I couldn’t use sick time after my boyfriend had a stroke because we’re not married, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. I couldn’t use sick time after my boyfriend had a stroke because we’re not married

I have a pre-COVID question about something that is still bothering me after more than a year. I am a single person and I do not have immediate plans to marry or start a domestic partnership. Last October, my then-boyfriend of a year had a stroke at only 30 years old. I received the call from the ER on my way to the office and let my supervisor know that I needed to go to the hospital and that I would be late to work. I’m employed at a large research university which is a perennial “Best Places to Work” list winner and espouses values about supporting employees, mental health, etc. I have hundreds of sick time hours and extremely little vacation time.

After my boyfriend stabilized, I went to my office to collect my computer and some work I needed and spoke with my supervisor about my boyfriend’s condition and that I needed to be in the hospital because he didn’t have any family in the area and I was his emergency contact. I was gobsmacked when I was told I could not use my sick time to be in the hospital with him. Our HR portal allows employees to use sick time for 22 types of relationships (children, stepchildren, in-laws, grandparents-in-law, etc.) and my manager said that my boyfriend did not qualify for any of them because he wasn’t my spouse and we did not live together. I pretty much had a breakdown in her office because I was under so much pressure and stress. It felt, and still feels, like my organization (and my manager) let me down, treated me as “less than,” and failed to live up to the values the organization uses as a recruiting tool. Effectively, it communicated to me that my relationships do not matter and afterwards, out of bitterness and anger, I actively disengaged in any work that was not directly assigned to me and withdrew from volunteer projects. I’m really happy to now be leaving the organization, but I can’t help but feel like I may have missed an important memo — are single people supposed to just constantly lie to their managers in order to have the same privileges and compassion as married people?

No, your organization just sucks. I’m sorry.

A decent manager would have said, “We don’t have a formal category for this but obviously he is like family to you and you should take the time you need. I’ll handle it with HR.”

It’s true that society as a whole — not just employers — treats marriages and domestic partnerships differently than it does people in relationships living separately. It’s a weird thing. If you and your boyfriend shared a house, I suspect you might have gotten a different response even without being married. People see not cohabitating as indicating something about the seriousness of the relationship … which is problematic, because you can have a serious and long-term relationship living apart and you can have a marriage that’s little more than hostile roommates. Part of that is about the legal ties of marriage, of course, but you usually see cohabiting unmarried relationships get taken more seriously than non-cohabiting ones.

Anyway, it’s understandable that employers need to put some limits on benefits usage, but they need to be flexible when a situation comes up that’s still within the spirit of their policy, if not the letter.

2. Moving back to old company soon after starting new job

About six months ago, I left my former organization for a new job that was an upgrade in responsibilities and salary. I love my old company, but it was hit really hard by COVID and I felt like I jumped off a sinking ship. My former boss recently left and my old company is trying to hire me for that position. I don’t love my new job, it’s been a stressful transition, but leaving would almost certainly burn a bridge at my new company. I thought I would at least hear the former employer out even if I’m inclined to say no. Would jumping back to my former employer so quickly look bad on my resume? Is my instinct that I would burn a bridge at my new company correct? It is definitely an upward move and would entail a nice pay increase. However, it does feel like accepting a counteroffer, albeit belatedly.

It would probably burn a bridge with your current employer, but that’s not necessarily a reason not to do it. The thing with burning a bridge isn’t “avoid at all costs.” It’s just “know what you’re doing and be willing to live with the consequences.” In this case, the consequences will probably be that you can’t get a good reference from them (not a big deal since if you were only there six months, I wouldn’t use them as a reference anyway), they won’t re-hire you in the future, and they might quietly curse your name for a while. But if it’s clear to them (or you’re able to explain) that you’re not happy with the new job and it’s not the right fit, it probably won’t be a huge thing. People generally don’t want colleagues to stay in jobs they’re not happy in.

It also likely won’t look bad on your resume. Sometimes people leave a job and then realize they want to go back. It’s not a big deal. And that’s especially true in this year of chaos.

The only way I’d say this is like a counteroffer is that you should make very sure that the instability that drove you to leave in the first place isn’t still a problem.

3. Rewriting my job description when I’ve taken on lots of new work

I’ve been at my job at a PR firm for about two years and many responsibilities (unrelated to my job description) have been added to my plate during this time. My boss is now keen to update my job description to reflect the full extent of the work I’m doing. I haven’t received a raise or promotion and don’t expect to at this point, given the economic uncertainty. However, I feel nervous about simply updating my job description as if these additional responsibilities are part of what I was hired to do at the salary I was hired at. I wonder if it will hurt my chances of getting a raise for this work when the company is financially able. But maybe I’m thinking about this the wrong way?

Yeah, you’re right to be cautious. You don’t want the extra work to simply be seen as exactly what you were hired to do in the first place. (That assumes, of course, that it wasn’t. Sometimes a job is expected to evolve as the person is trained, and the extra responsibility is a natural evolution that was always intended.) That said, an updated description of everything you’re doing can also be used at some point to make the case that the job you’re doing now is different than the job you were hired for.

I’d probably just clearly mark what’s new in whatever you write up. Write the job description as it existed when you first came on board, and then have a separate section called “New Responsibilities” and put the rest there. If your boss is turning this into a formal job description for your role, she may remove that — but laying it out like that should help emphasize how the work has evolved.

Read an update to this letter

4. Too many reply-all birthday emails

Pre-Covid, my department used to do birthday desserts monthly for everyone who has a birthday that month. We’d get an email letting us know who had a birthday and when cake was ready.

Now, since we’re not all in the office, we get a “virtual” happy birthday email once a month with a picture of a cake. This has turned into once a month we get a chain of obnoxious reply-all emails where, instead of responding to just the people who have birthdays that month, we all get replies that say “Happy Birthday” until my inbox is spammed with 10 or 12 emails that I then have to delete.

Is there a way to politely bring this up? I’m afraid it might backfire because I don’t have my own birthday on the list or participate in “cake day” when in the office. One email is fine; it’s the continuous reply all’s that are annoying.

That would annoy me too, but honestly I wouldn’t spend capital on it. Having to delete 10-12 emails isn’t onerous enough to warrant trying to get it stopped; save your capital for other stuff.

{ 570 comments… read them below }

  1. Phil*

    My girlfriend worked for the City And County Of San Francisco when I had a couple of surgeries and was in the hospital for months. We didn’t live together but she was able to use paid leave to care for me. Pretty enlightened.

    1. WS*

      In Australia, too, you’re not allowed to distinguish between “married” and “de facto”. But there’s still categories of who is allowed sick/carers’/bereavement leave for which relatives.

      1. Sandi*

        I can understand that the employer views married and de facto / common-law differently from a couple that has been dating for a year. If they had been dating but living separately for a few years then that begins to look more like a de facto relationship. Here, common-law requires living in a ‘marital type relationship’ for a year or two depending upon the part of the country, and I have seen this apply to people who lived separately but they discussed expenses and long-term plans and did other things together.

        Yet all of those semantics shouldn’t matter when this is about a few hours! Anything less than a day, for someone very close to you who has a medical crisis and can’t advocate for themselves in a hospital, a good employer should find a way to make this work. Work remotely from the hospital, or work an extra hour per day for a week or two, or let the person take sick leave… all of those are perfectly reasonable options for that short period of time.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes, this is the key. Even if the boss can’t bend the rules slightly, they can make it possible for OP to stay for that one day at the hospital, and have them work remote for a bit until the BF is out of danger/hospital.
          It must be galling to accumulate that much leave then not be able to use it in a time of need.
          I remember when Dad ended up in hospital, my brother was working on a ship somewhere between Morocco and Antwerp. His company had a policy that you could be anyone’s emergency contact, so long as you gave their name. There may have been limits on the number of people you could cite. Then if anyone you listed had an emergency, you were entitled to leave the ship before your scheduled time. Unfortunately for Dad, my brother had only named his wife and kids, and hadn’t thought to update it after our mother died – Dad ended up in hospital just six months after that so he hadn’t done the yearly update to the list in that time. So my brother promptly changed that and added Dad. Then when Dad died, he was able to leave his ship straight away. Anyway, I thought that was a good system, it would prevent people from abusing it and taking leave for a guy they met at a bar last week.

        2. Quill*

          Yeah. And we need to extend people grace when they are the most available emergency assistance regardless of the romantic or legal status of their relationship.

          1. Sparrow*

            Agreed. As a single person, these kinds of policies make me feel like I’m seen as a lesser human who doesn’t deserve basic support in moments of crisis because I’m not in a long term relationship, and it’s really disheartening. My local support network is a couple other single women in their 30s-40s, and none of us have family even in the same region of the country. If one of them had a medical emergency and I was the best person to be there for them in the short term, I would be very upset if I was told I had to leave them on their own. (Fortunately, I’m confident my boss would give me the green light regardless of organizational policies, but that could change with a different supervisor.) Long-term romantic relationships aren’t the only ones that matter, and they shouldn’t be a prerequisite to having support or being able to offer support during an emergency.

            1. kt*

              Yes, I want to second this. When someone’s in the hospital with a stroke, or undergoing chemo, they often really need help, and sometimes that help is a friend. It’s simply cruel to say that a person without family close by and no spouse/kids cannot have anyone at all. I understand that employers want to get work out of people, but there are more important things in life.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                Most people have someone on the list of family relationships that they’re not close to, also. So it ends up being ridiculous that you could take time off to care for a cousin’s husband who you met once at their wedding 7 years ago but not for someone who’s been your best friend for most of your adult life. People’s lives just don’t fit neat check boxes.

                1. PT*

                  My roommate and best friend in college was in poor health. I spent a lot of time escorting her to various doctors and things. Meanwhile, she also had a bio dad who was a deadbeat and she hadn’t seen in 10 years.

                  Legally, he had more right to be at the doctor with her than I did, which just wasn’t right.

                2. Gumby*

                  I am assuming that when such policies are written, they are not necessarily based on emotional closeness of the relationship (how would you even judge?), but permanency. I have spent days in the hospital sitting next to a relative that I am not very close to, but we are always going to be related and I was the only person nearby and family is family.

                  A significant other that you live with implies more longevity than if you live apart. Children/parents are, in the majority of cases, permanent relationships even if you don’t get along and seldom speak to each other. Some marriages might last days, but most of the time the idea is for it to last much longer. Obviously, there are exceptions. Heck, I know married couples that live apart. It is far from a perfect delineation. But it is easy to impose uniformity which avoids the whole “but you let her do it, why not me?” thing. I’m not saying these are good policies. But they are easy to apply.

            2. Quill*

              Yes. The majority of the people saying that “a line needs to be drawn” are falling afoul of the Shirley fallacy, i.e. “Surely there will be an exception for obviously sympathetic emergencies” or coming from a perspective of not realizing that for some people not being in for work in an emergency without an applicable sick or vacation time reason could cost them their job.

              When in reality the best universal use case is to stop trying to categorize who you can use care leave on and investigate if there’s sufficient leave being provided overall.

              Especially since having a pre-approved list of “valid” relationships has, LESS THAN FIVE YEARS AGO, been federally discriminatory even in regards to legally recognized romantic partnerships, since you could say a “domestic partner” can’t take time off, but a spouse can.

            3. Simonthegreywarden*

              I’m in a poly family, with a husband and a partner. At my partner’s work, her coworkers know that we are partners with a son and that his biodad is in the picture but do not know I am married to him. It is the best way to define our situation there (she works in a pretty diverse and inclusive environment, but it is important that she is able to take time off for her son when he is sick — even though biologically he is not hers, and she cannot adopt him since his parents are together and in his life. There’s literally no other avenue. So it’s a dodge. At my work, I’m open about it, but I don’t throw it out there. There’s just no other way to talk about my family since I’m the hinge between them (partner and husband are basically friends, but not even super close friends). Husband says he has a wife and a roommate.

              It isn’t the same as OP’s situation, but when partner was in the hospital several years ago after emergency surgery, there was some debate/discussion about whether I could have time off to care for her since she was not legally my spouse; but since we live together and have called ourselves partners for 20 years, ultimately I was given the (unpaid) time off.

              I always worry, though, because it could have gone differently.

          2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

            Yeah, I’d argue that if you’re someone’s emergency contact that in itself is evidence of the kind of relationship that ought to qualify for sick leave usage, regardless of other legal or social affiliations.

        3. GreenDoor*

          “Anything less than a day, for someone very close to you who has a medical crisis and can’t advocate for themselves in a hospital, a good employer should find a way to make this work.” THIS! It’s not like OP suddenly wanted months off to care from somone dying of a terminal illness. It was one day to be with him, get him settled, make phone calls, etc. Perfectly reasonable stuff.

          At my work you get….sick days….you don’t have to state if it’s you, personally, that is sick. Or if you’re sick-sick or using it for a just a doctor visit. These employers that make you grovel and justify WHY you need to use a day that is part of your pay-and-benefits package are out of order!

        4. TardyTardis*

          I would surely need some mental health time if my beloved had a stroke, just sayin’. Cough, cough.

    2. Super Admin*

      I suspect it depends on the company, but here in the UK most places I’ve worked have allowed paid leave when a partner needs caring for, regardless of marital or habitation status.

      Heck, my now-husband’s company said he was entitled to the full bereavement allowance to support me when my Grandma died – we weren’t married at the time so they could have made him use annual leave for the two days we took for the funeral, but nope. Put it as bereavement and he got paid in full for those days.

      1. Miso*

        I’m in Germany, so obviously really can’t complain about sick days etc – as we simply don’t have those.

        But bereavement leave? You don’t even get that for your own parents from my employer…

        1. London Lass*

          Can you clarify what you mean by not having sick days in Germany? I’m not familiar with that element of German employment practices but I have always seen employees rights in general as very good there.
          As for bereavement leave, I think this would be far more important in a country like the US where annual leave is typically very limited. When I worked briefly in Germany my annual leave allowance was 30 days. I assume that could be used at short notice for a personal emergency if necessary.

          1. Haha Lala*

            The legal minimum for paid sick time is really high. So for the average worker in Germany there’s essentially no need to count sick time. If you’re sick, you take off and still get paid.

          2. Myrin*

            There is no limit to how many sick days you can take – if you’re sick, you stay at home and get paid through your insurance.
            (This is somewhat simplified, of course, because there are limits for long-lasting illnesses. But those limits are six weeks at full pay and, IIRC, 72 weeks at partial pay, so if you just have some “normal” sick incidents here and there, you aren’t going to be affected by them.)

        2. Super Admin*

          Yeah, conversely, when I was working in Japan and my brother died suddenly in a car accident, I got an absolute rollicking from the school board for taking too long to come back – bearing in mind I had to fly back to the UK, attend the funeral, inquest, and interment, plus comfort my grieving parents, fly back to Japan, and put my game face on to teach a bunch of 11-13 year olds. My school and fellow teachers were amazing, but typically Japan doesn’t really do bereavement leave. It was harsh.

      2. Cat Tree*

        I think it’s like this in many places in the US too. We certainly have some backwards labor practices, but it’s not universally bad. AAM is the worst of the worst.

        My current company is actually pretty good. One of my coworkers was allowed to use sick time (which is unlimited here) when her friend went into labor. The friend is a single mother and coworker was her birth support person. They’re not even romantically involved.

        But I’ve also worked at some places that would be more strict about it.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          My current company gives me 4 sick days per year total, at least they do not ask what you use them for.
          We do not have any bereavement days at all.
          If you are over your vacation (5 days)+ sick days, and you don’t qualify for FMLA (only legal spouses do), you have to take unpaid time, if you are allowed to.

        2. Rainy*

          My current organization is the first employer in my professional life to give me paid sick days. I am 45 and have been working or in school since I was 16.

      3. Chinook*

        I suspect Canada would too because you would become his caregiver as he had no next of kin in the area.

        If it had been me in HR, I would have looked for some sort of loophol to get you a few days because a) someone has to take care of him and you are a likely someone and b) you would not beany emotional or mental shape to be working (which I see as the other reason for this type of leave).

        At the very least, I would have looked at you and said something along the lines of “you seem to be having an psychologically difficult day an need a few days to recover.”

    3. Name (Required)*

      I wonder what employers think employees should do when there’s no alternative?

      Boss: You can’t care for granny; you have the Dickens project and 15 others to finish this week.
      Employee: It’s okay. I drugged her up to the eyeballs and tied her to the bed.
      Boss: I should think so too. You know we don’t like employees to have living relatives exactly for this reason. You’d better not miss a second of work over this.

      1. WS*

        Shockingly, they also get mad if you quit!

        I think the idea is to file it as SEP (Someone Else’s Problem) so that a mysterious “someone else” can do it. Which might have largely worked in the days of single income families, but certainly doesn’t anymore!

        1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

          Amen to this. My husband and I have a pretty even split of who takes care of the sick kids (we alternate days unless there is a very specific reason one of us needs to be there, usually me due to court appearances), and even then my boss is flabbergasted when I am out one day, back in one day, and out the next. Oh hand foot mouth disease, you are such a pain.

        2. Cat Tree*

          Single income families were never really common except among a small slice of the upper middle class. Often eldest daughters were left to pick up the slack, like my mom who practically had to raise her siblings plus help her elderly grandmother (who lived with them) while her mom worked part-time as a janitor to make ends meet. They were a solidly middle class family in the 50s and 60s. Similarly, my dad was raised by his oldest sister while his mom took in laundry and other assorted work, but they were always poor to begin with so they’re always invisible in everyone’s view of the past anyway.

          1. Artemesia*

            In the 50s working class and lower middle class families were often single breadwinner. I grew up in a neighborhood in Seattle where virtually all the families — none rich — had SAHM. The handful who were not were looked on with some pity since they had husbands who were not considered adequate. Most of our neighbors were factory workers, built airplanes or were low level professionals e.g. teachers, engineers etc. There was a butcher, a couple of shopkeepers and one doctor who was in his residency and moved when he finished that.

          2. WS*

            When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, single income (for an employer) families were absolutely the norm in the working-class town I grew up in. There were several major employers – the paper mill, the mines and the power stations – and they paid a living wage. It was pretty usual for the mother to take paid work at least part-time once the kids were old enough to roam free, but dad working and mum at home was normal for families with primary-school-aged kids. When those power stations and mines were privatised in the early 1990s, we hit 46% unemployment very fast.

      2. JayNay*

        Especially upsetting since OP1 says the company allows employees to take sick leave to care for grandparents-in-law, for example – so not just your partner‘s parents, but your partner‘s grandparents are covered, while an unmarried partner somehow is not. I’m sorry OP1 didn’t get more compassion in the situation they were in, they certainly would’ve deserved it.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yes, this is what got me. I can sort of see where a company would write a policy about sick time only applying for immediate family – spouse, kids, parents. It would suck and be bad management, but I can kind of see what they were thinking. But then probably they realized families aren’t that neat and so they had to include siblings and step kids and foster kids and in-laws and grandparents and now it’s a huge list of very precise relationships. But the fact that they ended up with a list of *twenty-two* possibilities without adding “friend” or “other” or seeing that you can’t define family relationships in a list like this is just ridiculous.

          (I’m a data analyst so I’m picturing someone doing trend analysis on these different categories, and wow that would be a useless waste of time. So why have it as a field in the system?)

          My organization just has a sick leave category called “family care”.

          1. Oh Snap*

            I can see why it’s hard. Boyfriends and girlfriends can be transient. How do you draw the line? It’s kind of horrible to draw at all, but then what do you do if someone uses all their sick leave and needs more?

            But I come at it from always having had one big pot of PTO, the advantage of which from a management perspective is I literally do not care if you want to use it for going to Hawaii or sitting at the hospital with your second cousin twice removed or the gal you started dating last week.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              At my brother’s company, you gave a list, updated yearly, of people for whom you would have to take time off in an emergency. There was probably a cap on the number of people, but you’d be allowed to name a serious BF or GF. Of course if you just hooked up with someone a week before the yearly update, you wouldn’t think to put them on the list, then 11 months later you could be pretty committed to each other and boom emergency, but for most serious relationships it would be helpful.

              1. Lady Meyneth*

                This is how it’s done in my current company, and it’s the best system IMO. My list includes my best friend and my husband’s great-aunt-by-marriage (who helped raise him and now has dementia), and it’s the best feeling to be able to officially acknowledge these people who while not blood, are important to me and my family.

            2. Ash*

              Agreed. Adults should be able to determine the manner in which they use their time off. The one drawback is people who get sick a lot end up rarely being able to take just vacation (and I say this as someone whose company offers a very generous PTO benefit–I still have had staff with chronic illnesses who depleted their PTO just due to being sick).

                1. TardyTardis*

                  I blew my entire PTO save for two days one year caregiving for my husband (and had a guest who would not leave for those two days). Yes, I came in sick, I didn’t have any days left!

          2. Washi*

            Right, they’ve clearly made an effort to think outside the box in terms of who might need care, so it almost seems like leaving out unmarried partners is a deliberate exclusion. Like if I were listing out a bunch of categories of “family” I would think of boyfriend/girlfriend way before I came up with grandma-in-law.

            I agree with how your workplace does it – just have one category, family, and people can decide for themselves how to use it. If someone is absent enough that it’s seriously affecting their job, then their manager can talk to them, but I would imagine that to be a rare occurence.

            1. Bagpuss*

              I read it as being that they were both unmarried and not living together – I think a lot of organizations probably draw the line in the same place and treat spouse and cohabiting partner as the same, but exclude partner-you-aren’t-cohabiting-with, because that’s easier than trying to define where you stop as between (say) a partner of 5 years that you don’t live with, and a person you went on 2 dates with starting last week.

              I agree that ‘family’ would be a shorter and more flexible way of framing it

              1. Deliliah*

                I used to work with a guy who’d been dating his girlfriend for 25 years and they still lived in separate apartments. They had no interest in getting married or cohabitating, but they were completely devoted to each other. I’d hope a company would let him or her take time off to care for the other.

              2. Chinook*

                Which ironically puts your romantic/sexual relationships ahead of more permanent ones because, if I had a roommate with no family in the area, I would make the most logical person to pick them up from the hospital because I live with them, regardless of what else I do with them. They aren’t family and they may even be only a casual friend, but sharing the same space does mean I am probably more knowledgeable about them then someone they aren’t living with.

                1. Black Horse Dancing*

                  I have known places to use household members–people you live with, romantic or not.

          3. mdv*

            I work at a state university, and like you, we just have “self” or “family” as the choices for sick time. But we also have a great vacation policy, so when my dad was sick, or later after he died, I actually had so much vacation time that I could just take off all the time I needed without a second thought. But it also helps that I had a boss who absolutely doesn’t care how I use it. (For example, I’m currently working only 30 hrs/week for winter break, so that I can bring down my balance enough that I won’t hit the limit again until next July … and even after doing that, I’ll have enough to take another 6 weeks off, if that were to fit into the schedule.)

          4. Totally Minnie*

            My workplace has the long list of family relationships (all including step, foster, and in-law), and ends the list with “other relationships close enough to be considered family.” I know there are people here who have used it to care for godparents and close friends, so I would think that our HR would consider a long term romantic partner to fall into that last category.

          5. Chinook*

            Ironically, I once got dinged for even picking up my spouse from the ER. I was a responsible hourly employee and covered my shift until they called me to pick him up (kidney stones, so not life threatening) but told my boss what was happening and that I would have to leave when I get the call.

            Boss asked me if anyone else could pick him up (no – we were posted some where with no family and few friend) and then warned me not to make a habit of this. I looked her dead in the eye and asked if she would give me the same talk if this was my child and she said “of course not – we are family friendly.” My jaw dropped and pointed out that my spouse WAS family too and that I still showed up while he was in the ER. I left and came back for my next shift, but was very, very happy to quit that place soon after.

          6. 'Tis Me*

            If it’s more straightforward “how many times has Employee taken time off for a grandparent’s funeral?”-esque tracking, if people have step-grandparents, or potentially bio and adoptive grandparents both of whom they are close to, and if grandparents in law count, they could have 16+ grandparents they can “legally” take time off for funerals for, and who they are gutted about losing (especially within a year).

    4. DottyBlue*

      I have a feeling this was a manger who didn’t understand the nuances of a sick leave policy. Maybe I have been lucky, but every company I have worked for has had restrictions around sick leave usage, but managers and HR always have the authority to override that and allow for use in other situations.

      I wonder if OP1 had gone to HR if they might have allowed him/her to use the sick leave bank to care for the boyfriend. If not, then this employer really and truly sucks.

      1. Ann O’Nemity*

        I’ve worked for a few big universities and most managers wouldn’t have had the discretion to reinterpret the policy or the political capital to get an exception, let alone change it. Those schools were bureaucratic nightmares.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          Yeah, I worked for a few fortune 500 companies that limited sick leave etc to spouses only and there was nothing my managers could do about it. I had lived with my boyfriend for 5 years but we weren’t married so I had to use vacation time to go to his grandparents funerals, etc.

          I even got arrested earlier in our relationship because I drove him to the store to buy a 6 pack of beer (he was 21 and I was 20 at the time) – turns out its illegal to drive with alcohol in the car if you’re under 21 unless you’re married to the person who bought the alcohol. We were merely living together so it was not legal.

          Honestly, its part of why I breathed such a sigh of relief when we ‘gave in’ and got married after 6 years. Not that anything about our relationship changed, but that the level of respect people had for our relationship changed enormously overnight.

          1. pancakes*

            That’s horrible, though. The fact that it happens doesn’t oblige anyone to shrug it off or pretend nothing can be done about it. Policies like these don’t fall on companies and universities out the sky like weather — they’re the result of a series of choices made.

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              Sure, the policy isn’t great and the company should try to fix it. But its not really fair to be mad at a manager for the BigHulkingCompany’s rigid policies.
              The fact is that larger companies have to be more rigid and less accepting of special exceptions or else it can get out of hand quickly. They will always have to draw the line somewhere, and that line will always be unfair to someone.
              I like the suggestions to redefine the policies to include “anyone with whom you make your home” like CheeryO suggested, but even that would exclude the OP.

              1. pancakes*

                This would not be require a special exception where I live; our city law sick leave law does not require cohabitation. I don’t think anyone here is mad at the manager in a personal way vs. mad about the situation, either. It’s not as if we know anything about them personally from the letter, or need to in order to not like what happened here.

        2. Fed-o*

          Yes. In the federal government we can’t expand the list of eligible relationships for sick leave usage. We can work with folks to approve LWOP or advanced annual leave, but it’s not an issue of enlightened management.

          1. SS*

            The Military is straight insane about marriage. You could be in a committed relationship for years, live together and children together… but the military will not allow leave usage, base access or any privileges/benefits to that relationship (including R and R or courtesy calls). But if SPC Snuffy marries a stripper he’s known for 12 hours, he gets a housing allowance, family leave, the stripper gets full benefits and base access/privileges.

            1. TardyTardis*

              At least a civilian husband qualifies you for a dependent’s allowance now, yay Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who argued before the Supremes to make it so.

      2. CheeryO*

        I don’t know about academia, but I work for state government, and it’s right in our handbook that you can only charge family sick leave for a family member “or anyone with whom you make your home.” It’s definitely possible that the manager was just following policy and didn’t have the authority to provide flexibility.

        1. JXB*

          Ditto here. Wouldn’t have expected a boyfriend/girlfriend with a separate residence to count. It would have been nice if they could have perhaps made some sort of informal exception since she did have a lot of sick leave but I do understand an organization needs to define what’s covered; what is not.

          1. lazuli*

            Governmental organizations often need to account for exceptions to politicians/taxpayers, is the problem. Employers are less flexible often because it’s not just “Oh, the company can pick up that cost” but “Charging taxpayers for you not working is not ok.”

        2. Aquawoman*

          “Well, I can only grant leave to you if it’s someone with whom you ‘make your home’ so I assume you’re moving in with him or he’s moving in with you while he needs you there, right? Great, time granted!”

      3. IP1*

        OP1 here– yes, my supervisor contacted HR and followed college-level HR directives. It just frustrated me so much to be told by my employer who my most important relationships are especially when I have never used any leave time for someone other than myself–I also felt that a manager with more confidence and compassion would have offered a better solution than to make me sit in my cubicle, crying while my boyfriend was merely a 10-minute walk from my workspace. I’m also frustrated by a policy that favors dishonesty over honesty. If I were managing someone, I would want to know if they were facing a major stressor at home with possible long-term consequences rather than have them say they had the flu, etc. and escaping the conversation altogether. I’m not proud of my disengagement response but I didn’t want to contribute/ engage beyond my work tasks to an organization that couldn’t offer me compassion during a major health emergency for someone I loved. I wrote this letter because I honestly wanted to know if I should have lied initially (like I missed an important, unacknowledged rule) but I also know a lot of managers read this column (at least the good ones, right ; ) and I would want them to know how badly this choice hurt me in the hope that, when presented with a similar situation, they might exercise the authority to choose compassion.

        1. Daisy*

          Several years ago, I worked for a research university (staff not faculty). I also had trouble trying to take sick leave to care for my boyfriend, whom I did not live with. I called my boss to tell her I was taking a day of sick leave. She replied that HR policy wouldn’t allow me to take sick leave for a boyfriend. So I changed what I was requesting. I explained that I had been up all night caring for him after he’d been released from the hospital the day before. I had gotten very little sleep and was in no condition to go to work today so I needed a sick day for me. She thought about it a moment and decided that would work, so I got my sick day. My boss was willing to help me, but I had to help her find a way to justify it. I don’t know what would have happened if I had needed to take more than a day or two.

          1. Chinook*

            Easy – you call in every morning to tell her that you were up all night helping a sick friend and were in no condition to work. Or go even vaguer that you have had trouble sleeping once again due to ongoing stress.

            All of these give your boss a valid box to check without it being a lie.

          2. 'Tis Me*

            I was going to ask if something like this may have worked – explaining the situation and asking to take the time as sick leave due to the stress.

            But my leave is structured differently – my sick leave is only for me. However my manager can arrange for me to get a few days of compassionate leave (and I also have a leave option specifically designed for children emergencies (I think it’s 4 weeks maximum that can be used in the first 18 years; I found out about it before going on maternity leave third time around), plus adequate annual leave for most schedulable stuff.

            When my husband was hospitalised while I was already off sick ill, with a 15 month old who he looked after while I was at work, my manager was able to offer me 3 days compassionate leave but I saw his email reply letting me know that after going to the children’s centre to get advice on emergency childcare and the health visitor spoke to my GP and arranged for me to be signed off sick with stress for a month on the basis that trying to work under those conditions would most likely lead to collapse.

            And when my husband was in hospital for a week in January this year with pneumonia, I was off sick with the flu already.

        2. Tupac Coachella*

          “I’m not proud of my disengagement response but I didn’t want to contribute/ engage beyond my work tasks to an organization that couldn’t offer me compassion during a major health emergency for someone I loved.”

          Nah, I just can’t bring myself to feel like you were wrong here. Apparently the set parameters are the most important factor, so as long as you were going your basic work tasks, you held up your end of the bargain. I’m a rule follower, so I can respect “my hands are tied,” but if you teach me that you have no interest in supporting my needs beyond the bare minimum requirements, you can bet that’s going to be where my interest in you ends, too. And I don’t like to work that way: I LOVE going above and beyond. It’s generally in my employer’s best interests to care about my needs, because I’ll go to the ends of the earth for a job/boss that I know has my back when I need it. I would have checked out and moved on, too.

          1. Ash*

            Yes, this is my question too. I agree it was totally unfair to not allow you to take sick time off, but you could still use your vacation time, right?

        3. Epsilon Delta*

          OP, I am appalled by your boss’s response. In general, I believe that you should be able to use sick time no questions asked, and I’d like to believe that if I was your manager, I would have told you to go be with your boyfriend and we’d figure out how to code the sick time later. Your manager had options, they could have just coded it as your own sick time rather than caring for your boyfriend if The Machine didn’t allow any discretion.

    5. LCH*

      my org is governed by the NYC sick leave law which defines family and the definition includes “any individual whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of family.” so that’s good to know. but in absence of this, yeah, a manager should try to find a way to let you care for the people you are closest to.

    6. kittymommy*

      At my place (local government) one can use sick leave for immediate families only, but we do have annual leave as separate and there’s no real restrictions on it as long as the leave time itself is approved, however annual leave gets paid out fully upon resignation or retirement, sick leave is just lost. I have no family and one of my close friends only have a small amount of family, none living here (think S. America) so when she needed surgery and after care I took off and used annual leave for it. Now me and this friend are very close, she’s essentially the only “family” I have: holidays are spent with her, we’re each others emergency contact, I’m who her boss and her family call if they can’t get a hold of her, heck we’re each others automatic +1 for events. So it was a little aggravating when I couldn’t use sick leave to help her. I mean I get it, and I’m grateful for being able to use leave at all, but it does feel like you’re getting penalized for having no family (like, sorry all your family up and died on you but rules are rules).

    7. Bereavement Blues*

      My grandmother overseas passed away 18 months ago, as I was starting on a gradual return to work after disability leave. I immediately told my boss, expecting leave, which I would have appreciated to spend time with my grieving mother… I was told that I would have to get approval from my case worker (with a separate company).

      I didn’t know whether I was going to be paid for the last month at the time (the disability management company was slow and I had no choice but to wait), so I couldn’t afford to take unpaid bereavement. I did take a half day to collect and send family photos to my cousin, but otherwise bottled my feelings and tried to stick it out – I wasn’t working full time at that point, fortunately. I left CW a a voice mail, and 3 weeks later she called me back to say that my employer’s standard leave applied in that case.

      When I took this information back to my boss, she asked whether I wanted to take the full leave, and when I answered that I did she said that I needed to take it soon as it had been nearly a month (there was no deadline on using bereavement in the employee handbook). I was able to watch the recorded memorial service with my mother at that point, at least!

      I had already been job hunting at that point – there were several other glaring issues and my health really suffered, hence my disability leave. They rebranded shortly after I left, including an edgy logo update to remove text serifs! I keep on seeing my old job posted on Linkedin, as well – everyone who had more seniority on my team had anxiety issues. I do hope that COVID has taught them how to be flexible, but I’m so happy I got out regardless.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I knew there was a reason I was super excited this morning but my pre-coffee brain couldn’t figure it out!

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I thought I was just happy because November (aka Worst Month of the Year) was over. But it’s really because Update Month has started!!! Yay!!!

  2. AnonCA*

    Most email clients have the option of filtering. Just set up a filter for anything with the subject line Birthdau ans have them redirect to a specific folder or to the trash. Win-win: you’re not annoyed by the email anymore and no one thinks you’re the office’s anti-birthday grouch.

    1. LDF*

      Also in outlook there is an “ignore thread” option that basically does this on the fly for whatever that month’s subject line is. Will stop replies from hitting your inbox as long as folks don’t change the subject line.

      1. Lavender Menace*

        This, I do this. I respond to the mail and the immediately hit ignore. My team is fairly large, so a birthday thread can easily get to 20-30 responses.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          I don’t respond – or at least don’t reply-all respond which contributes to the problem. Then filter/block.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I can’t recommend that if you work with some of the people I do, who use the last email from a person to start a new topic.
        So some of those emails with subject line ‘RE: December birthdays’ might very well include project-critical information.
        They are not my direct reports so I just sigh, change the subject line on my reply, explaining WHY I did that, and asking them to do the same so info doesn’t get overlooked. Happily so far the worst offenders have been copying their managers anyway so I don’t even have to sound aggressive to cover myself for the inevitable future when I don’t see the content change and a project slips.

        1. JXB*

          1) That is one of my huge pet peeves in email and group communications – replying to a tagged message with a totally different subject. I am a member of some Google Groups and such where, even if you manually edit the subject line, it still stays with the original thread. I haven’t checked that in email – if someone edits the subject line and later sorts messages by thread, does it stay with “birthday” or the new text.

          2) Any hope you could ask HR (or whomever) to send them out as BCCs?

        2. Firecat*

          Honestly I did have one manager who did that and I was pretty successful on putting back on them. If it ever came out that “Firecat missed this critical information” one of the first things I’d ask was “what’s the date and subject line”?

          After a few official project meetings with things like: Mgr Jane submits “Re:Re: Holiday Vacation Beach Photos” for Critical Child Cancer project radiology pricing information missed by Firecat, other critical members… They stopped replying to random emails with important updates.

        3. Des*

          I would just ignore emails with irrelevant subjects and wait for the problem to solve itself. (Maybe depending on the sender, though).

    2. Beth Jacobs*

      I was going to suggest a filter as well. I have filters for everything, otherwise I’d never get anything done. Doesn’t have to be trash if OP’s worried an very rare legitimate email might slip through – it can be a separate folder you skim when you feel like it.

  3. Alanna*

    #1 makes me so mad. I worked for a university and was able to use sick leave when my boyfriend’s mom had a stroke. We didn’t live together but my manager knew I helped take care of her. It was never a question or issue. Being a caretaker is still a huge issue in the workplace, and strict rules like this don’t help.

    1. OB*

      I couldn’t take a half a day off to pick up my boyfriend after surgery because he wasn’t “family.” I stared and tried to explain *I don’t have a family*. Too bad! No compassionate leave for you!

    2. Valentine Wiggin*

      When my (then) boyfriend got extremely ill from Lyme and had to be hospitalized, I took off work to drive him / get his affairs in order since he had no family in the area and I was his emergency contact. I got the time approved after a long battle, at one point my manager saying something to the effect of “he’s not your husband. he can rely on someone else.” I used nearly all my professional capital on that one. But we’ve been married for six years now soooo… I still think about that manager sometimes. She was awful.

    3. SusanB*

      It honestly makes me mad at her manager. I would have let my direct report just take sick time. I work at a university too and no one would have looked into it. You can take sick time for mental health issues so if pressed I would have said that they were mental health days which is hoenstly not far from the truth.

    4. Massive Dynamic*

      It’s definitely a terrible workplace issue. Hell, when my mother-in-law’s fiance passed from cancer, my boss gave me bereavement so I could attend the funeral and burial without tapping into my PTO. I didn’t ask for that and it wasn’t in our standard written policy but she was awesome and made it happen for me so I could support MIL.

      1. Clumsy Ninja*

        I worked for a university through several deaths. I think I got two days’ paid off for my own grandmother’s funeral, but I was denied paid bereavement leave for my husband’s grandmother’s funeral. I had plenty of saved PTO at that job, so I really didn’t care, but it did earn some side eye.

  4. Amanda*

    Re: the reply-all birthday emails – it seems like email is a real lifeline for people who are working from home and deeply missing the daily human interactions in an office environment. This is a rough, rough transition and long, hard grind for many of our coworkers… sure, the extra emails are annoying, but if it’s bringing joy to a few people who are struggling with today’s “normal” it’s 100% worth it to just keep deleting and let it go.

    1. Pennyworth*

      #4 seems like an un-birthday person (I’m not that fussed about birthdays myself) but taking 30 seconds once a month to delete a few emails is a pretty minor impost. I wonder if birthdays are upsetting to her in some way, in which case filtering them out would be the best solution.

      1. LDF*

        That’s quite a leap! They sound like they get annoyed by unnecessary emails. I am a zero-inbox-er and this would annoy me too. Not because it’s birthdays specifically, but because it’s basically spam.

        1. Observer*

          Yeah, it’s annoying TO YOU. For other people it’s the reverse. I don’t think anyone has the standing to insist that everyone do it their way.

          And it’s so easy to filter this stuff that it’s hard to see why people would think it makes more sense to try to get everyone else to change their behavior.

      2. Lavender Menace*

        I have no problems with birthdays but I hate birthday mails. I’m not an un-birthday person, I just already struggle with email overload and deleting birthday emails is a tax. A small one, but a tax nonetheless. I also like puppies but an email thread with 70 emails delighting over cute puppies would also drive me bananas.

        1. Esmeralda*

          Set up a filter. Once a year, delete everything in that folder. Or don’t — if it’s filtered away, you’re not seeing it.

          I personally am annoyed by reply-all for birthdays, congratulations on the award, good job on that project, thank you for helping with that project, and sorry I can’t pick up your shift. I see the subject line, I ignore the email. Sometimes I’ll delete them, but usually not. (I’m not a zero in-boxer, because why waste my time deleting stuff when I can just ignore it and it eventually falls down the list and I never have to see it again?)

      3. Yorick*

        You’re reading too much into this. I love celebrating birthdays but I’d also be annoyed by receiving everyone’s birthday wishes for other people.

      4. asgard*

        This may or may not be a leap, but I too see this as minor. 12-13 emails once a month is nothing. Just delete, it takes a fraction of a second.

        When I first saw the headline I thought it was going to be hundreds or something, as that has happened where I work. And it starts to fuel more fire as more and more people starting saying “stop Reply All” while replying all to everyone and some point becomes almost funny, but not really since throughout the day you are cleaning out hundreds of Reply Alls until at some point it seems to stop, many hours later.

        1. 'Tis Me*

          Yeah, I think last time that happened at my work it was on an international mailing group. I think my American colleagues may have arrived to 300-400 of those (and of course added to them).

          Got to admit, I found it funny, although I did feel a bit sorry for the people arriving to all of that clogging their inboxes.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, or just filter them out. Set the filter so that any messages with “birthday” in the subject line get sent to the trash. Especially at this time, many people are looking for any reason to celebrate a bit.

      Maybe it would also help the LW to really think about why birthday celebrations annoy her so much.

      I know that I got annoyed when a coworker in another department sent a baby shower invite to the entire office. I had chatted with the pregnant coworker on our coffee breaks sometimes, but I wouldn’t have recognized the person who sent the invite to the whole department. I just ignored the invite, because the culture in our org in general is that celebrations are limited to the team or department, and I felt that the office wide invite was out of touch with our cultural norms. Ignoring that was easy, but I got really annoyed when they sent a reminder to contribute to the baby shower gift fund. I wrote a fairly scathing email in response, but that was enough to get my annoyance off my chest so I never sent it.

      1. Hapax Legomenon*

        I wonder if this is a person for whom emails function as a to-do list. If they come in to 30 new emails when on a normal day they’d have 15-20, then they’re getting a momentary ping of anxiety each time this happens. Or each reply-all email pops up and distracts them from what they’re doing so they can determine what priority the new email task is, so they have 10 extra little interruptions in one day. The onus is probably on LW to change in this situation, but I can understand why they would be frustrated by something that seems so small.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        It didn’t read to me like birthday celebrations annoy her so much. It read to me like cascade reply-alls annoy her so much.

    3. ...*

      True it may make some people happy! I certainly don’t see how this could register as negative for someone its so beyond minor.

      1. Lavender Menace*

        Everyone is different – what may positive or delightful to you can be someone else’s yuck, and what seem minor to you can be really annoying to someone else. I like people but I am also an introvert with an anxiety disorder who sometimes gets overwhelmed or anxious when I have too many emails to answer. Right now I have 159 unread emails in my inbox, and that’s after spending a decent chunk of the day triaging and going through my email to delete all the spam and things I don’t actually need to attend to. While a birthday email is not a terrible thing or some huge tax, it is an additional email or set of emails that contributes to the overload.

        1. Observer*

          So why don’t you just filter this stuff out? It’s something that takes less than a minute, and then your done. And if you want to be sure that you actually see people’s birthday emails, you can send it a folder that you look at once a day, and then delete the contents. Otherwise set your filter to just delete.

          1. Aquawoman*

            I’d be hesitant to filter out the word birthday for fear of filtering out legit work emails, because my work involves birth dates (think social security or the like).

            1. Observer*

              That’s pretty much an edge case. But for a situation like yours I’d probably either filter “happy birthday” or the like, or just click on “ignore” when the first email comes in so that the rest of that chain gets deleted while the legitimate stuff comes through.

        2. Esmeralda*

          Haha, my zero-inboxer colleague freaked out when I shared a screen during zoom time and she saw the THOUSANDS of emails in my inbox. Well, I’ve been at this employer for eons and I just ignore email I don’t need to read. If I have some down time, I’ll filter stuff to spam/trash. But usually I have better things to do with my time.

    4. Lavender Menace*

      I hear people say this and I support it fully! But I do want to turn that around and say that on the flip side, some of us are also struggling with primarily digital human interaction under the pandemic in the opposite direction. Personally, I’m an introvert and the uptick in video calls, emails, Teams messages, and other forms of constant communication blaring all day completely exhausts me to the point. There’s science showing that video calls are more draining and require more energy than in-person interpersonal interaction. Every communication becomes so heavyweight since you can’t just stop into someone’s office or run into them in the halls quickly.

      So while i understand that these emails bring joy to other people, I think it’s also important to acknowledge that for as much joy as they bring they may also bring just that much stress and annoyance to someone else. It’s not that I think the solution is that people should stop sending them (you can use Outlook rules and ignore to manage this problem easily, which I do). It’s simply that for the past 8 months I’ve heard a lot about how we should all understand and pitch in to support those who are really starved for human attention – and I wanted to point out that we should also attend to understanding and supporting those who really do not want more-than-normal engagement to keep everyone “connected” and need to protect their mental faculties, too.

    5. pleaset cheap rolls*


      I don’t care for this stuff myself, but for some people it’s nice, so I don’t complain about it.

      Now, there are certainly other kinds of reply-all nonsense I do complain about, but personal wishes ones, now? No – let it go.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Especially when its only 10-12 emails. While it takes time to delete them, it doesn’t take A LOT of time.

        If it were 30-40 emails, then it might be worth spending capital on. But to even mention it in passing as “hey guys don’t use reply all on the birthday emails” takes more time than deleting them.

    6. AP.*

      Perhaps the letter writer could have a quiet word with the person who sends out the original emails and ask them to use the BCC: field for all the recipients. That would ensure people couldn’t reply-all anymore.

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, this is what we do at my work for anything where reply-alls would be annoying (or could be legally problematic). Just BCC! It’s so much easier than relying on people to change their own behavior!

    7. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, I’m willing to make allowances during a pandemic. I’ve recently realized that some of my coworkers are in various group chats all day. And like, I kinda want to be part of that but also kinda dint want to be. It’s a weird time and everyone is coping however they can. Although that also means some of us get annoyed more easily so I can see why LW doesn’t like it.

      That said, I work at a huge company and 12 pointless emails seems really minor to me. I’ve gotten more than that when I was accidentally copied on issues that have nothing to do with me. We had a true reply-all fiasco once, and the list had several thousand people, so there were close to 1,000 emails until it fizzled out. I’m surprised no IT solution had been developed yet to let an admin shut this down.

  5. Black Horse Dancing*

    OP 1, I feel for you. When my father passed, my SO couldn’t claim bereavement leave because we weren’t married (it wasn’t legal at the time). The university where she worked was very apologetic but simply couldn’t give her the time. She had to use PO. (We also couldn’t use domestic benefits even when they got them because insurance costs were out of this world and we’d be taxed on them unlike straight couples). It really sucks. I can see your company’s point but as Alison said, it should be case by case.

    1. Anononon*

      That’s just awful, I’m sorry. I honestly don’t see the company’s point, and if I worked at a company that was apologetic but couldn’t do anything, I would be apoplectic. These aren’t laws that companies must follow. Mostly, it’s administrative people being terrified of the slippery slope fallacy. (Maybe her university was public, and maybeeee the restrictions were slightly more restrictive? Even still, though, awful. There are ways to hand wave things to do the right thing.)

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            Her university followed state law–they are a public university. Her department people all knew me, treated me great, treated us as a couple but HR wouldn’t give due to the law.

    2. allathian*

      I’m so sorry you had to go through that. The domestic benefits thing, while unfortunate, probably wasn’t anything the employer could change, but bereavement leave and such things aren’t regulated in the same way, so there’s more leeway.

      I’m just so glad that after the equal marriage act passed in my country, the benefits for spouses are the same for everyone, straight or not. (That doesn’t mean that my employer couldn’t do much better on LGBT+ issues, though, just that the legal protections and benefits exist.)

    3. Karia*

      I’m sorry but I don’t see the company’s point, not even a little. They could have been kind; they chose not to be.

      Also I’m so sorry about what happened to you.

  6. Person from the Resume*

    LW#1, I don’t think your boss’s response is outrageous; he was just enforcing a formal HR sick time policy that’s so dang formalized it has 22 categories of family relationship! It would have been generous if he could bend the rules, but maybe he felt he could not. For my sick leave I have to fill out and electronically sign a form that my boss approves and signs. Either one of us claiming sick leave for family member not an actual legal family member could presumably get in some sort of trouble for lying on a form.

    This sucks for you; I know it did. I sure hope you were able to use PTO and take time off even if you couldn’t use sick time.

    I do think there’s nothing wrong with a company limiting what and who you can use sick leave for. And depth of love and informal commitment is an impossible measuring stick so I think legal familial relationships is a something that can be used.

    I’m single and unattached and I have helped a single unattached friend after she had surgery. It never occurred to me to use sick leave. I used vacation/PTO.

    I’m sorry, but I do think your employer was reasonable even as it was a bad situation for you.

    1. Anononon*

      People are robotic, logical computers, though. One can use common sense and realize when strict rules should be bent to so the spirit of the “law” is followed. There’s a major difference between OP and her boyfriend versus you and a friend, and I think it’s a bit scummy to imply otherwise (like OP is trying to scam the system).

        1. Wendy*

          People aren’t… but corporations are. It’s entirely possible the OP’s boss didn’t even have a little bit of wiggle room on this. Where I live (a fairly conservative part of the US), some businesses have super-strict rules about this kind of thing. I suspect at least some of those were an attempt to deny benefits to people not in “traditional” relationship situations, and parts may be not relevant now that marriage laws have changed… but the rules are still there and it’s not usually the lower-level boss or HR person who would be able to change them. The rules are strict *because* the company doesn’t want lower-level bosses bending them in ways that don’t fit the corporate mission/beliefs/[whatever BS they use to justify bigotry].

          All of which is to say that while Alison is right and the boss *should* have been more compassionate, there’s no way to know how much their hands were tied :-\

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. It really depends a lot on the company culture and on the location.

            For example, my sister has been in a committed relationship with her SO for more than 10 years. Both have long cohabiting relationships in their personal histories, they’re happily childfree and both need a lot of personal time to themselves, so moving together was never anything either one particularly wanted. So during the week they live and work each in their own apartment and they spend most of their weekends together, and have done so during the pandemic as well. I think both of them would be devastated if their employers wouldn’t allow them to take time off if their SO got sick enough to need care.

            My MIL and her current husband, who married in their 60s, have a prenup to protect the assets each brought into the marriage. They keep separate households because that makes things so much easier. According to the law here, a surviving spouse has the right to remain living in the dwelling the couple shared, even if ownership passes to the heirs. Because they have separate addresses, this isn’t an issue. When I see them, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’re a committed and loving couple. They’re both retired, though, so getting time off from work has long since become irrelevant for them.

          2. Colette*

            And there may be a concern that, if you bend the rules for one person and then don’t bend the rules for someone else, that can cause problems.

            I assume the rule is the way it is under the assumption that serious relationships involve living together. That’s not always true, of course, but there’s no straightforward way to distinguish between a couple who have been together for 2 days and one who has been together for 2 decades. (Should it matter? Maybe not.)

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            Especially since the OP works for a university. If it’s a public university, the boss could have literally been bound by state law.

          4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            I run into this with Mr. Gumption all the time. He and I have been a couple for 26 years, but we never married. We do cohabitate. I have only had 1 employer say I could use family sick leave for him. It is really stupid because we have been together a lot longer than many couples stay married.

          5. LilyP*

            If this was the case the boss ought to have *tried* at least to get an exception, and if that was rejected they should have explained the circumstances to the employee, apologized profusely, made it clear that they thought the employee ought to get sick time and had advocated for that, but couldn’t risk of being caught out in what HR would consider fraud, and done whatever they *could* do to make circumstances easier (approve telework, adjust deadlines, etc). There is always flexibility to be verbally supportive and show compassion even if your hands are tied in larger actions.

    2. Not A Fan*

      No. Sick time only means it’s not scheduled in advance and is for emergency medical purposes that affect the employee.

      Stop normalizing rules for regulating it so tightly. Stop dehumanizing others and siding with greedy corporations.

        1. yala*

          feels like that’s how it should be tho? Like, maybe it isn’t how it is, but maybe things could be a little kinder, and overall nothing would be worse?

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            So I shouldn’t be able to take sick time for things that are scheduled in advance, like doctor appointments or surgery?

            1. yala*

              I’m a little pre-coffee. I think yeah, you should be able to schedule it in advance, but also that you should be able to use it for emergencies, especially medical ones, regardless of whether you are the person who is sick/in hospital, or their caregiver.

      1. Justme, the OG*

        No, I use sick time for doctor’s appointments scheduled in advance. It never occurred to me to use vacation time for something medical.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          My employer changed their sick time policy a few years ago to “unplanned emergencies only” and it’s been a royal pain. I’ve taken vacation time for a planned surgery and lost unused sick days in the same year. I have taken a sick day for the day after a (different) planned surgery, saying “uh I was sure I’d be ok to work the day after my surgery, but turns out I’m still recovering, which makes this an unplanned sick day as I had not planned for it” – yes it did get approved, thank dog. We only get three sick days a year and I lose at least two every year, because I’m never so sick out of the blue that I cannot work. I hate hate hate this rule. Thankfully we are moving to the “single bucket for everything” next year – we are also getting our PTO days cut, but the blow is cushioned by the fact that I will no longer be losing 2-3 sick days every year.

          1. Librarian1*

            I know a lot of people having PTO as a bucket of combined sick and vacation days, but honestly, this is why I like it. It prevents this situation from happening. Especially if you’re only getting 3 sick days, that’s nothing. (Yes I know it’s common for American companies to get 0-5 sick days a year, but I’m an American who often needs more than that and I think that policy is ridiculous.)

        2. Person from the Resume*

          I used sick time for my medical appointments and illnesses and injuries and could use it for family members.

          For a non-family member illness, I’d have to use personal/vacation time with can also be used on short notice, if needed.

      2. Esmeralda*

        I don’t think that’s what Person From the Resume intends: they are pointing out WHY the OP’s boss may not have been able to offer OP sick leave for this situation.

        No need to attack other commenters…

        1. fhqwhgads*

          But this situation was an unplanned medical emergency. OP wanted to leave in the middle of the day to go to the hospital and instead was left “crying in my cubicle”. So even that interpretation of “sick” doesn’t help explain here.

    3. Rare Commenter*

      I mean, sure, it’s their policy and they’re entitled to follow it to the law… but if I were the HR person and all I had to do was select the drop down from 22(!!) possibilities, I think I’d magically have something in my ear that made me process “my boyfriend” as whatever category I could select. It’s ridiculous to need to make the boyfriend into something else for the sake of red tape, but if it grants the needed leave..
      “I need leave for my boyfriend.”
      “Ah, yes, for your husband. Approved.”
      “No, for my boyfriend.”
      “Yes, for your husband, which is a category I can approve in this system.”
      “No, my..”
      “Yep, take all the time you need for your husband, you’re squared away in the system.”

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Exactly. As a boss, you discreetly let the person know that you’re not supposed to approve sick leave (or bereavement leave, or whatever) in this situation, and then you find a way to do it.

        …and plenty of systems don’t even require that level of detail! It’s possible the boss just needed to check a box that said “sick leave authorized.”

      2. LizM*

        Yeah, I’m looking at our definition of sick leave, and technically I don’t think we could use it for a boyfriend/girlfriend (or a close friend for that matter), but if an employee’s significant other was dealing with a medical emergency, I’d tell them to call it a mental health day and use sick leave. It’s not like they’re going to be productive if I make them stay at work based on a technicality.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          ^^this is such a good point. What is the value in keeping the employee there or forcing them to use another form of PTO? In fact, in this case, it sounds like it sent the employee searching for other pastures.

          Compassion is often also the right business decision.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Compassion is often also the right business decision.

            This. My situation isn’t the same, but back in May, my uncle passed away five days after my birthday. My company’s bereavement leave policy only gives us one day of paid leave for aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. My manager, however, reached out to HR and got them to agree to give me a full week of leave as paid time off since his death was unexpected and I was not handling it well at all. The company even ended up sending me and my mom (my uncle’s sister) bouquets of flowers to offer their condolences, and my mother doesn’t even work for my company.

            Allowances can be made.

            1. The Rural Juror*

              When my mother’s parents passed away (both within a few weeks of each other, but they had both been in a nursing home and in bad shape), her employees asked if half of them could come to one funeral and half to the other. That way their office would have coverage both times. It was a two-hour drive to my mom’s hometown, so none of them planned to be in the office the day of. They wanted to be there to support her, but she was the boss so they technically had to ask her to approve the PTO. She really appreciated their support. She works for a county government office, so I can’t remember how she ended up coding it, but she managed to work it out in a way that none of them lost any vacation days. Probably marked it as sick days instead. Compassion on both sides :)

          2. Jackalope*

            So this. I had a family member died who wasn’t covered under our sick leave and bereavement leave (which came from the sick leave pool) family policy, and I had to take a week off for the funeral (long travel time and bad flight times, plus a funeral in the middle of the week). My boss said that she couldn’t give me bereavement leave but I was clearly so emotionally devastated that I needed the sick leave for my mental health (totally true), and did it that way. Four years later, I’m still with that employer. This is part of why.

            1. Jay*

              Yes. I work with my best friend’s husband and we cover each other – don’t take simultaneous vacations, etc. We’re all Jewish, so funerals happen very quickly after a death. When my friend’s father died, the service was a Monday afternoon. She was devastated and struggling and has challenging family members, and she asked me to come to support her and her kids. I knew having me off as well as her husband would be difficult; when I went to my boss, I was prepared for him to say “sorry, no.” Instead he said “Absolutely. Take the whole day, and you don’t need to use PTO. I’ll figure out coverage.” Every place I’ve ever worked would have given her husband the day off. No other employer would ever have given me the day off. I was impressed and very, very grateful.

            2. In my shell*

              Our best-performing-employee-EVER left her last employer (in the same industry) because they wouldn’t allow more than the allotted bereavement time when her 18-year old daughter suddenly fell ill and died within a few days. They wouldn’t even talk about allowing her to use sick or vacation time and outright denied any additional time “off”. It’s literally the most short-sighted, poor management decision-making I’ve ever known! She’s literally the best employee I’ve ever had on staff in 25 years of managing people and they literally forced her to return to work or quit. I’ll never understand any of it.

              1. In my shell*

                p.s. Her former manager is my peer (at another local company in the same industry) and has confirmed this is what happened and that she “sort of” regrets not understanding how devastating it must have been to lose her daughter. *facepalm*

              2. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Ye gods, that’s incomprehensible levels of cruel. I’d have given her months off if need be.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Yes, a little compassion can go a long way.
            When my mother died, my boss tried his best to screw me out of leave, “forgetting” to specify that one of those days was the Easter holiday for example, and taking the extra from next year’s instead of letting me take unpaid leave, which I would have preferred and which is the default where I live.
            I worked to rule after that, no more staying late to get a job done properly, I’d just get it done quickly to leave on time and I didn’t care if I didn’t catch some mistakes.
            By the time my father died, I had a new boss. She said to take all the time I needed. I assumed it would be unpaid, and I took a full three weeks off. Turned out it was paid leave after all! I had been planning to leave, but the boss got another five years of good work out of me simply because I changed my mind upon learning that my new boss was humane.

        2. Smithy*

          This is where my mind went. It sounds like the OP had a number of sick hours banked as it was. So instead of turning the OP’s boyfriend into a husband or stepkid or whatever, the manager could have just said “you are sick (with worry) for the next three days – call me on Monday if we need to have a more extended discussion”.

        3. CRM*

          This is exactly how we would handle it at my organization. Need to go to the hospital to care for a SO?
          According to the HR, you came down with a cold and had to take a few days of sick leave.

        4. yala*

          That’s what I’d figure. If the leave can’t be because my hypothetical SO is sick, then fine, I’M sick. I’m sick with worry, and I’m exhausted from caregiving, and I’m not going to be a productive employee under these circumstances, so excuse me, I will take a few days off until my situation improves, and then come back to work and give it my all.

        5. irene adler*

          That’s the way to do it!

          Don’t let the fear of “but everyone will want to do this” hold things back for the manager.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            Yes, everyone would want to be with their very ill loved ones, helping to advocate for them, let their families at a distance know they’re OK, and do everything within their powers to help them recover.

            Thankfully, most people will hopefully not fiind themselves in that sort of desperate dire situation.

            But yes, knowing that their employers would treat them callously in that situation would indeed colour their perception of their workplace.

      3. Filosofickle*

        One of my fav books of all time is Orbiting the Giant Hairball. The author (a creative guy at Hallmark) wants to buy these antique milk cans as trash cans for his department . But purchasing can’t sign off on milk cans as trash cans. Until they figure out there is a budget for the company art collection, and the purchasing person happily codes them as art. Systems that work against the people in them deserve to be circumvented.

        1. John*

          I actually manage people and can tell you that a good manager will have an employee’s back. They will sort out the details with HR, if need be, but some people on here are acting as though every time every is investigated.

          Heck, how many times have employees been under some sort of personal duress and I’ve told them to simply take the rest of the day off. Yes, the policy dictates that something like that be entered into the system and PTO used but we have leeway to do what’s right so long as the work is getting done.

          No one is getting fired over this, people. This is basic good management.

          1. Thankful for AAM*

            This would 100% be discovered at my employer and the employee and their manager would be fired. There is alomost no wiggle room for managers on things like this. I work for a municipality and their solution to everything is very very tight application of policies.

            1. JP*

              Good point. I also work for public sector and many of our rules are 100% rigid. We are “public servants” and the public doesn’t like it if we have too many perks or much flexibility.

              Things like leave and how it can be used are very specifically defined.

            2. Anon Entity*

              As mentioned in a comment below, though, government is different. We government employees are all leeches living off other people’s taxes, don’t you know, so it’s important to make sure we don’t abuse the people’s largess.

          2. Observer*

            No one is getting fired over this, people. This is basic good management.

            In YOUR company. This is NOT universally true. It’s unfortunate, but it is also the reality.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              John was forgetting that the reason this website exists is because there are a helluva lotta bad managers out there!

      4. MK*

        Congratulations, you just committed fraud. This is not a little white lie, this is lying to get a material benefit and could get the employee fired, and you if you had the decency to admit you prodded her into doing it.

        1. Pretzelgirl*

          If a good manager gets fired for letting a good employee take a few days of paid leave bc someone they love is the hospital, then they probably don’t want to be working at that company anyway.

          1. Sylvan*

            Well, yes, but not all good managers are in the financial/career position to risk getting fired. Especially right now.

            1. pancakes*

              The idea that workers’ rights are something only independently wealthy or tenured people can afford to push for doesn’t sit well with me at all. It’s ahistorical, too.

              1. Sylvan*

                I don’t like it, either. Unfortunately, the way things are and the way things should be are pretty far apart.

                1. pancakes*

                  It’s not the way things are, though. Only people who don’t know about & don’t owe up with labor history believe that’s the way things are. Chipotle workers walked off the job in my city just yesterday to protest being encouraged to come to work sick, and it’s not because they’re all financially comfortable and don’t need to work.

        2. Smithy*

          While I can understand this argument regarding bereavement – in this case the employee has the sick time hours, which they have earned. Provided the manager approves no more days than would ultimately demand a doctor’s note…..why exactly is this fraud??

          1. Totally Minnie*

            If you look at the threading here, MK is replying to a comment that suggests specifically documenting that the employee is using leave to care for a husband when the employee is not actually married. That would, in fact, be considered fraud by a lot of companies and would almost certainly be grounds for termination. I wouldn’t consider the other recommendations here to be fraud (calling it a mental health day for the employee who is naturally very worried for their loved one), but straight out calling an unmarried employee’s romantic partner their husband in official documentation is something a whole lot of companies would fire both the employee and the supervisor over.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          OK it is easy to prove that BF is not OP’s husband. But certainly there is at least one category out of the 22 available that he might fall under. Like what if he is OP’s ex-grandparent-in-law’s next-door neighbor and, like in a good soap opera, OP had never realized it until this moment? and “ex-grandparent-in-law’s next-door neighbor” just happens to be an allowed category.

        4. Jackalope*

          I mean, that’s part of why people are also suggesting other things. “Mental health is real health and you’re too devastated right now to be able to function at work, this is part of what sick leave is for,” is a reasonable nonfraudulent way to do this too. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I had something along those lines once for a job. It was absolutely true; I would have been utterly incapable of functioning because of my mental health, and had I skipped the funeral and tried to go in, any work I would have done would have been crap. Assuming that mental health is a reason one can take sick leave (which at least with my employer it is), that wouldn’t be a fraudulent use of the leave.

          1. kt*

            Yeah. I don’t understand why paying someone to simply sob at their desk all day is a-ok instead — they should be on sick leave. Goodness.

          2. Joielle*

            Yep, this. Ok, don’t mark it down as sick leave to take care of a husband, mark it down as just sick leave for the employee. If you’re sobbing at your desk, you’re not in a state to work, so you’re sick. This is not a difficult or questionable situation.

        5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          If an employee is sick with worry, they’re not going to work well. It’s not a lie.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            proof being OP just went and cried in her cubicle instead of working. But butt in seat = working (for a bad manager).

      5. Emi*

        Where I work this would be considered timesheet falsification and I could be fired and sent to prison.

        1. Sylvan*

          I totally get that this could be considered timesheet fabrication, but I’m curious about how it could result in someone going to prison. Could you say more about that (assuming it’s not *super* specific enough to point to your company)?

          1. Emi*

            Oh, I work for the federal government. I doubt you could go to jail over timecard fraud in private industry, but if OP works at a state university there may be legal penalties there.

    4. MBK*

      I don’t think it’s reasonable at all. Sick time is sick time – it shouldn’t matter a bit who’s sick.

    5. Possum*

      My problem with this is it immediately creates valued employees and un-valued employees. I had colleagues who had access to an extra 10-20 days of leave in a year that I did not. Many would use at least 10 extra days a year, every year. They could get paid leave for their loved ones cough. Others would work for years with none of these benefits and had to miss funerals, take annual leave to care for their family etc. It breeds resentment I can assure you.

      And when I myself needed surgery, there was not a single person who could access company benefits to care for me. My choices were forgo proper pain relief (with proper pain relief they require a carer, without they let you go home alone), or hire a carer (not easy to do even with money). If friends had been able to access leave I’d have been comfortable asking for help, and ironically would have been able to return to work much faster.

      I personally know a few people who resigned from workplaces with almost no notice because they couldn’t access leave (paid or unpaid) to care for someone close who urgently needed it.

      There is a middle ground between open slather and respecting that people don’t all conform to the company definition of community.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I think this must be another UK/US difference as here in the UK you can’t take sick leave for taking care of someone else, only for your own sickness (and in many companies, the ‘reason’ for the sickness has to be notified to the company)…

        forgo proper pain relief (with proper pain relief they require a carer, without they let you go home alone), or hire a carer (not easy to do even with money)

        A couple of years ago I was in hospital for a few days for surgery and I think my partner’s company would have looked at him like he had two heads if he’d asked to take sick leave to be with me in hospital! They didn’t want to discharge me without someone to take me home so I just told a white lie and said I did…

        1. 'Tis Me*

          But you may be able to get compassionate leave if it was an energency, and chances are have adequate annual leave that taking it off with notice should have been feasible. When my husband was in hospital, I was 2.5 weeks into a nasty throat infection illness that had me signed off sick for 3 weeks, and we had a 15 month old who he looked after while I worked (at the time he would meet me in my work car park with her when I finished so he could go to work) my manager was able to offer me 3 days’ compassionate leave. I went to the local children’s centre intending to get help sorting emergency childcare and my health visitor convinced me to let her talk to the doctor and I was signed off sick with stress for a month instead. As I was still hacking away and have an autoimmune condition, chances are the HV was right and if I hadn’t been I would have ended up collapsing physically.

    6. Karia*

      “ I do think there’s nothing wrong with a company limiting what and who you can use sick leave for”

      I fully disagree. Especially when that person is a romantic partner.

      1. allathian*

        Usually that’s a partner of long standing or a stable relationship. The problem is, where do you draw the line? I mean, what employer would happily, or even grudgingly, grant time off to an employee who met a new date on the weekend and wanted the Monday off to nurse their date’s bad hangover?

        While married spouses can be little more than hostile roommates as Alison said in her answer, having a shared address as a requirement for paid leave, whether sick leave or PTO, is one place you can draw that line. At least much of the world has come to accept that cohabiting SOs need the same consideration when it comes to time off as married couples do.

        That said, there’s still the issue of important relationships that aren’t based on familial or romantic relationships. I’m thinking about single people who may be estranged from their birth families, or if not that, may live so far from them that they can’t realistically expect to get any support from them in an emergency. They’re screwed if they can’t get anyone to help them, or if they aren’t able to help anyone because their job stops them from doing so.

        1. I'm just here for the cats.*

          It it’s not like they just met they were together for a year. I’d say that is a long term relationship.

        2. John*

          Would you deny them if they had to be there for a best friend who didn’t have a partner or other relatives in the area? I sure hope you’d find a way to make it work all around. Employees don’t forget these experiences, positive and negative, when they make decisions about their future.

        3. SwitchingGenres*

          Why draw any line? Let your employee use sick leave to care for their boyfriend of one week. If they run out of sick time that’s their issue. Plenty of people run out for all sorts of reasons. If you want to use your time to care for someone you just met, go for it.

          1. Washi*

            Right! Let’s be real, my coworkers with children end up taking a lot of sick time to care for them (as is their right and as it should be.) If I take 3 days to take care of a friend, what’s the big deal? In either case, if the number of absences was mounting, my manager has the right to say I need to use FMLA or make more formal accomodations/schedule adjustments, and at that point I may not be able to take time for a friend, but until it gets to that point, I don’t understand why it needs to be policed so carefully.

            1. Washi*

              (Not trying to turn this into a kids debate as I know that can get very heated very quickly. Just saying that you can easily end up with situations where someone encouraged to take a ton of time for what are considered legitimate reasons while another person is prevented by the tyranny of the dropdown menu from taking a very small amount of time because their family structure is different.)

          2. Environmental Compliance*


            Allow adults to be…. adults. If they run out of time, well, that’s unfortunate, and maybe there’s some flexibility to work with them there depending on circumstance, but it’s also a consequence of actions.

            Speaking of this, I have a colleague running into exactly that. Their direct report whipped through all of their PTO (plus some because they tried to be accommodating)… and now has none, during the holiday season. Now none can be approved. They even whipped through their allowance of unpaid TO. Now employee is upset they have no more time in which to take, and are starting to rack up points. Employee was asked a few times if they needed any help – would FMLA be more appropriate? – nope, just don’t want to work that day. At this point, the employee has to make it work with their schedule.

            But it didn’t really matter *why* the PTO/unpaid TO was taken – the employee’s schedule and benefits are the employee’s to manage within the company guidelines (ie coverage).

        4. Karia*

          The hangover analogy is facile. This was a long term partner with a medical issue. Accommodating that would be humane and sensible.

          1. Tim P.*

            I disagree. It’s a perfect analogy. The policies have to be written to cover ANY situation. Where to draw the line is not trivial. Sick leave is a benefit, an asset that comes with employment and is spelled out when a person is hired. I think all of us have compassion for the letter writer. But from the employer’s side, if they are going to have sick leave – rather than a general bucket of “anything” leave – they need to put parameters around how it’s used and that that has to be consistently applied to all employees. So where does someone draw the line? If you’ve been dating a year? A month? How do you document that? A headache could be a hangover or a brain aneurysm. If my “boyfriend” of 48 hours doesn’t feel well, can I use sick leave?

            Lobbying for more flexible policies is a different matter. As unfortunate as this was, this was a matter of applying EXISTING policies. Perhaps it could have been used as an example to push for more flexible policies in the future.

            1. Washi*

              I guess my response to that is that if I’ve been hired into a job where they can trust me to make complex decisions/carry out important tasks/care for vulnerable populations, maybe they can also trust me (until proven otherwise) to use my sick time in a judicious manner.

              Ideally, I would want to be able to just let my manager know I am taking some sick time for caregiving and not have to give a whole reason, just like I can let them know I’m not feeling well and not have to ennumerate all my symptoms and potential diagnosis.

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Thank you Washi. I’m just non-stop gobsmacked that people can’t imagine that adults can behave like adults. Of course there will always be those who try to game the system, but it’ll be noticed, more than certain sneaky things they might do while at work, and at that point, the manager can take action, either obliging the employee to provide justification, or saying sorry, that’s the third grandma to die this year, you can jolly well stay and work, or saying OK, go to your grandma’s funeral, no need to come back afterwards.

                1. 'Tis Me*

                  Yes, everyone would want to be with their very ill loved ones, helping to advocate for them, let their families at a distance know they’re OK, and do everything within their powers to help them recover.

                  Thankfully, most people will hopefully not fiind themselves in that sort of desperate dire situation.

                  But yes, knowing that their employers would treat them callously in that situation would indeed colour their perception of their workplace.

            2. pancakes*

              Sick time isn’t strictly or only an asset to the employee; it’s also something employers use in recruiting, and it has numerous public policy and public health consequences.

              I don’t agree, either, that everyone here has compassion for the letter writer. That’s a nice idea, but there are numerous commenters thinking only of their own anxieties around not following bright-line rules, and others rejecting the idea that discretion around approving sick leave is workable. You yourself are doing the latter.

            3. yala*

              The easiest way to write a policy to cover ANY situation is to say: “Here is your sick leave. You get X amount. Use it at your discretion.”

              There. Situations covered.

              I’ve actually had to drop things and use leave so I could help people I didn’t know well, simply because they didn’t HAVE anyone else around who could help them, and I was able to. So I don’t know WHY it would matter if you’ve only known them for 2 days, or if their headache isn’t a Real Emergency after all. Your leave is your leave. When you’re out of it, you’re out.

        5. yala*

          I’ve never really been a fan of the mindset that we can’t be compassionate and generous because while it would help 95 people, five other folks might sort of take advantage of the option.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            me neither. Fact is, those five other folks will get noticed for taking advantage and the manager can, like, manage that situation. That’s what they’re paid to do after all.
            Leave is an easy thing to track, so it’s great if you can monitor employee behaviour regarding leave. Much easier than many work processes, that the manager doesn’t necessarily have much of a handle on, especially if they didn’t get promoted directly up from the pool of those implementing said processes.

        6. Anon Entity*

          It sounds like OP1’s employer is drawing the line at “family members,” and they probably think they’re being generous by doing so. After all, they include lots of people as family members, including grandparents-in-law! But for whatever reason, they’ve decided not to allow use of sick time to care for non-family members. They’ve also decided that an SO, no matter how committed or how long the relationship has been in effect, isn’t a “family member.” I don’t like that decision—personally, I’d like to see sick time available to care for anyone who is sick, whether that be family (including pets!), friend, or random stranger on the street—but I can see why a company would think that “family” is a reasonable place to draw the line.

        7. Quill*

          Yeah, assuming that everyone has a romantic, usually cohabiting long term partner or nearby direct family who can care for them in an emergency is a shitty way to ration care.

          And that’s even before we get policies even worse than OP’s: anecdotally I’ve heard of people being told they can’t get time off to care for their child because their child is no longer a minor, can’t take off time for their parent’s funeral because “you already took time off for two funerals this year” and all manner of other cowardly, greedy bullcrap excuses. (And yes, in both cases the boss was well known to be a jerk)

          Broadening the relevant policies would hopefully remove all this sort of rules lawyering.

        8. ian*

          Meh, its their PTO. If that’s how they want to use it, then that’s on them. I don’t see what the employer gains by forcing an employee to come to work when the employee has PTO that they’re entitled to and would otherwise be distracted; I also don’t see why “caring for your hungover spouse” is ok but “caring for your hungover date” is somehow so much worse.

          1. Anon Entity*

            It’s not PTO, though, it’s sick time. OP1’s employer has two categories of paid leave: vacation, which can be used for anything (but probably needs to be schedule in advance), and sick time, which can be used when the employee or her family is sick, but not for other reasons. Lots of employers throw both categories into one bucket called PTO, which can be used for vacation or when sick, but that’s not what OP1’s employer does.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              But it makes no difference. OP is entitled to sick leave and has accrued a fair amount (and may lose it if not used by X date). What she uses it for, whether her own health or that of a partner, doesn’t really matter. Of course if she uses it all up on her partner, she’s at risk if ever she has an accident before accruing more leave, but she’s an adult and knows how important the leave is to HER.

    7. Lonely Aussie*

      My younger sibling is a teacher and is single and unattached, as is one of their coworkers who started at the same time. They pretty quickly became friends and they’ve both taken sick leave at their employer’s suggestion to care for each other due to injury/illness/hospitalization. Friend recently took a day to drive my sibling to another city for an appointment that sibling couldn’t drive home after. Sibling took an afternoon to pick friend up after wisdom teeth surgery. Both are living far enough away from family/friends that if they’d not been able to take the time like that, they’d have both been screwed.

      Treating single and unattached people like they have no one that might be important to them no matter how the relationship looks on paper is unfair.

      1. LDF*

        Yes! I feel like sometimes these posts miss the mark when so many folks just answer that of COURSE romantic partners should get the same priority as spouses because nothing is more important than a romantic relationship… So fun to hear as someone who is unpartnered, not looking to change that, and yet still has important people in my life!

        1. Quill*

          Yes this.

          One should not have to rely on romance to bring them medical support, and in fact it’s probably better for many to have a long term friend around that’s able and willing to step up, because for many that situation will last longer than at least some of their romantic relationships.

      2. Nanani*

        Well said.

        Society is really really WEIRD about deciding romantic cohabitation is the only relationship that matters. In the real world, real people have important relationships that don’t look like that.

        Just let adults be adults and take their PTO to care for the important people in their lives regardless of what labels are on that relationship.

    8. Scarlet2*

      “And depth of love and informal commitment is an impossible measuring stick so I think legal familial relationships is a something that can be used.”

      And by doing that, you’re basically telling some people that their relationships or chosen families don’t matter. I live alone, like several of my friends, and whatever’s left of my family lives in a different country. More and more people are single, estranged from their biological families, etc. This kind of policy 1) is telling people with non-traditional relationships that they don’t really matter and 2) makes it harder for us to have a support network.

      1. Lavender Menace*

        Also, I’m the emergency contact for the children of two close friends. These friends are so close that their children call me auntie and we go on ‘family’ vacations together several times a year, but we’re not biologically or legally related. I bet there’s no category for arrangements like that.

        It also likely has a disproportionate burden on LGBT families, since their family structures can often be not legally recognized in many states.

        1. Lonely Aussie*

          Or force someone to out themselves before they’re ready. I’m a pansexual woman who isn’t out at my conservative male dominated job. Being out would seriously impact on my career and result in harassment. A few years ago my girl friend hit a roo on the way to work and needed help. When I called in I said a friend of mine was in an accident and I’d be running late. If they’d pushed for more info or the nature of the relationship, I’d have tanked my career there.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I had understood that same-sex marriage was legal throughout the US now, but if not you would think there’s a dangerous legal position for employers treating married and unmarried employees differently.

        3. Totally Minnie*

          It’s also pretty terrible for the chosen families of disabled people. The means testing for who is allowed to receive disability services in the US is absurdly low, and sometimes disabled people are unable to marry their partners because if they did, their joint income would disqualify them for necessary services. So you may end up with one person who may need more assistance than average and their partner who may not be able to take time off to provide that assistance because they’re not married.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I wonder whether they’ve had problems in the past (perhaps managers applying discretion unfairly, or employees misusing generous provision) which has led to such a black-and-white policy.

        That is, it’s absurd to say that Joan counts as a close relation (you’re currently divorcing her grandchild and you haven’t seen her in person since The Thanksgiving Battle of 2015) but Alex doesn’t (you are going to propose once the divorce is finalised) but it’s objectively verifiable, and if it isn’t discriminatory against protected groups then it may be the legal team’s preferred option.

        I also note that there are separate issues here: 1. can you be absent from work to provide care without penalty 2. how much will you be paid for that missed time and 3. what effect will it have on your PTO for the rest of the year. The better employers are flexible on point 1 even if they are stricter on 2 or 3. A manager who isn’t allowed to code the time off as sick might nonetheless have the authority to say “go, make soup, mop brows, we’ll look at your PTO balance when you’re back”.

      3. Quill*

        My brother has friends who got married simply to get one of them insurance because of policies like this.

        The couple isn’t romantically involved by they were already cohabitants and decided that a simple sign-the-the papers marriage, and divorce if one of them met a romantic partner, was cheaper than any other way to get health insurance.

        Policies that exist only to put barriers on who you care for, or who gets any form of medical care, are terrible.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          Yes, there is nothing wrong or illegal with marrying someone for insurance as long as both consent and agree. What married people agree to do behind closed doors is their business.

    9. EventPlannerGal*

      I’m sorry but any system that has TWENTY-TWO possible categories for sick leave up to and including grandparents-in-law but has neither an option for non-cohabitating boyfriend/girlfriend nor one for ‘at managers discretion’ is a stupid, illogical system that deserves to be circumvented by any decent manager. Just tell the system it’s her fourth nephew three times removed or whatever it thinks constitutes a real relationship and give her the time off, for God’s sake.

      1. doreen*

        I just want to point out that it’s very likely that there were not 22 categories each separately decided upon. It’s far more likely that the actual policy says something more like “siblings,children, parents, grandparents , whether adoptive, step, half or in-law”

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          The letter writer said there were 22 categories, so that’s what we’re going with unless or until she comes in the comments and clarifies.

          1. doreen*

            I’m not saying there aren’t 22 categories at all – I’m sure there are. But just looking at my example, there are five different types of siblings ( full, half, step, adopted, in-law) , four types of parents ( bio, step, adoptive, in-law) , four types of children ( bio, step, adoptive, in-law), four types of grandparent (bio, step, adoptive, in-law) – so that could be seventeen categories right there.

            1. Student*

              The underlying question/issue is – why does HR need/want to track how employees use their sick leave in that level of granularity? If the system has separate categories for you caring for your adopted siblings vs your “blood” siblings, then it means that HR is monitoring that and hypothetically evaluating their leave program, your sick use, etc. based on those categories. If they aren’t making decisions based on that granularity/categorization, then they don’t need to track and categorize leave taken at that level.

              Do they pull up the stats at the end of the year and say “Too much sick leave spent on adopted relatives! Not enough spent on grandparents! Adjust policy and have a talk with these 5 people.” I sure hope not.

              1. doreen*

                In the places I’ve worked that had those policies, that wasn’t the reason at all and you didn’t need to check off a specific box for which type of parent/grandparent/siblings , so they wouldn’t have known how much leave was spent on adoptive parents. It was in the policy to clarify to employees and managers that “grandparents” included step-grandparents because if it simply said “grandparent” some people would have assumed it didn’t include adopted or in law. The letter doesn’t say anything about HR having a system that distinguishes or tracks 22 categories-it’s entirely possible that her employer doesn’t expect anymore detail than ” grandparent”.

                But someone who says their employer has 22 categories almost has to be including step/in-law/adopted/half as separate categories- there’s really no other way to come up with 22 categories of relative , not even if each gender-linked term is a separate category ( “mother” or “father” rather than “parent”)

                1. Roci*

                  I just really can’t believe there is an HR system out there that has a category of sick leave you can use when your half-brother is sick, and a separate category for when your adoptive brother is sick…that can’t find a way to make a serious unmarried romantic relationship fit somehow.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          I literally do not understand how that affects my point in the slightest. If this system is set up to allow sick leave to be used for GRANDPARENTS-IN-LAW but not a long-term partner who lives in a different house then it is at best stupid and illogical, and at worst designed to privilege a very specific vision of the family. If whoever wrote this policy took the time to formulate it so that it covered all those twenty-two possibilities, but not the really very common situation of a non-cohabitating partner, that is ridiculous no matter how it is worded.

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            Many places want bereavement or sick to cover household people or related. A SO who doesn’t share a home or is not married to the employee often doesn’t fall under household. It’s like applying for Medicaid or LiHEAP. If someone has an SO who doesn’t live with them, that non co habiting SO isn’t included in the household category nor is the SO’s income. Nor can creditors go for a SO who is not legally related. So it has its benefits. I understand why employers feel the need to define, especially for bereavement or insurance purposes. For sick leave, the OP may very well have to say she is not well enough to work and use it that way.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yes!!! I made a similar point upthread. Does not have to be “husband or nothing”. There are 21 other options to choose from!

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          I believe non married SOs are covered under domestic partners which OP stated she was not. They also live in different places, so many companies will see them simply as boyfriend/girlfriend, non household or simply single, unrelated people.

      3. Jackalope*

        A really easy way to do that is to have a category along the lines of “or someone who has the closeness of a family member in one of these categories”. I have seen that in the family sick leave/bereavement leave policy and it’s helpful for recognizing that sometimes relationships don’t color in the lines, while still keeping things to a reasonably close level of relationship.

    10. Lavender Menace*

      I disagree. Sick time is a company benefit – it’s part of your compensation package, and it’s meant to be for emergency time off that’s not planned in advance. I don’t see why it should matter (or be any of my business) what people are using their sick leave for as long as they stay within whatever amount the company grants them. I don’t think it’s reasonable to have a rigid list of 22 situations in which a person might stay home, because there’s no way a company can possibly predict all of the legitimate reasons a person might need to use sick leave – and that a company that truly cares for its employees, to the extent that it deserves the awards OP says it has gotten, would leave it to a manager’s discretion.

      1. Oh Snap*

        All of this **waves hands** is why companies go to one bank of paid time off.

        Which then also gets criticised!!!!!

        (I don’t know what the right answer is but honestly it feels like companies can’t win!).

        I’ve always had one PTO bank so I have no personal comparison. It sucks in some ways but it removes all the ambiguity and need for administrative red tape.

        1. uncivil servant*

          I agree. I feel like everyone thinks the solution is simple, but I work in a very different system and there are problems here too. My impression is that you can either limit time off, or you can limit reasons for time off. Even unlimited PTO policies have problems, because when you take away clear-cut justifications for time off you can have a manager left to approve PTO in a fair manner without those guidelines.

          I work in a “limit reasons for time off” environment (which sounds similar to the OP’s – do you work under a collective agreement by any chance?) and the principle behind it is to give everyone more time than they “should” need, with the understanding that in every year, over the course of our careers, some take more and some take less. We can bank huge amounts of time, but then have to justify when we use it. I have something like 16 weeks of sick leave banked, but I can’t just call in whenever my friend needs help with an emergency move or my dog needs her shots. I mean, I could lie, but I need to sign a form saying I was not able to work due to illness.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          I worked at a company that had one PTO bank and loved it. Unused time rolled over as well, so at one point, I had like five weeks of leave. My sick and vacation time are separate again, and I still technically have five weeks of paid leave available to me, but I feel guilty about using sick time for any time other than being bedridden (which is rare for me), so that time just…sits. And rolls over. And sits some more.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            I’ve never had a problem with having my sick leave separate from my vacation until this year. My workplace didn’t consider staying home during our state’s stay at home order a reason to use sick time. They also don’t consider staying home while waiting for Covid test results as sick time if you don’t have symptoms. So now I have almost no vacation left and three months worth of sick leave they won’t let me take. So I’m 100% team “all paid leave in one bucket” now.

        3. Bagpuss*

          I’ve been thinking that it makes out (UK) system seem much simpler.
          Here, sick time is generally only for if you personally are sick, anything else would either be ‘holiday’ (PTO) or emergency leave for family and dependents, which is a legal entitlement to take (unpaid) time of to deal with emergencies and which defines the people you might be caring for as “A dependent could be a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on you for care.”

          It helps, of curse, that holiday time is fairly generous, with a legal minimum entitlement of 5.6 weeks for a full time employee (28 days including bank holidays) with many employers offering more generous leave.

          I Where I work, we don’t have specific bereavement leave but we do have discretionary compassionate leave. It helps that we are fairly small so don’t get too bogged down with overly rigid policies, so we can be flexible when we fell it is appropriate.

        4. Environmental Compliance*

          I kind of like what my current company does, in that sick leave is relatively unlimited*, as long as you work out coverage and make sure to call in in a timely fashion. Vacation is technically separate and does get banked.

          *I say relatively unlimited, because if you call in more than I think 2-3 times in one month with consecutive sick days each time, you will be evaluated to get a point, but a supervisor can override for things like appointments (for you or family or whatever). It’s meant to catch those that call out sick for a number of hours that is hard to cover with extra people. If you have a really bad month for whatever reason, those points go away after 30 days with no repeating issues. You really have to work to get to the level of points that actually gets you written up/fired when it’s just attendance-related.

          On a previous letter’s note, a no-call-no-show does get you a much more significant mark against you than calling in sick. 3 days NCNS is considered job abandonment, though HR does wait a week or so, checks arrest records, gets in touch with family, etc. to make sure it’s not hospital/jail.

        5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I know US citizens are sick of hearing about how we do this so much better in Europe, but I think the answer to your question is:
          – unlimited sick leave for the actual employee with doctor’s note
          – generous amount of paid leave for the employee (five weeks minimum in France) so they keep some time for emergencies without having to sacrifice breaks and holidays in the sun.

      2. hbc*

        As much as I would have granted the sick leave in this case, I think it’s absolutely the company’s business how sick time is spent. It’s usually given to everyone in amounts that are much greater than the average person needs so the non-average case can be handled. It’s no more an entitlement to use freely than tuition reimbursement.

        1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          Yeah, if I was running a business and doing separate vacation and sick leave, I would 100% want to give enough sick leave that my employees with big needs-cancer, a preemie baby, awful recurrent migraines etc. would have enough, or something close to it.

          I would also be 100% mad if my employees without major medical needs were taking the same amount of sick leave.

          It’s like the handicap parking spot-it’s there so the people who need it will have it, not for general use.

          1. Autistic AF*

            That’s always been a different category of leave wherever I worked. It has higher eligibility requirements, just like a handicap parking placard

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          I don’t know about usually – I know way too many people who say they have three to five days of sick leave a year (I had the latter at my last company and left partly because of that paltry amount). I think the average person could use more time than that on sick leave if companies in the U.S. actually gave it and championed using it.

          1. Quill*

            Also, as this year has taught us: the “average” person should be staying out of public spaces far more often than they have been in order to minimize disease spread. Whether that’s accomplished via more WFH options or more sick days taken or moving to a system that takes the decision of what amount of sick time to offer out of an individual company’s hands is moot.

            Also, to the people saying they’d be mad if “employees without major medical needs” took the same amount of time off… You aren’t supposed to always KNOW who has major medical needs. It might be harder to be unaware if an employee has cancer or a preemie baby, but getting mad at someone who takes an equivalent amount of time off for migraines, asthmatic bronchitis, rehab or physical therapy and has no obligation to disclose that to you is 100% a jerk move.

            1. Spencer Hastings*

              I think people are speaking de dicto here, not de re. My company does PTO in one bucket (which has its own problems and injustices), but if I had X days of “sick leave”, I would not automatically assume that I should be using them all even if I was sick for fewer than X days. That’s the standard; I would hold myself to it, and hope that others were too (without knowing, or wanting to know, who in particular was sick how often).

            2. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Agreed. My current employer has no need to know how much time I spent in a psychiatric ward this year, or the damage it’s caused to my psyche.

              The psychiatrist appointments I have go down as ‘doctor appointments’ with no other details and if I required time off due to my depression/schizophrenia again I know the doctors would just put ‘stress’ on the medical note for the company.

              I’m certainly not about to admit to my employer that I have those conditions, and I’d absolutely expect to not be at work if they needed medical help again.

          2. Bagpuss*

            Yes, I don’t know what is usual in the US.

            I think that the average taken here in the is about 4.5 days a year, but in terms of what is given in sick leave averages are skewed by the fact that public sector jobs may offer 3-6 months paid sick leave, whereas smaller private employers may only offer a few days, or may not offer paid leave at all, and I believe that absence rates for sickness are consistently higher in the public than the private sector.

      3. JanetM*

        Lavender Menace wrote, “Sick time is a company benefit – it’s part of your compensation package, and it’s meant to be for emergency time off that’s not planned in advance.”

        That seems a bit limited to me — wouldn’t sick time also be for things like annual checkups and planned surgeries? I would think that, for example, a knee-replacement surgery due to long-term wear and tear (as opposed to a sudden injury) isn’t necessarily an emergency, but is still a valid use of sick time.

      4. Justme, the OG*

        So when I have a planned surgery, I cannot use sick time? Even though it’s medical? That makes absolutely no sense.

        1. uncivil servant*

          I don’t think that’s what they meant. I assume they meant it as it’s either for capital-M Medical reasons (like planned surgery or a dental appointment) or if you’re just staying at home, that’s to be determined on the day of.

          I had the easiest-going manager ever and even she had to have some words with a student who asked for a week off and submitted it as sick leave because he was running low on vacation days. That’s what I think of as not scheduling sick leave in advance.

    11. Nikkole*

      I was gravely injured and was living with my then bf at the time, he stayed home with me on PTO for like a week. It wasn’t a big deal tbh to take it as personal time as opposed to sick leave.

    12. Jennifer Thneed*

      So, you’re using “PTO” as a synonym for “vacation”. But it stands for “Paid Time Off” and in lots of companies, it really is one big pot that contains both types of pay. You didn’t use sick leave but you did use vacation, and I’m glad you had enough to be helpful. But please don’t use PTO as a synonym for “vacation” because it really is a different thing. In LW’s case, it would have allowed them to take the time off as needed, and without question.

      I think the employer was unreasonable to decide to specify 22 types of relationship instead of letting managers (or at least HR) use their own judgement. There will *always* be cases that the system designer didn’t think about at the time. You have to allow flexibility for future-users.

      (Anyway, the rules as written seem to allow the LW to use sick leave when caring for a housemate, and would certainly allow it for a married couple who is not yet divorced but who have been living separately for years. Somebody, somewhere, should have been able to allow LW to use their sick time.)

  7. Storie*

    Op #1, I would be bitter too. And I’d be tempted to mention it in an exit interview—in a professional way. Not sure if Alison would also advise that? Just thinking they should know where they lost your loyalty.

    1. RetailMeNotLoyalCards*

      I might have done this, once upon a time, in a field that I was leaving (Retail).

      I’d been told when my (long time, living together) boyfriend’s grandmother passed away that I was ineligible for bereavement and would have to take vacation. This was literally the first thing out of my district manager’s mouth when I said “I need to request Friday and Saturday off next week as we’re having a wake for X’s grandmother”, that I’d have to take vacation because we weren’t married. I bit my tongue to not say “so I should marry my fling of the week for the sake of bereavement leave?” because said DM had two quickie marriages and divorces in the same time frame that I’d been with said boyfriend.

      Three months later, I had decided that “Eff this nonsense I’m out of retail because I don’t have the disposition to deal with stupid people who think they’re right regardless”. I had a new job in hand, and literally the day I was going to resign my position (assistant store manager) the district manager announced our store was closing. If we stayed on for the next four weeks, we’d receive a WHOLE dollar an hour extra as a lump sum at the end as a “Loyalty Bonus”. I actually got a phone call from the Regional Manager and the corporate president over their astonishment that I wasn’t staying for the loyalty bonus. They could not grasp that a whopping total of $180 before taxes** was not enough to make me risk the new-non-retail-position start date.

      **I later found out it was listed as a “bonus” from my housemate (not boyfriend. It was an EXPENSIVE area and to afford a reasonable place = housemates plural) who worked as the storeroom manager, which means everyone got completely hosed on taxes, too.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      I think these kinds of structural things are actually good to bring up in an exit interview. The people with the power to change these policies won’t do it if they don’t see tangible evidence that the policies are costing them good employees. Knowing that OP chose to leave their job in part because of the family leave policy gives the organization good and useful information. They may not choose to act on it, but I think giving the information in a calm and professional way would be a good thing if OP thinks they’re up to it.

  8. Turanga Leela*

    OP #1, this happened to me ages ago. My then-boyfriend and I were both teaching in a rural school district. He threw out his back, and I called in sick to drive him to/from the doctor. It was 40 minutes away, and he was in pain and then on muscle relaxers, so there was no way he could drive himself. He didn’t have family in the area. We were dating, but I would have done the same for any close friend in that situation.

    I needed to make some copies for my substitute teacher, so I went into the school building early in the morning, before we left, and I ran into my principal. Since she knew my boyfriend, I told her about his injury. She expressed sympathy and then said, “But you can’t take sick leave. You’re not family. You’ll have to use a personal day.”

    I was so offended. This district recruited young teachers from far away, which by definition meant most of us wouldn’t have local support networks—we relied on each other in emergencies. It made both of us feel like we weren’t valued, and it made me hesitate to share any personal information going forward.

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      Ugh, your principal there screwed you over even if that was the district policy. The correct answer would have been, “Oh no, I hope his back is better soon. Now you go home and take care of that cough of yours.” I mean, by denying the sick leave due to a technicality she has basically taught you to lie when you need to take care of something extreme but not standard rather than ‘ignoring’ the situation and getting the real story that will let her run the school more effectively. It’s not like there was a paper trail that could have called either of you out, it was a hallway conversation.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        by denying the sick leave due to a technicality she has basically taught you to lie when you need to take care of something extreme but not standard

        This is what it boils down to, really. These rigid policies that don’t take context into consideration essentially force employees to lie about things to get the time off they need, which just erodes the working relationship over time. Treat adults like adults who know how to manage their own time, address people individually who take advantage, and then you’ll have a more productive and collegial workforce. It’s really not that hard.

        1. Quill*

          As I commented elsewhere, rules lawyering benefits creates lies and techincal “abuse” of the system, much in the same way that DRM software creates piracy: the more restrictive it is, the more you have to lie and cheat to make it functional.

    2. Quill*

      I know your principal wasn’t the local one my mom worked for, but I think they’re spiritual sisters in suckitude.

  9. Global Cat Herder*

    LW3 at my employer, rewriting the job description is the first step to seeking a promotion/raise. HR compares the new and old job descriptions to support pay grades and such.

    Could something similar be going on for you?

    1. Jane Plough*

      I was thinking this too, but I’d have the conversation with the boss first to get clear on the expectations of whether this will lead to a raise or title change. The OP says they don’t expect a raise to be possible, but in normal times I’d absolutely expect substantially increased responsibilities to be a case for a raise. COVID doesn’t change that basic expectation, even if it means a raise might be delayed. I would be wary of rewriting my job description without confirmation that there would be some kind of re-benchmarking process or eventual raise so that my compensation matched my duties, for the reasons discussed in the post.

    2. LW #3*

      That’s a good thing to bear in mind. I hadn’t gotten that impression, but it seems like there are some things I need to confirm as things move forward.

    3. Kes*

      Even if you know the company can’t give you a raise, if now is when you’re talking about your expanded role I would still bring it up if you think a different title is warranted for the different set of responsibilities, and I would think you could even state that normally you would be asking for a raise as a result of the expanded scope of responsibility, although you’re aware it may not be possible right at the moment. You certainly want to acknowledge the realities of the moment but if you’re having the discussion now that would normally lead to these points, I would still bring them up to at least plant the seeds.
      I know for myself my company froze raises on mid-year promotions, but I still got the title bump at the time and then will probably get the raise at end of year, so don’t assume you can’t get promoted right now if you want and it makes sense just because your company can’t give you the raise at the moment. I would just make it clear if you do go that route that you are willing to accept the promotion without a raise for now given the circumstances and that you expect the usual promotion raise once things recover. Obviously you have to decide if this is worth it for you, but it could at the very least set you up for a better job elsewhere even if your company doesn’t give you the raise, and if you’re already doing the work the acknowledgement of your actual role can be nice

  10. Anongineer*

    OP #1, my takeaway from that interaction would have been to give 0 details about my personal life and reasons for sick leave moving forward. Just say that I wasn’t feeling well and keep using my sick time until my partner was well again.

    I also agree with you that I would have disengaged from extra responsibilities at work and motivated to leave. It probably would not have been great for your career with them long term, but why go above and beyond for a company that won’t do the same for you? Congratulations on your new position!

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      been to give 0 details about my personal life and reasons for sick leave moving forward. Just say that I wasn’t feeling well and keep using my sick time until my partner was well again.

      This would have been my takeaway too.

  11. Aggretsuko*

    I’m not even 1% shocked to hear that HR wouldn’t allow that for #1. I would have been flabbergasted if they’d allowed it, actually.

      1. asgard*

        It has nothing to do with how the boss feels. They may sympathize 100%, but that doesn’t mean they can actually do anything. As lower and middle management I have advocated hard for my direct reports, and often to no avail, because you can’t just change things in large corporations or universities. I even offered to give up my own raise and bonus to get 2 great employees better compensation and that didn’t fly. “Just talking to HR” and “working it out with HR” is often impossible, even when the HR rep agrees or sympathizes with you.

        1. Bereavement Blues*

          In your case perhaps, but there’s often more discretion than people take. Several people suggested that sick leave could have been used for OP1, for instance.

            1. Bereavement Blues*

              Yeah, that doesn’t mean managers have no discretion in the circumstances we’re talking about. Do employees need medical documentation every time they take sick leave? We’re not talking about pay here, we’re talking about someone in distress being denied the agency to address it.

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      I’ve used sick time for “my cat is lost” and also for “couldn’t fall asleep last night and now I’m too tired to work”. I know people who’ve used it for anything from exhausted to hungover. It’s earned time off.

      This level of policing doesn’t help anyone – afterall, OP eventually left over this. Some studies suggest that the cost of replacing (recruiting and training) an experienced professional is about 4-8 months salary. It would have been a hundred times cheaper for the org to just be flexible!

      1. Cat Tree*

        That’s what really gets me. Since it’s accrued time off, why have such detailed restrictions in the first place? If someone abuses it for the wrong reasons, they’re only hurting themselves by not having any sick time left when they really need it. I could kind of understand the restrictions for unlimited sick time, but that’s not the case here.

        1. CheeryO*

          There’s almost definitely two different categories of sick leave at play here, as someone who works for a similarly rigid organization. If the LW called in sick for herself, no one would have batted an eye, but because she’s trying to put it under family sick leave, there are restrictions. This is not at all unusual in my experience.

            1. Oh Snap!*

              I think the reason these types of restrictions tend to be put in place is because it is so ripe for exploitation. You yourself being sick is cut and dry. But sick leave for family can quickly become out of control. So they have to draw a line somewhere. And inevitably there are edge cases.

              1. ian*

                Uh, “you yourself being sick” is equally “ripe for exploitation”. Unless you require a doctor’s note (which, you could easily do for sick leave for family, if that’s your policy), there’s nothing preventing someone from calling out sick for themselves when they’re not.

          1. The Other Dawn*

            It’s the same at the company my husband works for. It’s huge and bureaucratic. An employee wouldn’t be able to use sick time in OP’s situation, either. I don’t agree with it, but that’s just the way it is sometimes. I don’t think it’s completely fair to blame the manager in this, as it’s likely their hands are tied. Of course it’s possible the manager is just a jerk, but we have no way of knowing which is the correct assumption. If anything, blame the company and their policies. But even then, companies put rules in place for a reason and this isn’t that uncommon.

          2. Cat Tree*

            I understand all that, but I still think it’s wrong to be so rigid (common doesn’t equal good). Her sick time is accrued, so she will literally never get even a single extra minute of paid sick time no matter how she uses it. It’s not like she’s getting anything extra by using her time to care for her boyfriend. In this case the company gets zero benefit from being so restrictive, and in fact it costs them because it uses up employee time monitoring others’ usage, which could have been used for productive work.

        2. Jo*

          With many organizations that have different types of leave I think it’s also about statistics. It’s expected that each employee will 100% take their vacation days. (For simplicity, ignoring vacation buyouts or rollover.) So you calculate that loss of manpower as a given.

          However, sick leave is more like insurance: it’s a benefit available if needed and if it meets certain criteria. Like insurance, you don’t expect EVERY beneficiary to fully use it. The employer is banking on an overall amount being needed for the group. If every employee actually took ALL their sick days each year, the employer likely wouldn’t be able to meet obligations with planned resources. That would be a different calculation of resources needed.

          And, like insurance, there are rules/policies for when it applies, how it can be used.

          1. Cat Tree*

            Hmm, at the places I’ve worked that had a set amount of sick leave, it was generally expected that all of it would be used, except by the people who never take off anyway, even for vacations.

            But then, I think a set amount of sick leave isn’t ideal in most cases anyway. Luckily my current job has unlimited sick leave and they treat us like adults to handle it.

          2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            +1. The other part of this is that some companies/jurisdictions require that accrued vacation is paid out to employees leaving the organization. That makes vacation a financial liability for the organization. So in that case you usually want a separate pot for vacation and manage carryover carefully in a way that you might not need to do with sick-days-as-insurance.

        3. TL -*

          They’re not only hurting themselves – if they don’t have any sick time left and they then come into work with a cold or the flu (or flu-like symptoms, during a pandemic), then they’re likely going to infect multiple other employees with whatever they have.

          Someone staying home when ill isn’t just about feeling better; a lot of times it’s about not spreading your minor illness throughout the company (which benefits the company; one employee taking 1-3 days off is a lot better than a cluster of 2 or 10 or more employees taking 1-3 days off.)

    2. Pink Dahlia*

      Also not shocked. I’m not even allowed to use sick time for myself if it’s a planned medical situation, like an endoscopy. Sick days 100% have to be an unforeseen illness.

  12. Karia*

    The first letter is a bad idea for a) human reasons but also because of exactly what happened here; the employee’s morale utterly tanked and she eventually left. And if I worked with her, I’d be looking for the exit as well.

  13. Emma*

    OP4 be glad it’s just a monthly thing! In my last job the majority of emails were sent to everyone (about 25 people) daily and everyone ALWAYS replied all. There was so much junk to get through everyday.

  14. Older and bolder*

    I know a married couple who live in separate houses, in different neighborhoods, because each wanted a different house style, decor, and one wants minimalist while the other wants homey. No one else’s business, right? Could we just support people’s lives?

    1. BubbleTea*

      Yes, I can think of at least two married couples who live separately. Does being married trump not living together? What if someone lives in a shared house with strangers, can they take a sick day for one of their housemates? This is such a weird system.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        Yes, because they are married and legally bound. Many married couples don’t live together (think military couples). They are still legally bound. As for roommates, some companies treat them as household members and could take sick leave, some as legal strangers.

    2. JM in England*

      There’s a couple in one of my hobby groups that have been together over 20 years but live separately. There must be something right about the arrangement if the relationship has lasted this long….

    3. Cat Tree*

      If I ever got married, I could get on board with this. I would at least want separate bedrooms. I’ve never shared my bedroom except for the year that I lived in the dorm freshman year of college. To go from that to sharing not just my room but my actual bed would not work for me. I’m a light sleeper.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Mine is the opposite problem, I never had a room to myself until I was 40, and still can’t get enough of it :) It is lovely to wake up next to a partner, oh… once a month? Every day would wear me out.

        I remember, on the last weekend of my last “normal, socially acceptable” relationship (as in, spend all weekends together, spend free time together, planning for the rest of our lives together etc), waking up at 2:30 am, next to my then-bf. All lights were on (no idea why). Family Guy blaring on TV with the volume up (only way he could fall asleep). Remote nowhere to be found (because he’d rolled over on top of it again). And I clearly remember staring at the ceiling and thinking, this is it. This is the rest of my life. When he came over to break up four days later, because “he just couldn’t love me in a rest-of-his-life way”, I was freaking elated. I’d already gotten to the point of realizing that “this isn’t working the way we’ve been expecting it to work”, but was afraid to think about the next steps from there, and he took the next steps so I didn’t have to. I liked the guy and still respect him and wish him all the happiness in his current marriage (it’s been 5 years since we ended things)… But my takeaway from that relationship was that the “joined at the hip” relationship or marriage model was not for me, and that I need to look into other ways to have a romantic relationship or relationships (I’ve explored nonmonogamy before and will likely do so again at some point in my life. Again, for the reason that, when I have multiple partners and each of my partners has multiple partners, there’s none of this pressure on me to fulfill every last one of my partner’s needs, because I’m the only one he has; and to sweep under the rug any of my needs that my partner doesn’t meet, because he’s the only one I’m allowed to have. If he wants to share a bed with a loved one AND have Family Guy on TV all night, he can! just with another one of his partners and not with me.)

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My husband and I were the “hostile roommates” kind of the married couple that Alison refers to. Basically only living together because we both thought it’d be too much hassle to split up. It blows my mind that we were considered close family, but OP and her BF, who’d had a GODDAMN STROKE FFS!!! if that isn’t a reason for everyone close to him to call in sick and help him recover, then what even is?!!? A STROKE, FOR THE LOVE OF DOG (exasperated sigh) (sorry, my grandmother was left completely paralyzed after her first stroke and died of her second one ten years later, so it is a BIG DEAL to me)… were not.

  15. TPS reporter*

    Ugh just give people non-denominational PTO already. These policies are so silly. Give the days and let people do whatever they do on those days.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      …except that that tends to inadvertently penalize people for needing to take time off for being sick, because “fun” and “non-fun” PTO are drawn from the same bank.

      1. londonedit*

        Yes, I find it hard to get my head around the idea of having to take sick time from the same ‘bucket’ as holiday time. I get my 25 days’ holiday and that’s for holiday – relaxing breaks away from work. We don’t have a set number of sick days allowed per year – my employer trusts people not to abuse sick leave and it’s all done on a case-by-case basis. If you’re ill and you need a day off, that’s fine. If you’re taking an excessive amount of sick leave, then your manager will address that with you. If you discover you have a serious health condition, then the company will work with you to give you the time off you need. I’d hate to have sick days in the same bucket as holiday time – I’d always be wary of taking a couple of weeks’ holiday in case I come down with the flu a few months later.

        1. UKDancer*

          Same for me (also UK). I get 25 days per year annual leave. We also don’t have a set number of sick days allowed although if you take too much for very minor things it can become an issue.

          We had a colleague diagnosed with cancer and management worked with her to ensure she got the time off for treatments and adjusted her work pattern accordingly.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Can I come work for your place? Some of my past employers have been really weird about sick leave (“no more than 3 occurrences a year or we’ll put you on a PIP” when I get monthly migraines). Or the place that would only allow you to book leave in holiday season if you had kids…

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I am a big proponent of “one bucket”. But to me, one bucket implies it that there’s a buffer of a few extra PTO days added to the bucket to make up for what the sick time would’ve been. If a company offers 15 days vacation and 5 sick, it would of course be wrong to just change it to 15 days PTO and be like “use it as vacation, or use it as sick time, go wild!” it’d have to become 20.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          Still, though, every sick day taking away from your potential vacation incentivizes people coming in sick (and sounds super rough on chronically-ill people — I am admittedly not one, so I don’t know firsthand).

    2. BRR*

      This often leads to people coming into work while sick though so they can save their days and also penalizes those who might need to take more sick time for chronic conditions. I certainly see the upsides to one bucket and after years of reading AAM I’ve landed on both systems have their pros and cons and it’s a matter of personal preference. (Employers like #1 should be more flexible about sick leave though).

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        This often leads to people coming into work while sick though so they can save their days and also penalizes those who might need to take more sick time for chronic conditions.

        Not if the company gives you a large enough PTO bucket to start with and allows unused time to roll over. I worked for an insurance company that had a combined bucket with roll over allowances, and I loved it – I also have chronic illnesses. The years that my illnesses were well-managed, I got to take nearly four weeks of vacation time and still had ample time for the occasional sick day.

        1. TPS reporter*

          Exactly- my company gives a fairly large PTO bucket that increases in accrual as you gain longevity and lets you roll over. As a manager, it is very helpful for me to not have to have in depth discussions with my team about their health issues. Maybe one day they just feel down and they want a day. I don’t have to discuss with them whether that is “sick” time. They also have short and long term leave for more severe health conditions which is state and federally mandated.

          Also, working from home has been growing and is now perfectly acceptable if someone is sick enough that they shouldn’t come in but can get a few things done at home.

        2. Quill*

          The problem is ALWAYS getting the company to give enough PTO in the first place. Many of the problems inherent in the different ways its administered would go away if enough was allotted.

          1. TPS reporter*

            also I try to be flexible as a manager. if someone is generally trustworthy and doing well, if they take off early here and there (with my permission) because they don’t feel great or have some commitment I’m not going to ask them to take PTO.

            1. Quill*

              I will always remember that the same boss who said “you need to be less concerned about getting out of here at 5 PM” (when I had a medical appointment that I SHOULD have been leaving for at 4:45, and had already discussed and prepared for) is the same person who expected me to drop everything on the day of my brother’s graduation to move the office… and then stay an extra three hours past when he said it would take… and then expected me to be on-call, ready to work, at 10 AM on a saturday despite no prior notice and the fact that Saturdays were never work days unless already arranged, and fired me for not answering my phone in a “timely” fashion because I was working in the yard, on my day off, and he thought I should be working for him five minutes after it occurred to him that he had a problem, at maximum.

              This is also the same jerk who thought 12 combined days of PTO per year was “generous,” then complained when we took it, hired new grads so they wouldn’t realize how shitty he was, and was also a walking lab safety violation.

              Needless to say nobody liked him and most of our clients were from far enough away that they could not possibly know how dysfunctional that place was.

              Moral of the story: flexibility cannot only go one way, and oooh boy I forgot how much I still hate my old boss at the Pig Lab From Hell.

    3. Washi*

      In my experience, that leads to people coming to work sick because they want to save their days for actual vacation. I’d much rather have generous, separate sick time, even if I’m not likely to actually use it all.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        Saw this live. We went from distinct “Vacation Bucket” and “Sick Bucket” to “Combined PTO”. Granted, we all lost a day or two in the switchover, to boot, which didn’t help. (2 Weeks Vacation plus 6 Days Sick > Three weeks PTO)

        At the same time as the switchover, it was a spectacular season of craptastic corporate for the sake of reasons decisions (earned vacation by the week as opposed to first half/last half of year, time logging software on phones, punch in and punch out for salaried employees, no more flexible hours, travel to corporate HQ went from rare to every two weeks, longer approvals on travel expense reports) so it was not a well handled adjustment. At all.

        More people were visibly cold-symptoms sick in the first portion of the year, but everyone was still off for half the month of December. This could have been either due to the combining of the buckets, or the implementation of “earned leave”, I suppose.

      2. ian*

        I worked at a place with separate buckets where people still came in sick so that they could “call in sick” on other days when they wanted a day off. Really, the answer is just “give people generous amounts of PTO so they don’t feel like they need to pull tricks like that to get the time off that they want”.

    4. whistle*

      I think separate buckets for vacation and sick helps companies provide more sick leave for the people who need it. I am someone who rarely gets sick, so I don’t generally use my available sick days. I basically lose a lot of potential paid time off. However, we have ample vacation and holiday time, so I don’t mind. I would much rather the sick leave be available for those who need it. Since the company will always have some employees who are fortunate to not need much sick time as well as employees who do need the sick time, they can afford to provide a larger sick leave benefit knowing that a lot of it will not be used.

      1. Quill*

        Having sick time roll over also seems like a reasonable measure, because some years you take one day off for a cold, another year you may need two weeks for the flu and then another two weeks off for the flu two, gastrointestinal boogaloo.

    5. introverted af*

      I enormously support having 2 buckets of sick time and vacation time, given that I see most employers doing one bucket for all be pretty stingy. Because of my workplace’s policies on it, we get 10 ish days of sick leave at the beginning of the year and it rolls over up to 720 hrs. We accrue vacation time as we go, with more accrued the longer you’ve been there.

      Meanwhile my husband has one bank of 15 days for the year. And doesn’t accrue more annually until he’s been there 5 years.

    6. Cat Tree*

      Ideally, sick time would be unlimited and employees would just use their best judgment, at least in jobs where coverage at certain times isn’t critical. The problem is that would require managers to actually manage and do it based on work output instead of time spent with butts in seats.

      It is actually possible to have this system work well, because that’s how it is at my current job. People manage to not abuse it even without strict scrutiny because we can effectively manage our work. One person abused it once and he got fired, not for too many absences but for failing to get his work done or arrange help for it. But again, this requires competent management which is apparently rare.

    7. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      The only time I’ve had combined PTO it was sick, vacation, and holiday hours. The office was closed for 8 holidays a year, but if you wanted to get paid you had to use PTO (and, of course, there was no way to opt out of the office being closed). We got a whopping 15 days total, so after the 8 required days you were left with a grand total of 7 days off, for both sick and vacation, every year.

    8. Roci*

      Where I work (not US) sick leave is for yourself, when you are sick and seeing a doctor. Vacation days are for any other days off. We also have leave buckets for parents, bereavement leave, parental leave, etc. It’s not perfect but I like knowing my sick days are subtracting from my vacation.

  16. Jo*

    LW1- that’s a horrible situation to find yourself in, full sympathy. When our much loved grandmother had a stroke, our family were told to say our goodbyes. My sister is a nurse, she asked for one day compassionate leave to travel to say goodbye; her hr department said no, because (and I quote here) “she’s not dead yet” so leave isn’t qualified. 9 years later and I am STILL horrified a hr department in a hospital said this to a critical care nurse.

    1. Squidhead*

      Critical Care nurse here: *after* my grandmother had died I had to take a Call-in (slight possibility of discipline if used frequently, like >3 days in 3 months, and here I was using 2 days at once) instead of being allowed to use personal leave to attend her memorial! I kinda got it…we were short staffed and personal leave is subject to approval. But it rankled me because I never call out and hardly ever ask for anything extenuating. If it had been a parent/sibling/child/spouse, I apparently could have taken personal time.

  17. AppleStan*

    OP #4: If you are using MS Outlook there is an “ignore” feature for each email…if you click on that when you get the first email, it will automatically take any responses to some faraway magical folder that will not be in your inbox… There may be some finagling the first few times you use it so that you can learn how to configure it best for you.

    I agree that any capital you have in this company is not worth spending on this one issue (as annoying as it is…and I do understand that it is highly annoying).

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes this is good. In my last company we had one person in another team who took it upon herself to send a newsy and irrelevant email around all the teams working on a topic. The tone of it really annoyed me each time I received it and I complained to my boss about it. He said that while it annoyed him as well it wasn’t worth spending capital trying to get the sender to stop and it would just annoy them and make me look petty. So he advised me to just set an email rule that would send the email with that title to my spam folder.

      The end result was that my mood was better for not having to see the email. I also didn’t jeopardise the wider relationship over what is really a minor and petty thing. That particular boss was rather devious and I learnt a lot from him about how to use your personal capital and how to get what you want.

  18. Tamer of Dragonflies*

    OP 1, I can understand your company’s point of view on granting who sick leave can be used to care for. Marriage and domestic partnerships lend an air of permanance, while the person someone is dating can change week to week. There has to be a line drawn somewhere if thats the model they are going to use.I think the bigger issue is that your company (or any company) uses this model at all. Who or what you use your sick leave to care for shouldn’t be a concern of theirs as long as it isnt for a work related injury you received and you arent spreading something contagious.( side-eyeing at you covid)
    Something else I noticed. In your letter, I think you mentioned getting your computer and maybe some paperwork to take care of things while you were caring for your S/O. If you’re performing work tasks from home (or hospital or wherever) why should you have to use leave of any kind to begin with? Im guessing that you’re salaried/exempt, and unless there are circumstances not mentioned, you’re doing your job while caring for S/O. Sounds like your company is wanting to burn the liability of your leave off the books while you are still performing your work. Maybe this could be a work around.If you’re working from home, then theres no need to use any PTO at all.

    1. Paperwhite*

      while the person someone is dating can change week to week

      I don’t think length of relationship affects whether or not one person needs to help another. Also, many dating relationships last much longer than many marriages for various reasons: marriage is not necessarily thew “goal” of all partnerships, romantic and otherwise. So, I think this point highlights your larger point about how “I think the bigger issue is that your company (or any company) uses this model at all,” by showing how arbitrary and pointlessly unkind the model is.

      1. Tamer of Dragonflies*

        Yeah, thats the point I was trying to get across.It shouldnt matter who the time is taken for.What matters is that OP ( or anyone) needs to care for someone or something and needs the time. I wasnt trying to put down anyones relationship and I apologize to anyone who I offended.It wasnt ment like that at all.

    2. Everdene*

      Before Oak and I married we attended 3 weddings together of people who met after us and divorced before we got engaged. Not married does not mean not commited.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I mean, legally, it does. In every other way you may be deeply committed, but legally you are not, and that’s what this policy is about.

        1. Quill*

          But the policy sucks in terms of “determining who gets to be around to provide medical care.” We have the unmarried, the singletons, the people who have a partner physically unable to provide the necessary care, and the people who are caught between various companies rules lawyering which relationships are eligible for taking leave to care for someone.

          Give enough sick time and if you must, note “unplanned illness” vs. “Caregiving” and quit worrying that someone might take a day off to drive their grandmother’s best friend to a medical appointment.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yes, it would be awesome if the world worked like that. But if the OP works for a public institution, a combination of literal laws and the ever-present threat of “what would the taxpayers think?” stand in the way.

            1. pancakes*

              Which laws, exactly, are standing in the way of the letter writer’s time off being approved? And why should the concerns of the won’t-someone-think-of-the-taxpayers crowd be given more weight than anyone else’s? People who take great pride in announcing that they pay taxes aren’t categorically or legally special in ways the rest of us aren’t.

                1. pancakes*

                  I have, though only briefly. I remain genuinely interested in knowing which laws you’re referring to.

              1. Black Horse Dancing*

                The very same laws that prevented my spouse from using bereavement leave for my father’s funeral because legally we couldn’t marry. She worked for a public (state) university. Taxpayers don’t even allow most government offices to have holiday parties at the taxpayers’ expense, not even punch or cookies–trust me, someone will raise hell.

                1. pancakes*

                  People raise hell about all sorts of things and doing so doesn’t mean they’re in the right. People in the US raise hell daily about being asked to wear masks in stores, to the point of shouting, knocking over displays, assaulting workers, etc.

            2. Quill*

              So, all your arguments in this thread boil down to “not knowing the exact laws and regulations regarding OP’s workplace, because none of us know those details, I will continue to become snippy at other commenters expressing more general thoughts on how this should or could be handled across society, in the future, to resolve situations like this, because in THIS SITUATION I am sure that there is a rule being followed.”

              Good to know where the impasse seems to be.

        2. Sam*

          It’s true; I can only feel emotional devastation when someone I’m *legally* committed to is suffering.

          You’re posting this pretty much in every comment thread it applies to, and I think it would behoove you to think about why the person in the question might be struggling with this situation, instead of just throwing up your hands and saying “shoulda got married!”

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            LOL sure, that’s exactly what I said, you don’t feel anything until you feel it MARRIED.


            I’m not saying it’s not a struggle for this person. I’m saying yeah, this is how life is, this is how employers work, and this is what happens because of how employers work. There are lots of life struggles that your employer is just not going to help you with. How often has Alison kindly suggested that no, it’s not always in your best interest to (for example) inform your employer of your mental health struggles? Because of how employers work? Did you get all antsy about that? Did you say how dare you, Alison, and it might behoove you to think about why people might be struggling? Or did you just say oh, yeah, this is a fact of life, and sometimes it bites people in the ass?

            1. Sam*

              But that discussion also often involves… an acknowledgement that they’re dealing with a less-than-ideal system? Not just constant reminders about how important marriage is? I don’t know, it just seems like you’re really enjoying telling off anyone in the comments who feels sympathy for OP1.

    3. Anonymeh*

      In the seven years (to the day) between my first date and my wedding day, a friend got married, divorced, had a live-in boyfriend for two years, broke up, and met/engaged/married/separated from the next husband.

      What were you saying about an air of permanence…..?

      1. Tamer of Dragonflies*

        Yeah,maybe a poor choice of words on that one. What I was trying to say was that a union that is recognized by the state is more difficult to dissolve than a union that isn’t, and it seems that OPs company is using that as a basis on who OP can use their sick leave for. To me,it seems an arbitrary metric because someone’s level of commitment and caring is based on what’s in their hearts and minds, not whether the state, or anyone else recognizes it, and that OP should be able to use their leave time on whoever they wish.

    4. SwitchingGenres*

      Why does “the line have to be drawn?” It’s her sick leave. If she wants to use it caring for someone she’s known for two days, let her. It’s the same to the company, she’s out of work that day, whether she has the flu, is caring for her husband, or her boyfriend. If she runs out of time that’s her problem—she knows how many sick days she has. Stop treating unmarried people like they’re less important and have fewer feelings than married people.

  19. Old Admin*

    #1 :
    I had a similar experience with a non-US company (in a country that very much advertises its social values and network) that has multiple Great Place To Work prizes, good parental leave etc.
    One aspect is additional time off for compassionate reasons, one being the funeral of a close relative (parents, children, aunt etc.). My sister suddenly died, and I had to fly to to the US on very short notice. I officially got the compassionate leave (important as my PTO was almost used up for the year).
    When I returned to my company straight off the plane, still wearning mourning, I was called to my supervisor’s office. He hemmed and hawed a bit, then informed me the death OF A SIBLING did not qualify for compassionate leave under the company policy, my leave was rescinded, and that I would have to take PTO off or do overtime to compensate for having been away. I argued, but lost.
    In the end, I looked him straight in the eye, and said in a dead, flat voice: “If that is what the company wants, then that is what the company will get”.
    Yes, I’m still bitter that my own sister did not count. Did not help motivate me either.

  20. old curmudgeon*

    LW#2, my elder kid left a company where they had worked for six years to take a new job that they thought would be a better fit, because the manager they had at the time was a toxic dumpster fire. The new gig turned out to bore them to active nausea, so about eight months later when the first company sent out a feeler to tempt them to come back, they were ready to negotiate. Three years later, they are now in a leadership position in the company running the entire area of their expertise, and happy as can be – the company is a good one, there was just a horrendous mismatch between my kid and the manager they had when they left, and the company had not realized how much they relied on Elder Kid until they left.

    Full disclosure: Elder Kid works in a high-demand profession and has very sought-after skills. Which is lovely for them, of course, but not everyone in every industry would be able to negotiate the same outcome. But if the company trying to lure you back is in an overall stronger position than they were last spring, and considering that you already know the culture and process, it could very much be a win to go back.

    Good luck in any case! I hope you land in a position that is both professionally and economically rewarding.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Hi, LW#2 — I agree with Old Curmudgeon that this could work out, IF the underlying instability has been resolved. Why don’t you agree to an interview and ask some very probing questions about the issues that concerned you before you left?

      Whether you go back to your former employer or not, you should probably be plotting an exit strategy from your current position. While you say it’s only been six months, it doesn’t sound like a good fit for you.

      1. LW2*

        Thank you both! I’m happy to hear, Old Curmudgeon, that it worked out for your eldest child. Regarding the financial situation, I have plenty of friends left at my former employer, and was able to ascertain that it’s in a better place when I left. Although I don’t think it will be where it was a year ago for quite awhile, I’m not as worried about the financial situation anymore. Since I emailed this a few weeks ago, I’ve actually accepted the offer :) and am quite excited to go back.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I hope you’re going to be in position to help things keep changing for the better. Good luck!

      2. Bear Shark*

        I agree. LW#2, take the interview and be very thorough with your questions. I was in your situation a few years ago and wrote to Alison about it and she told me basically the same thing – are the things that made you want to leave different now? You mentioned feeling like you left a sinking ship. Is your old boss leaving enough to fix that feeling for you, or are there other issues that will still make you feel that way if you go back. I ended up returning to employer 1, but if I hadn’t I knew that even with only a short time at employer 2 I wasn’t going to stay there long term. Some of my issues at employer 1 were resolved and some were not but overall it was enough that it was worth burning the bridge with employer 2.

        1. LW2*

          Sounds like my situation– I am not going to stay at current employer long; I don’t see how I’ll be happy here long term. I’m stressed and working terrible hours. Even if my former employer is in more rocky financial straits, I’d rather be there with a better work-life balance making more money than where I currently am. Glad to know it worked out for you!

  21. Everdene*

    How compassionately an organisation acts towards employees matters a huge deal when it comes to loyalty, as OPs boss discovered.

    We had a difficult year a few years back. One Saturday night Oak’s best friend died suddenly (early 30s), he phoned into work on the Monday but suited up and went in as normal on Tuesday. His line manager asked how he was doing and Oak burst into tears, this is not like him. He was sent home and told to take the rest of the week off and not worry about anything.

    About a month later, my grandmother died. My manager told me I wasn’t allowed any time off for the funeral as it wasn’t an immediate relative. I said I would be taking two days (cross country travel) and if she needed a doctor’s line let me know, but I wouldn’t be in. (My grandboss said this was nonsense and to take bereavement leave). Oak asked for holiday for those two days but the team were already understaffed, so his line manager asked him to take just one days holiday and make up time for the other day so I wouldn’t have to travel alone.

    Guess which one of us is still in that same job?

  22. agnes*

    LW #1 You situation would not qualify for you to use sick leave in my organization either. Our sick leave policy is similar to your own–it defines many specific relationships that qualify for sick leave use, and non-cohabitating partners isn’t on the list–I guess they are considered “casual” relationships. Neither are friends. You might talk to HR about how to suggest a change to a policy –large organizations often have policy committees that will regularly review policies and consider suggestions from employees about ways to modify policies to make them work better for employees.

    1. CheeryO*

      Same here. I had to confirm that I lived with my boyfriend before I was able to charge family sick leave after he had surgery. My supervisor is the nicest guy and was apologetic about it, but policy is policy.

  23. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    OP1, where I live, you cannot use sick leave to take care of other people – it’s for your own illness only (we have legally mandated sick leave and that’s how it’s defined). I’m hoping that this changes in the future, but always find it fascinating that people have the opportunity to take paid leave in order to look after unwell family members.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Agreed, but I think “your own sickness only” rules tend to apply where mandated PTO is more generous (eg there is legal provision for parental leave or carers leave). If you have a limited PTO allowance that’s sick and vacation bundled together, the only difference is the amount of notice you have to give, and that might be why an employer would want to restrict use of sick.

      1. UKDancer*

        That’s my understanding. My company in the UK considers sickness absence to be when you are personally ill/ having a medical procedure. They allow you to take special leave on top of that for bereavements / crisis situations and make provision for parental leave in various ways.

        This is separate from a comparatively generous annual leave policy.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          Legally everyone gets 15 days (minimum) personal leave – separate from sick leave – which is very generous compared with what some of the commenters here have described. The sick leave allowance is also quite generous.

          But there is limited leave on top of that for bereavement and family illness – about 3 days per year, which doesn’t go very far if you have children or other family members that you care for. There is no “carers” leave per se.

      2. Observer*

        It’s still a ridiculous rule. Interestingly, in the US in every locality that I know of, when sick leave has been legally mandated, part of the mandate is a requirement that people be allowed to use the time to care for family members.

    2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      OP, I also wanted to say – sorry, this is a horrible thing to have happened, and I hope your boyfriend is well again.

    3. Justme, the OG*

      I am flabbergasted at how much people’s sick leave sucks. So as a single parent, I cannot take sick leave to care for my sick child?

      1. Rez123*

        Don’t know about PPPaPoPP, but we also have sick leave that is only for yourself and this is practically unlimited. Parents who need to stay home with a sick child are entitled to child care leave so it comes from that pot. In the end you can stay at home with a sick child for full pay but we don’t call it sick day for the parent.

      2. Galahad*

        In my region in Canada the law was updated in the past few years to allow 5 days of “care leave” for someone dependent on you. This can be for any reason – school closure, ill child, need for specialist appt for that person. But the 5 days are unpaid leave – i.e, you can’t be fired for taking 5 days unpaid per year to care for a dependent. The good news is that most employers let people take it as part of their personal sick leave.

        Before that you were required to use vacation time, which is minimum 3weeks per year after 5 years employed, plus 9 state holidays per year.

        OP#1 I would have imagined that the stress of the sudden stroke of someone you help care fore would be enough to justify a few days of sick time for you, personally, to deal with it emotionally before being ready to work.

  24. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I wonder if LW1’s employer counts fiancé(e)s in that list of 22. One would hope so, among grandparents-in-law. If so, it could be a useful loophole – you can be engaged without paperwork, and without cohabiting.

  25. maggggghie*

    There are times that I’m cranky about my company’s leave policies, but LW#1’s situation would not be one of them. We don’t get any named Sick Leave (at least in my state, others and our EU/APAC colleagues are probably different), but I get extremely generous PTO accrual and would be able to use that, no questions asked.

    1. Jennifer*

      But if she was already out of PTO or already had it earmarked for something else, it’s a tough situation

      1. Galahad*

        But she would have been in a tough situation if she had just gotten a bad case of the flu. Doesn’t everyone need to have a backup plan before running out of PTO?

  26. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #4

    While it’s annoying when people reply-all, this isn’t the hill to die on. Especially when it’s a dozen or less emails once a month. Just delete them and move on. Or set up a filter as others have mentioned.

    1. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I was honestly surprised when the LW said a dozen, as that seems to be a pretty low number. You can also set up a rule to send anything with the words “happy birthday” straight to the trash, if you wanted. Really, there are so many options to deal with these nuisance emails that don’t involve demanding that other people stop sending/replying to the emails.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Right? I get cc’d arbitrarily on at least 5 email chains a day, with about 70-120 emails per day give or take. My inbox is set up very specifically to sort through the nonsense and get me to the important stuff.

        The one time I have used capital up to get emails to stop happening was when an employee decided I needed to be cc’d on literally everything they did – and they didn’t report to me, they were H&S when I am E, it was legitimately nothing to do with me, and it was at least 20-30 a day.

  27. Penny*

    I get your point, that the OP’s manager could have just been stuck in bad place. But the organization needs to recognize that sometimes people have emergencies that need to be dealt with. My company has a policy that emergency leave requests that fall outside of specific guidelines can be left to the manager’s discretion. This empowers the supervisor to make the right decision for their employee. Perhaps OP can approach HR and suggest an edit to the policy that would allow for the situations that fall outside of the categories to be left to the supervisor discretion.

  28. Kimmybear*

    #1 – this stinks but I’ve been there. When my great-grandmother died, I wasn’t able to get bereavement leave to go to her funeral because she wasn’t on “the list”. I took vacation time. There was a local conference I was supposed to attend that week and Saturday was optional. So I went on Saturday, put in my hours, I got the 1.5 days comp time I was eligible for based on weekend work. So, the company ended up paying out more than if they had just given me one day of leave. My Nana would have approved :)

  29. Jennifer*

    #1 I hate to say it but yes, you should have just lied. It’s completely messed up. I think organizations like this take for granted that a lot of people don’t have family in the area or family they can trust to take care of them in a crisis and they have to rely on friends or romantic partners. It forces people to lie and risk their jobs in situations like this.

  30. MMMMmmmmmmmMMM*

    For #1, it’s ALWAYS been, at least for me, the thought that you get more flies with honey than vinegar. Like, while the policy doesn’t explicitly state that you can take time for an unmarried partners emergency, the goodwill that is generated by saying, “of course, your partner is sick, take the time off” is going to be so much better than the resentment that was created by saying “you can’t.”

    I’m always surprised by how short sighted some managers can be.

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes definitely. Being supportive of people having a crisis can engender a lot of goodwill by an employee for a pretty low cost to the company. In contrast being difficult, as this company was, only makes employees less willing to go the extra mile.

      If they’d given the OP the time off, I’m sure they’d have gained significant goodwill and retained the OP for longer as an employee.

    2. Thankful for AAM*

      As others have pointed out, the manager likely had little flexibility. Mine has none and would be putting her job at risk if she gave leave in this case.

      Your larger point, the organization should be more flexible, still stands.

  31. 10Isee*

    This is exactly why I hate it. I have 100 hours of time off per year. I have to save at least a week in case I get sick, or my child gets sick and I need to stay home half the time until she gets better, or my spouse AND my child get sick and I have to stay home until both are better. We also have to save at least a day or two for inclement weather, because I’m in a rural area and storms often knock out our internet making WFH impossible. That leaves a grand total of a week for fun. And don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful! A lot of my friends have less PTO, or none at all.

  32. MissDisplaced*

    #1 This is more common than you think. Single people often get the short shaft even though we pay the highest proportion of taxes and cannot take head of household deductions even if we are caregivers to our cohabiting partners.

    I am not married, but have been in a relationship with my “boyfriend” for 20 years and cohabited for 15 of those. Yet I still cannot add him to my employee health insurance, or add him as my beneficiary for employer-sponsored life insurance. Were we “married” I could. It’s unfair and it’s something that needs to change!

    1. Mynona*

      Me too–my boyfriend and I have been together for 15 years, cohabiting. When we first got together, all this was true. But for the last 10 years, this has been changing. At first, we would have needed to file for domestic partnership for him to qualify. My current employer only requires an affidavit that we are in a committed relationship. It’s probably very employer dependent. Anyway, he’s still not on my health insurance because it costs a lot for poor coverage. But he’s definitely my beneficiary for life and AD&D.

      1. Quill*

        My parents have been married for thirty five years and for the first time last year they had to “prove” their marriage to get the health care paperwork sorted… leading them to have to spend months (and a fairly surprising amount of cash for a piece of paper) trying to get a copy of their marriage license sent from another state because their original copy got destroyed in one of their early moves and they hadn’t needed it for the past thirty years.

        I guess that when they were on my mom’s insurance from a former job they just signed my dad up without any fuss.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      My marriage was in large part triggered by my employer’s health insurance policy and my credit union. For both of these, I could add a same-sex domestic partner (2002, before same-sex marriage was legal in the US) but not an opposite-sex domestic partner. We’d been together for 4 years, living together for 2, and were talking about a child and where we’d retire to, in 20 years, so the marriage was, to us, a piece of paper that gave us opportunities. We went to the courthouse one afternoon, called our families afterwards, still together 18 years later.

      The credit union opened membership to anyone cohabitating a decade ago – we got a couple of room mates into it. My employer kept same-sex domestic partnership, but only added opposite-sex domestic partners last year. I put it down to the US bias against sex outside of wedlock, and rules lagging reality. But it’s getting better.

    3. PJS*

      Is it a company policy that you cannot add your boyfriend as a beneficiary? There is not a legal reason that I’m aware of that prevents you from adding him. You should be able to leave your life insurance to a friend if you wanted. A work around could be to not list anyone which should cause any benefit to be payable to your estate. Then get a will drafted that leaves your estate to your boyfriend.

    4. Filosofickle*

      If my cohabitating partner and I choose to get married someday it would probably be to simplify insurance/legal matters, not for romance.

    5. TL -*

      I actually… don’t think it’s unfair? Marriage is an option, and it’s a legal way of defining the relationship which is reasonable for companies to use for benefits purposes (assuming marriage is equally available to all, of course.)

      Choosing not to get married means giving up the benefits of being married, of which there are many. But it’s a choice.

    6. Analyst Editor*

      This is beside the point for #1, but isn’t the decision to marry or not completely your choice?

  33. I'm just here for the cats.*

    I wonder what the company would do if lw 1 had said, oh well we just got engaged last weekend. I hadn’t said anything because we were waiting to tell family first and to pick out a ring. Then they could just be waiting until he gets better, etc.

    Even if they broke up later she could say that the stress of his illness was a factor. His behavior changed after the stroke. How would they prove if someone is engaged or not.
    There are lots of people who get engaged before moving in together and some people who stay engaged for years.

    LW Id I were you, and if you still have an option, I would tell HR that this was a major factor for you leaving and that you feel that their benefits are just lip service. If nothing else leave a glass door review.

    I hope your boyfriend is ok and so are you

  34. Anono-me*

    Op1. Is your large University Employer a state school or are you in a Union position?

    Government organizations often have to be very rigid in their application of the rules because of ‘taxpayer’s money’.

    Union positions mean that everyone has the same protections; but it also means that no one gets ‘extra’ anything not specifically spelled out in the contract.

    If you are moving from one gov./union position to another, the degree of flexibility and actual discretionary authority of your supervisor may not change much.

    If you are in a union position it may help to ask your union representative to put the leave policy changes in the next contract negotiations. (It probably wouldn’t hurt to encourage others to talk to the union about it also.)

    1. Anon Entity*

      Is your large University Employer a state school or are you in a Union position?

      I wonder that too. This sounded very much like government to me. The federal government, for example, has a fairly broad definition of “family” for paid sick leave (thought it doesn’t include the grandparents-in-law), but you absolutely have to stay within those categories or you’re stealing taxpayer money. That’s how they treat it, anyway. I could see a publicly funded university taking a similar approach.

      I also wonder if OP1 works in a state or city that requires employers to provide paid sick time. If so, the employer may be sticking to the minimum that’s required. But if that were the case, I wouldn’t expect grandparents-in-law to be considered eligible family members for sick time.

  35. TheTallestOneEver*

    LW4, ask the person who sends the birthday email to either: (1) send the email TO the birthday people and BCC everyone else so the Reply to All messages only go to those celebrating, or (2) send the email TO themselves BCC everyone. I do this and add at the top of the message something like “This message is being sent to all employees” so people don’t forward the message when they see that the message doesn’t look like it was sent to everyone.

  36. Franz Kafkaesque*

    Sorry, you went through this. It is absolutely absurd.
    However, to be honest, I’m not really sure that your manager could have done anything about it no matter how hard they tried.
    I’ve also worked for a major public research university that also wins all kinds of “Best Places to Work” awards and appears very prestigious from the outside. One of the main things I remember was the extreme rigidity of HR rules and processes. (This is also one of the reasons I left.)
    I think AAM’s take on this is generally accurate, but having experienced a place like that, I’m not sure it would have been quite as simple as your manager saying “I’ll take care of it with HR”. I’m just not sure that’s realistic.
    What drove me away from major university work was the fact that everyone always got the same “merit raise” at the end of the year whether you were one of the real troopers that kept the department moving forward or one of the many people that did just barely enough to not get fired (fired in a normal company, not a public university where it is virtually impossible to fire anyone no matter how poor their performance). But, the extreme rigidity of HR policies were also a major contributing factor to my decision to move back to the private sector.
    Hats off to anyone that has found success navigating these university systems. It does work out quite well for some people. But, I’d never go back to it, based on my own experiences and those such as what you are describing. Academia is nuttier than a squirrel turd.

    1. ThinMint*

      I agree with this. I don’t have any standing to say “I’ll take care of it with HR.” I would have allowed the employee to lie on her timesheet but I wouldn’t have escalated it in that moment for fear of people connecting the dots. I maybe would have inquired about it after some time more generally, but would I have gone to bat for this in the moment, no, I would not, at least not with HR.

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I’m sure part of it has to do with “Public.” If they are bound by statewide Time and Attendance rules, their hands are tied. If she worked for me, I would be in the same boat as her manager (and as HR!), we literally cannot allow this and if it was allowed it could potentially get raised as a time theft issue with the State Inspector General.

      (There are also rules as to how much sick time you are allowed to use for “family” sick.)

      That said – any other available leave would of course be allowed.

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Just saying, it’s not clear how much of your experience was because you were working for a university versus being in a unionized shop, and I’m always quick to say that they’re not always one and the same. In non-bargaining unit roles at universities and colleges, things often look a lot more like any large private sector employer, especially in a non-academic role. We get differentiated merit raises when there isn’t a government salary freeze, we fire people pretty easily (except for Brilliant Jerks who hoard org knowledge, but that crap happens everywhere), all that jazz.

      I’ve been in non-union roles at a few large schools and really, my HR experiences have been a lot less messed up than some of what I experienced in the private and NFP sectors. I moved to a slightly different role at my institution, then I’d probably end up in a union and have to deal with what you’re describing. I appreciate that the relationship with HR is going to be wildly different at an institution where pretty much everyone has a collective bargaining agreement, though.

      1. Franz Kafkaesque*

        This was in Texas, so what’s a “union”? LOL

        Seriously, I have no doubt that the distinction you are making is very accurate. Just sharing my experience across multiple institutions in a very large university system.

  37. Sara without an H*

    OP#3, the only thing I would add to Alison’s advice is to be sure you keep a dated copy of your original job description, plus whatever new one you and your manager come up with. That way you have evidence of how your job duties have changed since the time you were hired when you start negotiations for a raise. (Always keep your own documentation. Do not depend on HR for this.)

    Be sure both versions of your job description are dated and signed. I’ve run into a number of situations when you couldn’t tell which was the most recent copy of a document because nobody took the time to put a date on it. (These things matter!)

  38. CatPerson*

    “Anyway, it’s understandable that employers need to put some limits on benefits usage, but they need to be flexible when a situation comes up that’s still within the spirit of their policy, if not the letter.”
    Respectfully, I disagree. Benefits plans are regulated, and exceptions can open a can of worms. If her company is a Best Place to Work, she probably has PTO to cover other emergencies. FMLA does not cover non-family relationships either. If the boyfriend was a girl friend (as compared to girlfriend), what then? People have close relationships with many people. Policies are put in place to help managers decide when flexibility is possible.

    1. Observer*

      If the boyfriend was a girl friend (as compared to girlfriend), what then? People have close relationships with many people.


      I’m just having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that it’s somehow deviant to have a close relationship with anyone but a spouse, live-in romatic partner of closely defined blood family, and to actually mutually take care of each other based on your relationship.

      We don’t provide very good safety nets on a governmental or corporate level. Why are we also trying to keep people from forming more personal and less formal safety nets?

      1. Quill*

        Also rules lawyering individual relationships is more work than saying “here’s our sick leave policy, we can put the time down as personal sick leave or caregiving, we don’t actually give a crap if you use your leave to take your neighbor to have their wisdom teeth out or if you take time off for all nine of your children to separately experience the stomach flu in a row, because what matters from a business perspective is the amount of time, not who it’s spent on.”

  39. hbc*

    OP1: I think your company’s biggest mistake wasn’t including a 23rd category for “Other.” Once you get to all of those situations, you have to realize that people’s lives are complex. Sure, you don’t want to have some system where a person is voluntarily using up their sick leave every year being the go-to person for everyone in their extended network, but you need to be able to make

    At a small/flexible company, you can handle this just by making an exception. At a more rigid company, you have another category and you scrutinize it every time it’s used to make sure people aren’t casually using up sick time for non-emergencies. But a romantic partner of a year hospitalized with something as serious as a stroke from someone with plenty of sick time? No one should bat an eye.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      I suspect they have 22 bc they wanted to prevent any “other,” like same sex partners.

      1. CheeryO*

        Not necessarily. I work for state government in a very liberal, blue state, and I wouldn’t have been able to charge sick leave in the LW’s situation either. Live-in partner or spouse of any gender, sure, but not a partner that you don’t live with.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Considering that same sex partners can marry now, the list of 22 wouldn’t eliminate them.

  40. Rusty Shackelford*

    #1 is why I always shake my head sadly at people who say marriage is just a piece of paaaaaper!!! It’s not (and if you think it is, you definitely shouldn’t get married), but even if it were, it’s an important piece of paper. It’s a piece of paper that gives you legal rights that you do not otherwise have. Sometimes people find that out the hard way.

    1. CatPerson*

      Right. Her medical plans don’t cover friends either. Many large employers cover domestic partners, but not friends. That’s what a boyfriend is.

    2. Emi*

      Someone said this to Miss Manners once, and she said “Miss Manners has a safe-deposit box full of pieces of paper.”

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I understand that people can have very valid reasons to not get married. I’m talking about the ones who, for some reason, think marriage is a meaningless slip of paper.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          That’s what I was trying to say, yes: because the paper has meaning, it isn’t necessarily a good idea for its provisions to apply to those who don’t have it.

    3. Generic Name*

      Ha, this is exactly what I thought when I read this. Marriage is important, and it does matter (and it should be taken seriously). That said, I do think OP’s manager should have been more flexible.

    4. pancakes*

      No one here is saying this. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone be quite so simplistic about it. Such a person would have to have been pretty much living under a rock during the many years other people were fighting to legalize gay marriage. I’ve been living with my boyfriend off and on, mostly on, since the late 90s and we’ve had countless conversations with others over the years about why we’re not married and might consider getting married, but I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone quite that uninformed or simple-minded about it. LGBTQ people in particular (like me, a bi woman) generally do not have the luxury of being so cavalier about their own legal rights.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        It seems like you’re agreeing with me – that marriage is not just a piece of paper. Otherwise, why would anyone fight for the right to do it? Are you saying marriage does *not* convey legal rights and benefits that are unavailable to couples who are not married? What, exactly, is “cavalier” about that statement?

      2. TL -*

        One of my bi friends just went on a long rant about how marriage is “just a piece of paper” and she doesn’t think it makes any difference to the relationship (socially, emotionally, and somehow, legally, because apparently there’s no difference between being responsible for your partner’s end of life decisions and not being responsible for them) – less than a month ago.

        Mind you, her partner wants to get married very quickly and friend feels quite differently, so it’s a messy situation (friend isn’t really being her best self here) but she’s far from the first LGTBQ+ person I’ve heard espouse that particular view.

        1. pancakes*

          Ok, so there’s a handful of you here with friends who seem to be incredibly not-thoughtful about this, and/or incredibly uninformed and unrealistic about what they’ll be facing if they or someone they love has a health crisis.

          1. TL -*

            Pretty much exactly what I told her, along with some straightsplaining (I’m not even sorry; several of my older family members were LGB and their inability to marry impacted their entire lives) about how the reason people fought so hard for marriage equality was that you could not, actually, just spend a bunch of money at a lawyer and perfectly replicate marriage.

    5. Fiona*

      But I think this misses the point. The OP is no longer with their boyfriend. Should she have married him just so she could take care of him when he was sick? Marriage can be a beautiful thing and an important piece of paper binding people together, but I don’t think it *should* afford you legal rights or a place in a hierarchy above people who are connected in other ways. I understand what you’re saying, but I personally think that society is what is set up in a dysfunctional way, to the point that people get married sometimes solely for things like health insurance. The fact that she wasn’t married is what the story is about – she shouldn’t have had to be married to this person in order to take time to care for him, in my opinion.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’m not talking about what should be. I’m talking about what is. And at this point, in the country I live in, marriage is a legal relationship that confers certain benefits that are otherwise expensive, difficult, or impossible to obtain. Pretending that isn’t true is hopelessly naive. The revolution is not going to start in the HR office.

  41. Glomarization, Esq.*

    It’s true that society as a whole — not just employers — treats marriages and domestic partnerships differently than it does people in relationships living separately. It’s a weird thing.

    Or … not so much a “weird thing” as it is the definition of what a marriage or domestic partnership is. A clear definition and understanding of someone’s relationship status orders how we handle inheritances, medical privacy, health insurance coverage, and any number of other things. At work, HR needs a yardstick, and a marriage or domestic partnership certificate is a pretty useful one for making those decisions.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      This. I don’t want HR deciding whose relationships are “official enough.” There are ways to make your relationship “HR level official,” and the OP specifically said she does not have any plans to enact them. Therefore, her relationship is not “HR level official.” It’s not weird, it’s not a grey area. It’s a deliberate choice on the OP’s part, and the predictable result. Don’t say “he’s my boyfriend, not my domestic partner, and I’m not changing that,” and then demand that you be treated as though he were your domestic partner.

      1. Sam*

        I’m so confused by how you see HR dictating exactly which relationships count for them, and decide that means they _aren’t_ forcing people into certain lifestyles to access deserved benefits.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          {shrug} Seems pretty simple to me. HR accepts legally binding relationships. Marriage, birth certificate, adoption papers. HR doesn’t get to rule on other connections. HR doesn’t decide that “Jane is like a child to Fergus, so he can carry her on his health insurance.” HR also doesn’t get to say “Fergus and Penelope only married for immigration purposes, so it’s not a REAL marriage and therefore he doesn’t get to take sick leave when she has surgery.” HR doesn’t get to say “Fergus and Ben are gay married but not REAL married so it doesn’t count.” HR doesn’t get to say “Fergus and Trina don’t have kids so that’s not a real marriage.” I decide what relationship I have with someone else, not HR. I show them the piece of paper that says “he’s my husband and therefore he qualifies for these things,” and they don’t get to argue with it, because they have a policy and they have to follow it. The downside of that, of course, is that they have a policy and they have to follow it.

          (And since you’re reading all of my replies, you’ve already seen where I pointed out that the OP could very well work for a public institution, meaning she’s a government employee, meaning there are laws that dictate all of this.)

        2. Glomarization, Esq.*

          HR isn’t dictating it, though. The state is dictating which relationships are legally recognized. HR — which specializes in HR issues, not in legal issues — uses the state’s laws to determine how and when to include “relatives” of employees in benefits determinations. This way HR is not reinventing the wheel by writing up its own rules, and it’s avoiding making arbitrary decisions as questions come up.

          You’re seeing HR “forcing people into certain lifestyles,” but I’m seeing people experiencing consequences for their own choices as to whether to get married. Predictable consequences, at that — I think it’s probably widely understood that employer-provided health insurance coverage, for example, may extend to spouses but not to non-spouse, non-cohabitating partners.

        3. cheeky*

          I don’t understand why companies would be expected to extend benefits to someone with no legal relationship to their employee.

          1. pancakes*

            In this letter the benefit of using sick time is not being extended to the employee who wants to use it. It’s not the boyfriend’s benefit, although he would benefit in a sense from having someone close to him be able to care for him.

            1. cheeky*

              But the employee isn’t sick, her boyfriend was. That’s why she couldn’t use sick time. That’s 1000% normal.

              1. pancakes*

                Yes, I said that. It would not be legal where I live to deny sick leave for that reason, and many, many people in the comments have explained alternate ways their employers have handled similar situations, so I don’t at all agree that it’s 1,000% normal.

  42. MCL*

    OP2, is there any way to reach out to your former boss? If they also left due to te company’s instability, that is probably not a situation you want to put yourself back in.

    1. LW2*

      My former boss pinged me about it before the recruiter even reached out, so we’ve been in contact! They didn’t leave due to the instability, luckily, although a lot of people have. I spoke with friends who are still there and the company is on better ground. I think it will be awhile before things are as good as they were a year ago, but I don’t think it’s going to go under, and my job would not be at risk of further layoffs.

  43. mreasy*

    I’m disappointed that folks are siding with the manager for number 1. If my boyfriend had a stroke, I would not be able to function at work due to distraction, even if he didn’t need me at the hospital – just like if I had a blinding headache or was vomiting. This is what sick days are for! The fact that he’s my husband now doesn’t make my concern about him any greater. Companies that are strictly “letter of the law” about things lose good employees. A former job, which I really, really loved, once charged me 1/4 day of PTO when I left at 4 for a doctor’s appointment – a salaried, executive-level role, where I usually came to work nearly 2 hours early every day. This informed my later decision to leave, and the person who they replaced me with was much less on top of things than I was.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Actually, lots of things are distracting that don’t fall under sick leave. If my house burned down, or my husband lost his job, I’d be way too distracted to work, but I wouldn’t be able to use sick leave for them.

      1. Sam*

        And that might be true for you, but guess what – I’d be able to use my sick leave for at least the first of those! Absolutism based on your own experience is actually not the bold truth-telling you think it is.

      2. Quill*

        You’d hopefully get SOME form of time off, theoretically, if your house burned down. It’s impossible to expect you to come to work and be like “I’ll start making arrangements for the remainder of my belongings, replacing my legal papers, finding a place to sleep and food to eat after I clock out.”

        Whether or not that would be counted as sick leave, instead of “time off to deal with a life threatening or life-altering situation” isn’t the point here.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Actually, it is the point. The OP specifically wanted to take sick leave, which would have been available if she’d been married to her boyfriend. We have no reason to assume she wasn’t able to use other leave. In fact, it doesn’t sound like anyone tried to force her to stay at work. She was definitely able to go take care of things.

          1. Quill*

            I think most people in this discussion are having a far more general conversation about the status of how emergency leave should logistically work than you are, Rusty.

            And also several people are coming from a place of knowing that in some jobs, not being able to class this as sick leave would definitely impact being able to go take care of things and still have a job to come back to.

    2. Colette*

      There are lots of people you would be concerned about that won’t be covered by an employer’s policy. But that doesn’t mean the policy is unreasonable, particularly in places with generous leave. They don’t want people abusing sick leave or treating it like vacation, so they put limits on it. They’re not judging your feelings, they’re setting up criteria that is either true or false. Otherwise, what would that limit look like? What is the number of days you’ve been together where you move from “seeing someone casually” to “committed partnership”?

  44. BlueBelle*

    10 or 12 emails. LOL! The last Reply All loop of hell I was in on was 100+ emails by the time it was all said and done. Stop replying all!

    1. RussianInTexas*

      Friend of mine used to work as an IT manager for a large corporation. He disabled Reply All to everyone except specific admins and higher ups after a Reply All fest literally crashed their servers.
      I get 10-12 e-mails just trying to get an answer from my accounting on a simple question, this would register as a very minor eye-roll.

  45. Emi*

    Of course this sucks for LW1 but I think the people raking the manager over the coals are out of line. Not everyone *can* just finesse things with HR — they might have lost their job over it, and if it’s a state university the penalties could be even worse.

  46. CheeryO*

    Just a reminder for #1 that things are very different in government/public university settings. This is not a case of a greedy, inhumane corporation screwing over the little guy. If LW called in sick for herself and didn’t give a reason, that would be fine, but because she’s trying to charge it to a separate category of family sick time, there are restrictions. I don’t blame any manager who wants to work within existing policies rather than risk their own job. The LW could presumably charge personal or vacation time or just happen to come down with her own illness.

    1. pancakes*

      Greedy and inhumane corporations aren’t the entire universe of lamentable employers. There’s no reason people can’t also object to other things as well. Managers in other situations who feel forced to apply unjust policies can and should advocate for changes to those policies rather than pointing to their own careers as their only concern, for example.

    2. doreen*

      This is exactly why I’m pretty sure the LW wasn’t talking about taking a single day off to be with her boyfriend in the hospital. After all, if she was taking a single day , it could have been explained by not feeling well due to a lack of sleep after finding out her boyfriend had a stroke. But she went to the office to get her computer and some work and to speak to her supervisor about his condition, so it sounds like she planned to take off at least a few days – and taking a few days ( or weeks) off for personal illness after telling your supervisor that your boyfriend had a stroke is not as plausible.

  47. JM*

    The secret is that many of those “Best Place to Work” companies are actually horrific, but they’re horrific in ways that mirror emotionally abusive relationships and families that do things in plausibly deniable ways after isolating employees so that they cannot seek emotional support from any of their coworkers. The companies do it by having strict rules that their management hews to and managers soothe their consciences (if they still have them) by telling themselves they’re great team players for adhering to the “generous” rules supplied by the organization (“We support 22 types of relationships!”)

    And in my experience “large research universities” are the WORST offenders, especially in the isolated silos that pull in grants. The worst of corporate mentality and the worst of academia bundled up together and made to feel super important because they bring in money.

  48. No real name here*

    They had “grandparent-in-law” as a valid relationship, but would not allow your boyfriend as a valid relationship? Every right to be frustrated by that.

      1. pancakes*

        “Legally recognized” doesn’t mean “categorically not frustrating,” though. Changing the phrasing doesn’t make this a non-issue.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          It clarifies what the issue is. Lots of people are saying “but my boyfriend and I have been together for 20 years, and therefore our relationship is completely valid!” And no one is saying your relationship is invalid. Just that it’s not legally recognized. People are trying to make this about love and respect and “validity” and it’s not about that at all. It’s about people who have a legally recognized connection to each other.

          1. Sam*

            You do realize that there are HR policies out there that would have allowed OP1 to support her boyfriend, right? This is still an HR choice, not some sort of law handed down from on high.

          2. Quill*

            And a lot of people arguing against you are realizing that restricting it to legally recognized connections does nothing but open the door for corporate rules lawyering about degree of validity and HR deciding asinine things like “you can’t take time off to care for your stepmother because she legally married your dad after you were an adult, so she’s not legally your direct relative.”

          3. pancakes*

            In addition to what others have already pointed out, that is legally recognized where I live (NYC). As someone else noted in an earlier comment, our city law on this (the Earned Safe and Sick Time Act (ESSTA)) defines family as, “any individual whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of family.” Simply asserting that the law is on your side doesn’t make it so.

            1. Black Horse Dancing*

              But as Rusty pointed out, many public universities and government jobs have the laws against OP. The manager, most likely, couldn’t bend–not didn’t, couldn’t.

              1. pancakes*

                I keep asking for examples of these laws because I’m not familiar with them, and people keep replying without answering. It seems extremely unlikely to me that university sick leave is governed by statute and not university policy, and I’d like to see an example of what that looks like. The only exception I can think of would be something like Columbia University’s policy, which I just looked at—it’s local—and which says, “The University provides employees with paid time off, including New York City (NYC) Earned Safe and Sick Time, for occasional absences needed for illness, injury or medical appointments.” The law is not specific to the university, though — it applies to all employers here.

  49. BadWolf*

    On OP4 — when I’ve been on email lists that aren’t using an email manager for semi formal hobby/local groups and they email everyone using the “to” field, I usually write back and say something to the effect that using the BCC field instead of the To field would probably be better. In this case, it’s easy for me to point out it hides people’s email address (not really relevant to your coworkers) and avoids awkward reply-all oopies (which is what you want, but harder to say with coworkers than strangers). But maybe you could still craft something friendly to the organizer.

  50. Jennifer Strange*

    #1 gave me flashbacks of my own experience with this, though from the partner’s POV. When my now-husband and I had been dating just under a year I was hit by a car. I wasn’t badly hurt (no broken bones or anything, though I ended up needing skin graft surgery) but I had no family in the area. I called him and he rushed to my side.

    We later found out his work wasn’t going to let him use sick leave for it because we weren’t married/engaged. He ended up appealing to someone higher up in the organization (and they agreed with him) but it was truly infuriating. While we are married now, I think there is a problem in our society on how we view/validate romantic couples at all stages. Some people don’t want marriage (including two of our close friends who have been together 3 years now) but that shouldn’t effect their rights as a couple.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      Many same-sex couples had that exact situation for decades. Rusty made some good points. OP doesn’t want to be married nor domestic partnership nor cohabitate. So, legally, they aren’t recognized as a couple. They could choose to be.

  51. Karia*

    Yes. I know a couple in their fifties with two kids who oppose marriage on moral grounds. I don’t share their views but I utterly respect them, and I cannot fathom any boss telling a person they can’t help their partner of over a decade for lack of a piece of paper.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      Well to be fair nobody said they couldn’t have the day off. They said they would have to use one bucket of leave vs. another. I am finding a lot of these comments somewhat melodramatic.

      1. mediamaven*

        I said the same thing and just noticed your comment. I agree. It’s not as though they are being forbidden from attending to the boyfriend it just doesn’t fall under sick time.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        Interestingly enough, FMLA does not apply to the domestic partners OR civil unions.
        I know we are not talking FMLA here, but if the company goes by the federal definition – nope.

  52. SlightlyStressed*

    The cohabitation component of Letter #1 makes me so angry in particular. For religious reasons, I will not live with my partner until we are married, no matter how long we’ve been together or how serious we are. If this happened to me based on our separate housing status I would have more than a few concerns to raise…

    1. CatPerson*

      It’s not housing status. If I had a roommate, that would not be a domestic “partner” either, and would not be covered as such under benefit plans.

      1. SlightlyStressed*

        Agreed, but I was referring to the part in the letter that said “my manager said that my boyfriend did not qualify for any of them because he wasn’t my spouse and we did not live together” as if that made a difference in the manager’s or company’s POV.

      2. Liz*

        Conversely, I have a “roommate” who I absolutely consider to be a domestic partner. We bought a house together, have a joint bank account, have life insurance that names one another as beneficiaries. To all effects and purposes, we are “partners” and my workplace gladly treats us as such without wishing to know any of the specifics of the relationship.

  53. Spicy Tuna*

    OP#1- That seems really petty. I once received an email at work that a friend had died suddenly. My boss offered me the rest of the day off.

  54. Dagny*

    My marriage is my second-longest romantic relationship but that has nothing to do with anything at all. This is the relationship that I have made a public, religious, and legal commitment to, and that is the touchstone by which people can operate and I can ask for religious and legal benefits for (in addition to the non-benefit of the marriage tax penalty).

    I have tremendous sympathy for people in new relationships who know that it’s serious; it’s silly to get married to someone you met two months ago, even if you are certain it’s heading in that direction. But if you have no plans to get married and think the entire thing is silly, don’t complain when you aren’t granted the benefits.

    And I say this as someone who took vacation time a few weeks ago to care for my friend’s father, who lives local to me and not my friend. My company can’t give FMLA for that. They have to make some reasonable cutoffs and if “legal relationships” is it, then it’s it.

  55. blink14*

    I work for a large university, and as part of our benefits, we receive a very large amount of sick time from the time of being hired, and that time can go up another 2 increments depending on your length of employment. I’m in the 2nd bracket now, and it is amazing how much sick time we have. Vacation time is separate and is accrued monthly, with a cap, per years of service bracket as well. I’m in the second bracket for vacation time as well, and even the 1st bracket is generous for US standards.

    Our sick time has 40 hours dedicated to family sick leave, and 24 hours dedicated to personal leave. Bereavement leave is subject to the relationship to the deceased, but is up to 3 days on the university’s time. There are changes coming in 2021 that opens the family sick leave to a wider list of relationships and more time.

    All that being said, the way our system works is that your direct supervisor approves time off or challenges it if there’s a question or issue. So using your family sick time, or just your sick leave, for someone other than yourself and outside of those listed relationships is pretty subjective. If it’s one or two days, I don’t think many managers would have a problem, but more than that, yes, I can see how it becomes an issue. Because it becomes their responsibility for approving the time, and they are therefore on the hook if the time off is investigated. That does make sense to me.

    There is certainly a lag on how relationships are defined and weighted in terms of using paid sick leave, bereavement leave, insurance coverage, etc. And if the employer is public, that is a whole other can of worms.

  56. Miss Muffet*

    #1 reminds me of when my dad was on life support and I had been called home (from across the country) last minute, as he was not expected to survive. One of those, “get on a plane today” things. Miraculously, he was off life support by the time I landed and went on to live another 6 mos. But I couldn’t use “bereavement” time for that absence because he didn’t actually die, even though that was the expectation when I left. Like you said Alison, honor the spirit of the policy, instead of the letter, when it makes sense.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      I know of no job that would let you use bereavement leave unless someone died. You could use your annual/vacation for an emergency like yours but not bereavement.

  57. employment lawyah*

    1. I couldn’t use sick time after my boyfriend had a stroke because we’re not married

    As for “is it OK:” Well, ideally everyone would be a bit realistic. But there are always some people who refuse to do so do, right?

    You can see it (I do all the time): “HER boyfriend counted as a family member! So should MY boyfriend who I just met last week. And so should my fish, who I live dearly. And my best friend. And…”

    There are always some people who are extraordinarily sensitive to anything at ALL which might possibly be in any way construed as being a “benefit that they don’t get.” And often this gets even worse in a larger place which has any sort of union or contract because some contracts make those protests easier to do.

    And then the next thing you know, companies are all “nope, we are sick of all of this; that’s the line and we do not cross the line.” So I don’t know if the company did anything wrong here, since it depends on history.

    And maybe that’s OK? I mean, imagine that the same thing w/ your boyfriend happened after 3 months rather than a year. Imagine that you were equally distraught–3 months can be a long time; I know people who were madly enough and living together in less than that. Now, imagine that, INSTEAD of a “married couples only” rule, your company had a “serious relationships only” rule, and… you were on the wrong side of it.

    Many people would feel even worse “losing” a discretionary thing than they would feel “losing” a bright line rule. That is why bright line rules exist.

    2. Moving back to old company soon after starting new job
    This seems different. You left a company which you liked, because you wanted to advance a bit. Now that same company (which you know well) is offering you an even bigger step up. Sounds like you should take it.

    1. pancakes*

      I find it hard to believe you do in fact frequently see people trying to get sick leave, etc., to care for their boyfriend of 1 week, or their fish. It seems far more likely you’re making a point of being glib and dismissive about relationships that aren’t hetero marriages because you think that’s an amusing thing to do.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’ve seen people on this very board talk of getting sick leave to care for a sick pet. Also, can you point out where the poster specified hetero marriages rather than all marriages?

        1. Quill*

          And you know what? In some cases that’s valid. Whether it should come out of the sick time budget is one thing, hypothetically, but if sick time is the only thing you can take off without prior approval, caregiving emergencies should fall under sick time.

          The less rules-lawyery the policy is, the less likely you are to find cases of abuse. Much like how a lot of technical piracy is created by DRM that prevents full, convenient, or compatible use of the software you bought, rather than by actually creating copies that are impacting sales.

          If you have an emergency of “my roommate has a concussion and needs to be sent to the emergency room NOW, I’m the one available / already on site to drive her regardless of our legal relationship” and you have to call in from the hospital to lie about having a stomach bug to be allowed to take the time off – and putting aside whether or not it’s paid, because in many cases the motivation for calling it sick leave will be “to avoid workplace policies that will penalize me for Not Having My Butt In A Seat unless I can use a PTO bucket to justify that” – you’re basically training people that the only realistic way to use the system is to lie more.

        2. pancakes*

          You can’t haven’t seen it here all the time because I read this site daily and people are not, in fact, asking for that all the time. As for picking up on context, teaching you how to see it would seem to require a great deal of effort and pedagogical expertise, far more than I or anyone else can extend in a blog comment.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I already said this on this thread, so apologies for repeating myself. I don’t actually care if he was OP’s boyfriend, or BFF, or a down-the-street neighbor she was friends with – he’d had a STROKE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. A STROKE, PEOPLE. This is a big big deal. This is not the same as, as I’ve seen on this thread, “helping him nurse a hangover” Or a “dearly beloved fish” (are you serious?). I’ve had my whole father’s side of family utterly devastated, their lives turned upside down, my dad not having had a real vacation in ten years, etc etc. for a period of ten years after my dad’s mother had a stroke. My understanding is also that it is extremely important that a person who’s had it gets it taken good care of immediately/in the first few days after they’ve had it, in order to make as close to a complete recovery as possible – the longer they are left to fend for themselves, the worse off they will be in the long term. I also suppose he does not get strokes on the regular and this was a hopefully once-in-his-life thing. To me it falls under “a person close to me is extremely physically ill and in need of a lot of care and I need to be with them at the hospital/at their home helping take care of them right now” and I don’t really give a rat’s arse if theirs was the one true love or not.

      1. mediamaven*

        I think it’s important to keep in mind though that she isn’t being forbidden from being there just using sick time.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          She did say though, that she had a lot of sick time and very limited vacation…

    3. LW2*

      Yes, I decided the burning bridge was worth the step up the career ladder and increased pay. I appreciate the gut checks!

  58. RussianInTexas*

    10-12 e-mails? That’s nothing.
    The OP should have seen the “Who wants tickets to the Rodeo concerts” incident of 2015. In the 2,000 people office.

  59. Carrotstick21*

    Regarding the birthday messages: I’d suggest replacing the e-mail deluge with an online card, and then just one message goes out to everyone to sign the card ahead of the birthday (minus whoever it is for, of course.) We use groupgreeting.com at my company.

    It’s necessary to draw the line somewhere with policies like time off, but that shouldn’t supercede being a decent human being when situations come up. When I was going through my divorce, my manager told me if I needed time off, to take it, and it would not count against my PTO time, because she knew I had given extra hours in the past, and this was the company’s opportunity to do something for me. It was a massive relief and instructive to me as to how to be a good manager. If the OP worked for me, I would have told them not to book the emergency day as time off at all – it was an exception to the usual circumstances.

    1. Phantom*

      I was going to suggest the same thing. I think giving people an alternative outlet is ideal. My company uses kudosboard.com for everything from new baby well wishes to get well soon cards. They’re really nice to get because you can see your coworkers acknowledging the event without the deluge of emails, which I wouldn’t want even if it was for my birthday. They even encourage people to personalize messages with pictures, which can make for a fun card.

  60. Thankful for AAM*

    I just did some checking. At my workplace, I cannot use sick leave to care for anyone, I can only use it if I am sick.
    I would have to use annual leave (about 12 days a year) or FMLA.

  61. irene adler*

    Small company here.

    We only have PTO. Company went to this years ago. Some complained that they would be shorted vacation time as they normally took all of their sick time.

    Fair enough.

    But, the whole policy was thrown out the window when an employee was sick (cancer) or an employee was caring for someone very ill (a parent and a significant other). The employees in these situations received full pay checks long after the PTO was exhausted. And they were allowed to work as few hours as needed so as to devote their time to their care or to care for their loved one.

    None of this is in the employee manual. Management decided this was how to support their employee in their time of need. So that’s one good thing about a small employer. Rules can be broken.

  62. Fed-o*

    Yes. In the federal government we can’t expand the list of eligible relationships for sick leave usage. We can work with folks to approve LWOP or advanced annual leave if they don’t have AL, but it’s not an issue of enlightened management.

    1. Fed-o*

      That was supposed to be in response to someone else and I don’t know why it came up solo and pffffffft.

  63. Bopper*

    The boyfriend situation is tough…but are you wanting the benefits of marriage without the downsides? What if your best friend was in the hospital? They have to draw a line somewhere…and do you not have vacation days to take for that instead?

    1. Nanani*

      How the hell are they asking for benefits of marriage? LW asked for some PTO to be in the hospital with their partner, not tax breaks or adding them to a company health care plan.

      It’s fundamentally unfair that LW should have to take vacation time for something people that cohabitate don’t need to. The difference was actually the cohabitation more than the marraige aspect. It’s nonsense and you don’t get to erase that by exaggerating what LW was asking for.

      1. cheeky*

        No, she didn’t ask for PTO, she asked to use her sick time, rather than her vacation time. That’s the problem.

    2. Vegetable Lasagna*

      Sometimes people aren’t married yet. Or sometimes they aren’t going to get married. It shouldn’t matter even a little in this situation. They didn’t ask for emergency time off to see their best friend’s 3rd cousin get a pimple popped.

    3. Mr. Jingles*

      Why? The reason people use PTO or sick leave to care for another person is because their ailments affects them. The reason why companies allow this is simply self-preservation. Companies are no social institutions. Everything they do is for profit. If a person is upset because somebody they love is sick they are unreliable, prone to make mistakes and there‘s absolutely nothing they can do to avoid that. It doesn’t matter if it’s a spouse, a friend or even a pet-bunny that caused their emotions.
      So the decision should be based on how much it upsets the employee and how much risk the company has to loose money due to a lack in concentration and not on the relationship of the employee with the sick person or whatever. In the end it’s for the benefit of the company to be tolerant and only restrict if the tolerance gets abused.

  64. Nicki Name*

    #5, if your office might be open to handling things differently, mine uses Kudoboard for birthdays. A few days in advance, the office manager sets up a board for the person whose birthday it is and emails the link to everyone. Then people can add their congrats and flashy GIFs and whatever they want without spamming everyone. We used this even before everything went virtual.

  65. Haley*

    #4 I feel your pain. We actually stopped doing birthday reply all emails since we’ve been working remote (I think the birthday calendar was left in the office) but man, was my inbox clogged all day. I would have literally almost 100 reply all happy birthday emails.

  66. In my shell*

    OP#1’s post has my spidey-sense tingling. OP wrote, “because he didn’t have any family in the area and I was his emergency contact” and I’m thinking that the wording is problematic to get buy-in from HR for this “other” circumstance. This wording sets it up as OP is a default of some sort that is the equivalent of a personal care person who happens to care about the patient, rather than a committed SO who wants and needs to be there due to the nature of the relationship. I’m not blaming OP for the company policies and alternative wording probably wouldn’t change things with a rigid corporate HR, but in most circumstances you’re working with a human HR person be swayed / who can work with employees on dealing “other” situations that aren’t enshrined in the HR Bible.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I think that OP1 mentioned somewhere that they’re at a public university, which may play a role on how rigid their HR rules are, especially if there’s a collective bargaining agreement involved. Even without that detail, you’d be surprised how many people have less-than-great attitudes about (1) someone the OP’s age who isn’t married/cohabitating, as well as (2) anyone who needs emergency PTO for something other than child or elder care.

      As terrible as this is to say, you begin to notice this if you work with a bunch of married people who are at least in their 40s and who’ve been with their spouse for at least half their lives. Among that group, you’ll find a lot of people who simply can’t relate to not having a socially-accepted “default” person in their lives, and with HR matters, you might not want to trust people who can’t relate when you’re dealing with an “other” situation.

  67. Gaia*

    OP 1: my company has 1 category for family in our sick leave policy: “anyone who is related by blood, by law, or who has a place in your life indicative of a family relationship.” We are asked to use our own discretion. If we consider them family, they are family. This was part of our efforts to be more LGBTQ inclusive but it is also just overall inclusive, to everyone.

  68. Vegetable Lasagna*

    Re OP1: nope. People like that don’t take into account living together. My old boss wrote me up for being 3 hours late to work because I took my boyfriend to the hospital (who I’d been living with for 5 years) after he woke up and couldn’t walk one morning. She insisted until the day I quit that it was unreasonable for her to give me time off because we weren’t married and didn’t have kids. And then she pointed out that I wouldn’t get paid for time off to take care of my kids

    Some managers are just assholes and bad people.

    1. Vegetable Lasagna*

      Would also like to point out that my BIL can’t marry or live with his girlfriend because she’ll lose her disability and his insurance isn’t very good.

    2. TL -*

      The OP and her boyfriend didn’t live together, though – if they have lived together, the boyfriend would have been covered under the domestic partnership clause.

      1. cheeky*

        Only if they were registered as domestic partners. Just living with your boyfriend doesn’t make you domestic partners under the law.

        1. TL -*

          Sorry – the OP said HR would have allowed it if they lived together, so I meant more under the HR’s clause.

  69. Mr. Jingles*

    LW4, just write whomever is responsible for sending those mails and ask them to put the recipients in bcc instead of cc or the main recipient line and the reply all will stop immediately if they do so. If then people hit reply all they still have to manually enter the right recipient. It is also possible they‘ll be happy to get that tip and reduce the spam.

  70. CatPerson*

    Do you know how many people don’t even have paid sick leave for themselves to use when they themselves are actually sick? Such as, virtually all restaurant workers, and many, many others. The sense of entitlement from some of the comments posted here is pretty stunning.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not entitlement to want good benefits, and the fact that not everyone has them doesn’t mean we should stop working toward them for all. Direct your ire at the system that’s set this up, not at workers try to get by in it.

      1. CatPerson*

        Sure, but if you know of a company that gives the same benefits to employees concerning their friends as they do to employees concerning other family members, I sure would like to know who it is. To excoriate the company for drawing a line with friends but not other family members is completely unwarranted. Especially since the LW didn’t say that she doesn’t have other PTO–she just wanted to use sick time instead. Then tomorrow it’s someone’s roommate, or another non-romantic close friend, or whatever: where should the company draw the line on what it will pay for? Does one manager say OK if it’s a boyfriend of a year, but another OKs it for a boyfriend of 6 months? How would someone know how long the relationship is, or what would prevent someone from lying to get inside the policy? Suppose one manager says OK to the men, but no to the women? A large company would have zero chance of administering that fairly or consistently, and here come the lawsuits. Should they risk a lawsuit to have a discretionary policy? You commonly use the risk of liability in your advice.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          This is part of what discretionary no-questions-asked personal leave days are for, which certainly exist at some employers. It’s less about a company extending family leave to every type of relationship than it is about providing a way to have emergency time off regardless of whether it’s your mother, neighbour, or furnace that needs your care.

    2. Sylvan*

      Sick time is a sensible thing to be “entitled” to, and it should be available to restaurant workers, retail workers, teachers, childcare providers, and others who don’t get much time off, too. I know that reading what I just wrote isn’t helpful to someone who’s in that situation, though.

  71. Ruby*

    LW1, my coworker had a similar situation. His fiance’s grandfather died, and our boss wouldn’t let him take a bereavement day because they were not officially married yet.
    Our company policy gives a lot of leeway and flexibility for managers to manage people’s time off, and coworker was a good employee (ie, not taking advantage in any way). It really damaged his relationship with our boss, and coworker transferred internally not long after.

  72. cheeky*

    I have to say, I’d certainly be allowed to take time off to deal with something like this at my job, but I would not be allowed to use sick time for it, nor would I expect to.

  73. Catabodua*

    I also work at a large research university and the departments are mini kingdoms. It’s probably a great place to work, depending on who’s kingdom you are working under.

  74. MCMonkeyBean*

    I did what OP #2 did this year. It’s going okay so far–it didn’t even feel like I burnt a bridge with the company I left (but I guess it’s possible they were secretly mad? they were very nice to my face–or over the phone as we had already transitioned to WFH for the pandemic–and kept telling me to let me know if I changed my mind).

    I worked at company A for about 7 years. There was one particular assignment I had that I then spent years trying to transfer to other people. So everyone was very surprised when I left for company B for a role that was entirely based around that one assignment! It wasn’t that I hated the topic though, it was just that I twice trained someone to take over the assignment and then that person left so it was still on my plate even though I had already taken on new assignments that were meant to replace it. In the end I missed company A and wanted to return, but it honestly felt a little fated that I briefly went to company B. They were *desperate* for someone with experience in that particular area. They needed to set up a lot of processes from scratch. So from the start it was said that they expected a lot of work on that area for the first few months setting everything up and then once that got settled the role would evolve to take on other things. I managed to get through the part where we were finally getting the new processes somewhat settled so I think even though I left quickly I did contribute what they needed before moving on.

    Anyway, I definitely don’t think you have to worry about burning that bridge or looking like a job hopper. But I also think it’s possible if you try to do things like document your processes really well and if you’re able to leave things in decent shape for the next person that that bridge could end up being just fine anyway!

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