is my employee lying about needing sick time?

A reader writes:

I just took over job duties for a departing manager and inherited a new employee. He does a generally good job, although I have had some concerns about his work ethic (that’s a different story entirely that I plan to address).

This employee is a huge sports fan, and his favorite team is in the playoffs. He had requested time off from his previous manager for a long weekend exactly at the time when this sport’s big finalist playoff will happen. When he requested the time originally, and later mentioned this to me, he described the time off as because a family member is having surgery, and he needs to help this person, so he will be taking family sick leave (a separate PTO category, which is relevant later).

I understand that I don’t need to know what my employees are doing with vacation time. But when he mentioned the request to care for the family member, I believed him and didn’t think anything of it, until anther employee mentioned that this first employee is actually planning to attend the playoff game that weekend. I am now suspicious that there is no surgery, based on how he framed the time off request to the former manager and me.

Importantly, we pay out unused vacation when someone leaves, so there’s an incentive NOT to use it and to allow it to accrue. He made a mistake on his time card last month too, noting sick time for an obvious vacation day. I thought it was a mistake, but now I’m concerned that he did it on purpose, thinking that I wouldn’t notice. Also, if he took vacation time for the sports event, he’d wipe out almost all of his accrued vacation balance.

Do you have any suggestions for whether I should try to find out if he’s lying? How do I approach the conversation with him if I find out that he is lying? Should I be doing anything else to investigate?

I should also mention that we’re short staffed, and another employee told me yesterday that he doesn’t offer to help with tasks when he’s not busy, and that she’s a little overwhelmed. I’ve also been concerned about the amount of time he spends during the work day talking about sports and looking at sports websites. So it’s a larger pattern of behavior that I need to deal with soon. But I also don’t want to accuse him of lying if there really is a surgery! That would be horrible.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 385 comments… read them below }

  1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

    I agree this is very suss behavior on your employee’s part, and I like Alison’s script for addressing it. Also get going on the reviews to document the excessive time on sports in the office. Big picture, at my workplace, employees have to provide documentation from a medical provider for any sick leave (own or family member’s) over 3 days. Seems like a reasonable policy that your workplace should look into.

    1. blue*

      Not reasonable at all. Your employees don’t owe you documention and private medical information in order to take time off. They really don’t. You should do everything you can to undo that nonsense ASAP.

      1. MistOrMister*

        I think this is a fairly normal policy. I have worked in various places that have a similar policy. This is not documentation being required to take any time off. It’s a doctor’s note if you have to call out unexpectedly for 3 days or more in a row. No medical information is provided. Merely a note saying the person was unable to work from X to Y days and they are cleared to go back starting on Z.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          It is both normal and awful, and the fact that it’s normal makes it more awful. The fact that some think it is ok just because it is normal is the worst part.

          Plenty of medical conditions can lay people up for a few days without requiring or even easily allowing a doctor’s visit (bad migraines, vertigo, or anxiety disorder for instance). Requiring a note creates problems without providing solutions, and treats employees as children.

          1. Dennis Feinstein*

            Exactly! Flu, colds etc are untreatable. Fluids, bed rest and NOT driving, sitting in waiting rooms etc are the best treatment.

            1. I Need a 9 Hour Nap*

              Not to mention the expense for that DRs note! It’s a bad system to require it. If anything, they should have a set amount of PTO to cover everything and then maybe a compassionate leave policy if it’s for providing care to someone else for an extended period of time.

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                I hate it, it’s such a waste of time. The doctor can’t help me with my flu/viral infection/whatever. There’s no magic pill for it. I just need rest. I’d rather the doctor have that appointment for someone they can help, not me where they just go “Ah yes, sick, hmm, I see.” and scrawl a note.

                1. quill*

                  Especially as telehealth appointments become less and less universally accessible. Also there are just a lot of things that doctors can’t do anything about beyond writing a note. Requiring people to pay to miss work when they’re sick, especially people who are chronically ill or in pain, should never have become standard.

          2. Mx*

            I have fibromyalgia and my doctor is half an hour away. Even if I was up for driving on flare days, he’s not always even at the same location during the week. We’ve got a setup where I call or email, and a note gets sent to my work. It’s beyond helpful and allows me to focus on resting when I need. I wish other offices could implement something similar, but my doctor seems to be uniquely awesome, unfortunately.

            1. Joielle*

              My doctor does the same. I have to pay the copay which is annoying, but I don’t have to go in.

          3. Ace in the Hole*

            The way my employer does it is to have a policy that we MAY require a doctor’s note for sick leave of more than 3 days in a row. In practice, they almost never do ask for one… it’s just in our policy manual in case a situation like LW’s arises where management has concerns that someone might be abusing sick leave. I can only think of two occasions in the past 5 years where they asked someone for a doctor’s note for regular sick time (as opposed to FMLA/parental/disability leave requests)

        2. Avril Ludgateau*

          “Normal” does not mean “ethical.” Just because we are accustomed to it does not mean it is not a wild overstep. It’s also (appropriately) difficult to get a doctor’s note when you’re taking time off to care for a relative, not because you are sick. Unless that relative fills out a HIPAA release to you, the doctor is explicitly not allowed to write that note, in so far as doing so establishes that the doctor and (patient) have a relationship that you (third party) are not privy to.

          1. Doc in a Box*

            I’m a doctor. I literally fill out notes and FMLA forms for family caregivers at least once a week. It’s not a HIPAA violation unless I disclose PHI (personal health information) such as the patient’s name, age, address, diagnosis, or any of the 14 other unique identifiers.

            My go-to template is “John Smith requires x days off to care for a family member. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if additional information is required.” (No one has ever contacted us for more info, but if they did, that’s where HIPAA or release of information might kick in.)

            1. Doc in a Box*

              To be clear: I think this is a dumb policy and I hate writing “return to work” notes. But they aren’t illegal.

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                Question – do you think all return to work notes are dumb?

                We require them if someone has been away from work for a prolonged period due to an injury/disability, to make sure a medical professional agrees they’re able to safely resume all their regular job duties. Or, if the doctor thinks it’s appropriate, to list what work restrictions or modifications the employee will need so we can make the necessary accommodations. We’re in a field with a lot of physical labor, heavy equipment, lifting, etc. and have had problems in the past with people returning before they were fit for duty and re-injuring themselves, which then becomes a workers comp issue.

                I’d love to hear your opinion on these types of notes and whether you think they are helpful/harmful.

                1. Sasha*

                  Different doctor here, and I think they are often a waste of time in those circumstances because I as a hospital doctor have no idea what your job involves. Obviously straightforward instructions like “no heavy lifting for six weeks after surgery” is fine, but asking for advice on phased return to manual labour is way outside my competence.

                  Occupational Health physicians specialise in this area, and are really the best placed to advise on which duties are likely to exacerbate illness/injury, but no employers want to pay for a proper OH service, so push this work off onto Family Doctors/GPs, who aren’t really qualified to give advice in this area.

        3. What She Said*

          Normal but definitely not okay. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to explain I know how to manage my chronic illness and I don’t need to see my doctor every time. I’m not a child, please don’t treat me as one.

        4. Lenora Rose*

          Requires the person, possibly infectious, to get out of bed/the house when recuperation is what they need, make an appointment (often not possible/easy on short notice, especially if you want to see your own GP and not a walk-in), wait for possible hours in public (see again, possibly while infectious), go to see a doctor who may not be able to do anything if it’s a virus or a chronic condition besides say “Yup, you’re right.” It often requires the employee to pay extra money (even in Canada, where the visit is free, asking for a Doctor’s note for work often costs. I mean, I’ll take a $20-$25 fee over a copay and complications with insurance any day…but nobody should have to pay to use their sick time.) for all of this inconvenience and for doing the exact opposite of what any doctor would recommend.

          My manager is away now for several weeks with a medical issue. The only medical appointments she has gone to to “prove” her sickness were the ones she needed to go to to diagnose her condition. HR has not asked for more. (And this was an HR that was starting to require people to stop isolating within 5 days of a positive Covid test, so not exactly the forefront of compassion ort medical reason.)

      2. Dry Erase Aficionado*

        I worked at a company (healthcare provider!) that required a doctor’s note for *any* sick time. So if your kid couldn’t go to school or daycare for any one of the 25 million reasons kids get a short-lived fever, you had to drag them to the doctor and incur a copay just for a freaking note. It was the worst!

        My petty protest was that anytime I was going to a health-related appointment (GP, dentist, chiropractor, etc), I would get a note and take the full day. If they insisted on such a stupid policy I was going to get something out of complying.

        1. Not Really A Waitress*

          This! I actually had a discussion with my coworker last week. He challenged me when I said Dr’s Notes are classist. He said the company has affordable Healthcare plans. I said yeah and a copay is $35. That’s nothing for a single guy making 6 figures. But that’s a case of diapers or half a grocery budget to a single mom….

          1. dawbs*

            yeah–if I’m sick and have to go to the doctor, I have to decide if I trust an autistic kid to stay at home alone while I go OR I have to find childcare OR I have to drag a high-risk special needs kid to sit in the urgent-care waiting room for howevermany hours it takes.

            Even if the copay is $0, it’s hell

        2. MissBaudelaire*

          Same reason I quit bothering if I was running late at ExJob. I was getting the same point, so I might as well stay home and enjoy my day off rather than race into work breathless and get the same point.

      3. Caroline*

        Totally reasonable. Dr’s note is certainly not a detailed description of what might be wrong, it’s a simple statement that your doctor has given a diagnosis such that you should not be working for X amount of time.

        100% reasonable.

        Documentation for needing time off that isn’t annual holiday is entirely fair if it comes from different buckets, as long as it’s done in line with a clear and reasonable policy. How is that unfair? ”My aunty died and now I need to go and look after my uncle HOW DARE YOU QUESTION ME? Yes it’s over (insert relevant holiday), but that’s irrelevant”.

        1. Metadata minion*

          It’s unfair because it forces the person to go in to the doctor’s office when they might not actually need medical care (there are so many conditions that make you too sick to work but where a doctor is not needed and may not even be able to help much — flu, norovirus, migraine, bronchitis…), pay a copay, and take up the doctor’s time when you could just trust your employees.

          What proof are you requiring that your employees’ relative actually died? Death notices can cost hundreds of dollars to post (and also have no actual legal force) and death certificates can take weeks or months to actually be processed.

        2. Rolly*

          “Totally reasonable.”

          I don’t see how yall can work with people who you don’t take at their word.

          Yes, I get that for certain types of activities (such as bookkeeping) there may need to be security protocols in place, but in general, it’s F’d up if you require proof of someone telling you something like this.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        In France here, we have unlimited medical leave for our own health problems. We can take up to three days off (unpaid, to prevent abuse) without a sick note and then after those three days, we have unlimited time provided that time is covered by a sick note from a doctor. The doctor fills in a form to say how long you may stay off work, without giving any other medical information. There is a box where the doctor can write the reason for the sick leave. IME they never fill that in unless it’s work-related (burnout, accident at work etc.), and there are ramifications for the employer if there are too many of those sick notes.
        You can also get up to three days a year off to care for a sick child, and again, a note is required from the doctor, and again, there is no obligation to state anything more than “this child needs X days of parental care starting on X date”.
        It can totally be done in a way that reveals barely any information except that the person is unfit to work.
        And it totally avoids this kind of situation.

        My previous employer did try to get me into trouble when I was on prolonged sick leave. I had my first sick note from my GP, then since he didn’t want to renew it, I asked the psychiatrist I was seeing for mental health problems to renew it. I had surgery scheduled, so then I got a sick note from the surgeon. Then the psychiatrist renewed my sick leave several times (two weeks at a time). Then one week she was on holiday and she’d mixed up the dates, and my leave was due to run out while she was away. So I got an appointment with a random doctor who kindly renewed my sick leave. The boss claimed I was just going to random doctors the whole time (inferring that they were perhaps friends of mine) and abusing the sick note system. I was summoned to see a doctor working for the healthcare system, who saw the state I was in and could tell that I wasn’t abusing anything and clearly was not in any fit state to work. The boss’s claim was rejected and he later had to let me go with full severance pay and the occupational health doctor also launched an inquiry because all his employees seemed totally stressed out!

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      Ive had colds last longer than 3 days. I dont’ need to go to the dr and spend money to prove to the dr I am sick.

      3 days is a terrible policy.

      1. Red top*

        I would be so upset if I had to pay a copay for a note to go back to work. How infantilizing!

        1. BongoFury*

          Agreed! And we should also not be exposing doctors/nurses/check-in clerks to a virus (any virus!), just so a manager can feel better micromanaging.

          1. The Original K.*

            I once read a story about a doctor whose note on an employee’s behalf was like, “yes, this person has a cold and it is dumb of you to require a note proving that fact, not to mention the germs he’s spreading by not staying home.” And: agreed.

        2. Avril Ludgateau*

          My employer has this policy. It isn’t only infantilizing and embarrassing asking for a note for my adult self, it is logistically challenging.

          The last time I was “incapacitated” sick for more than 3 days was a horrific case of food poisoning. Sickest I have ever been in that respect. Without going into too much detail, it was the kind of illness where you want to be in eyeline of the toilet at all times. It’s such an uncomfortable position to be in because I was dangerously dehydrated to the point I was indeed contemplating going to the ER, but the thought of being in that waiting room without access to my own bathroom where I could clean up hygienically and take as long as I need really put me off.

          I was fortunate that two of those 3 days fell on the weekend. I didn’t go to the ER or doctor after all and thankfully it passed. What’s frustrating is we have plenty of sick time (and vacation and personal time) and yet they won’t hesitate to put you on “probation” for using it “wrong”, and while there is indeed a written policy re: sick time, “using it wrong” is very much at the discretion of individual managers (and office busybodies, but that’s another story).

          And I have excellent health insurance! Imagine the hordes of workers who don’t, or who have shitty insurance with high deductibles and copays, who may end up losing more out of pocket by going in to the doctor than they would just taking the day unpaid!

      2. Princess Xena*

        I will note that more and more employers are including Telehealth options where you can do a phone or video call. It doesn’t really affect how well the policy handles it but does reduce the time and cost and risk

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          How does it reduce cost? My copay is the same whether I see a dr virtually or in person.

          1. ToTiredToThink*

            When my oldjob had it as an option it was only $25 for telehealth – regardless of whether I had met my deductible or not. Going to the actual doctor I had to pay in full until I met my deductible. So, it depends on the insurance plan. Now, my telehealth options are through my doctor so I have to pay the whole thing until I meet my deductible.

          2. Not Your Sweetheart*

            I actually pay more for telehealth than in-person visits. The insurance set up is weird.

            1. Rainy*

              Same for my insurance. Emergency telehealth appointments (the only way to get same day or next day appointments) are almost twice the copay as regular visits (whether telehealth or in-office) to my GP.

          3. Gumby*

            Every insurance company is different. Telehealth visits are free on mine. In-office visits are $25.

    3. CatCat*

      Seems like a reasonable policy that your workplace should look into.

      Requiring doctor notes of all employees is completely unreasonable and will encourage people to come to the office sick. No, no, no. Don’t make employees pay co-pays and arrange doctor visits just because they’re sick for a week.

      If an employee has a pattern of problematic behavior inappropriately using sick time, maybe. Or if they need a lengthy amount of time off (at once or intermittently) then okay to get FMLA documentation.

      1. Koalafied*

        Not to mention they’re taking up an appointment slot that could have gone to someone who actually needed to see a medical professional and now maybe they had to go to urgent care instead of their PCP, or they had to wait longer before the next available appointment they could book. Which is all the more relevant during a pandemic when so many medical resources are spread so thin as it is. The last thing the health care system needs is people booking frivolous appointments so the doctor can use their medical degree to write “please excuse Sally from work” on a piece of paper.

      2. Caroline*

        Everywhere I have ever worked on two continents reserves the right to require some sort of documentation if you are taking sick leave that goes over a certain number of working days – 3-5 generally, depending. They don’t always demand it, but the right to request it is there.

        ”I must look after my relative and it’s totes not holiday leave” is something else again. They can absolutely ask for some kind of evidence for that. Why not?

        That they’re a problematic employee must be addressed as a priority, but if *anyone* said they suddenly needed to go and look after someone for exactly this length of time, not a moment more or less, meaning they’d be unable to work for that time but it’s for defs not a holiday, the employer must have a right to query that in a fair and equitable way.

    4. Avocado Abogoda*

      With all due respect, I hate that policy. It can put a financial burden on people with poor healthcare coverage to have to pay for a copay or appointment to get seen to get that documentation. It also often forces sick people who can recuperate fine at home to go out into society and expose others (although this is luckily decreasing as teleheath options have improved since 2020). It also just treats employees like children instead of adults.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        Right? I was out a few times because my mom had surgery. I can just imagine what her doctor would have done if I asked for a note for work.

        1. Sasha*

          We have this in our organisation, and you don’t need to provide a note as such – an admission letter (which says “please come to ward 2 at 7am”, no medical information whatsoever) would be fine.

          1. Caroline*

            Where I’ve worked it’s ”Bob requires help following a procedure from X to Y date”, type notes or ”Jenny has been signed off work for medical reasons from A to B”, the end. No info, no details other than that.

            Even when I was pregnant and had visits to my OB, his notes were ” Caroline is / needs to be off from work for medical reasons” with no hint at what those were, if they were routine or related to pregnancy or anything at all. But they contained the practice number and the license number of the doctor!

        2. doreen*

          I had to do that a few times when taking sick leave because my husband was having a procedure. It was never a problem with the doctor. ( I could have just taken vacation or personal time – but for pre-scheduled family sick leave I needed documentation , just like if I had been having the procedure done myself)

          1. doreen*

            I meant to add, it didn’t need any actual medical information – just that it was necessary for me to care for him and the date(s) that it would be necessary

    5. The New Wanderer*

      My previous (very big global) company had a policy of taking any more than three continuous sick leave days would automatically put you into short term disability, which required paperwork. It’s not a great policy, but that’s where the requirement for documentation comes in. I never had that situation come up so I don’t know if a manager could overrule that policy for just bad colds or what, I hope that they could.

      It seems like this employee should be able to use a mix of vacation and family sick leave if that’s more appropriate, I wonder if the manager could phrase it that way.

      1. Anon*

        My company required a manager to work with HR to assess whether FMLA applied for any sick leave longer than 3 days. A simple cold would not be FMLA, but (one example from my experience) outpatient surgery with complications might be. They’re required to correctly identify FMLA qualified leave and the policy helped them do that.

        1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

          Thank God managers don’t have to do that at my workplace; it’s up to HR entirely. All I have to do is receive the documentation with the start date and end date (if known) of the approved leave.

    6. Beth*

      Plenty of illnesses need more than 3 days of rest or caregiving while not rising to the level of needing a doctor’s attention. Going to the doctor is expensive (even with insurance, most people have deductibles and copays) and not always easy to do (I don’t know about you, but getting a same-week appointment is pretty iffy with mine—and what openings are available get prioritized for people who are actually sick enough to need attention, not people who just need a note). I also wouldn’t be thrilled to be going into the doctor’s office unnecessarily if I was immunocompromised or had young kids, since we are still in a pandemic and doctor’s offices tend to have sick people in them.

      Tl;dr: this is a bad policy and should be eliminated, not replicated. Either trust your employees or don’t, but don’t but this kind of burden on them about it.

    7. Ed123*

      Same in my work place. Except it is if you are out for over 5 days. You’re always entitled to sick leave but not all sicknesses are paid. The absence code determines if the time off is paid and if the employee is entitled to other benefits. It’s one of those things that when it’s everywhere it’s totally normal and if you’re not used to it then the policy sounds terrible.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        People can get used to terrible things. That doesn’t mean they’re not terrible, for all the reasons outlined in this thread.

        1. Ed123*

          I’m not saying that the policy is good. But I can also kinda understand it. My colleague has been off sick for 6 months and I can understand that a phone call saying she’s off is not gonna be enough for her to get a salary. It would be wonderful if it was. There is also a debate if all medical leaves should be fully paid. Is an elective cosmetic surgery and recovery equal to a necessary hip surgery from employers side when it comes to pay.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Sure but there’s a world of nuance between five days and six months

            1. Ed123*

              Of course there is. But where do you draw the line? When does it become OK to ask for a note after a month? I just dont think there is a universally good policy. This isn’t a good one with but its the one that unions have jointly agreed on

              1. Kella*

                I’d say the cut-off should happen at whatever point a doctor’s input becomes relevant. If you just have a cold, you can make a good guess that you’ll be back to work before the end of the week, no reason to involve a doctor. If your cold lasts longer than that, you may need to go to a doctor to find out what’s going on, at which point you can get documentation. If you’ve broken your leg, your doctor can make a prediction about how long you’ll be out.

                The question is, what purpose is the medical documentation serving? Is it actually giving you the information you need to plan staffing coverage etc.? Or is it proof that your employee isn’t lying? Because if you suspect your employee is lying in order to get out of work, then you have a much larger problem on your hands and you should probably address whatever the actual problem is instead.

          2. I should really pick a name*

            Taking 6 months of leave is very much an unusual circumstance that requires special handling.

            Asking for a doctor’s note when someone is using some of their allocated sick days is really just saying that the employer doesn’t trust their employees.

            If an employee isn’t trustworthy, it’s likely to come out in other, more actionable ways than sick time.

            I think a conversation is warranted when they’re using more than their allocated sick days, but even then, exactly how to handle it will depend on the specifics of the situation.

      2. River Otter*

        But I don’t understand the mechanics of getting the note. I just commented that I’ve never been to a dr’s practice that had appointments available in 3 days. Haven’t been to one that had appts available in 5 days, either. How do you get the note?

          1. River Otter*

            That is eminently reasonable. Three days is absurd, but some number days might be reasonable if only to invoke FMLA or short term disability.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Some people go to Urgent Care or similar clinics to get notes for their employers. I have not had to do this, but I some of my friends have.

            1. K-Sarah-Sarah*

              Same. Urgent Care copays are very pricey, and getting into my primary for her to write me a note isn’t going to happen until I’m well enough to go back to work. Thank goodness my company recognizes we’re adults and doesn’t require this nonsense.

          1. Rainy*

            I’m lucky that my employer is reasonable–I was in the ED on Friday night and the doc as a matter of course offered me a note for my employer, and I didn’t anticipate needing it so I declined, but it’s looking like I’m going to be off sick for most of this week recovering from what was, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty minor medical emergency.

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This is strange to me. I live in the US and will not say our system is great, but on days when I wake up and see a white spot in my throat or have some trouble in the bathroom, I can call my primary care physician and get in that day. Or go to a Med Express place that will determine if I have strep or a bladder infection. I can’t wait three days to see a doctor about that (caveat for those not in a financial, an insurance or a geographic permitting position) for something like that.

          1. Kayem*

            I’m in the US too and being able to see my PCP same day has been the minority in places I’ve lived and providers I’ve used. Last place I lived was 2 million metro with a supremely high number of medical facilities for the population. I could walk to several of them because there were so many. Despite that, first doc’s office could do next day at the soonest (they closed down or else I’d kept them). Second was a four month wait even if sick because we had “bad” insurance. Third was great, but it was two weeks at the soonest to get an appointment even when sick. Place I lived before that, there were so few providers (GP, specialty, dentist, anything) for the population that we wound up going to providers in a neighboring state because we couldn’t get appointments. Other cities and towns I’ve lived in had varying levels of waits.

            Now the place I’m in is moderate sized, has an adequate number of medical providers, but I still can’t get same day appointment unless I go in for covid-related reasons. Most people I know in the US have had similar experiences.

            1. Rolly*

              My PCP will see you same day if what you may have is very serious but not quite at emergency-room level yet. I once ahd a sudden swelling in my leg and they said come in right away – they rushed me! Then told me to go to the hospital right away while they arranged for testing. It was potentially life-threatening but I had not realized that.

              But for a cold? No. Appts are based on first-come, first-serve unless there is an emergency.

              Note, my child’s PCP’s practice has walk-ins during cold/flu season.

              These are all in New York City.

              1. Kayem*

                My family member’s PCP won’t see her same day, but the pediatrician that works out of the same clinic will see the kids same day, regardless of reason. She’s frustrated that she can’t get one, but grateful the kids can go in whenever they need.

                Earlier this year I was having heart issues and it took forever to get an appointment. Turns out I had COVID. Too bad I didn’t know when I called, or I could have gotten a same day appointment instead of freaking out all weekend that my heart was going to explode.

          2. Rainy*

            I live in the US as well and the only time I’ve been able to get in to see my GP same week is after admission to the ED, for a follow-up, and the only time I’ve been seen same-day was when I was patently so ill it would essentially have been negligence not to see me. (Turns out if you call for an appointment because your extremities go tingly and numb every time you cough, and you have spring allergies so you’re coughing a lot, you WILL get a same-day appointment.)

          3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            I could get in to see my doctor, or someone else in her office, quickly when I lived in Seattle, and (pre-pandemic) in Boston. In New York City I sometimes had to go to urgent care because I wasn’t going to wait five days to see my doctor and find out if I should have started on antibiotics the previous week.

            As with so many things in the US, it varies a lot from state to state, and sometimes between different parts of the same state.

          4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            Where I live (also in the USA), one of the local medical and insurance providers has walk-in “immediate care” clinics that bill the same as a primary care visit rather than the same as an urgent care or ER visit. They’ve been in-network both when I’ve had that insurance provider and now that I have a different one that also uses their hospital network, so I’ve been going to those when I’ve needed same day, weekend, or after work care. I don’t know how common this is overall, but its let me avoid going to a “regular” urgent care or the ER unless it’s either the middle of the night and it’s something I think is too urgent to wait until early morning, or something that I think actually needs ER-level services, for over a decade now and I highly recommend seeing if there’s anything similar wherever you live.

            I’ve never visited one for a doctor’s note because my work doesn’t require them, but it’s been a useful source of inexpensive same-day strep throat cultures and ankle x-rays in my life.

        3. doreen*

          That hasn’t been my experience ( I can always get into my PCPs office by the next day if I’m sick ). I’m certainly not going to say it hasn’t been anyone’s experience since I’ve heard this before – but I have to ask, what do you do if you are too sick to want to wait 5 days to see your doctor but not really sick enough to go to the emergency room?

          1. Rainy*

            Urgent care, or doc-in-the-box if your insurance covers the fees for those. Or else you just don’t see a doctor and hope whatever it is isn’t fatal.

            There are an awful lot of people who have some form of medical insurance and are still absolutely unable to actually access care.

          2. Dahlia*

            Wait and hope there’s a cancellation?

            There’s more people who need appointments than there are doctors here. What are you supposed to do?

          3. River Otter*

            With the exception of bladder infections, I have been fortunate that I’ve never been so sick that I couldn’t just recover at home.

            With bladder infections, the doctor would call a prescription into the pharmacy and they might ask me to come in at some point to leave a sample.

        4. This is a name, I guess*

          I send them a message in the patient portal. They send me a note back often. Most doctors know this is all nonsense.

          I’ve also used telehealth (through a telehealth service, not a telehealth visit through my clinic), which my insurance will cover even if I haven’t reached the deductible.

        5. Emmy Noether*

          I live in a place where having to get a doctor’s note for sick leave over 3 days is the norm (also a place with unlimited paid sick leave separate from vacation and zero copay…) and the system is set up for it. Physicians reserve some percentage of their appointment slots for urgent visits – I have always been able to get a same-day or next-day slot if I called and said I was acutely sick, even if normal scheduled appointments are booked out for months.

          1. amoeba*

            Yep, same here (and I do think it makes sense here, in combination with unlimited paid sick leave…) – some places require it from day 1, which sucks, but for more than 3 days it’s zero problem here.

      3. yala*

        “but not all sicknesses are paid”

        Wait, why not? If you have sick leave, then why is it not paid?

      4. Metadata minion*

        Ok now I’m morbidly curious — what illness don’t get paid sick time? That seems like a spectacularly bad policy.

        1. Antilles*

          I’m curious too, because to me, it seems like it means that anybody who’s sick but not 100% sure they’re “sick enough” to meet your company’s requirements would come into work ill.
          If I’m actively projectile vomiting? I’d stay home and feel confident you’re not going to question me on that (maybe take a couple photos of the toilet bowl, just to document things).
          But if I’m a half-step short of that where my stomach feels really upset but I’m not quite throwing up yet? I would worry that you might not call that “good enough”, so I’d come in – and then I guess the rest of the office is rolling the dice that it’s not Day 1 of the flu or a highly contagious cold or whatever.

          1. Antilles*

            (And just to addend this based on the mention of “5 days”: Yes, I have had flus that last a full week where I started feeling sick Monday morning and was still very much struggling by Friday)

          2. Ed123*

            It’s not a company policy. It’s negotiated by a number of different unions and this is the agreement. You call the occupational health (that is always free and mandatory to offer all employees) and they will write you the note. Either on the phone or you go in. Depending kn the situation. It’s not about assessing if you are sick enough. It’s about if you are sick enough. It’s about the ICD code. If you are vomiting, you are sick. If you are recovering from a breathing enlargement surgery, I get to take the time off but it won’t be paid (unless I use PTO). I don’t really see how this encourages anyone to come to work sick more than companies that have set number of sick days. Which I find to be a very odd system.

            1. doreen*

              Since you mention other companies that have a “set number of sick days”, I wonder if there is more going on with your employer’s sick leave policy. For example, it is not uncommon in my area for certain public employees to have unlimited sick leave* – and in those cases , there are restrictions on using sick leave that would be considered unacceptable in most circumstances. For example, the person using sick leave may be restricted to their residence for all or most of the day, a department physician must approve the sick leave and assess whether the employee can return to work and it’s entirely possible that the unlimited sick leave does not apply to cosmetic surgery and they are required to use other types of leave for that. But the unions agreed to it and the membership has no objections – in fact, many government employees who don’t have this unlimited sick leave would like to have it, even with the restrictions. Because they feel that the restrictions are worth never having to go without pay when they need three months to recover from surgery but only have four weeks of PTO to cover it.

              * It’s possible that an employee might be forced to retire if they are on sick leave continuously for more than a certain amount of time – I know of someone who was forced to retire after being out sick continuously for three years, during which he received his full paycheck.

            2. Metadata minion*

              Why is recovery from surgery not paid leave if you have paid sick leave in general? That’s inhumane and bizarre.

        2. Ed123*

          Recovery from elective cosmetic surgery, alcohol or drug related rehabilitiaon, lasik surgery, rehabilitation on stuff that is unrelated to work well being. I’m not saying I fully agree with all these policies. You are allowed to take the time off without it affecting your employment but it won’t be paid. You can decide not to show any certs but then it will be unpaid time.

          1. NeedRain47*

            But those are all things you would have planned ahead of time and presumably figured out your leave time already. Not things where you’re on day four of an illness and suddenly have to worry about documenting it while still feeling like crap.

          2. Elder Millennial*

            Addiction is a disease. So it’s extremely crappy to have leave for rehab be unpaid. And my wording here is very polite, because we are on AAM.

            Plus a lot of the time gender affirmative surgeries are categorized as elective by insurance companies so they don’t need to cover them.

            Employers shouldn’t get involved into deciding which medical care is “necessary”.

            1. Ed123*

              The employer doesn’t decide it. It’s determined by the labour unions. But I agree that alcoholism is an illness and I’m very happy that people who need help are getting their full pay from the employer while getting all the help they need.

              Gender affirmative surgeries are part of the sick leave cause they are not considered cosmetic surgery. Just checked it. But hopefully people’s insurance companies will be more understanding.

          3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            This policy is disgusting. You can’t use sick time to recover from elective surgery. Because elective surgery is a vanity procedure? Breast reduction? Mole removal? Yeah, there are no health risks or quality of life issues with those. /s

            Cool. So if an employee is injured at the gym, s/he can’t take a sick day because s/he chose to work out, or run a marathon (remember that letter years ago…my employee calls off after running marathons. Shouldn’t she use a vacation day because she knows she will be sore/sick?)
            What if it’s medically prescribed physical therapy? You get hurt doing an exercise. Oh well, you have to come in. You chose to do it.
            I’m feeling jesuitical, I guess. But this is a lot of make work BS to justify not giving people benefits promised when they were hired.

            1. Ed123*

              I don’t have enough knowledge on the inns and out of the policy nor is it possible in a thread like this. However, most of what you have listed are under the paid sick leave. Also, it’s not a benefit that the employer has promised. It’s part of the collective labor agreement that the employer follows that is negotiates by several different labour unions. You’ll find out which one your employer follows. I’m absolutely loving it that there are places where you have unlimited sick leave days for all medical needs and enough mutual trust on all sides that it’s such a simple thing.

            2. K-Sarah-Sarah*

              Gross fact: a dear friend of mine is just out of bed from recovering from a hysterectomy. Her insurance decided it was an elective procedure so they didn’t have to pay for it. A company like Ed’s would look at that and say “Hm, elective surgery! Whoops, now you’re not allowed to use your accrued sick time!” So my friend would get screwed over twice.

              1. Ed123*

                Sounds terrible for your friend. But this has nothing to do with insurance and that’s not how it works. It’s not like there is someone in HR desperately looking for loopholes to not pay salary for people. It’s a preset thing that is set by higher powers than our management and there is a preset list that it’s spelled out. Also sick time is not acquired.

              2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                That is one of the two exact instances I was thinking of. Sure, it’s elective. The pain won’t KILL you so you are choosing to have it. You can wear pads 24/7, you won’t bleed to death. It’s optional.

            3. Formerly Ella Vader*

              My gallbladder removal was defined as elective surgery as long as it was a scheduled procedure. When I landed in the ER again and they said “how about you just stay here til it’s done” it became not elective. Elective doesn’t mean unnecessary.

          4. Avril Ludgateau*

            Recovery from elective cosmetic surgery, alcohol or drug related rehabilitiaon, lasik surgery, rehabilitation on stuff that is unrelated to work well being.

            This is an objectively horrible policy and you should agree with none of it.

            1. Ed123*

              I’m amazed that all employers (at least represented here) are paying full salary for 90-day rehab and all that goes a long with it. And you can just call your employer that your off x amount of time sick without having to explain anything. In my personal opinion there are horrible employment policies all over the world that while this is not great, I’m not sure I can personally get completely horrified by this. But I’ve probably taken too much space on this thread already.

              1. Velociraptor Attack*

                Come on, no one is saying that. People are saying that if you have 90 days of leave, you should be able to apply it to rehab.

                I worked at a place that didn’t have maternity leave. I was able to hobble together my sick leave and vacation time to be paid for those 12 weeks.

                1. Emmy Noether*

                  I think there’s a system clash here: Ed123 seems to come from a place with unlimited paid sick leave (as do I). Those places often have stricter rules on justification to prevent abuse (though some of those rules are… questionable, true). There is no “accrual”, and no “having 90 days” in those kinds of systems!

                  It’s a fundamentally different way of doing things and both sides seem to be shocked by the other.

      5. Calliope*

        I’m pretty sure 90% of this thread is people from different countries talking past each other.

      6. quill*

        “Not all sicknesses are paid” jumps out here to me. Your workplace knows why people are out and decides after the fact if the illness was worthy of PTO? Please tell me I am reading this wrong.

    8. River Otter*

      How do people even get a note? I’ve never had a dr’s office where I could be seen within 3 days.

      1. wine-dark sea*

        Yeah, if I had to have a note, I’d probably have to pay even more money at an urgent care, because there’s no way I’m getting in to see my doctor any time remotely soon.

        I remember one time I asked to get in ASAP due to severe pain I was having, and the next available appointment was 3 weeks away.

      2. Oxford Comma*

        I have worked jobs where the note was required, just not in a long time. And once in a while I’ve gotten in on the same day for illnesses/weird health stuff, albeit pre-Covid era. It usually means you get seen by a NP or PA and that’s not always ideal. Sometimes they’ll tell you to go to urgent care.

        Either way for me to do that results in a copay (currently for me that’s $25). And while $25 is affordable to me as a general rule, I would be pissed as hell if I had to do this just to get a note. I already have multiple regular healthcare appointments that result in $25 copay a pop. When I’m shelling out $100 a month for copays, adding another $25 isn’t really affordable.

      3. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

        I think it may be more of a critical care thing. My mom once got one from the hospital. She didn’t even request it because she was taking a break from working at that point, but they gave her one when she went in for kidney stones.

      4. Lenora Rose*

        In Canada there are walk in clinics so you don’t have to clog up urgent care. Get there first thing in the morning or be ready to wait (they will sometimes let you leave and come back if the wait is over an hour without losing your place, and they tend to be honest about “we’re full up for the day” if you have no choice but to try later.) Or go to urgent care, if it’s a weekend or evening or otherwise bad for getting into a walk in.

        1. There's No Name Here*

          In Canada there are *nominally* walk-in clinics. In my city it has not been possible to attend them without an appointment since the start of the pandemic. Yesterday I went to four of them, read the posted instructions, and phoned the number given.

          One does not answer (closest to my home so I’ve tried many times) and it is not possible to leave voicemail. (I’ve also emailed, and received a very nice emailed reply saying I need to phone to make an appointment.)

          The second number is answered with a recording stating that Dr. So-and-so is only seeing patients he’s seen before. The third is answered by a real person! She looks me up and says that I haven’t been there in nine years and where have I been going in the meantime? Because they’re only seeing patients they’ve seen in the last two years. I tell her I haven’t been anywhere else (I don’t think I have) and I don’t argue with her but I’m sure it hasn’t been nine years. I got at least one doctor’s note there for a job I had from 2015 to 2017, but maybe that doesn’t count.

          She seems quite sympathetic, and gives me the number of a different clinic that *might* be seeing new people! They have an available telehealth appointment next Saturday! Everything is going swimmingly until my health card number is refused. So now we’re back to standard government bureaucracy BS, which a standard government employee has told me will take one form and two weeks to straighten out.

          All I actually need is for someone to fax a form to a pharmacy stating that I can get a shot that is recommended due to my age, which has already been verified by the two live humans I’ve already spoken with! Don’t get me wrong, I love Canada. This just isn’t one of the reasons. Oh, and they tell me I can just pay cash, but if I do it will be $200.

    9. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      Wow, interesting to see the commentariat’s take on it. I can add that I work for a large public sector organization (10,000 employees), highly unionized, and this is in the contract of all our bargaining groups. Not controversial at all and widely accepted. Healthcare also part of the contract and I’ve never heard any employee have any issue with getting the documentation for a legitimate medical reason. In practice, most people anticipating a multiday medical leave just segue right into FMLA which also requires a “doctor’s note”.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        So they segue into unpaid leave instead of being able to use their benefits? What if someone doesn’t qualify for FMLA yet? This really isn’t the intended purpose of FMLA and sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare.

        If you live somewhere with low population and high access to doctors, this may work in practice. It would absolutely not work where I am. I can’t get in to see my doctor until the end of May, as of when I called them last week. Do I just not have a job in the meantime?

        1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

          No, FMLA is paid if you have time in the bank. It just means you’re off on a legitimate medical leave, for yourself or a covered family member, until you’re not (when the medical reason ceases) and your job is protected while you are out.

      2. Fluffy Fish*

        I’m government and eventually we have to bring in a note too – but not after 3 days. More like 7 (at which point the likelihood that you should have gone to the dr anyway is greatly increased) and there’s grace given for provided that note – they’re not firing you on day 8 if you don’t send a note by 8am.

        1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

          For sure, we can’t fire anyone on day 4 if they haven’t produced a note, not that we would want to. It would trigger the disciplinary procedures/corrective actions laid out in the MOU for that group, which has lots of time built into it for the employee to… go get some documentation of the legitimate sick leave, for example, if that was the issue.

      3. Verde*

        Imagine if you are sick with a really bad cold or flu, can’t come into the office, and are possible also having to care for your child who is sick (because kids are germ pools and you probably got it from them). You’re asking someone to either find child care for a sick kid while they go to the doctor to get told that they have a cold and should stay home and rest, or to drag that sick child with them to go to the doctor and get told that they have a cold and should stay home and rest. That also assumes they have transportation to the doctor and the money to pay for a copay. Or that they have internet access and the money for a telehealth copay. All so that they now have a note they can show your employer. A cold of flu does not usually segue into FMLA and that is a crazy burden to put on people in addition to everything else they’re juggling. There is a big difference in “anticipating” a need for leave such as having surgery, and just plain getting sick. That’s also why there are retro triggers for FMLA.

        When I was down for six weeks with some incredibly nasty bronchitis, I worked from home as much as I was able to in between doctor visits, antibiotic roulette, and extreme sleeping, and then dragged myself into the office about every ten days to pick up paperwork and sign things that needed signing. No one asked me for a note, everyone asked me to go home. (I looked terrible, apparently.)

        1. KateM*

          In the European country that I work in, I call doctor’s office and say I’m off sick as of today, and then call back when I’m not sick anymore. But there’s a government system of sick leave here. If my kid is sick the government pays my sick leave but if I’m myself then employer, but only starting at third day, something like that.
          Being sick without note would probably count as just deciding to not come to work that day.

      4. Unkempt Flatware*

        Why do you think it’s accepted and not controversial just because it’s in the CBA? This is a really terrible policy and the defense offered here doesn’t help at all.

        1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

          Because it’s been in the MOUs for years, not raised by the employee groups during negotiations, and widely followed.

          1. acmx*

            At least one of our CBAs has this, also. If the employee can’t get a note then I guess they could switch to other types of PTO to avoid 3 days or get someone to cover their shift.

            It’s been a couple of years since I supervised these union members but I don’t recall this being an issue for anyone (note obtaining or avoiding the need for the note).

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yeah this kind of thing stresses me out because it often makes people question whether they want to be part of a union that represents them this way. Which maybe is fair, but some places really need to unionize and this just makes it harder.

      5. sdog*

        Same – my old federal government job (also heavily unionized) also required a note after 3 days, or within reason, as determined by management. Employees who needed it seemed to just call up their doctor and get a generic work note (sometimes without even being seen), and there were a lot of discussions with managers about making sure that managers were consistent as to what they required, but no one really seemed put off by the policy itself.

        Not sure about segueing right into FMLA though. There’s a lot of room in between a few days off and FMLA. Though to the point below, FMLA can be paid as well as unpaid (that is, there is an option to use your accrued leave when using FMLA).

        1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

          Right, employees generally use accruals for FMLA, as long as they have some “in the bank”.

        2. L.H. Puttgrass*

          I was going to ask whether Lunch Eating Mid Manager is in the federal government, because the requirement for a note for more than 3 days sick leave absence is the same as what OPM says federal agencies can require. I haven’t checked my agency’s CBA to see if we do, but I’d be surprised if we didn’t. I’d also be surprised if the actual practice were anything other than having to produce documentation (for over 3 days absence) if asked.

      6. Avril Ludgateau*

        Not controversial at all and widely accepted.

        I said this above in different words and I will say it again: just because you are used to it, even collectively and formally, does not make it an acceptable practice. I’m not going to get into the list of unconscionable behaviors that humans have historically “accepted without controversy”, but I will say that for ages in pre-labor union America, people accepted no days off, lock-ins, preventable deaths on the job, child labor, etc., until finally one day, somebody didn’t.

      7. What She Said*

        My contract also says I have to notify HR who died in order to access bereavement leave. Do you know how hard it is to get a phone call two weeks later while at work and have explain who died. I wish I had the ability to respond with dissolving into a huge mess and then going home cause I’m mess. Just because it’s in my contract doesn’t make it okay.

        For the record there is a notes section in the system where I noted who it was. HR still insisted they had to call because they can’t see my notes.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          Mine at least had the decency to email rather than call. I’d put a note in the leave system, and my actual boss definitely knew which family member had died as she’d been on hospice for the previous month and I’d been pretty much useless-but-technically-present at work that whole time, but someone working in HR in a different building wanted to make sure I wasn’t suddenly trying to scam the system, I guess. (I’d worked there for years and never used bereavement leave before.)

          As it happens, we’d put an obituary in the newspaper and mentioned all of the family members by name (my mother’s idea, specifically so there’d be a documentation trail for bereavement leave, so I guess this had come up before with a previous death before I worked in that kind of job), so I could just send them a link and not have to track down other documentation, but it felt like one of those things where if they wanted confirmation, they could have just asked my boss rather than asking me to think about my recent loss at work while I was trying to concentrate enough to wrap up loose ends before going on leave for the memorial service.

    10. nelliebelle1197*

      Not a reasonable policy at all. How much detail is required in your “reasonable” documentation?

      1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

        Virtually zero. A documention from a medical provider that you have been seen and require time off work.

        1. Lizzianna*

          I don’t even have to be seen. I’ve sent an email to my doctor explaining my symptoms, she “prescribed” me rest, and sent a note that I’m under her care and not able to work from X-Y dates, cleared to return Z date unless something changes. If I need to extend Z date, it’s just another email.

          But I’m learning from this thread that’s not actually a common practice by doctors.

          1. Danish*

            What’s the point of the doctors note if you don’t actually have to present yourself to the doctor, then? If your doctor is just confirming “I spoke to them and I believe they are not lying”, then this is just a note from your parents since you can’t be trusted.

        2. Middle Aged Lady*

          If I don’t feel like going to work, I don’t feel like deagging myself to the doctor if I don’t need to see her for a medical reason. Employers should trust their employees and not treat them like third graders. Or treat their doctor like a parent who is in the business of writing notes and not seeing patients who actually need to see them.

      2. cardigarden*

        I’ve had to ask my provider for a note before and it’s been a phone call to the practice and they email me a very generic “[x] has been under my care and is cleared to go back to work starting [date]” on letterhead that I then forward on to my manager and HR.

    11. 1-800BrownCow*

      My workplace does this and I think it’s the worst rule ever. I’ve been sick enough to not come to work, but not need a doctor either and have had to drag myself with a splitting headache and fever, driving with one eye barely open, just to have a doctor tell me to keep doing what I’d doing because there’s nothing they can do, other than prescribe prescription strength pain meds, which I declined because I didn’t want to drive across town to the pharmacy and pay more money. It was a waste of my money and waste of the physician office’s time, all to just get a stupid doctor’s note because my employer doesn’t trust the once every couple years that I call off sick is because I’m actually, truly sick and not just “skipping work”. If you have an employee that seems to be lying about sick time, then address it with that employee. Don’t treat the rest of your employees like children and punish them because you don’t want to address a problem with one person.

    12. Batgirl*

      This is standard practice after seven days in my (highly unionised) workplace too, but that’s because it’s for the local authority in the UK and it’s in the context of free healthcare and unlimited sick leave. My understanding of the US system is that your sick leave is a benefit that is part of your compensation package. It would be hugely inappropriate to have to justify using that, since it’s yours.

      1. Adereterial*

        It’s 7 consecutive days everywhere in the UK – basic sick pay law.

        If they’re asking for evidence of the sickness of a family member though – that’s 100% illegal here, and they shouldn’t be asking for it. You should (actually must) notify the ICO – it’s a total contravention of UK GDPR.

      2. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Oh, its also the status quo in the US to have to justify the use of sick time, or beg for vacation time approvals.

        Wish I was joking.

    13. Adereterial*

      It’s not reasonable in the slightest, and frankly, it’s also a totally unacceptable breach of privacy for any family member, who your employer has precisely no right to have any medical information about at all. How do you become so used to such awful practices that you think it’s ok for an employer to demand information about someone you’re caring for?!

      I really hope this isn’t in the EU – I suspect it isn’t. Because if it is – your employer is skirting with a fine of up to €20 million or 4% global annual turnover for a data protection breach.

    14. Ashkela*

      Yeah, no. Gotta love the assumption that everyone can even get in to see their hc provider that quickly – regardless of their ability to pay for it. And you pay out the NOSE if you hit up urgent care or the ER when it’s something low level, not to mention taking up space for actual urgent/emergent issues.

    15. TheRain'sSmallHands*

      If you are going to ask for doctor’s notes, I would much rather just have a bank of PTO that I can use for either sick or vacation – my business.

      1. There's No Name Here*

        That’s odd, because “sick note after 3 days” has been the policy at most if not all of my Canadian workplaces, including the one where I worked in the HR department. The large, multinational company was the most pedantic about leave policies. The smaller businesses would, in practice, cut more slack to ailing or bereaved employees who required it, because reality doesn’t always fit into neat little boxes.

    16. HS Teacher*

      There’s nothing reasonable about treating your employees as if they owe you an explanation when they use time off they are entitled to.

    17. AdequateArchaeologist*

      I hate when employers (or in college, professors) require a doctor’s note for a sick day. I have food allergies that can wipe me out for a day or two. When I can barely make it between my bathroom and my couch without wanting to die, the last thing I want to do is drag myself to the doctor and waste everyone’s time. There are people who need the appointment and medical attention way more than me. And there’s a million better ways to spend that $25 for a copay.

    18. whisky galore*

      I’ve got a $6k deductible for my health insurance, with a couple of medical conditions that can disable me for several days. Are you telling me that it’s ‘reasonable’ for me to have to document an illness — via a doctor’s visit, which could easily cost me hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket — in order to verify that I’m not lying to my employer?

      There’s nothing ‘reasonable’ about it, and it’s a policy and a mindset that should have been put to bed long ago.

    19. NotRealAnonForThis*

      1. I can’t even get an appointment with my doctor within a week for a sick-visit that is non emergency right now.
      2. A sick visit is 100% out of pocket til I hit my deductible, that’s at my doctor’s.
      3. My doctor charges what I’m pretty sure is a nuisance fee for this service on top of the co-pay. $25 a note/form.

      I find nothing about THIS reasonable, at all.

    20. Lizzianna*

      It’s interesting, because I’ve always worked somewhere with that policy, and never had an issue. But my doctor’s practice has a strong telehealth component (even pre-COVID), and I can get a note by calling the nurses’ line or sending my doctor an email. I just have to describe my symptoms, they say, “Yeah, that sounds like a bad cold, here’s a note saying that you have a medical condition that prevents you from working. Now go eat some chicken soup and go back to bed.” I also don’t have a co-pay for these.

      Same with my kid – I’ll get a note from the doctor that says, “Lizzianna is the caregiver for Lizzianna’s kid. He’s got a medical condition that requires her to stay home with him.”

      I guess I feel like if employers are going to require this policy, they have an obligation to provide healthcare policies that allows for it to happen without largely inconveniencing the employee. And 3 days is probably overkill. But now that I’m a manager and have had situations that caused me to question whether an employee was actually using the appropriate type of leave, I do appreciate a bright line. I feel like leaving it up to individual managers to know when to ask for documentation really opens up the risk for an ADA violation or other potential discrimination if you’re taking some employees at their word for over a week of sick leave, and asking for documentation from others after a few days.

      1. Lizzianna*

        I guess my question for everyone saying that this isn’t a reasonable policy – what would be a reasonable policy?

        Because I think we can all agree that if an employee needs 12 weeks off to recover from surgery, asking for some kind of documentation is reasonable. But what if it’s 2 weeks?

        I’m specifically thinking about situations where sick leave and annual leave are treated differently, like in the letter writer’s case, where annual leave is paid out, and sick leave is not.

        1. Adereterial*

          In the UK, you can ‘self certify’ for 7 consecutive days – after that you need a medical certificate from a doctor or hospital. A week is more than sufficient for most stuff – even if you see a doctor in that first week, they won’t normally give you a note unless they expect you to be off for longer than that, or think you need more time.

        2. TheRain'sSmallHands*

          Take sick days when you need them. Be responsible. If your absences get excessive to the point where you are not getting your job done, your boss will need to talk to you. The time of medical professionals – doctors and nurses – is valuable and shouldn’t be used because your boss can’t trust you. That is a waste of their time, its a waste of your time, and its a waste of your bosses time. Moreover, people with chronic conditions learn how to manage their chronic conditions and don’t need to be mircomanaged on top of being down for three days because their Crohn’s flared up again or their migraine is going to have them down for two days in a dark room.

          I have not worked a job in 30 years where a doctors note has been required. In some cases I have worked jobs where PTO is used for both vacation and sick days – you can use them all calling in with no notice, or you can use them to travel – but when they are gone, time will be unpaid – and if you are dipping into unpaid time, your manager is going to talk to you to figure out what is going on (you aren’t supposed to), but in the vast majority of cases, if you are sick, call in and stay home. That’s it.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            yes, but: what’s excessive? There are going to be unreasonable bosses that consider two days a year excessive, and there are (rare) people who will abuse unlimited sick leave. The good thing about having a rule is that it prevents abuse from both sides.

            Do I think three days is too short? Yes! But a rule that requires a note (at no cost to employee!) after, say, 1-2 weeks of (unlimited, not accrued!) sick leave seems reasonable. It ends up also protecting the employee from accusations of malingering from unreasonable bosses.

            Rules are always created for the irresponsible and the unreasonable. The responsible wouldn’t need them.

        3. Lenora Rose*

          Someone above suggests the point where the sickness is gone on long enough or gotten severe enough you’ll be wanting to see a doctor anyhow. Which is much closer to the UK standard than the US standard.

          And any such policy should include wiggle room for “I can’t get an appointment until (another handful of days) after the policy says, but I am *trying* to communicate and comply.”

      2. sdog*

        Yep, I was going to say something like this, too. As someone who is conscientious with my sick leave, I totally get how outrageous it is to be asked to provide documentation for it. But as someone who’s job it is to help managers with employee issues, I find that rules – it seems – are often written for the irresponsible folks, the ones that need the bright lines. And managers often like having something to hang their hats on when addressing leave issues, even when it’s just one part of larger leave and performance discussions that a manager is having with these employees.

        I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just what I’ve observed.

    21. Kella*

      This policy might be reasonable if we had a healthcare system which a. always allowed for brief doctor visits scheduled the day of b. always allowed for telehealth visits so the sick person did not have to leave their home AND c. these visits cost no money. Some specific health care plans in the US allow for these three things to happen at the same time but many of them do not, and plenty don’t allow for any of them. And even if all three things were available to everyone, 100% of the time, it would still be a big-time waster for people who have documented chronic illnesses that flare occasionally who really do not need a doctor to tell them that yes, they still have the same chronic illness and it is still manifesting as it usually does.

      In essence, what this policy says is “Hey, adult, we cannot trust you to assess your health yourself because we assume you will take every opportunity to skip work that you can, so we need an authority figure to report the same information that you would have reported to us, and then we’ll believe you.” It’s just a huge waste of resources.

    22. A Feast of Fools*

      No. This is a terrible policy. For all the reasons everyone else has stated.

      I worked for a company with this stupid policy when I was dealing with multiple chronic health problems that took a few years to resolve. After my 2nd visit with my doctor where I was only there to get the stupid letter, he signed a blank form, made several dozen copies of it and handed me the stack of pre-signed forms.

      He said that of all the ridiculous things he has to deal with as a medical professional, the “sick for more than X-days requires a doctor’s note” policy was the dumbest of all.

    23. Lepidoptera*

      My employer (healthcare) doesn’t require a sick note after 3 days, but after 3 days calling out we have to be cleared by employee health to return to work. I like it because we don’t pay anything, it is really easy (usually walk in and they now also offer tele-health) to get an appointment and they are not shy about saying you still have a fever/last vomited this morning you are not cleared. But they really don’t want us working sick and getting our patients and coworkers sick.

    24. The Dogman*

      “Big picture, at my workplace, employees have to provide documentation from a medical provider for any sick leave (own or family member’s) over 3 days. Seems like a reasonable policy that your workplace should look into.”

      On what planet is that at all reasonable?

      There is zero need for an employer to have any of that info. There is zero need for a sick note.

      Here is a radical idea for your workplace: If an employee is unreliable then fire them, otherwise let them manage their own lives! And in all cases do not pry into their medical absences or other days off.

      I cannot understand how any human could stand to be patronised in this manner by a person (their bosses) who have zero medical qualifications, zero skills as a coordinator of resources and zero emapthy to their fellow humans.

      I guess the bosses propaganda works well on some people…

    25. Your friendly neighborhood Zen Buddhist*

      Due to recent worker-friendly (yay) legislation, it’s actually illegal to require a note in my state for an absence under 4 days. For an absence of 4 days or over, if a doctor’s note would require time/money, an employee can PROVIDE THEIR OWN NOTE (saying “I am using sick time/will be absent for a reason covered by law”) that does not need to be witnessed or notorized. Also, pretty much every employer is required to provide paid sick time, even for part-time employees.

      It’s…pretty awesome.

  2. Littorally*

    If you’re gonna lie to your boss, you can’t tell your coworkers the truth. Pick your story and stick to it!

    I wish we had an update from the OP to find out how this guy worked out (or didn’t) in the long term.

    1. Cait*

      While I disagree with the employer’s policies, I also don’t think this guy is really concerned about covering his tracks. If I were the OP, I would look for his social media accounts. If he’s as big of a fan as he seems, I’d bet he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from posting evidence that he was at a game. If OP sees this then a serious conversation can be had. I don’t think he should be punished necessarily but a “The lying about your time off needs to stop” warning would be appropriate. A separate conversation about his work ethic should also be had.

    2. Failing Up*

      This is it for me.

      But also, people feel compelled to lie because the rules are stupid.

      If you get paid if the reason is this, but not if the reason is that, and the ultimate consequence is that the person is still out; well, the reason will always be this, then.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        Exactly. Be careful what you measure and what you reward/punish.

        When I was in Inside Sales, TPTB decided that the best way to increase sales numbers was to increase calls. So they put a system in place to pay us based on the number of dials a day instead of, say, paying a progressive commission rate (where the more you sold, the larger your percentage cut of the sale).

        They were shocked — shocked! — when dials went through the roof but sales dropped dramatically.

        Of course everyone figured out that repeatedly dialing a company’s automated switchboard or a the voice mail of a customer who you knew was on vacation was more profitable than having actual conversation with customers. Stupid rules get you stupid results.

        Ditto the time my mom tried to teach her cat to not scratch the arm of the couch. Each time the cat sunk her claws into the fabric, my mom scooped her up and put her out on the [closed-in-but-covered-in-windows] back porch. All my mom did was teach the cat that if she wanted to watch the birds and squirrels and warm herself in a sunbeam, she just needed to put her claws on the couch.

    3. JM60*

      Depending on the specifics, it’s possible both stories are true. You may sometimes have choices for which day to schedule surgery. I did when I went on medical leave. It’s possible that the surgery was scheduled so that the OP and his family member could watch the playoffs during the recovery period.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I’m pretty sure I saw something once about a doctor’s practice where they’d run ads about getting vasectomies timed so you could watch the college basketball playoffs while recovering. I’ve never been in the market for a sufficiently-elective surgery where my preference wasn’t just “next available appointment, please, and I’m also interested in any cancellations that may come up”, but I see no reason not to make strategic choices about when to schedule a surgery if it’s the kind of thing where you’d like it done, but are also ok with waiting a bit.

        I also think there’s a big difference between “watching the playoffs from Family Member’s hospital/rehab/home while keeping them company and helping them root for their favorite team” and “going to the playoffs while Family Member is in the hospital/rehab/home without you”, even if logically you wouldn’t be there 24/7 anyway, but that’s more of an optics thing. Sportball would have been a welcome source of conversation fodder the last few times that I was keeping someone company as they recovered.

        1. Kesnit*

          I’ve seen vasectomy clinics offering a “Super Bowl Special.” Even comes with a bag of frozen peas! :)

        2. JM60*

          It’s worth keeping in mind that there’s a game of telephone going on with his coworker. It’s possible that he told the coworker, “I’m taking time off for a playoff game” (without mentioning attending in person), but after:
          1 The coworker heard that
          2 Some time passed (which can cause someone to misremember a discussion)
          3 The coworker later relayed it to the OP, and
          4 The OP heard it…
          It had turned into, “He’s taking time off to go to a playoff game.”

  3. wine-dark sea*

    My coworker is sick (or her mom is sick, or her son is sick, etc) every time we’re supposed to have storms. Super fun to have to cover her work every time it rains….

    1. tegdirb*

      Sounds like allowing them to work from home when needed would solve that problem.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        Not all jobs are able to be done from home. Although my department has an admin who tries.

      2. wine-dark sea*

        This job can’t be done from home, so I get to do her portion when she’s out.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Ugh, can we give this up? A lot of jobs can’t be done from home, and at this point enough jobs have found out that they can be done from home that when one isn’t, we can assume it’s for a good reason.

        1. Batgirl*

          It’s definitely true that not all jobs can be remote, but it’s not true that every job where it’s possible has a reasonable manager who is able to trust work output as a performance guide without physically hovering over people. Many jobs have refused reasonable requests to go remote “because I said so”.

          1. QuickerBooks*

            (Unpopular opinion) it’s also not the case that every worker is equally suited to work from home even for jobs that in theory can be done remotely. Some people just don’t do well in that environment.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              I wouldn’t. I don’t currently have a good home office space and I do better at doing work during work hours and not mixing up life and work if I’m in a workspace.

              But my commute isn’t bad and my job can’t all be done at home.

            2. not a boomer*

              This is so true. My coworkers used to have days where they “worked from home” but then didn’t do anything at home.

              I know it’s super unpopular now to mention that sometimes people just have a poor work ethic and they’re ruining it for the rest of us!

      4. HBJ*

        … You do realize the majority of jobs in this country cannot be done from home, right? Sure, some can, but, statistically, the better assumption would be to assume she can’t work from home rather than to assume she can.

    2. Jessie Spano*

      Perhaps they have anxiety that is triggered by fear of storms. Perhaps they have migraines that are triggered by changes in barometric pressure. There are legitimate reasons someone’s health might correspond to the weather.

      1. Emily*

        Anxiety was my thought as well. Maybe fear of driving in them. It’s probably not a “playing in the rain” kind of thing.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          Still doesn’t mean co workers suffer by default. Manager needs to manage.

          1. wine not?*

            Yeah, everyone is jumping on me for disliking that I have to cover for my coworker every time it rains (which is at least once a week for the springtime months).

            If she has a legitimate issue, fine, she needs to discuss that with the manager so that she’s scheduled differently rather than the rest of us picking up the slack every time it rains.

            1. Jessie Spano*

              I don’t think anyone is jumping on you. You just seemed to be insinuating that there wasn’t a legitimate reason for your coworker to be out. You’re absolutely right that it’s not your place to pick up her work on a regular basis, but that’s on management, not her.

              1. wine not?*

                I would actually be fine with her being out because it’s storming. If she would just say that, we could look at the forecast and reschedule her work so that I don’t have to do it.

                It’s the lying that bothers me.

                1. Formerly Ella Vader*

                  You’re assuming that she hasn’t talked to her supervisor? The supervisor shouldn’t tell you about someone else’s health.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        I get horrible headaches from barometric pressure changes – it’s a little better since I had massive sinus rebuilding surgery but I can still accurately predict when/how bad the rain will be based on how much my head hurts.

        1. nelliebelle1197*

          I know you don’t think so, but I think this is a remarkable talent!

        2. Been There*

          meee too!!! I always know when we’re going to get more than 18 inches of snow because I’m laid out with a horrid headache the night before.

        3. DarthVelma*

          This. Big pressure changes are a migraine trigger for me. And they also cause mobility issues for one of my knees. It can be very uncomfortable to try to drive to work.

        4. Charlotte Lucas*

          Same! I still go to work, though. It’s just sinus headaches, not migraines.

      3. wine-dark sea*

        I get it. I also have severe anxiety driving in storms due to having a wreck a few years ago. I basically just drive to work while panicking. It sucks. I also hate it when I can’t leave early, before the storm hits, because I’m spending several hours doing her work as well as mine.

      4. wine-dark sea*

        In the future, though, I am just going to put my foot down and leave as well. I’m no longer risking my safety to cover for others.

      5. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Suffer horribly from barometric migraines, and my arthritis flaring in wet weather. Problem is I live in the UK where it frequently rains and the weather can change at a moment’s notice.

        On the upside, I’m an infallible thunderstorm detector! If I start to feel miggy and there’s dark clouds on the horizon I know to unplug the computer…

    3. JelloStapler*

      If I didn’t know for sure that a former coworker retired, I’d ask if they changed to your job.

      Every time it rained- a revolving batch of excuses came out.

    4. Danish*

      IDK, every time the weather changes drastically I get an honest to god headcold (I LOVE spring. it’s just the BEST. “someone is unwell when I personally would not be unwell” is a terrible barometer to use.

      1. wine not?*

        I mean, sure, but her excuse changes every time. She’s sick… her mom’s sick… her adult son is sick and needs her for some reason.

        Also, if you know that you are sick every time it storms, and it storms at least once a week where you live for three months out of the year, you need to discuss that with your manager so that you’re scheduled differently.

        1. Danish*

          Pray, what “schedule change” would let me miss… All of spring… Where the weather changes rapidly from day to day? Just because it storms once a week does not make it a regularly scheduled storm. If only!

          I get that you’re feeling hassled having to pick up the slack, but that’s not really your coworkers problem to solve, and getting suspicious of them doesn’t solve your problem either.

          1. wine not?*

            My coworker could be scheduled with less work for me to cover for her if she would just be honest instead of lying every time it rains….

    5. The Dogman*

      You should be angry at your management for failing to support you in doing your job, not at your coworker for being scared of storms or driving in the rain…

      1. wine not?*

        I don’t mind her being afraid of storms or driving in rain. If she would be honest about it, my manager and I could work around it and reschedule her work with face-to-face clients so that I didn’t have to pick up all the slack. When the client is already in the building because she said she was coming in, and then she last-minute finds a new excuse, someone has to do the work. Sometimes it’s my boss, but sometimes it has to be me.

  4. What's in a name?*

    I think there is a problem if you wipe out all your sick time to go to one sports game.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Vacation time. OP states that if they were going to the game and used vacation it would wipe out their vacation balance.

      They’re a new employee so it’s normal for them not to have a lot of saved leave.

      1. Cmdrshpard*

        I think they are a “new” employee that they manage to OP, not a new employee to the company.

        But the reason that the game could wipe out their PTO balance is that, the worker has already used up a lot of their vacation on other things. A favorite sports team making it to the playoffs is hard to plan for in advance. So the employee likely used up most of their vacation on other things and not wants to go to the game.

          1. All Het Up About It*

            Back in the original post, the OP said that they get a lot of PTO, and there was more detail that this person had taken a lot of PTO leading up to the big game for several other playoff games. So it was probably just a case of the individual had used so much of of the PTO that this trip would have used up the rest for that month until more could accrue. That can happen, even with generous PTO policies.

            The OP posted lost of additional details on the original post, but never a final post game update unfortunately.

            1. Fluffy Fish*

              Thanks for the added info!

              Yeah we definitely had an employee like that. The same one I mentioned below that ended up fired for time theft.

        1. achiappanza*

          This is a tricky situation. A healthy employee who doesn’t use any sick time is tempted to rationalize taking sick time to see sports as simply fair treatment. But it is against the spirit of the policy.

          I have empathy for the OP on this one. I think if the time off is causing an inconvenience for others, then the best thing to do is have an honest conversation that does not require a confession. Kind of like:

          “I know this is awkward for both of us, but we both know it’s an awfully big coincidence you are sick right when your team gets to the playoffs. I’m not saying you *aren’t* sick, I’m saying that this absence puts your work on Jim-Bob’s plate, and I expect you’ll avoid that if possible in the future.”

          1. L-squared*

            Well the problem is, he isn’t saying HE is sick, he is saying he needs to time to care for a relative post surgery.

            1. Gumby*

              I am now kind of kicking myself because I did take time off to legitimately help care for my mom after knee surgery and I used vacation time for it. I mean, I was doing other stuff while I was there and visiting family so…

    2. Ness*

      I don’t see anything in the letter indicating that to be the case.

      It sounds like unused vacation time is paid out, but unused sick time isn’t, which makes it beneficial to the employee to take sick time instead of vacation time.

      1. Ness*

        Disregard, I posted before I saw that your update.

        But either way, it could be that this guy gets a generous amount of vacation time but takes it all (especially if he accrues it each pay period rather than getting all his vacation time for the year upfront).

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      LW said it was accrued time, so I wonder if this was something that happened early in the year when this person would have only had 1 or 2 days available, which makes it easier to wipe out.

    4. Koalafied*

      Yes – not trying to nitpick language, and LW may just be using the phrase differently than I’m used to, but I would usually associate the phrase “wipe out” with more of a “decimate a large quantity” than “take the last couple” meaning. So the idea that a single long weekend could “wipe out” a balance did send up my spidey sense that perhaps the reason this guy is trying to scam the vacation system is because he’s getting like 10 total vacation days a year (which would not be uncommon in the US but is still tragically little vacation) and thus taking, say, a Friday and a Monday off amounts to blowing 20% of his annual vacation on a single long weekend. And certainly it would make more sense to me to describing using an amount equivalent to 1/5 of your total annual balance as “wiping out” in a way that using 1/10 of your total annual balance wouldn’t feel quite as natural.

      1. Cmdrshpard*

        To “wipe out” has always meant finish the remainder of something. A package of 2 dozen cookies, but there are only 2/3 left at the end, I eat them all I would say I wiped/cleared out the last of the cookies.

        1. Koalafied*

          Yeah, that’s why I said it’s possible they’re just using it differently than I’m used to. In my experience, I only actually hear people use the phrase when they’re conveying that finishing off the (whatever) was a bit of a heroic feat. “I wiped out those cookies” conveys (to me) some sense that there was gluttony involved, not merely that the person happened to eat the last 2 cookies. But I realize it’s a squishy phrase that other people could be using more liberally than I’ve encountered.

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        Maybe this is one of those cases where accurate usage of “decimate” would be appropriate?

        “If I take don’t take sick time time for this trip, it will decimate my vacation balance!”
        “Dude, it’s only one day.”
        “Right, and I only have ten days, so that’s 10%! Decimated!”

    5. anonymous73*

      Don’t assume he only gets a very small amount of PTO. We don’t how time is accrued, when it is accrued or how much time he has already taken.

    6. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Not everyone roots for the hometown team; if I wanted to see my teams play in person, it’d be a 3-day trip minimum for home games. I could easily see later-stage playoff games becoming a full week out of the office if the stars align in the wrong way.

      FWINW, I’m on team-PTO bank as long as an individual can go negative for sick days that arise after the vacations are approved. Though, frankly, of late I’ve been becoming a fan of just baking the PTO time into the job’s salary and having all missed days be unpaid.

  5. Fluffy Fish*

    It really is best to assume good intent and honesty until proven otherwise – and though ymmv, in my experience it has always come out it the end.

    Two examples – we had someone on sick leave donor status (they had exhausted their leave and people could donate to help them cover an extended medical issue). They went to Disney. And posted about it on social media. So they got caught.

    Another employee was using all their sick leave constantly. (ours is very generous – I have over 600 hours banked and have had surgeries, major illnesses, cared for sick children and parents). There was always a “reason” but said employee was problematic in other ways as well. Eventually they got caught lying repeatedly on their timesheet and were fired for theft of wages.

    1. irene adler*

      Agree. Benefit of the doubt. Karma will eventually occur to those who take unfair advantage.

      I work with someone who actually uses a huge amount of sick leave, poor thing. She would show up with a limb in a cast from some freak accident (fell in the bathroom and broke her arm) or walk in with a cane (knee injury or threw her back out) or call in sick in bed with stomach flu or the like. She was very accident-prone, always contracted the latest “bug” from her travels and managed to contract a fair amount of food poisoning.

    2. Phony Genius*

      In your first scenario, did the donors receive their time back? Or will they just never donate any time again, and make the next employee who needs it (for real) suffer?

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        Yes they received their time back! And the employee in question had to reimburse the pay to the employer and also otherwise faced disciplinary action.

  6. Red top*

    I think it’s fair to say that his coworker’s workload needs to formally be reallocated to him. I’m not sure if there is an informal mechanism for distributing work (i.e. if they have to work it out among themselves ) but I am internally cringing at the amount of emotional labor that his female colleague must be putting forth in order for him to even help a little bit. Sometimes these things need to be stated explicitly and formalized.

    1. Llama Llama*

      Oh I think a lot of the time it needs to be explicit and formal. I have been dinged before because I “didn’t offer to help” when someone was out. That someone was our office manager who has a completely different job from me. I didn’t know I was supposed to offer to cover for her job if she was out but would be happy to if someone had told me to do it. Managers are in charge of managing employees and work loads and co-workers aren’t necessarily supposed to offer to help, especially if you don’t actually do the same job.

    2. turquoisecow*

      My previous jobs the culture was really only to help out if we ourselves had little to no work to do or if the manager requested it of us. Sometimes during slow periods someone might see that a coworker had a big project to do and say “hey, need help with that?” but most of the time we all had our own work to do and it wouldn’t have occurred to us to see what others might need help with. It was up to the manager to say “hey, Bob’s project is high priority/needs to be finished on a tight deadline so is it possible that you could help him?” and then we’d discuss that oh Jane is also working on a high priority thing that she needs to finish quickly but Fergus’s task can be put on the back burner temporarily so he can help Bob. And that means that the manager needs to know what team members are working on and what the priority for the department is. It’s not up to Fergus to say “hey Bob, I’ll let my stuff drop and help you.”

      Now if Bob is saying “I have an encroaching deadline on this high priority stuff, can anyone help?” and Fergus is visibly scrolling through sports websites, that’s a problem, because he should be willing to step in and help when needed.

    3. L-squared*

      I mean, I think this really depends on the job functions.

      For me, if the coworker is just slower, and he is able to finish his work faster, I don’t necessarily think he should have to do more work because he is more efficient, especially if it each person has their own work. If its just a thing where everyone has to pitch in for everything, its a bit different. I’ve been the faster coworker and let me say, it sucks to have to do more just because I’m faster at it.

      1. Random Bystander*

        No kidding! There was a time at my job that we had this separate program that generated a work list, and our departmental goal was to have all lists at zero at end of day Friday, and each person had an individual work list. We were supposed to work 40 widgets per day, but it was known that there would be no PIP if someone achieved at least 80% of the expectation (so 32/day). And there were some co-workers who, by God, were NOT going to work account #33 on a given day. Unsurprisingly, every week, they were the ones who needed help on Friday to get their list down to zero. The lists were relatively even (perhaps 5% variance over the course of the entire week), and if those co-workers had worked as hard as I did, none of them would have needed help at the end of the week.

        It’s changed since then, and I was always one of the ones who had to help out–and I did rather resent the fact that certain co-workers were obviously goofing off through the week (so as to not work that 33rd widget in a day) because they knew that others like me would be picking up their slack, so while they were tootling along at 80% expectations, there were several of us who had to hit 150% to make up for the slackers.

  7. Silly string theory*

    This is a valid reason why illness, personal and vacation days should just be lumped together and banked. Then, you could put in a request for days off without having to divulge whether it is health related (not anyone’s business), personal or vacation. Adults should really be able to take the time off that is presumably part of their benefits package without resorting to confabulating in order to pursue a hobby, see a friend, take a mental health day or, sit in their underwear. This might also serve to eliminate the Nosey Ned’s/Nelly’s from telling teacher on other workers, so they can worry about their own work and stop with the hall monitor business.
    And question, did co-worker ask for help with her overload and should she be overloaded at work to begin with, or, is she just slower than the subject of this advice?

    1. Disabled*

      This is a valid reason why illness, personal and vacation days should just be lumped together and banked.
      I really really disagree, that type of policy means that those who have disabilities or chronic issues end up using all their vacation for sick leave and can’t actually ever have a vacation.

      1. BongoFury*

        And it’s also a handy way for employers to never have to pay out any vacation pay when you quit/retire. “Unlimited PTO” is fantastic for the company HR/Finance team, and no one else.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          All of this. Separate sick and vacation that are generous an well administered is a better solution IMO. We have both. Sick leave is bankable, people can donate their leave to others, when all that is exhausted theres an in house extended leave that provides about 60% of salary and we have accident/illness insurance.

          Even everything PTO policies are likely to have rules around how much you can take by just calling out (ie sick) versus planned.

          1. Stitch*

            We have a sick leave bank at work and people can donate PTO to those who have exhausted their sick leave.

            1. NeedRain47*

              Who is eligible to use it, and how?
              We had that at previous job. I don’t know the details but your situation had to fit certain qualifications, you had to apply for it, etc. It wasn’t just like “I am out of sick time yet I have a migraine again so I’ll just use a day from the bank.”

              1. Fluffy Fish*

                Yes, at my employer this is for *usually* leave covered under FMLA. So if you’ve used up all your sick days with just run of the mill stuff and you get a cold, you can’t use disability or get donor leave.

                The intent is to cover employees facing serious or long-term issues.

        2. River Otter*

          Eliminating buckets =/= unlimited PTO. Eliminating buckets usually means the same number days off, just not divided into sick and vacation.
          Unlimited PTO solves the problem of needing more days than allocated for sick leave. It allows unlimited leave, period, so people who have a lot of need for medical time off can take as much as they need and still have paid time off for a vacation.
          Even better is a policy of some number days of vacation that accrue and roll over combined with unlimited sick time.

          1. NNN222*

            On the other hand, it encourages people to come to work when they’re potentially contagious because they don’t want to “waste” the PTO on being sick instead of a fun day off or vacation.

        3. H.C.*

          Lumping all leaves together =/= “Unlimited PTO”; I’m in the former and any unused days still gets paid out.

      2. 2 Cents*

        yep, as someone with an autoimmune disease and a germy toddler, it means the difference between “maybe i can take this Friday off” or “have to work through many illnesses when I should be resting instead because everything is in one bucket.

      3. introverted af*

        Agreed. I really loved being able to take a day off when I just wasn’t able to be in the office and was sick and also not having to worry about whether or not I would be able to see family for the holidays (it’s a long enough drive that we can’t do it on the one day off that’s a paid company holiday).

      4. Critical Rolls*

        I don’t really understand how (random numbers here) 10 days of sick leave and 10 days of vacation is functionally any better than 20 days of uncategorized PTO. If someone is out sick for 15 days, won’t they just need to dip into the vacation pot anyway if they want the time paid? I’m asking sincerely, not rhetorically.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Because of how it plays out in practice vs on paper. You’re right, in theory it shouldn’t matter. But people try not to dip into their vacation pots for sick time as much as possible. When the whole pot is potential vacation time, people try really hard not to use sick days at all. When you have sick days that can’t be vacation days, people are more likely to stay home and not spread their germs. Also it’s hard to plan how much vacation time you may be able to use later in the year if a mystery illness wipes you out in June.

          There’s also the issue of how much scrutiny managers give vacation vs sick time. Overall the human psychology aspect just blows it up.

          1. Cmdrshpard*

            While I can see where you are coming from, hopefully with more people being able to work remotely that will not be as much of an issue as in the past.

            But I believe Critical Rolls was responding to Disabled poster who said “I really really disagree, that type of policy means that those who have disabilities or chronic issues end up using all their vacation for sick leave and can’t actually ever have a vacation.”

            I think from that perspective the issue really is the small amount of sick/vacation/PTO given overall. If the total time given is 20 days (no matter how you divide it up or not) but a person needs to be off for 30 days due to disability or chronic illness that person still wont have vacation time. Now if they had 40 days of PTO or 20 sick and 20 vacation, then a person that needs 30 days for a disability or illness would still have days to use for a vacation.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Disabled would have to elaborate on their own thinking, but I will say people coming in sick can be incredibly detrimental to folks with disabilities.

              But I agree, I hope remote work puts a big dent in that issue.

            2. NeedRain47*

              Then the person that needs 30 days for disability or illness would have ten days of vacation, and healthier people would have 30 or 40. You see how that’s not equal? People with chronic medical problems (including myself) aren’t having a nice break when they’re sick. They also need downtime when they feel well, an actual vacation.

              1. Software Dev (she/her)*

                But they also would have to work 10 days when they were sick in this example or use PTO anyway?

            3. This is a name, I guess*

              I would say that EOW is right about hoarding pooled PTO to use it as vacation.

              In terms of people with disabilities, companies that use pooled PTO often have fewer total PTO days than companies that have separate buckets. It’s not 10 days PTO + 10 day sick. It’s usually 10 days PTO + 20 days sick, with the understanding that most people won’t use all 20 days every year. That last part is very important because it gives more flexibility for people who need more sick time. It’s right-sizing. Pooled PTO very much benefits people who don’t use sick time very often (young people, healthy people, people without disabilities, people without kids), while harming people who do.

        2. Spearmint*

          Usually, companies that offer separate vacation and sick leave offer more total PTO than companies that put it in one bucket. This is because most people don’t take all their sick leave in a year, so the company doesn’t have to worry that if they offer 3 weeks of sick time that everyone will take all of it. Whereas with combined PTO the expectation is employees will take/use all of it.

          So the real choice is between 10 days of vacation and 10 days of sick, or 15 PTO days.

          1. L.H. Puttgrass*

            Right—this is the problem. Companies that move to a single PTO bucket instead of vacation+sick don’t usually keep the same number of days. If they did, I agree that the single bucket would be better.* But they usually don’t.

            *Although there seem to be some psychological aspects of having two buckets that make it preferable to some people. But as a matter of logic, X days of PTO is better than X/2 days that can be taken for any purpose and X/2 days that can only be used for sick leave, right?

          2. JP in the heartland*

            When I worked someplace that changed from separate buckets to all PTO, we got fewer days total. The reason given was that when an employee leaves, they have to pay out vacation, but not sick leave. Ie 10 sick day, 10 vacation days— at most would have to pay out 10 days. If 20 days PTO, could have to pay out all 20 days.

        3. Fluffy Fish*

          So generally speaking vacation is approved in advance and sick is not. So someone calling out last minute is going to have a different impact then a prescheduled.

          There can also be differences in how that leave is on the books for the compamy. My annual leave is bankable and must be paid out $$$, but my sick leave, while bankable, is not paid out.

          1. River Otter*

            The question is why it matters whether someone who takes more unplanned sick days than allotted puts sick time, vacation time, or PTO in their time card. It really doesn’t.

            1. Fluffy Fish*

              Yes I understood the question.

              Both reasons I gave are reasons it matters *to the employer* – the one giving the benefit.

              Not all employers allow you to dip into vacation to cover illness. Is that crappy? Yes. But it’s a reality.

              1. River Otter*

                But it doesn’t matter to the employer. Unplanned time has the same impact to coverage regardless of how it is coded in the time sheet.

                Vacation usage has the same impact to roll over whether the absence is planned or unplanned.

        4. KRM*

          For a while OldJob decided to bundle our vacation and sick, 15 days. It sucks. I get migraines and sometimes staying home is the best way to cope–if I get one bad migraine a quarter, then I’ve basically lost a week of vacation. It also encourages people to ‘save’ their vacation time by coming in sick so they don’t have to use days. And yes, it sucks if you’re out 15 days and have to use vacation because you need the time paid, or have to go into ‘debt’ for the next year. So really the best thing to do is to have both ‘sick’ and ‘vacation’ but BOTH should be generous.

            1. Ayla*

              Next year is my husband’s 5th anniversary at his current company and he goes from 10 days of total PTO to 15. We’re all pretty excited about it. :-/

            2. MsClaw*

              That’s pretty typical in my industry. 3 weeks of PTO.

              ” It also encourages people to ‘save’ their vacation time by coming in sick so they don’t have to use days. ” Absolutely. If you have to ‘burn’ a vacation day or two because you have the flu it really sucks. And people will often drag their infectious tushes to work when they really shouldn’t.

              All the systems have their downsides. Generally speaking, we just don’t get enough leave, whatever the system for parceling it out.

          1. Quinalla*

            This has been my experience with it all in one bucket – people come into work sick more often where if they have designated sick time, they are more likely to take it. Does it make 100% logical sense, no, but people don’t act like logical computers most of the time :)

            And yes, the combined bucket is generally less than when split because of having to potentially pay out PTO.

      5. Cmdrshpard*

        I think it depends on the total amount of leave for sick and vacation time. If a person gets 10 days of sick leave and 10 days of vacation. A person with a chronic illness might still use all 10 days for sick leave, and then still have to dip into their vacation days when they are sick more than 10 days during the year. If someone has a chronic illness and is sick for 25/30 days throughout the year, they still won’t be able to get a vacation.

        A better solution is might be a single bucket but with much more days of PTO, in addition to expended short/long disability benefits. If you have 40 days available and need 25/30 of them for sick time you can take them, and then still have 10/15 days of vacation. For people who are not as sick as often it allows them to have more flexibility if they also need to be off for other reasons.

      6. nelliebelle1197*

        I am confused – it would not make any difference and if anything, give someone with chronic issues more flexibility to have a lump of general PTO – say you get two weeks of each sick and vacation. Moving to four weeks generic PTO does not change anything for you except you have more flexibility to use your time off as you see fit or have extra time you can allot as you need. There is no “vacation” time in this scenario- just paid time off, same amount, no labels.

        1. KRM*

          It won’t necessarily change things for people with chronic issues who have to be out (which is still terrible if you can’t take a vacation), but having it lumped together makes it LESS likely that people who have a cold/mild flu like symptoms/illness where staying home would be awesome but they can still work will take a sick day for that, because it can eat into vacation. Plus, as others have said, the issue of “well we were going to see family for 2 weeks at the end of October but then I had the flu and was out for 5 days, and then the kids were sick and I had to stay home, so now I don’t have the time off for October” which is a bad situation as well. Separate buckets can help there.

      7. A Simple Narwhal*

        In theory it could be good, but in practice I’ve found it means a lot of people end up working sick so they don’t “waste” any vacation days, and then they end up getting other people sick. I think it’s better overall to keep them separate, but they should both be generous so no one has to be calculating of when to actually use them.

        1. Ayla*

          And even when a person is working from home and won’t infect anyone else, they still aren’t resting and recovering. Feeling like you have to work through an illness can turn 3-4 days of the flu into 2 weeks of misery where you’re not even able to work at full capacity anyway! From a human *and* a practical standpoint, sick days make sense.

          1. A Simple Narwhal*

            Yes, this 100%! One thing that I’ve really leaned into is not rushing back to work when I feel better but not fully recovered. At bare minimum taking the extra day saves me at least 1-2 more days of mostly functioning but feeling lousy, not to mention the reduced productivity on those days ends up making the extra day off pretty much a wash.

            But I only feel comfortable doing this now that I’m at a company that gives plenty of sick time and doesn’t hassle you about taking it. Back at other jobs with less sick time and less caring bosses I definitely pushed myself through sickness, to no one’s benefit but less guilt and disapproval.

      8. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Or the famous “you’ve had over 4 weeks off ill this year – that’s plenty of time to sit on your arse. You don’t need a vacation”

        (Note to my former employer: there’s a big difference between being in agony and staring at the wall and having time off to just chill)

      9. L.H. Puttgrass*

        What do people with disabilities or chronic issues due in a split vacation/sick-time system?

        Using all 20 days of PTO for a disability would definitely suck (and I realize that I’m in a spot of privilege being able to use the subjunctive there). But if the same person had, say, 10 days of vacation and 10 days of sick time, wouldn’t they have to use the vacation time anyway once they ran out of sick time? Or are there other options that kick in at that point?

        1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

          Yeah, I was about to say, I’m a chronic illness person with the lump PTO. I’m assuming the concern is that for some people you can roll all of your sick leave over to the next year but only part of your PTO? My company allows me to roll all of my PTO (though we’re capped at 260 hours, so if you aren’t using it at 260, you aren’t accruing it until you get below 260 again). Maybe I just worked for crap companies before this one but what you’re describing is exactly what happened when I had sick v. regular leave. You just end up eating all of your sick leave and using vacation. It was pointless to me. I like my new company’s method much better, and it seems more equal to everyone.

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            I think it’s more that unpooled PTO allows for employers to give more sick time, with the assumption that not all employees will use all day every year. So, you could offer 15 sick days per year and 15 vacation days. 50% people would use 3-7 sick days; 35% people with kids or chronic illness might use 10-12. Occasionally, someone would use all 15 (15%?). With pooled PTO, the employer assumes everyone (probably correctly) that 90% of people will use 90% of their time, so they reduce the number of hours.

            It’s tired metaphor, but it’s equality to give younger/healthier/wfh/childfree staff the same number of days off as people who are older/have chronic illness/work in person/have kids, even if the latter group uses 75% of their PTO for illness while 75% of the former uses their PTO for vacation. It’s more equitable to ensure that people with chronic illnesses/kids/etc have access to the number of days they need to maintain their health and also have access to much needed time to recharge. In the end, it probably balances out in the end. We all age and will need more or less sick time throughout our lives.

            1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

              I mean maybe my first company was crap, but my first company gave us two weeks sick leave, three weeks vacation (slight variation based on years at company). Pretty much everyone in my division used up all of their sick leave and all of their vacation time regardless of age, illnesses, or family status. So the division was pointless because all it did was have a manager try to get on your case about whether or not you were ‘actually sick’ or not because they didn’t actually want you to use the 2 weeks.

              My current company just gives us hours to use based on years worked. We don’t have any holidays, you can choose to use vacation, or you can work that day and use the hours for another time. It’s similar to Cricket’s below. Unless every single person says that they are taking off on one day you just put in a calendar invite to inform your boss/immediate team, and you just take vacation. There’s no ‘boss has to approve’ process. You just declare and go.

              1. This is a name, I guess*

                Bad employers are bad employers no matter the setting.

                I never really used my sick time at my old job, unless I needed it.

    2. Cricket*

      The way my workplace handles PTO is one of the biggest perks of working there. My workplace calculates our PTO in hours, not days. We earn a certain number of hours per pay period, which for me is about 10 hours per two-week period, but it can go up for longer serving staff. PTO is “unlimited” in the sense that if you have the hours banked, you can use them, provided your time off request is approved through your supervisor, which obviously depends on staffing needs. (It’s a health system, so proper staffing is critical, but I have never had a time off request denied.) Through state law, we have a designated 40 hours of “sick time,” which can be used for a host of reasons including scheduled doctors appointments, illness, caring for a dependent, a domestic violence situation, being the victim of a crime, etc. Those 40 hours when used are deducted from our one big “PTO” bucket, but the advantage of using them is that managers cannot discipline or hold those days off against an employee. Once the 40 hours of “sick time” are used up, if you were to call out at the last minute, you would potentially be asked to provide documentation if you’re calling out for an illness. Otherwise, you can use as many hours as you want, whenever you want, for any reason you want, with as much advanced notice as possible. Some people take every other Friday off during the summer, some people take three weeks straight off every year. The system works very well for almost everyone.

    3. This is a name, I guess*

      They are often separate because of laws in some states where vacation must be paid out. I think those laws are good, but they also create weird bureaucratic workarounds like separate PTO pools. Also, I think having unpooled PTO allows for companies to be extremely generous for sick time without people taking advantage. I currently have pooled PTO, and I hate it.

    4. Two Chairs, One to Go*

      I agree. I love my unlimited PTO. I know it’s not without its issues, but I’m taking off Friday to see Doctor Strange and don’t have to fib that I’m “seeing a doctor” (haha). I can also take off time for medical issues without making it A Thing.

  8. Beth*

    This sounds suspicious—I can see why you’re wondering! But it also sounds like you have other ways of approaching the base issue (that his work ethic is poor and he’s spending time that should be spent on work on his hobby, to the detriment of your team) without accusing him of lying about this vacation. I think you should approach the problem from that angle and not worry about this planned leave.

    An accusation like lying about planned leave is a big deal. It won’t just affect your relationship with him; it could also make your other team members worry that you’re the type to be paranoid about their time off and scrutinize them closely, which isn’t a good dynamic. This goes double since you’ve recently taken over management duties and they may not know your style well. It’s better not to go there unless you’re both very sure it’s a problem and without other avenues to address it.

  9. Smithy*

    I always like how AAM answers these types of questions – I think that very often these types of specific PTO issues get flagged as a concrete or tangible issue when there are other things that are larger problems. The expectation of supporting teammates with their work and not over policing personal internet browsing but concerned about excess are more qualitative issues that likely require more long term coaching and monitoring.

    I will also add that if this is a sport where these playoff/big games occur towards the end of the year, burning sick days then can be incredibly tempting. And if this was an otherwise stellar employee who took 2-3 sick days across November and December to see their favorite team or go holiday shopping or whatever – certainly not the most ethical choice – but probably would not have never warranted a letter.

    All to say, it’s good to focus on the specific issues at hand because there are many many people who’s PTO days end up getting burned by things that aren’t the best for rest and relaxation (see the previous letter on childcare, not to mention 101 other family/life needs). And so if they end up dipping into their sick days to achieve that (for sports, or spas, or naps, or whatever) – best not to police that. While still 100% addressing other problematic in the workplace issues.

  10. Klochoseoutrage*

    My take is that all time off should be lumped together into one bucket of PTO. You need time off? Don’t care the reason, take it. With regards to the impact on the disabled community, I’m suggesting lumping and bumping so it’s not 15 vacation days, 5 sick days it’s 20 total PTO days (or more!) to handle however you want.

    This gets at employees are adults and can plan their own schedules and don’t need another set of parents monitoring them. And if they need other accommodations, that’s when you / HR get involved.

    1. L. Ron Jeremy*

      Last company did this and everyone dragged themselves to work with nasty transmissible illnesses and spread it around to everyone else that wasn’t sick.

      I prefer to have the separate.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        Yeah I have never seen a combined PTO policy that equals the amount of separate vacation and sick I get. And we all know how “unlimited” PTO plays out in practice.

        1. Spearmint*

          Yep. I get 3 weeks of vacation and 3 weeks of sick time. It’s extremely rare to find a company that offers 6 weeks of combined PTO.

          Since most people don’t use all their sick time, the company can offer more to their that need it without having to worry about how they’d everyone taking the full allotment.

          1. soontoberetired*

            I work for one that does, and before this year, it was 9 weeks combined. they shortened it, but they do have a better short term disability plan than they did before, and yes, you have to document the short term disability (kicks in after a week).

            This is also why I will be retired in less than a year, the longer I stay, the more benefits get cut.

          2. nelliebelle1197*

            We get 3 weeks of sick and 4 of vacation. We just moved to generic “PTO” and we still have 7 weeks. We are paid out 20 days if we have them if we leave with a proper notice period.

          3. JelloStapler*

            Our org doesn’t really “count” sick time. I think it becomes an issue if it’s being abused, and those situations are taken care of case by case.

          4. HS Teacher*

            I get six weeks of PTO, and I don’t have to differentiate between sick time and vacation time. I also don’t need approval. I just schedule it and indicate that I need a sub. This country desperately needs more union support.

            1. just a random teacher*

              Whoa, I get one (1) personal day a year, with a maximum rollover from previous years of two days, meaning I can take a vacation at a time of my choosing for no more than three days a year.

              I don’t actually recall how much sick time we get each year, but it’s enough that I have almost 12 weeks accrued now since it just keeps rolling over and I’ve worked here a while. I was keeping an eye on it since I was trying to decide when it made sense to not pay extra for short term disability and when it did. At this point, since I can take pretty much a full FMLA leave as paid sick time, I don’t see a reason to pay for the STD insurance.

              This is in a unionized school district in a blue state, and I’ve never worked any place that offered more than 3-ish days of personal/vacation leave a year that you got to schedule yourself (as opposed to spreading your paychecks into 12 chunks to cover the summer as well as the school year so as to get “paid” for the summer break, which is a standard payroll election).

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yeah, think the last two years should have taught that people coming into work while sick is really, really not a good idea.

      3. Alex*

        I prefer my separate buckets, because while vacay time is paid out when you leave, sick time is not, so if they are both in the same bucket, people are incentivized to come to work sick in order to have more fun vacation time.

        Also, sick time has no limit to accumulation–so if you don’t use yours, it rolls over to the next year. That is a nice padding if god forbid you have a major illness at some point. And since it is not paid out if you leave, the company can have that nice perk without being on the hook for 10,000 hours of paid out leave if a long term employee who never got sick leaves.

      4. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

        Yeah, but I feel like you’re still going to get those people who come to work sick and then use ‘sick’ leave for vacation time. And for those of us who have chronic illnesses, we just end up using both sick and vacation time. It’s not like I get extra vacation if I use all of my sick leave. My old company didn’t let me say ‘oh, hey I’m sick, not on vacation, let me not have to charge against my vacation time.’ I still used the same amount of hours regardless of whether it was called sick leave or vacation time.

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      It still has an impact on disabled people — even if everybody gets more days in total, my able-bodied ass is still getting systematically more vacation than someone who has a chronic condition or whatever. And I’m still incentivized to work while sick so I don’t have to give up a potential future vacation day.

    3. Omnivalent*

      The people who don’t have to deal with health issues in themselves or anyone close to them are really out in force today, huh.

    4. londonedit*

      I would hate this. Where I live your holiday is your holiday, and being in bed with the flu for five days doesn’t mean you then don’t have enough leave left to take a nice two-week break in the summer. Sick leave isn’t a benefit to be used up, it’s there for when you’re actually ill and it doesn’t have any effect on your holiday allowance.

      1. Media Monkey*

        agreed. and i’ve rarely heard of people abusing their sick days in the UK. i mean it happens at times that people take sick days for a hangover, but rarely do people max them out because there isn’t a set number to use! i would say most companies have some sort of software that tracks patterns in sick days (like when people take a lot of fridays or mondays as sick days) and that might get you spoken to. at an old company we had an issue with someone on long term sick continually (where it was very suspicious and put a huge amount of pressure on his team to cover) but i’ve rarely seen much abuse of “unlimited” piad sick time. I suspect it would end up that the company would stop paying your salary and put you on (govt paid) statutory sick pay after a while.

  11. katkat*

    Thank you Alison for this answer! I love your point about someone getting little advantage their not entitled vs. having an easy atmosphere around sicktime.

    I had a rough winter, I was sick ALL THE TIME. and whenever I was sick, my kid would get sick, and because of pandemic, getting a backup childcare was almost impossible… I was in tears everytime I had to call my boss that I had to be out taking care of my kid or because I was sick myself. They became SO aggrivated. But what could I do? Leave my 4year alone? Take them to work with me to work with elderly patients?

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Oh man have I been there. It’s an awful feeling.

      Hang in there – mine eventually stopped bringing how every last cootie as she got older. And eventually I changed jobs to one where my boss was much more understanding of life in general.

  12. Nanani*

    You should deal with your short staffing problems separately from anyone’s time off, paid or otherwise.

    Also, separate out things like time card shenanigans from “talks about sports a lot.” The real issue is dishonesty in leave payouts, after all.

    People who aren’t PlayoffBro will see how you deal with this and react accordingly. You have no idea if a good employee is going “wow they don’t like people to actually use their PTO, Bro was accused of lying about surgery! I should job hunt”.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      Or, “Bro gets away with lying about relative’s surgery and goes to a game while the rest of us are overworked. Good work ethic isn’t rewarded here.”

    2. Omnivalent*

      Yes, this was one of those bury the lede letters. The OP has a direct report with a poor work ethic, his female co-worker has to cover for him while he goofs off reading sports websites, and he tried to misclassify a day off on his timesheet, but nothing has been done about any of that?

    3. Important Moi*

      I think the sports are irrelevant in the sense that SportsGuy feels like he has lie to use his PTO. He does seem like he could use a dose of discernment too. Why do people know he’s going to sports even anyway?

      Again, sports are not the issue, he could want to use his time for some 0ther “not important” thing. The issue is managing him. He doesn’t get to leave inconvenience other people, but I think LW is peeved because it’s sports.

  13. anonymous73*

    Anyone else bothered by the fact the co-worker #1 essentially tattled about him taking time off for a playoff game and not a sick relative? Unless it’s affecting your own workload (like co-worker #2 telling OP about him not pitching in), or they’re doing something illegal/dangerous/scary/harmful to others, it’s none of your business what your colleagues are doing with their time. Regardless it does sound a bit sketchy, especially if he’s using the wrong kind of time off to get around his benefits, but as Alison said, tread lightly. You don’t want to accuse someone of something unless you know first hand that it’s true. And if he is taking advantage, this is why we can’t have nice things.

    1. KRM*

      I got the impression that it came up in conversation, like the LW said “Okay, when X is out we need to cover Y” and the coworker said “yeah, I wish I could go to the playoffs like he is!”. But it’s also possible that coworker and X are sports buddies, and so he mentioned the playoffs, but didn’t want to talk about the family member’s surgery with this person. So for sure tread lightly and don’t come from a place of “I think you’re LYING ABOUT THIS”. Focus on what needs to be covered and accomplished, and if X is constantly not getting his work done…then that’s the conversation to have.
      For instance, here I am on Monday reading AAM all day, but it has zero impact on my actual productivity, as timepoints and cell growth dictate that I can’t start my assays until tomorrow. Sometimes timing works out that way.

      1. anonymous73*

        I guess that could be the case. One of my pet peeves is colleagues butting in where they don’t belong so this stuff gets me riled up LOL. Just because it “looks” like I’m leaving early/coming in late/not working/etc., doesn’t make it your business to bring it to someone’s attention unless it affects your own workload. Optics is just an excuse to be nosy IMO.

      2. Lunch Ghost*

        Agreed, because how would the coworker know that the time off was requested as sick time? I kind of doubt the sports fan outright mentioned at work that he was planning on misclassifying leave.

    2. Internist*

      If this guy is doing something wrong, it’s his fault and not someone else’s fault for “tattling”.

      If this guy bragged about getting time off by lying, that’s the kind of behavior that is demoralizing to be around if it’s not dealt with.

      If he just mentioned that he was attending a game, it may have come up casually as would be totally normal in an office with lots of socializing.

      In either situation—telling a coworker that you’re going to a game, or telling a coworker you’re lying to your boss—it is not confidential information anyone needs to protect.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        Nice… I thought it was a monthly or yearly restriction. Now I wish that I had refreshed before answering!

    1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

      That article count is how they pay their writers.
      It’s that or ad revenue (which Alison gets if you do a deep dive into her archive to find the original answer).

  14. LaDiDa*

    I don’t think people should have to give a reason for their time off. If they have earned time off they can take it for whatever reason they want to. have one bucket of PTO and let people use it.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Yes, but this company does not have one bucket of PTO time.
      My company is the same. Our Vacation/PTO time off is counted separately from Sick/Medical-Dental time off — Even for salaried-exempt people who get paid the same regardless. I think it’s because the “sick” time accumulates but does not expire, and if you need to go on a longer sick leave you use this time up before any short-term disability kicks in. Our vacation time is 10 days/year + 5 personal days and it’s a use it or lose it.

      Sick time can be taken in blocks of 2/hour increments (for appointments). Vacation/Personal needs to be full days.

      1. anonymous73*

        Having separate PTO and sick time (as in this letter) is not the same as having everything in one bucket. I’ve had jobs where I had X amount of vacation, X amount of personal time, and X amount of sick time. They accrued differently and were carried over from year to year differently, and there are a variety of iterations of the 3 depending on where you work. Having one bucket means having PTO and that’s it…doesn’t matter what it’s for – doctor visit, sick time, vacation, mental health, etc.

    2. MeepMeep02*

      That’s how we got into this COVID mess in the first place. If you’ve got a 2-week vacation already planned, and a couple of months before the vacation you come down with a nasty cough, are you going to have to cancel the vacation and miss out on the trip, or are you going to show up for work and spew germs everywhere? Millions of people all over the US have taken the second option.

  15. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    I mean, it’s entirely possible there could be both things happening, and once the surgery is done they are then attending the playoff on the weekend (or going to the playoff before said surgery). But the tipoff from another employee makes the whole thing suspicious. Coworkers usually don’t do that unless they feel someone else is gaming the system.

    If the idea is that the Sports Nut doesn’t want to use vacation time because of saving it, they need to be made aware that for anything NOT SICK is to be used and taken as vacation. If you have “blackout” vacation times due to busy seasons, then they need to be told there is no or limited PTO during that time for anyone unless they have prior authorization in advance. Sometimes these things need very forceful spelling out.

    As for time card mistakes, they need to be dealt with separately from the PTO/Sick time off issues. Willful falsification of time sheets is something one can be fired over.

  16. El l*

    I think you lead with the performance issue: “I’m concerned you’re spending too much time on your hobby, and aren’t supporting your teammates as much as is necessary. Lucinda needs help, and I see you looking at sports websites all the time – please make a habit of checking whether she needs help before you spend time on sports sites.”

    And you let this playoff weekend slide – but if his team is in the playoffs next weekend, treat requests with much less trust. “‘Family sick time’ is a special PTO category – I prefer to just trust here, but I’ve heard your colleagues talk about you attending the game. I hope that’s not true, because special PTO categories are given with a certain amount of trust that you’ll use it in the proper spirit for the right circumstances. So how about it?”

  17. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Couple of jobs ago I had a coworker who called in sick the day of a major cricket match, and his (our) boss had an email conversation with another manager about how ‘sus’ this was.

    Unfortunately the email he sent to my coworker upon his return had the email exchange at the bottom of it by mistake. Drama isn’t the word for what ensued – my coworker hadn’t been lying and didn’t ever respect our boss again for distrusting him and talking about him like that. It got really really ugly.

    How I deal with staff calling in sick is believe them. If it’s getting to the point where it’s really impacting others I’ll have a word about if there’s anything we can do to help – working from home, reduced hours…etc.

    Because as a chronically disabled person myself I absolutely detest feeling like I’m being forced into work when I really shouldn’t be there.

  18. Xaraja*

    It seems unlikely to me that he’s trying to get his vacation paid out if he’s got so little that he is going to wipe it all out on “a long weekend”. Leave in the US is atrocious and we shouldn’t be encouraging people to police it more. Deal with the performance issues that actually matter.

  19. Critical of critics*

    This is directed to Allison. I’m not at all ok with your opening hypothetical. Going to a family member having surgery AND a playoff game in the same time on the same weekend? No Allison, just no. You cannot nor should be advising people to be that naive. It really is mor likely this employee is lying about his time off needs. Another example of how your “advice” is really off the mark sometimes. You other readers need to start assessing more how of Allison does not know everything and her suggestions are actually terrible ideas on occasion.

    1. Bibliothecarial*

      I see you haven’t met my mother :). I know people – mainly mom – who would absolutely take the opportunity to do tourist things while visiting a sick relative. (Relative was fine with it.)

    2. Meep*

      My dad tore his ACL and needs surgery which he is getting on Thursday. They have a play they are going to this Saturday. It also happens to be le gasp! Mother’s Day this weekend! Guess my dad is lying too, because outpatient surgeries cannot possibly exist. -insert eyeroll-

    3. JimmyJab*

      I appreciate . . . your . . . concern? For us naive readers? Based on the comments, at least, I don’t think Alison’s readers are a bunch of naive rose-colored glasses wearing Alison worshipers. You’re “advice” is super condescending and also unhelpful.

    4. Alpaca Bag*

      My daughter was in a hospital in State College, PA recently on the day of the Penn State Blue & White game, and if we had visited her earlier or later in the day, we could have also gone to the game on the same day. Although rare, these things are possible.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        My mum’s major throat surgery was on the same day as the World Cup final. Better believe I spent that day picking her up from hospital and just being there!

        (Luckily they caught the cancer in time)

    5. Fluffy Fish*

      You wouldn’t happen to be a person who behaved horribly that wrote in and are made Alison didn’t agree with you, would you?

      Uh. Two things can be true at the same time. I can be off on a Friday to go to the dr and still go to a movie Friday evening.

      You’re weirdly mad about this. By all means feel free to not read here.

    6. Come On Eileen*

      I mean, I would totally do that if the two events aligned. My brain does math like so: “okay, uncle Jim’s surgery is on Tuesday, so he’ll need my support Wednesday and Thursday. If Betsy can keep an eye on him Friday, I bet I can make it to the game.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

  20. River*

    Is there a reason you think the employee felt like they had to lie to get the time off? Is taking time off a challenge for staff? You mention that staff don’t need to disclose whatever the reason is when taking vacation time so I get that. Maybe this employee has had prior requests for time off denied and felt that the only way to truly get time off is to make up a reason for the time off. Or the fact that you’re their new manager, they weren’t sure whether you cared or not about the reason they need this time off so just to be on the safe side, they had to make up a reason. Perhaps it’s a pattern of past behaviors. I wouldn’t investigate if he was lying or not. If you don’t care about the reason staff need to take time off, you should probably disclose and stress that with your staff so they don’t have to worry about needing a reason for vacation time. I am curious how much time this employee spends on talking about sports and looking at sports websites online. If it’s 5 minutes a day or for a moment, I would be okay with it but if it’s for much longer than that, then that’s a whole other ball game. (no pun). You may want to nip it in the bud. Good luck.

  21. AnonyNurse*

    Not relevant to this specific situation. But men getting vasectomies or other minor procedures just before major games/tournaments is not uncommon. Want to watch the first round of March Madness on the couch? Get snipped and get lots of frozen veggies.

  22. Meep*

    Unpopular opinion but mind your own business. That day could be a mental health day which is a legitimate use of sick time and a relative having surgery and going to a game are not mutually exclusive. Maybe he has to take time off to pick them up for an out-of-patient surgery? My dad has one on Thursday and he is still going to see a play Saturday. Right now all you have is assumptions and gossip.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Not sure why you’re saying unpopular opinion when the official advice is that in general it’s best to believe people about this kind of thing.

  23. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    This is occurring with more frequency, in my experience. Time off banks usually aren’t generous, and employees have caught on that separating sick time is mainly to limit payouts when they separate. So…employees lie to use up the time that doesn’t pay out and possibly has a much lower accrual limit.

    I’ve switched by groups to PTO banks that offer at least as much total time as the previous vacation/sick banks, but now allow the employee to use their total time off benefit as they see fit. However, we also keep a lower accrual limit (1.5x the annual accrual limit) to prevent employees from accruing excessive amounts of PTO. I also increased their short and long-term disability benefits for those that may have extended leaves of absence for medical concerns.

    We’re about 9 months into the new arrangement and, other than some processing issues with our timekeeping platform, the switch has been a success. Far few employees are calling out last minute to use sick time and many employees have started pre-planning long-weekends/vacations months in advance.

    1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

      On a personal level, a great mental health day for me would be catching a baseball game. It’s relaxing and always helps me destress.

      1. Phony Genius*

        I used to think that. But the way my team often plays, it can actually make it worse!

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I used to think that. But the way my team often plays, it can actually make it worse!

          I feel this one so much.

  24. cardigarden*

    I had virtually the same conversation with an employee (“hey you are off task A LOT, do you need more work?”) and they went straight to the top of the org chart to argue that, no, they should be allowed to watch baseball instead of working.

  25. Ayla*

    I’m definitely not saying this is the case, because it likely isn’t, but something about this reminds me of a situation my husband and I dealt with a few years ago. He requested a day off for his high school reunion, it was approved, and then a week or so before the event, someone else rescinded the approval because too many other team members wanted the day off.

    The day of the event, my infant daughter and I both woke up violently ill. She was too sick for daycare and I wasn’t sure I was lucid enough to care for her properly. But when he called in, his manager made it very clear he’d be put on probation for “lying” if he didn’t show up.

    He went to work. She and I survived but it was bad.

  26. Lifelong student*

    I am going to go against the tide here- but at a minimum, if my gut said it was probable that the time off reason was not correct, I would not trust the employee to be honest about anything in the future. When I was in charge of monitoring use of leave for payroll reasons I had two experiences with the same employee which I highly questioned. In the first instance, the person was on vacation visiting family in a foreign country. When the employee was due to return home, they sent a message they were ill and needed to stay multiple additional days. I was skeptical about the ability to change travel arrangements at that late date. On another occasion the same person was off for multiple weeks to recover from, I think a hip replacement. BTY- it was a desk job- did not require much mobility. There were posts about going to the casino and other places while they were out. Yes I believe there was duplicity- but I was overruled.
    I will acknowledge that I scheduled all medical appointments on my lunch hour or after my working hours- and never understood why others could not at least try to do this. It can be difficult- but not always impossible.
    I have always felt that my employer is paying me to do my work and that personal time is when I do things that are not work related.
    I consider sick time to be like insurance. I want to have it- but try not to use it. It is a transfer of risk just like insurance.

    1. Avril Ludgateau*

      1. People get sick when traveling. People frequently get sick when traveling, even pre-COVID. Airplanes, trains, buses, and all their respective stations put you in close contact with masses of people, all of whom have the potential to be a disease vector. Traveler’s diarrhea is a common and unpleasant malady, even when traveling to places with good sanitation but simply different cuisine and microbes in the water. And it’s actually quite easy to change travel plans last minute, albeit it can be costly.

      2. You were overruled because you should have been. It is not your place or business to police a person’s recovery. If your employer had suspicions of fraud (because at 6 weeks, short-term disability, FMLA, or other equivalent legislation in other countries come into play), they would have investigated accordingly. And those investigators do not screw around. Do you understand that a hip surgery doesn’t only limit standing, walking, and carrying things, but also sitting? You realize the hip is that joint that is bent and bearing weight when you sit, right? If a person finds the energy and motivation to haul their healing hip to a night out once over a six week recovery, they are allowed to do so. And in fact, when recovering from joint replacement, you are advised to (carefully and within reason) exercise the joint. That doesn’t mean the person is not recovering, or that they’re not exhausted, or that they’re not in terrible pain and requiring frequent breaks.

      There’s so much more in this comment that is… offputting. I think you’ve told on yourself, not the unnamed anecdotes, more than you realize.

    2. JimmyJab*

      I actually am well and fine most days of the year, in large part because I see several specialists for my several illnesses several times a year, each. None of my doctors are within such a distance from my home or office that I could do so in a lunch hour. The earliest appointment most doctors offices I frequent have is 8 am, which would not allow me to be back to my home office or office-office in time to start my day at 9. The latest appointment these offices have is 4 pm. You are lucky you are able to save your sick time for emergencies or other unforseen instances, but many, many, many of use do not have that luxury. Plus, when I go to the ER, they never get me in and out in a lunch hour or or before/after work, even if I want to save my sick leave.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        I agree and have the same challenges. Thank you for saying it. I’ve noticed that a lot of offices are working the standard 8am to 5 pm hours, which makes life difficult if we need to see a person.

      2. higeredadmin*

        This. I see a lot of doctors on a regular basis to make sure I’m managing conditions and am not flat out sick. (Last time I let one condition get away from me I was signed off work for over a month.) I end of up taking sick time for all of these appointments, but they are necessary for me and are always in the work day. (I even changed practices because the one I was at was ALWAYS running late and I would be waiting for hours.) Frankly, we should all be doing what we can on the preventative care front, even if we have to take a half-day for a physical.

      3. Avril Ludgateau*

        I once saw a specialist whose office hours were from 8:30-2:30 Monday through Thursday. My working hours were 8:00-4:00, and my office was over an hour away, so just traveling to the doctor in one direction would eat up my lunch hour and then some.

        Guess I should’ve just suffered lest I inconvenience my employer by using the sick time that is part of my compensation package.

    3. River Otter*

      “ I will acknowledge that I scheduled all medical appointments on my lunch hour or after my working hours- and never understood why others could not at least try to do this”

      There are more people who need appointments than there are lunch time appointments to be had.

      “I consider sick time to be like insurance.”

      I consider paid time off to be part of my compensation package.

      1. CatMintCat*

        I see one doctor who flies in/flies out of town one day a week. Her appointment availabilities are controlled by the airline’s schedule and I have no say in when they are made. My employer has to deal.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Btw I’ve had surgery in the hip area – sitting can be incredibly painful for a long time. It’s not just about mobility.

    5. Danish*

      I notice you don’t confirm that your suspicions were ever validated, just that you had them, so all you’re doing here is telling on yourself for being unreasonable.

    6. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      “I will acknowledge that I scheduled all medical appointments on my lunch hour or after my working hours- and never understood why others could not at least try to do this.”

      Frankly, because why should they? Even in your “pooling of risk” model, employers expect that most people will need to take some time off from work for medical reasons, whether that’s scheduled — things like dental cleanings, mammograms, or cataract surgery — or unexpected. If you’re salaried, you’re very unlikely to get a bonus because you inconvenienced yourself and got up an hour earlier than usual to have that mole looked at before work, rather than taking two hours, or even a whole day, of sick time for that appointment.

      Even if everyone wanted to scheduled their medical appointments outside of working hours, it’s not possible–there aren’t so many doctors that they can see enough patients if they don’t see anyone between 9 a.m. and noon or between 2 and 5 p.m. That was true even before the pandemic increased the demand for health care at the same time that it reduced the number of health care workers.

      Also, if your doctor is near your home, you probably don’t have time to leave work, go to the doctor’s office, be seen, and get back to your workplace in an hour, even if everything goes smoothly, which it might not.

      1. Rainy*

        This is reminding me of the person who brought their lunch to conferences and went out of their way to save their employer money and then were upset no one else was straightening bent paperclips and refusing to use their travel per diem.

    7. Rainy*

      Boss makes a dollar, I make a dime
      That’s why I poop on company time

      Your sick time is one of your benefits. Failing to use it doesn’t make you a better person.

  27. Avril Ludgateau*

    IIRC the first time this was posted, the LW appeared in the comments and said that the worker in question had already been using vacation time for the other playoff games and was running low on their balance. Regardless of the “running low” part, the established pattern is that employee uses vacation time for sports games. And surgeries, illnesses, etc. do happen even in the midst of sportsball finals! Life happens, even for sports fans!

    Especially if this request for sick time was put in for and approved in advance (before this manager was even the manager, and possibly before the playoff schedule was even published), what reason is there not to trust the employee? Other than generally having low trust in your employees (not good management imho)?

    The person in the office who made the remark that the employee is going to a game using sick time, could have innocently misunderstood (maybe employee mentioned watching the game with sick relative, meaning watching a broadcast or stream, and the coworker assumed they’d be going in person as was the pattern) or it could be a malicious lie (every office has gossips and busybodies).

    I agree with Alison’s general advice – as a manager you should err on the side of trusting your staff until you have a real reason not to, meaning either concrete evidence of dishonesty or substantial disruption in productivity/responsibilities. Certainly not the word of a third party.

  28. pcake*

    Maybe I misread the letter, but if the employee feels that game is extremely important to him, i can’t see why he can’t be given that day off. After all, you’ve had time to schedule someone even if he’s taking the day for sports, and if you’re so short staffed that you can’t fine one person to fill in for him, you have other issues.

    Honestly I know so many people who lie about taking a day or two off that’s super important to them, and they lie because they feel their managers will say no. And so many managers DO say no just because they can, or because they feel that the job should be more important to an employee than their kid’s dance recital, being able to appear in a 1-day show or a playoff that means a lot to them.

    I’m reminded of somoene who wrote a letter to AAM who, because he had to work 70 and 80 hour weeks weeks early in his career, couldn’t understand why candidates weren’t willing to do the same as long as the pay was high. He hadn’t even considered that he could offer 2 40-hour jobs rather than 1 80-hour job.

  29. singularity*

    As a public school teacher (high school), I get 10 days of PTO per school year. Once I use them up, my paycheck is docked the daily rate of my pay. If I go over my 10 days, I’m ‘required’ to get a doctor’s note. If I do not provide a note, they give us poor evaluation ratings under the category of professionalism and ethics.

    I’ve been rated ‘poor’ in my professionalism and ethics every single year since I had children and every single administrator has acknowledged how unfair the policy is, yet they continue to put it in because they say there’s nothing they can do about it. I guess I have no ethics since I don’t want to drag myself to the urgent care for a stomach bug or insomnia.

    1. singularity*

      All this to say is that some policies are inherently ableist and classist and if you have any power to push back as a manager, you should. Trust your employees and talk to them, because if they knew you didn’t trust them, they’d immediately lose all respect for you too.

  30. JSRN*

    I know this is an older letter, but I truly hope the LW actually investigated this instead of jumping to conclusions and believing what was told to them about the employee. Maybe he was taking the time off for a sports event. But maybe his coworkers were lying also. Maybe he had someone who was jealous/didn’t like him for whatever reason and the new manager is the chance to finally get back at him. This does happen all the time. If I requested time off for a sick family member and my manager questioned if I was lying based off something a coworker told them, I would look for another job and quit without 2 week notice. Questioning my integrity is one of the top 3 things to make me burn a bridge at a job.

    As far as not helping this other colleague….I have also been in that situation. I have been the “unhelpful” coworker. I’ve finished all my tasks and have gotten in trouble for not helping out the coworker who is taking a break every 5 minutes, or texting their friends constantly, or watching a youtube video in the bathroom instead of finishing up their work. Now they’re behind and telling the manager I never offered to help since I’ve been done with my work for awhile now. I finished my work and don’t understand why I need to help someone who is not taking their work seriously. I’m not saying that’s the case for this LW, I just want to offer another point of view because people tend to not see things this way but it does happen. Managers either don’t see it or don’t want to see it and blame the efficient employee instead of the lazy/inefficient one.

  31. TG*

    I’d treat your employee like an adult and don’t question the sick leave for a family member.

    However if the sports talk is truly excessive and visiting web sites is I’d treat it as Alison recommends and in general; don’t harp on it but make sure this person is busy enough and knows to help when it’s requested. If after that discussion nothing has changed and you’re still noting the behavior I think you could then focus in on it more and also relay that other team members are noticing it.

    However be sure it’s excessive – if it’s lunchtime chatter that’s different than chatting throughout the day.

  32. raida7*

    “I’ve also been concerned about the amount of time he spends during the work day talking about sports and looking at sports websites.”

    I’d use the time off as though he’s definitely telling the truth, and say how he needs to cut down on the above.
    “Paul, I don’t know if you realise this, but managers get reports of time and interactivity on websites, and your use of sports sites is really a lot of the day. This plus talking about sports. I don’t want anyone to think that you looking after a family member after surgery is actually just to attend a sports event!
    So I want to tackle the amount of your work day that’s using sports websites – your professional reputation can really be tarnished by assumptions you are on websites “all day” and “make up stories to go to sports games”, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.”

    Then you don’t accuse him of using family sick leave instead of rec leave, you frame requiring him to help out a co-worker as helping his reputation, you make it clear that you’ll know if he spends more than and agreed to xx minutes per day on websites that aren’t work related, and you’re saying it’s entirely to help him and you’re happy to help.

  33. CatMintCat*

    Where I live (Australia) I have never met or heard of an employer who didn’t require a medical certificate for more than two days absence.
    In my town we have a shortage of GPs, and it can take a week to get an appointment if you aren’t fussy who you see. Last time I wanted to see my own GP, the wait was six weeks. The end result of that is that the ER in the hospital is cluttered up with people who need doctor’s certificates, not urgent medical treatment. There is nothing in between the GP and the ER – no urgent care, or walk in clinic or anything like that.
    Pharmacists can write some certificates for simple things, but not all of them will, and it still involves dragging you cold, flu or migraine out of the house, into town and waiting around to be seen.
    I would love to be trusted, but I don’t see if changing any time soon.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      A doctor note for 2 sick days! That’s basically a cold or mild stomach flu, hardly something you’d need to see a doctor for.

      I’ve never had an employer require a doctor note unless you were out a week or more unless they’re a fairly unreasonable employer or the employee was on a PIP.

      I was out a full 5 days w/Covid last year and no note or proof required. I think I did check in once or twice though.

      1. Snuck*

        A trusted employee will generally not have an issue, but if there’s a history of problems in a workgroup then the same rules will probably apply for everyone regardless of trust level (so you aren’t playing favourites). An employee that doesn’t really abuse any of the rights and privileges will have more leeway as the policies are usually written to include things like “May require” so the manager can just say “it’s cool, we know you have the flu, see you in a week” if it’s not going to cause strife or union action (“Why doesn’t Mary Blogs have to produce a certificate, but John Smith does?”)

        As for COVID I think that’s changed things up a lot too – if you claim you have COVID in Australia people are generally going to take that seriously, and up until very recently (and still currently in Western Australia) contact tracing efforts would need to take place etc, so the need to get a medical certificate wouldn’t be there, but small businesses might need it for proof for the various government aid packages, ALL persons with COVID nationally are compelled to report it to the government for tracing/tracking/counting purposes and so on. A medical certificate might be necessary but generally there’s a LOT more going on and the assumption is it’s not a lie. However (deep breath) I assume that for places that have a COVID leave policy that also covers quarantine requirements there might have been some fudging for some people, but you manage this like you do anyone who claims they’ve lost six grandmothers -with salt and a request for evidence, if you feel you need it. Usually people messing with the edges of leave like this have other issues – just manage those instead.

    2. Phil*

      Yep this. Though with my company at least, it’s at the manager’s discretion and no one really enforces it unless they’re incredibly suss about the employee (originally asked for annual leave and had it turned down + a terrible work ethic in general). I’ve only heard a manager enforcing it once and it was a terrible employee who resigned before too long.

      I think they only really ask for it if it’s a particularly long absence… I was given a cert when I had my wisdoms out and was off for two weeks and I honestly can’t remember if my work even asked for it then.

    3. Snuck*

      I was pondering this too – and realised that while I was leaning on the “get them to provide evidence of need to be a carer” (which yes, is something that’s not wildly out of step to expect in Australia – a doctor can write a note, or a care home nurse or whatever saying “Joe Bloggs is unwell, and Josephine Bloggs has been visiting” or similar) but then I realised…. The guy who is stiffing the company on 1 day’s sick leave isn’t a real issue – I mean… if this would wipe out his annual leave he’s obviously only got a day or two so the pay out isn’t huge (I assume this is just a few days, if it’s more than a couple then handle it differently!).

      Australia does have this idea that you can’t ‘chuck a sickie’ and you should produce evidence. It just means doctors write notes all the time (or pharmacists etc) but it’s expensive (most GPs are not bulk bill, so you can pay $80 to see one, or if you go free/bulk bill wait a week or more for an appointment) and if you show up with too many you’ll probably get a ‘please explain’ health review in certain industries.

      For the OP I’d suggest taking a look at his leave balances and see if there are patterns in them. Sometimes they help you understand the reason for leave, and how to resolve any issues. I had a staff member once that took every second Friday (ish, sometimes he would make it a MOnday) off. I sat and had a chat with him, this was going to see him pushed out due to the combination of many unexplained absences and the double whammy of them being attached to a weekend…. He explained that he was barely holding on mentally and it was too hard to do a full fortnight straight. We made a deal – he took a 10% pay cut, worked one day (10%) less every fortnight, and we dropped his case load by 10% as well so no one had to cover for him on that day off, he was just to rejig his workload around it. He wasn’t happy about the pay cut, but didn’t have to use sick leave (which he also needed, as a young person out and living real life there was a knee reconstruction looming for him, and general colds and flu etc – Sick leave in Australia accrues, so by not using it every year you can save up a lot! It doesn’t pay out on exit, but if you need a knee surgery in two years you can save 20 days towards it) and wasn’t risking his job. It was the lesser of two evils for him and he was then able to attend work the full 9/10 fortnight. (And he was able ot continue employment in a very employee supportive environment that protected it’s employees quite deeply with extensive policies on sick, annual, long service etc leaves, and the ability to move around within a 25,000 employee company with ease.)

      Sometimes you can do a creative solution that works. Sometimes someone is just taking a lend of you and if you point it out and start saying ‘this isn’t how it’s going to fly in the future, and I’ll be watching other trust points too now that we seem to have a trust issue’ then you have to be prepared to let them go over it. How does that sit with you?

  34. huh*

    OP, this is a slippery slope because it sounds like you already have a dislike of some sort regarding this employee. You need to get over that, fast.

    The fact that the employe took leave at the same time last year to attend the game means nothing. Also, as Alison said, it could be both: they are caring for their relative as the primary reason, and may catch the game if there’s time.

    The other employee who told you that this person is apparently going to the game could be mistaken, or could be lying. They may be wanting to cause trouble. I advise you ignore this, especially if there is any kind of tension between them.

    The second employee who said that this person doesn’t help when it’s busy may or may not have a valid concern. But it’s a completely separate issue to the PTO.

  35. AnonymousReader*

    I get 3 days of sick time a year and they don’t roll over and they don’t get “paid out”. I don’t know what kind of set up the manager and employee’s company has but if it’s similar to my “use it or lose it”, I don’t see any harm in the employee using up his sick days. If he were to get sick and be out of sick and PTO days, he would have to take unpaid time off so it will all even out in the end.

  36. Quickbeam*

    My former company had unlimited sick time for 100 years. A few people abused it by calling in sick every Friday. The solution was to go to PTO. Everyone lost out.

  37. A Wall*

    Here’s a really simple solution to this question: Scheduled surgeries are on weekdays (the days this employee is actually taking off) and you’ve said the game is on the adjacent weekend. There isn’t actually a conflict here at all, these things are not even happening at the same time.

    1. ?*

      Err, the person isn’t taking time off to watch the surgery, but to provide care and support after the surgery. Surgery is not an immediate recovery process: if they are having an operation during the week (such as on on Friday) they’ll still need care/help over the weekend.

      1. A Wall*

        “Err” nothing, you have to make a ton of assumptions to arrive at this being a conflict. You must assume that the time off/surgery is before the weekend game (and not on, like, Monday), that this employee is the only caregiver for this family member *even on the weekends* so all assistance every day is being provided by them, and also that the family member will need constant supervision and care for a number of days in a row such that the employee could not possibly also leave for any part of any following day. That’s a whole lot of stuff that would have to be true for it to make more sense as a lie than as two separate things this person is doing in the same week, and none of them you actually know to be the case.

        Also, if the days off are in fact the several days before the game, why would that be the time someone would wanna BS their boss to get off anyway? Who takes off Thursday and Friday for a Saturday or Sunday game? Or, more importantly, who would be so married to taking off that Thursday and Friday without using up their vacation days specifically that they would lay the groundwork for an elaborate lie to take it as family leave instead?

        1. A Wall*

          I forgot to add, since I can’t believe it needs to be said, but re: “isn’t taking time off to watch the surgery.” When you have any kind of procedure under general anesthesia, you are supposed to bring someone with you who checks in as your caretaker, leaves their contact information with the surgical reception, waits in the hospital during your procedure, is called directly by the staff to the postop area to meet you when you leave recovery, is briefed on your care along with you by the postop nurses, and takes you home afterwards when you are released into their care. Even if you need zero assistance after surgery, you still have to bring someone with you to the hospital for that. So it does in fact matter a great deal that this obligation cannot possibly overlap with the game.

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