get some work done – and without making anyone sick.

    My husband unexpectedly needed several multi-day hospitalizations in 2011 and 2012, which added up to 26 days total. Ever since then, we bank at least 2 weeks of his sick time just in case; if he’s sick more than a day or 2, he’s likely to go to work sick if he’s not falling down sick because we don’t want to use all his sick pay up in case he needs it more later. Luckily, and perhaps unusually, his sick days roll over.

    But 6 days won’t handle an hospital visit with an apendectomy much less the entire course of the flu. Add in 2 colds in a year, and your employees will be doing without money while spending extra on doctors and medications.

    1. 867-5309*

      I think 5-15 days is pretty generous, considering the norm in the United States. We offer 5 and while it’s not high end of that, we also offer 15 days of vacation, 10 holidays and 2 floating holidays, plus the flexibility to work from home. I understand that wouldn’t have gone far in your circumstances but even 10 days would have left you the rest of the year with zero. An employer can’t be expected to have unlimited sick time (thought I’ve worked places that do and other countries offer it) BUT they can work with an employee to determine how to best support them, while also ensuring operations move forward.

  75. Skyto*

    A couple years ago I had an emergency surgery take place the week of Martin Luther King Day, which is a paid vacation day for me. I used two sick days and two vacation days to make up the rest of the week and then went back to work on Monday because I had only 6 sick days and 10 vacation days to start with. I definitely dragged myself into work sick a lot of that year because I then had only FOUR sick days to last for the following 11 months.

    1. 867-5309*

      We only offer 5 sick days, but also have 15 vacation days (your first year), plus an additional 12 holidays. I think for many people five days is enough, though of course there are examples such as yours when it’s something more significant. We might expand the number of available days next year but haven’t decided.

    2. Red Fraggle*

      I had to have emergency dental surgery shortly after starting a job where you accrued PTO for hours worked. I only had 4 days of PTO at that point, and the position involved talking to clients all shift long. So that was an…interesting week. (And an interesting few months afterward as I clawed together PTO again.)

  76. !*

    This is very timely, I am at work sick because someone else came in sick, because someone else came in sick and so on and so forth. I had my performance review today so I decided to come in, medicated to the gills. I honestly think this is a losing battle, until there is unlimited sick time, or people aren’t shamed into coming into work no matter what, or work from home is a real option. I WISH my company would get with the times and allow people to work from home (there are some people who do it, but it’s so specific that it’s definitely not a benefit the company offers). The only times I’ve ever worked from home is when I am not willing to drive over ice-covered roads, and either offer to work from home or take a vacation day, luckily I’m that important they have allowed me to work. :) I am planning on staying home tomorrow, hopefully.

  77. CL Cox*

    I’m not sure that everyone knows this, but FMLA only covers your employment status. It keeps you from being fired. It does not guarantee that you get paid during the time that you are out. And it allows employers to force the employee to use up their paid time off – the employee doesn’t get the option of taking it all unpaid and saving the PTO.

    For instance, in my school system, an employee on FMLA has to use up their sick days (1.5/month), then their personal days (3/year), then their vacation days (1/month), up to the point of return or until they are all used up. And that’s only for the 12-month employees. Teachers and other 10-month employees only get sick days (1/month) and personal business days (3/year). We do have an opt-in sick bank (costs one sick day a year), but that’s it. No one can donate days to another employee or anything like that. So, a young person wanting to take maternity/paternity leave has most likely been working less than five years and will only have maybe 4 weeks of PTO accumulated IF they’ve not used anything during the preceding years (depending on your doctor, OB appointments may have to be during the school day). If you have a c-section, you will be out of work for at least 6 weeks, barring complications.

    All employees here are covered by unions, but even those only go so far.

    1. CL Cox*

      I recently got bronchitis that developed into pneumonia. I had a fever for a week. I consider myself lucky, because it happened when the school was closed for winter break, so I didn’t lose any time from work. I just got pulled into a meeting with my supervisor because I have had to take a few days since then, when it all came back for a second round.

  78. Bunny Girl*

    Someone might have already added this – but don’t require doctor’s notes for small absences. Especially from employees that have a good track records. If you are suspicious of someone abusing time off, talk to them directly. I remember being livid that I had to get out of bed when I had a migraine (which causes me to lose vision) and go to the doctor because I called in one day to work at an old job. I quit pretty soon after. But when people’s immune systems are low (from a typical virus/cold) they don’t need to be clogging up doctor’s offices and ER rooms to get a note. They’re around people who are sicker and all that stress could make your employee even sicker and they’ll have to take more time off just so the doctor can tell you that you just need some rest and fluids.

    1. 867-5309*

      I think this is one benefit to insurance companies now offering tele-doctor’s, so you can make a call for far less money and effort.

      1. pcake*

        When I read reviews, the biggest company that supplies those doctors – for Anthem, among others – seems to have doctors who mostly recommend people go to urgent care.

        And with our medical system dangerously busy, making people go to the doctor, urgent care or emergency just to get a note is a damned shame.

  79. Lime Lehmer*

    I might add a 4th have a policy that tells employees (or those lacking common sense and courtesy) when to stay home.

    Preschools and day care have policies to slow the spread of contagion.

    Generally, most day cares with a policy in place require a child to be symptom-free for 24 hours before returning to day care. Symptoms typically covered under this rule include:

    Persistent cough.
    A fever over a certain temperature (typically 101.0 F).
    Obvious contagious conditions, such as head lice or pink eye.

    Shouldn’t be too hard to update that policy for adults

    1. 867-5309*

      I like this.

      Of course, with adults vomiting could be the result of pregnancy vs. illness so you need to calibrate for those kinds of things.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        If you’re vomiting, you’re vomiting. The source doesn’t matter. If you’re too sick to work, you’re too sick to work.

        This is just a continuation of discrimination against women for choosing to become pregnant. Men are never discriminated against for exercising their biological prerogatives (hell, they often get a raise because of it), but women are punished for it.

        On the other hand, if you’re vomiting because you’re hung over, that’s different only if it’s a repeated pattern. But the issue here still isn’t the fact that you’re sick; it’s the fact that you have a substance abuse issue.

        1. 867-5309*

          To clarify, I meant that a women might be nauseous or throw up occasionally and not be contagious & also might feel well enough to work. Of course if she’s unable to do that then she should not be penalized for taking advantage of the sick days available to her. I’m not sure how my comment was discrimination…

    2. Bunny Girl*

      Just want to pipe up and say that the couple food places I worked at had this policy because of Health Department regulations, but they wouldn’t let us stay home and we were often bullied into coming in to work or not allowed to take time off unless we got someone to cover our shift, even if we had those symptoms.

  80. ObiWanLibrarian*

    Alison, first time poster but I’ve been reading for a while now. I love this column…you give such good advice but today was perfect! I feel strongly about this issue and LOVE the way you wrote this; there’s really no way to say this better. I often get the impression that employers just want people to not get sick (like you said) and forget that everyone is human I hope this company and others take your excellent advice.

  81. Red Stapler*

    Question from the other side, re #3. How do groups figure out the right mix of “enough coverage for sick call” and the amount of work that can get distributed equally if everybody is at work that day? I am not really in a position to make changes, but I see it at my work and I always wonder, HOW is it possible we haven’t tried to address this yet? Why is it a surprise every winter when people get sick? Even barring spectacularly long illnesses, people get sick. It is like, calculate 1.1 FTE per actual FTE?
    (I work in a hospital, so a lot of roles are very license-dependent, so it’s hard to shift people around ad hoc. In the past, this is what has been cited to me as the reason, but.. I don’t know if I buy it entirely.)

  82. Third or Nothing!*

    “This is even more true for people who struggle with chronic health problems who have to choose between staying home with a virus or keeping that time off for more serious issues.”

    This is my situation. I get flare ups about 10 times a year, which also happens to be my allotment of sick leave (although we call it PTO because it can also be used for other unscheduled absences). So earlier this week I had to make a choice: do I stay home with the pinched nerve in my neck that leaves me unable to move at all without screaming in pain? Or do I save those days for when I feel like death the next time my illness rears its ugly head? I picked the former for two days and dragged my happy self in today even though I’m not 100% better. The next couple of chronic illness flare ups are going to be hell.

    I suppose I could use some vacation days, but I’m trying so hard to save at least a week in case my kid gets sick before the end of the year.

  83. ZS*

    I am at a state government job now with eight sick days and four family/sick days to be used at our discretion, but I do miss an old job that had 10 days of sick leave that rolled over and allowed remote work when needed. My wife had four surgeries over a three month period, I was always at her side and I didn’t miss any pay over that time. I was extremely thankful for my boss.

  84. Freaked Out*

    On Valentine’s Day, I was able to stay home sick only because my sister works at the same job, and she covered for me.

    Otherwise, nothing has keep us from coming in. Not a coughing fit, not diarrhea. If it isn’t incapacitating, we are coming in to work.

  85. 867-5309*

    We are based our U.S. operations in a state where PTO is the norm – so sick time and vacation time are lumped into one bucket. When I opened the U.S. office, I insisted we uncouple them and make sure both were reasonable so people feel they can actually take a sick day. We also allow people to work from home when they’re sick but still able to get things done (think: pink eye, the day after starting medicine where you’re feeling okay but still contagious, poison ivy, hurt leg, etc.).

    A couple other things:
    We insist that if someone is sick, they feel free to use their sick day to rest and recover vs. trying to work.

    If someone always seems to be “sick” with one of the previously mentioned items but isn’t working, then we address with that one person vs. having a rigid policy that restricts everyone.

  86. BasicWitch*

    **Slow clap**

    My last boss treated me to multiple hour-long lectures about “expectations” for my role when I had used five out of six of my sick days… so I was bad for using PTO as it was intended. Two months later I quit.

  87. Elizabeth Proctor*

    Also, if you have kids and only get 6 sick days per year, you are probably saving them for when your kids can’t go to school/daycare.

  88. nonameplease*

    I work for the state and we have a generous sick leave allowance (12 days/year). We also have a leave bank in case someone has a catastrophic health issue. Unused sick leave has no cap and can be credited towards retirement. I’ve seen employees retire up to a year early because they had banked so much sick leave during their career. That said, people come in sick all the time and I’ve even seen people use vacation leave for surgery because they don’t want to use their “retirement days.” While I agree paid sick leave should be a basic employee right, there are people who would come in sick no matter what.

  89. mcr-red*

    My job is very generous in the appearance of giving you sick leave – you accrue time, can roll over, etc. At one point last year, I had 60 days worth of sick time!

    Notice I said appearance. If you are sick for more than 3 days in a row, you have to have a doctor’s note. And our insurance sucks. So what inevitably happens is people will be sick 2 days in a row, come back to work the 3rd, get everybody sick, and then be sick again. If you are sick for more than 7 days, you have to go on FMLA, which requires a lot more doctor’s notes and forms, and may try to take your vacation time first (happened to me) instead of sick time. For you know, being sick. I asked Doctor Google and it said you’re contagious a day before symptoms start (so you’re probably already passing it to coworkers) and then for 4-7 days afterward. So if I’m to stay away that amount of time, I’m at least having to pay $75 for a doctor’s visit!

    And they run with the absolute minimum they can get away with and still run, so if you take a day off, your work load when you get back will be insane. I have absolutely managed my sick days so I’m off on a day that has less work. If I’m buried, I just go in sick.

  90. new kid*

    I think unfortunately #2 and #3 are huge and actually carry forward with folks from previous jobs even if they aren’t true to the culture at the current job.

    For example, at my org we get 15 days dedicated sick time (separate from PTO and holiday), with 5 days that can roll over each year and any other overage banked to short term disability. And STILL I have coworkers who will come in sick because they feel like they ‘have to’ because of their workload or because of the optics.

    I have no problem taking my allotted time when it’s needed, but as a newer person on the team I can’t really do much to ‘set an example’ so to speak because I don’t have the influence.

  91. Vicky Austin*

    I used to work in an office that literally sent people home if they were sick!

    Later, I worked for businesses that did not offer sick time, and I learned the hard way that “sucking it up and pretending like you’re not sick and going to work anyway” is NOT a behavior that bosses like to see in their employees. Not only will you make others sick, but you also will not be able to work effectively when you don’t feel well.

    1. Observer*

      Actually a lot of bosses actually DO expect that people should just “power through”.

      And any boss who SAYS that they do NOT want you to do that should make it practical to stay home when you are sick. Because otherwise, the only reasonable explanations for most people is that they say one thing but mean another, Boss is stupid and oblivious about the impact of their own policies, or Boss does not even have the minimum human care for their employees. None of which is going to encourage anyone to stay home if they are going to have a problem with taking leave.

      1. Vicky Austin*

        “Actually a lot of bosses actually DO expect that people should just “power through”.”

        Unfortunately, there are some of us who don’t have the ability to “power through.” I’ve tried it, and I simply cannot be a productive employee when I am sick or in pain. For one thing, I cannot take DayQuil, Sudafed, etc. because I am on Ritalin for my ADHD, and trust me, you do NOT want me to come into work when I’m not on Ritalin.
        For many years, I believed that “powering through” was a skill that all adults are supposed to have. Recently, however, I discovered that it’s really more of a gift that some people have, but most do not. It’s not a skill that you can learn, like playing a musical instrument. Any job that expected me to “power through” even when sick is not a good fit for me.

  92. iglwif*

    SIX paid sick days? Per YEAR?

    Yeah, that’s gotta be a big reason people are coming to work sick. That’s like … two bad colds, or one flu, or two GI bugs. And yeah, many people don’t get sick more than a couple of times a year, but MANY MORE get sick at least that many times, and if you have kids (who bring home other people’s germs from daycare and school like adorable little plague vectors) and/or have any type of chronic health issue and/or are in any way immunocompromised, YIKES.

  93. Dinopigeon*

    Have a sick leave policy that does NOT overlap with PTO. People will wait until they’re literally dying before using up PTO on being sick. A lot of places in the US are moving to no sick leave, only PTO policies, and it’s making everyone ill.

  94. Ancient Alien*

    The last suggestion about having enough coverage is critical. I do WFH, so that keeps me from getting other people sick. But, I’ve also learned the hard way to not take anything less than a full week off at my work unless I have no other choice. The reason is simple. It’s not like I can call in sick for the day and another staff member keeps my projects moving forward. I will still have the same amount of work to do and all the same deadlines. So the “time off” is not “off” at all because all of those work hours just get moved to nights and weekends until i can get caught up. The only way to get “time off”, is to be out for a full week or more where management will be forced to stop assigning me new projects. Hence, no sick days unless I literally cannot get out of bed, no mental health days, no single days off for anything unless it’s something i absolutely have to do. Now, because i WFH, I’m not coming in and spreading germs, but the inability to truly take time “off” to recover definitely impedes my ability to get well and take care of myself. Yes, I am looking for another job. No job is worth sacrificing your health over. OP, it really might help to consider this perspective. Are people really “off” even when they are using the meager allotment of sick days your organization provides.

  95. Nita*

    Looking at this from another angle, in addition to the sick leave thing… There’s only so much you can do even with good sick leave policies, because sometimes people will misjudge how sick they are and come in. So one more thing your office can do is, make sure there are sanitizer and hand towels/dryers in the batroom(s) and the pantry, and encourage people to use them. Especially in the pantry – coffee machines and water coolers must be pretty big sources of spreading germs to the whole office, because everyone touches them. Our HR has put a poster to that effect on the fridge, and illness prevention was the health and safety topic of the month at our department meeting (we always have an H&S topic on the agenda due to the industry I’m in).

  96. CleverGirl*

    Anyone who offers SIX sick days a YEAR and is then confused why people come into work is a complete mor—uhh, is not very smart. (Not you, OP, since I see you said you aren’t the one in charge.) At my job we get 19 plus 3 personal days plus a separate bank of vacation days. AND they can roll over. and that feels about right. 6 days means you can only use 1 every other month. More sick days probably feels like a burden to employers but they really need to realize that NOT infecting the whole office because one person came in sick and thus causing 8 more people to use a sick day would probably pay off in the end.

  97. Jubilance*

    I really love Alison’s suggestions, but I think part of this is just realizing that some people are going to come to work sick, no matter what you do. I work for a company that technically has no sick time – you’re just out when you’re sick until you’re well, but there’s no formal pool of hours or anything. Leaders and regular staff regularly encourage folks to stay home, and not even login (most of us can work from home) so that people can rest and recuperate. And folks still come in sick! I think for some folks it’s perception – they are worried that they are seen as taking off too much sick time, or they were sick for one issue and then feel bad about being out again quickly for something else, or parents being worried when they’re out with their kids, and then get sick themselves.

    If you’re lucky enough to work in a place that truly wants you to stay home when you’re sick, please use it! Don’t worry about perceptions or anything, I think most people would rather you stay home especially during an flu outbreak or something,

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yup to your last sentence (god, I’m so glad I work remotely from home full time now and don’t have to worry about anyone else’s germs but my own anymore, lol).

  98. Chapped!!*

    Oh, this situation really chaps my a**. I have a coworker who hoards her sick time and has accumulated over a years work and will not be paid for it if she doesn’t use it but REFUSES to use it and comes in coughing and hacking and miserable which makes the rest of us miserable. We cannot get management to make them go home.

  99. MsMaryMary*

    One of my favorite things about my new job is that we have unlimited sick days. As the recruiter told me, if someone is “sick” every Monday and Friday, that would be an issue, and going AWOL would be bad. Otherwise, they trust us to take care of ourselves. We also have very flexible work from home policies and pretty generous disability benefits.

    And yet everyone in my corner of the office shared a head cold last week. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Some things are unavoidable when humans share close quarters.

  100. Introvert girl*

    This must be an American problem. Here in Europe sick leave and personal leave are two separate enteties. Sick leave requires a doctor’s signature and goes automatically online to your company informing them (just the leave, not the sickness). Sick leave is also only in the beginning paid by the company, afterwords the social security you pay into every month takes over. You get 80% of your paycheck. Most offices supply free flu vaccines as well. There are 200 people in my office, no one would dare to come in sick. But yeah, we have also a good working from home policy for people who have a small cold or ate something bad the other day or just need to dogsit. Not having to stress about getting sick = less chance of getting sick. I have a chronical illness concerning my loungs, but thanks to my company and the country’s social security I haven’t had an issue for almost a year now.

      1. Koala dreams*

        I’m also in Europe and I prefer 80 % pay for all the time I’m sick over 100 % pay for only five or ten days a year. I’m seldom sick less than ten days a year. This year I’ve been sick that long for the flu already.

        It’s worth noting that the amount of sick pay and rules vary from country to country in Europe, also.

  101. Kitty*

    Alison nailed it! These three things were what immediately came to mind for me as I read the letter.

    My workplace has unlimited sick leave, because they trust us as adults to do the right thing. That’s why I felt comfortable taking several days off for a cold last year, when at previous jobs I would have felt guilty for taking more than 1-2 days off, even if I had more leave available. This set-up is pretty unusual for businesses in Australia though.

    We’re also lucky that our team can work from home as needed, and the team shares responsibilities so noone has to worry about work piling up while they’re away.

  102. PurpleMonster*

    I used to work somewhere with unlimited sick leave. There was a fair use policy (they’d have something to say if you were always mysteriously sick on Mondays or Fridays, for instance), but turns out that – gasp – if you treat people fairly and like adults, they won’t abuse it! Would you believe it?!

    1. Pommette!*

      Same here, and I loved it!!!

      There were some requirements (Dr.’s note for prolonged leave), but on the whole, you could take what you needed, like a responsible adult.

      People were really reasonable about using the time appropriately. From what I could tell, people took less sick time there than they did in past workplaces with use-it-or-lose-it sick day policies… and the few people who took a lot of time off took it because they needed it. I wound up only taking one day (oh Luck, you would have it that the one year of my life when I had access to lots of paid sick leave happened to be my healthiest!).

      In the end, I’d say that knowing that we would be covered if we needed it was a huge relief for everyone… and that people act with honesty when they are treated like honest people.

  103. acallidryas*

    I know there are several comments here already, but I’m going to chime in because paid sick leave is something I’m so very, very passionate about. Six days is nothing, you have to offer more sick time or people are going to save that for an emergency. I have three young kids, and even with 10 sick days I don’t take any sick time for myself until around May if I think I have enough. Because I know I will have cases of strep throat, pink eye, or just a fever, that I *have* to stay home for. One case of a three year old with strep throat can eat up 5 days of sick time, easy.

    Companies that don’t want people to come to work sick need to make it possible for them not to come to work when they’re sick, period. And that means generous paid time off or a bank of sick leave and a bank of family leave or some other system.

  104. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    The U.S . really, really takes the crap cake when it comes to sick leave allocations. Where I work, we get one day a month and it STILL isn’t anywhere near enough for normal adult humans, especially if they have tiny child humans they take care. Six days a year is shameful and cruel, suitable only for the office of Scrooge in Dickensian times. We have tons of sick people around our building this time of year who won’t stay gone; it’s like flu roulette every time we step foot into work.

  105. Laura H.*

    I want to add that leading by example (policies aside- which vary from place to place) is also something that management should do.

    I work part time and seasonally at that so I don’t get sick time. When I was permanent part time at a former location- still no official sick time, (switched to a closer location as a seasonal, haven’t been able to secure the regular part time) I was out twice in what I can recall. Once for a day after a car accident (Wasn’t gonna take it but doc said I’d be sore and ugh doc was right- I called ahead of time and was able to get someone to cover.) and the other time was I caught the flu after Christmas and was out for a while. I did email my store manager so they had an estimated date of return, but I still had to call in every day I was scheduled but unable to work.

    I never felt shamed or guilty. I did feel
    cabin crazy/ eager to get back. But I was gladder that I didn’t give my coworkers the flu.

  106. Jaid*

    Government employee, here. When I had surgery, I was able to take Advanced Sick Leave for a month and repay it over the course of about two years. I still had annual leave to use, though.

  107. George*

    I don’t have sick leave, but three weeks PTO. It doesn’t feel paltry, even as a parent with all the medical visits and with chronic conditions. Why? Because we have very flexible hours and generous spontaneous telework. The only real issue is some work HAS to be done in the office (can’t feed the llamas from home), sometimes you just can’t.

    Also,there is a policy for Major medical leave – basically anything that would keep you out for a long time (birth, surgery, etc). That covers about a month a year but does not accrue.

    So, if I have a kid who needs to see the doctor, I can go in late and work late… Or work part of the day from home, etc.

    Makes those few weeks PTO workable.

  108. AntsOnTheTable*

    I understand not wanting to hear someone sick next to you but it is so unrealistic to expect otherwise. Cold and flu lasts about 5-10 days. I keep track of how often I get sick a year and I have had 3 relatively mild colds in a year period. That is 15-30 sick days to take off and I personally have never worked somewhere that generous.

    I work in a hospital and my state now mandates some sick hours for ALL workers. So working full time means you can have 40 hrs of sick leave and can’t be penalized. Once that is used up you get a verbal warning after your second sick day. So yah, I am coming in sick most times.

    The best defense is to practice good hand hygiene and remind coworkers to cover their mouth and noses (we should take a page out of other cultures and sick people wear masks to limit the spread of their germs).

  109. Retail not Retail*

    Our sick days roll over into our short term disability bank but my coworker is hurting no matter what – she broke her middle toes in mid-january and stayed home, came back in a boot (shockingly bad idea), then came back in regular boots.

    Yeah it didn’t heal right – she’s got surgery tomorrow to rebreak and pin the darn things.

    I think we’re more likely to come in for contagious stuff if we can drug our way into moderate functionality on the logic that we don’t work that close to each other or with the public.

    But mess up a limb and you are in trouble – one woman sprained her ankle on the job but came back too soon. It was her left foot and she could drive with the right one.

    I called in this year after a cortisone shot made driving too painful. Like in tears calling my boss – driving hurt and the pain was dangerously distracting. Yes I could push through it AT work but i couldn’t get TO work safely. For the next cortisone shot i rearranged my dang schedule to have the shot and next day off without using PTO (we’re a seven day a week job)

    Anyway another voice from the no work from home crowd. I’m sure some of our admin people could work from home, but not those who we regularly call on the radio.

    Of course still better than retail! Call in sick kiss your money goodbye.

  110. cactus lady*

    We get 5 days every July 1, that can carry over. BUT we also have to use them, in quarter-day increments, to cover doc/dentist/other appointments. I had an injury and needed surgery and lots of PT last year, and it’s left me with ZERO days for flu season. I’m fortunate that I haven’t been sick and I’m crossing my fingers that I won’t be before July…

  111. phira*

    I just wanted to say thank you for pointing out #3 and that all three need to happen. My husband’s job has generous sick leave and a very good culture when it comes to people staying home while sick. But he’s the only non-exempt employee in the office AND he works the front desk, and there have been days when he has to go in while sick (or, most recently, on days when I am so sick that I cannot safely look after our child) because the only person who he’s allowed to ask to cover him is too busy to cover the desk or out sick himself.

    It’s a huge source of stress for us because he’s often sicker for longer, which also means that there’s a longer period of time during which he can get me (immunocompromised person) or our child (18 month old that catches everything) sick. And the longer he’s sick, the more solo parenting and household maintenance I have to do, which is rough because I also work.

    (This is to say nothing of my own job, which I won’t get into, but I’ve missed work only four times due to illness in the past 10 years due to the logistics of my work.)

  112. sleepyhead*

    Meanwhile my husband is over here working at a hospital under the province and was just told today that “in government sick time is really meant to be saved up for a serious illness”. WTF? We have two young kids who are sick all the time and since January we’ve had norovirus, hand foot mouth, the flu, and ear infections in the house.

  113. Mike*

    We were able to avoid getting hit hard this year by being proactive in sending people home and encouraging them to work from home until they were better. Fortunately our work is one that can be done from home and we get 9 days of sick leave a year (plus year-to-year carry over).

    One thing that helped was to keep reminding people that it was ok for them to work from home or to take sick time and that we prefer it to them coming in sick.

    Contrast to a few years back where we had a major drop in productivity due to “the sickness” this year has been really smooth.

  114. Tragic Sandwich*

    At my first full-time job, we got 5 sick days a year–and apparently our subsidiary was “lucky,” because most of the corporation got

    wait for it

    3 sick days a year.

  115. Des*

    LW, do you honestly expect people to take their vacation time off for when they’re sick?

    Only if I’m feeling like death warmed over. (My company also allows us to work from home when sick, so this is not an issue).

  116. Retail not Retail*

    Question – how do sick days work when you’re salaried and exempt from OT laws? I thought you were paid the same as long as you worked some.

    Couple this post with yesterday’s rerun of lateness and get a very confused hourly employee. My sister is exempt but she’s a teacher so coverage counts. I don’t know anyone salaried besides teachers and my managers.

    So how does that work?

    (Also if this is too late to be seen I may repost it tomorrow bc i’m just confused!)

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      This really varies from company to company. Some companies treat exempt workers as truly exempt‒get the work done and nobody cares where you get it done from or what day of the week it gets done. Others treat you as a glorified hourly worker, sending you an Excel spreadsheet highlighting all the days you keyed in your security code a minute or more late (this was an actual letter last week).

      Please repost this tomorrow, because this is a great question! I’m sure there is a range of company policies, and I hope I’m not on the bottom end.

    2. Adultiest Adult*

      Exempt employees still have to account for sick days in most companies, except those that offer unlimited PTO. Our time sheets actually have separate categories for regular time, sick, and ETO. They might not be able to dock your pay if you exceed your allotted sick days, but they can make you 1) use your vacation time (if it’s separate) 2) “flex” your time to make up for it in the same week or pay period, or 3) put you on disciplinary action. I have seen all 3 happen (the last only once) in the time I have been an exempt employee. And yes, you can be disciplined for “excessive absenteeism” for anything in excess of what your particular locality mandates for sick time. Hope this helps.

  117. Observer*

    A few thoughts:

    1. Give people as much possibility to WFH as possible. If a job can be done form home most of the time, let that person work from home whenever. If a piece of a job can be done from home let people who do that job work from home doing that piece of the job when they are sick. It’s ok that some people get WFH and others don’t as long as it is really tied to what is doable rather than a perk apportioned based on who you know / who likes you.

    2 Let people flex their time as much as possible. If someone knows that they can make up their time, then it makes it easier to take time when they get sick.

    3 Make sure that supervisors are not keeping people from staying home when they are sick. We’ve seen tons of letters on the site that basically go something like “I work at a company with good leave policies, but my boss has all of these extra rules in place, and I haven’t had a vacation in 2 years / I wind up dragging myself in when I’m sick because of his policies.”

    4. Alison mentions “signals”. I’m not sure why she did not mention actual policies that prevent or penalize people for staying home when they are sick (beyond the issue of sick leave, which she addresses.) For instance, I saw a post on a facebook group I’m on about an organization that claims that they have a “generous sick leave policy”, except you actually are not allowed to take sick leave. Because ANY time someone calls out or leaves work, regardless of the reason, they get an “occurrence” and 4 “occurrences” means automatic discipline.

    Another common policy is requiring doctor’s notes. I’m not going to go into all of the reasons why this requirement is a TERRIBLE idea (if you search the site, you’ll see this addressed multiple times.) Just realize that a lot of people are going to drag themselves into the office if they need a doctor’s note to justify staying home.

    1. DustyJ*


      We *officially* have 12 days sick leave, and 80 days ‘disability leave’ … which nobody takes because taking even one day means you have to sit through a ‘return to work’ interview in which you have to sign an acknowledgement of the sick leave policy and explain how you’re going to prevent yourself getting sick again; f you take off you’ll have lots of moaning about how you left everyone in the lurch while you were at home; if you take off on three occurrences in 8 weeks you need a sick note; if you reach 12 days in 12 months you hit an incapacity hearing; if you take off on a Monday or Friday you’ll be flagged by HR; if you don’t call in exactly between 8:15 and 8:30 and speak personally to your boss you’re officially AWOL, etc. So nobody takes sick leave if they can come to work sick.

      Sorry, boss, you’re very quick to say you don’t owe me anything, but that means I don’t owe *you* anything either, and I’m not losing my job because I *might* be contagious.

    2. loyolaweed*

      I can’t ever get a same-day appointment with my regular doctor, let alone for any kind of a specialist, no matter how sick I am. Appts always have to be made weeks in advance. So in order to get a doctor’s note for a sudden illness, I have to go to Urgent Care, which costs $50.

      FIFTY F*CKING DOLLARS JUST TO GET A NOTE. In order to use a sick day that I have “earned”.

      No wonder morale is so low, and no wonder workers come in to work sick.

      Once I had a migraine and I had to go to Urgent Care for that note. I said to the doctor, “I am not here seeking painkillers, they wouldn’t help for a migraine anyway, I don’t want any prescriptions, I just need that note.”

      I would so much rather just have stayed in bed trying to sleep through the worst of the pain, but I needed that note so HR doesn’t target me for ongoing harassment and threats over my “abuse” of my time off.

      And I am in a union and have it better than a lot of folks. Makes me wanna holler.

  118. Alex*

    I have unlimited sick days.

    If I’m sick a week in January and then my kid gets sick and then and then and then….it’s OK. If I tell my boss “I’m sick” I simply get a “feel better” and that’s that. In fact, I get shamed if I do come to work sick.

    And still people come to work sick (not me. I never do). It’s like it is in our collective DNA to think that we are better people for not letting germs stand in our way.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Is your company hiring?

      I’ve got a lot of skills and training, but I would be willing to do just about anything for a company that has those policies and that DNA.

  119. Sovereign HR*

    You have no idea how much this hits me.

    Our company would rather you miss eight hours of work than be one minute late. You are nailed twice for being late. If you call in, your perfect attendance is taken away from you, thus affecting your bid. Never mind the people who ask for ten last minute days off the day before who have perfect attendance, compared to the person who has blown a tire or a sick child, who now has an attendance problem.

    One person even came in with pink eye because his forced ranking would be affected!

    1. AnonyNurse*

      I used to work at a hospital that wrote you up if you missed > 3% of scheduled hours in a quarter. We worked 3 – 12 hour shifts/week. Over 12 weeks, you’d hit 3% if you called in more than once.

      A hospital. With contagious people and immune compromised people. We were the vectors between the two because of this policy.

      We were often forced to work OT, which increased the likelihood of illness but extra shifts didn’t count in the definition of “scheduled hours” so you couldn’t get back under that 3% number.

      The facility is well respected, has national brand recognition, and is much beloved by the community despite it being a toxic place to work literally and figuratively.

      1. AntOnMyTable*

        I also work at a hospital and in the last few years our policy has vacillated from being pretty generous to draconian to stricter than I like currently.

        For awhile they changed it so you essentially could call out 12 times in a year (which I think is a lot) to then 3 times in a year (which is crazy) and now because of state mandated sick time if you are a full time worker you get a verbal warning on your 5th time (at your second point) in a rolling year look back (since you get 3 days sick leave that they can’t penalize you for). The one good thing is consecutive sick days count as one occurrence so if you know you are going to be out for several shifts it is better to just take the one “point” against you instead of using up all your sick time for those couple days.

        I think because of working 12 days out of the month instead of 20 this is doable for most of us but I always wonder about the people who work on the bone marrow transplant unit. Those patients literally have no immune system.

  120. M313*

    Late to this party, but I just had to chime in to say that I cannot agree with #3 any harder.

    My last job wasn’t exactly generous with PTO. It was one bucket, with an 80 hour cap that went up to 100 hours after you’d been there five years. But it barely mattered to me in practice. We were always understaffed, so nobody was touching your work if you were out sick, you just had to try and frantically squeeze at least a week’s worth of work into fewer days. I avoided taking my PTO like the plague because it was just the least miserable option.

    1. AntOnMyTable*

      Whoa. That is such a low cap especially when considering sick time in there too. I am fortunate that my job increases the PTO accrued and your cap every 2-3 years that you work. I am always so scared of something happening and needing to use up a bunch of PTO that I always keep about 6-7 weeks worth banked.

      This is why I always feel government regulations aren’t a bad thing. So many companies will treat people badly if they can get away with it. The idea that the market will correct because people will leave that job is such a willful ignorance of life’s reality. No one should have to avoid taking PTO and yet it isn’t an uncommon refrain.

      1. M313*

        It was low, but I would’ve *joyfully* given up half of it if I could’ve gotten some ironclad promise that all my work would be handled while I was gone in exchange.

        No disagreements about government regs, but I’m not sure how exactly you’d go about writing regulations to prevent all the things that can make actually using your PTO unappealing. My previous job was always understaffed because the boss was stupidly cheap, but sometimes stuff happens where it’s legitimately difficult to get enough people to do the job. And the workflow can be so different from job to job, making rules around it would be so much more difficult than simply making a law that every employee must be given x hours of time off per year.

  121. AnonyNurse*

    And don’t contact your sick employees with questions and problems. Even if WFH is an option, when you are sick you should be allowed to focus on wellness. Getting emails and texts with “quick question” or being asked to get on conference calls creates a culture of “I should have just gone in because I can’t actually rest.”

    1. Jedi Squirrel*


      The real cure for most illnesses is just fluids and rest. It’s mighty difficult to rest when you are being forced to put your mind into work mode, when all you want to do is lie in bed or on the sofa and veg out on some ridiculous thing on television until you can finally fall asleep.

      This is where documentation and cross-training really come in useful!

  122. AnjaJade*

    6 sick days a year is low. I really thought 10 days a year was standard, and I’m shocked to read that it’s really 5-9. Yikes.

    Those of us with chronic health conditions need those days for major appointments and flare-ups alone, not even considering the idea that we might get a cold, the flu, or something actually contagious that we could pass to others.

    I’d also say that all companies should give SERIOUS thought to enabling WFH for situations where people are maybe contagious, but not so sick they aren’t capable of any work. It might not be something that works all the time, but I’d bet that in a lot of roles people could spend a day or two in their pajamas at home catching up on emails, spreadsheets, and deliverables that can be done with a laptop and Internet access or by bringing a few files home.

  123. Curmudgeon in California*

    We had a manager that traveled to Wuhan, China over the Christmas break. They asked him to work from home for two weeks as a self quarantine. It worked, no one really noticed because his work got done, and the open plan office wasn’t at risk.

    We still have too many people who come in sick, but with up to 2 days a week WFH by default, and encouragement to stay home and work when sick, it is getting better.

  124. LuckyCountry*

    This whole thread gives me hives and reminds me how lucky I am to live in Australia (bushfires and weird storms notwithstanding). Each year Australians get 10 sick days and 20 days PTO by law. And they accumulate year on year – it’s illegal to remove them. We also get 3 months long service leave if we have worked somewhere for 10 years.

    I actually had to look those up because other than the 20 days PTO per year I have never needed to pay attention to how much I had before taking it. I manage a team of 3 and one of my direct reports has cancer. She’s an absolute gun and I don’t know what I would have to do if she felt she had to leave or take days without pay because she didn’t have enough leave to cover the days when she couldn’t work.

    1. littlelizard*

      I feel like crying reading this honestly. If this was the law here (US), a whole crapton of my work issues would be solved. And I’m in a pretty labor-friendly part of the US too, relatively…

  125. cncx*

    I live in Europe where sick days are not counted (within reason), doctor’s note not required for three days (barring obvious abuse) and my company has an extremely generous wfh policy and every employee has a laptop. And yet, non-front-facing, non-butt-in-chair employees keep coming in sick and I HATE IT.

  126. MissDisplaced*

    Self-quarantine generally means working from home! Taking a whole sick day isn’t always about taking the day, sometimes things still need to get done. I urge the use of WFH for this purpose if at all possible.

  127. Ripley*

    Ya’ll think 6 sick days is low?!
    I’m stunned at how much sick time other employers offer. I was at my last job for 7.5 years and they only offered 3 sick days/year. They gave you a bonus vacation day if you didn’t use any sick days. I feel robbed. My current employer doesn’t even have sick days – they roll your vacation, sick time and personal days into one. You only get 18 days off/year.

    I wish the government would mandate at least 10 days of sick time outside of PTO.

  128. Reference Please*

    Can you share a reference for your statistics for #1? I’d love to share it with my employer!

  129. RussianInTexas*

    So, my company gives you 4 paid sick days per year, and only one week of paid vacation for the first five years.
    Unless I am dying, I will be at work, coughing on everyone. You brought it on yourself.

  130. Zennish*

    I’m curious what everyone thinks about the 3 days, bring in a doctor’s note policy that so many employers have. Personally, I’m against it, because doctor visits aren’t free. Even if your company has awesome insurance, you’re still possibly paying a 30-60 dollar co-pay to get that note, so I basically see it as a financial penalty for using a benefit that’s supposed to be part of your compensation package.

    1. AntOnMyTable*

      I agree it is very punitive and absolutely ridiculous. It supposes that an illness needing you to stay home is so severe you need to see a doctor. When in reality most people just need to stay home and rest. Not spend several hour driving to an office and waiting around for an appointment. And it isn’t like you can’t work when you have the flu or cold so not sure how a doctor’s note is even relevant. And finally it shows that there is no trust in their employees to manage their own health.

    2. Yea I'm Sick... Sick of this BS*

      Doctor’s notes are a ridiculous policy.

      Where I am right now we are required to bring in a note even if we take half a day off. And yea, if I have to go into the doctor, that means I’m paying to do so. If I have a cold? I have to pay for a doctor to tell me to pick up some DayQuil at Walgreens? Forget that!

      And then I have to hand my note to the accounting person in charge of payroll, because we don’t have HR. I find myself wondering if the one year I was at a certain specialist quite often that accounting person mentioned it to anyone… because accounting is certainly not bound to any privacy like HR might be.

      Oh, but if it’s early in the year forget it. We generally can’t use time unless it’s accrued. So if anyone gets sick in Jan or Feb, they’re pretty much SOL.

    3. A*

      The fact that you have to pay for visiting a doctor when you’re sick is…sick. I assume this is in US. Here you just walk in, get seen, leave.

      1. Pommette!*

        Here in Ontario, the consultation itself is free (being covered by our provincial health insurance), but the doctor’s note often is not. In what I assume is a misdirected effort to discourage unnecessary visits (“I have the flu!”/”Yup. Go home!”) and paperwork, many offices now charge a fee for notes. The whole thing ends up adding burdens to the worst-paid, worst-off workers.

    4. Pommette!*

      I think that requiring a doctor’s note at some point is appropriate.

      But the 3 days = note policy is stupid! Most of the things that are bad enough to keep someone home for three days are unpleasant, but don’t require medical attention. And most are also contagious. Someone with food poisoning, the flu, norovirus, or a bad cold should stay cozy at home, and away from public spaces and crowded waiting rooms.

      (I live in Ontario; our government recently reversed a law improving access to sick leave. Employers can now require employees to submit a doctor’s note even if they only take one day off, and even if that day is unpaid. It’s infuriating that we’re stuck with punitive policies that create a public health hazard!).

  131. eileen1979b*

    Re: Coming in sick

    Don’t make employees use sick leave when they are sick. Just let them stay home.

    Also? Remember that in my house it is not just me that could get sick – kids are adorable little petri dishes, and a kid who sparks a fever on Sunday night is not allowed back into school until AT LEAST Tuesday. So there goes two days, and so on. So if I have to ration my sick days? I’m using them to take care of my child, whereas I’ll just tough it out.

    Encourage working from home arrangements, so that workers can answer emails and make calls as they are able to from home.

  132. Lauren*

    We had what has been referred to as the Flu Disaster of 2016.

    21 of the 23 employees were out for more than a week each over a 3-week period. He did the math and presented it in an email so leadership saw it, and now he gets to tell us weekly during flu season to stay home and reminds us how much money we lost when people chose to show up instead of stay away. Equating it by hours and money lost made leadership shut up about the presenteeism BS. It also made us workers believe him when he was allowed to say this every week in front of leadership (which matters to show they aren’t stopping him), and then send a Director home because she violated the rule infecting 2 others. He didn’t do it quietly either, he sent an email saying – Julie was sent home because she violated the policy, and reiterated that we will just send you home too – so don’t bother to be a hero.

    1. AntOnMyTable*

      I also think companies should bring in people to give their employees free flu shots if they want. With that many people dropping of the flu I manage most people hadn’t bothered to get the vaccine.

  133. Lygeia*

    It’s so true that you need all three too. My company has generous sick leave. You take what you need and the company figures it out. Plus, people can work from home if they are only battling a cold or something that isn’t debilitating but is catching.

    But some of the managers are better about point #2 than other. Unfortunately, my boss tends to scrutinize people’s sick time more than the other managers at the company. If you take more than one sick day in a month, she’ll wonder if you’re taking advantage.

    And then there’s point #3, I have zero backup coverage for several aspects of my job. We’re a small company so that kind of thing is hard to begin with, but I really feel like I can’t take sick leave during certain days.

  134. RDB0924*

    My employer used to offer non-exempt employees a whopping five days of sick leave per year. This bounty arrived in your PTO bank (we have separate pots for sick/vacation/personal) on January 1 of each year. Until 2020.

    Now, we’re offered nine days’ sick leave. But instead of seeing 72 hours hit your sick leave bank on January 1, we have to accrue sick time, just like we accrue vacation/personal time. And it takes a LOT longer. I accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours I work. So I need to put in nearly four days before I get even an hour of sick time in return. My husband’s math indicates it would not be possible for me to accrue the full 72 hours of sick time I’m supposedly entitled to now, even if I worked 40 hours a week for 52 straight weeks, with no holidays or vacations (or, y’know, sick days). At year’s end, you’d have 69.3 hours of sick time accrued. I might not take a sick day this year, but my company does offer nine paid holidays, and it’s not like I’m going to work on holidays. And, per the policy, that’s nine days right there when I am not accruing sick or PTO time, because you have to be working to accrue.

    1. AntOnMyTable*

      Are you in Arizona? That is the new law and it is really interesting to me when companies that were more generous decided to restrict themselves when they didn’t have to. The law is just the minimum. My job caps us at the legal min. of 40 hours in year. Because now that they are required to give it to PRN staff they want to do as little as possible. They also took it from our PTO but the understanding is we are allowed to use it in lieu of PTO for trips or such.

      The problem is you never know when you are going to get sick and you get a verbal warning on your second time of calling out sick if you didn’t use sick hours to cover yourself. So suddenly at the end of the accrual period you have a bunch of people calling out because we have to essentially use that sick time or lose it. It isn’t the best system.

  135. JSPA*

    For office (as opposed to food handling or cleaning or other “must be on site together” work): why can we not change / why have we not changed whatever tax law it is that drove the shift from closed offices to cubicles? They don’t have to be suites; individual spaces, decent air filtration, general good hygiene and strategically placed bottles of alcohol-based hand sanitizer go a long way towards reducing the spread of disease.

    That, and offer everyone who’s able to work offsite at all (i.e. the physical or legal requirements of the job don’t force people to be onsite every day) a limited number of WFH days, to be used as full days or as half days combined with a half day of leave, to use when you’re potentially contagious / too sick to come in, but not too sick to get some rote tasks done. (A day of cleaning out / sorting / deleting old emails; checking back on tentative inquiries and suggestions that stalled out; documenting projects that went live in a rush, without full documentation…even a worksite that’s usually super interactive or where most of the tasks are legally-limited to onsite will often have a short list of tasks that can be done from home, sporadically or periodically.)

  136. Yea I'm Sick... Sick of this BS*

    It would also be super helpful if companies would get rid of doctor note requirements. Where I’m at right now, we are required to have a doctor’s note even if we take just half a day off work. I can understand a note if more than a certain number of days in a row (say 3) are taken, but a note for taking half a day off? Come on.

    The doctor’s note thing screams privacy violation to me (like, why should anyone at work know what kind of doctor I went to see?). Maybe it’s different if you work somewhere with an actual HR person, but we don’t have that. So I hand my doctor’s note (which always has the doctor’s name and location on it) to the accounting person in charge of payroll. It’s never felt right to me, and sometimes it’s been downright embarrassing. HR might be required to keep things confidential, but how do I know that the accounting person didn’t gab at lunch about how often I’ve been to a certain doctor this year? Plus, I dunno, maybe trust your employees a bit to use their designated sick time when they’re actually sick?

    But also, if I feel sick, my company is asking me to get dressed, drive to the doctor, pay the doctor, get a note, and then go home. Every time I’ve done this I’ve shelled out my copay to have a doctor give me a list of couple OTC meds I could take and tell me to rest. Waste of time I could be resting, and money. I suppose if I had a general practitioner that knew me well enough, I could call the office, explain my symptoms, and ask for a note so I could stay home. But still, what a pain in the butt. If I feel like crap and have to get dressed and go anywhere, I might as well dig through the medicine cabinet, pop a DayQuil, and drive into work. Save myself the copay, and one of my limited sick days (I get 5 a year) for something more serious that might come up.

    1. Yea I'm Sick... Sick of this BS*

      I should maybe also note that I have to accrue my sick days (at 1.54 hours every two weeks) and it’s generally frowned upon if sick or vacation time is used before it’s accrued. Get some post-holiday crud thanks to being around way too many people in November and December? Too bad. Come to work feeling like crap because you don’t have any sick days yet. Maybe you’ll have a day to use when it makes it way around the office and back to you in February or March.

  137. Bookmom*

    During orientation for my current employer, the HR person noted we get 12 sick days. I said “that’s great not to come in and get everybody else sick.” She said, “True, but actually we really want you to take care of yourself when you need to.” Have I mentioned I love my job?

    When my son was a toddler, I worked at an org that had it written into the employee handbook that you were not allowed to take your sick time to care for a family member such as a child. For real. When the kid was sick, my spouse and I would each work a half day. My immediate supervisor would tell me to make sure the HR rep and the executive director saw me in person at some point so they wouldn’t question where I was. Then I could just flex my working extra hours later in the week, or do a bit from home. Some rules are meant to be broken.

  138. SApro*

    OP2′ my toxic old boss did not say goodbye to me. I gave her 3 weeks notice and she said “well, technically, through the Union, you are supposed to give 4 weeks notice and I can take your vacation bank if I wanted…but I have never done that so….” it was bizarre. Why mention it if you have never taken it before?

    Then, not only did she not say bye to me on my last day. (Insert image of me hugging people goodbye in the office and her standing awkwardly) , but she also did not give me the department gift. She had it mailed to me after the fact.

  139. Lovedmyoldjob*

    I know I’m late to the party on this one, but a company I used to work for counted their sick leave almost as X times being sick instead of X days being sick, it was amazing. So if you got the flu and were out for 3 days, it wouldn’t only count as one “sick day” and they’d still pay you.

  140. Bob Dob*

    I don’t use sick time for the same reason I rarely take vacation: #3. Understaffed, over-worked, no absence coverage.

    What is troubling in my industry (and I gather, in other industries, judging from the comments), is the shift from actually being able to take a sick day and NOT work, to taking a sick day and being expected to work from home. What the heck? Literally, I hear this all the time at work, when someone doesn’t feel well, their manager encouraging them to go home… AND work from home. Sheesh. Work has certainly become all-invasive.

  141. DataSci*

    If I only had six sick days a year and couldn’t work from home, I would be at work unless I was physically unable to drag myself out of bed. I have a kid, and covering his sick days comes first, and even with trading off with my wife that doesn’t leave me room for many days for myself – take one for scheduled doctor visits and I may need to come in even with the flu if it lasts more than a couple days.

    Want people to stay home when they’re sick? Give them sick leave. This is so obviously a no-brainer that I have to suspect it’s actually an employee of this company writing in to highlight the hypocrisy from their employer.

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