workers are running out of time off and companies don’t care

Nearly two and a half years into the pandemic, companies still haven’t figured out how to manage Covid-related sick leave.

A single bout of Covid can knock out all of someone’s sick days for the year, leaving many more months to get through where other illness or injury might arise (to say nothing of time people might need for long Covid, or kids who are sick or quarantined from day care). But many employers haven’t adjusted their sick leave policies to fit that reality.

Even more frustratingly, people who have been exposed at work are finding their sick time completely wiped out by Covid even when they contracted it in the course of doing their jobs:

I wrote about this sick leave crisis for Slate today. You can read it here.

{ 240 comments… read them below }

  1. Justme, The OG*

    We had 80 hours of COVID leave that went away in February. I thankfully have enough leave if I get sick, and can work from home if my kid gets sick. But I’m very lucky with that (and I hate that I am lucky to have adequate leave).

    I remember when I was new and had no leave and my kid got the flu, I ended up having to take some unpaid days off.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      We had a similar amount of COVID-specific sick leave that also went away around the time we got rid of mask/vaccine mandates. I also have enough leave to cover if I get sick, but I definitely resented losing the leave when we were increasing the odds people would get it.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        That’s about when our mask mandates went away, too. And local numbers are spiking and we can’t mandate vaccines and I seriously doubt we will be able to mandate masks again.

      2. Not A Girl Boss*

        We also lost our 10 days/year COVID leave when masks went away.

        Then, this week, they rolled out an announcement that anyone with seasonal allergies has to quarantine at home for 5 days and then test negative before they can come in. I have spring, summer, and fall allergies… so that’s 15 mandatory days off per year because my sinuses despise the outdoors.

        1. Lizzie*

          that is ridiculous. I have YEAR ROUND allergies, so I’d be home more often than in! And what’s the criteria for having to quarantine? A sneeze? a cough? I have asthma too, so I cough and sneeze pretty regularly.

        2. CatMintCat*

          I was able to circumvent this by producing a medical certificate from my doctor attesting to my long history of seasonal asthma and allergies. Would this work for you?

        3. Bagpuss*

          That’s ridiculous – do you have any standing to puch back to request that either they accept a negative test and/or confirmation that you have allergies, or seek to pich back that if hey are requireing you to isolate due to a non-infectiius condition unrelated to covid that they say you and don’t count it towards you annual entitlement?
          (Failing that, read the small print. If it is specific to allergies then personally I would not be getting allergies. I would be getting a summer cold or a reaction to a new airfreshener or something else that isn’t explicitly mentioned but happens to present like the allergies I get evey damn year. )
          If you are testing negative on a LFT and waeearing a mask you shouldn’t need to isolate in the absence of any real liklihood you have covid.

          I don’t know whethre you could aregue that allergies constitute a disability and that the policy isdsicriminatory as I am not familiar with how disabilities are defined.

    2. MlaMala*

      I’m an ED at a workers’ rights organization. We have unlimited COVID – 19 sick leave that covers testing, and sick time when people have covid as well as mental health and medical follow ups to deal with long covid and this sick time does not count against your regular sick time.

      Are we probably losing money on this? Yes. Do some people take advantage? Yes but it feels like the best and right thing to do.

    3. Overeducated*

      We lost ours in March I think. Of course, we all got COVID (from my kid’s day care) in May/June. I fortunately have sick leave, but I probably worked through more of it than I would have if we had a separate leave category. And it’s really going around among my childless colleagues as well now….

    1. Autumnheart*

      Agreed. I feel gratified seeing a well-known management SME take companies to task on this.

  2. Alatheia*

    California still offers up to 80 hours of Covid leave, up until end of Sept.

    I’ve used about 60 of those hours already with a family bout of Covid and two daycare closures (and that’s only because I split childcare duties with my husband).

    1. D*

      Yeah I really wish this was nation wide. It makes it so much easier to deal with. My husband and I just got covid towards the end of a vacation, and had to drive home early to isolate. We ended up getting those two days we were supposed to be on vacation but actually sick at home with covid back as vacation days to use later by using the covid leave retroactively. We didn’t really expect it but it was awesome it worked that way. It just makes you feel so much better about your work, and I think other employers are really missing an opportunity to encourage people to want to stick around by not acting like this.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        I get that what seems obvious to me is not always obvious to others. And often I can see the other viewpoint even if I disagree. But damn I cannot wrap my head around out why companies are insisting on punishing people for being sick in ways that will drive them out and/or lead to even more absences. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

        1. HigherEdAdminista*

          I really do think at this point it is almost… impotent fury driving people to make bad decisions. Think of what is happening with airlines and all the cancelled and messed up flights. If they were acting logically, they would be demanding N95 masks and monitoring ventilation, making a big deal of it, to keep things going smoothly. But instead they are just stamping their feet, and saying “EVERYTHING IS FINE!!!!” and acting like that will make it so.

          It’s the same thing with other businesses and sick days or reduced quarantine time. I really think they think that if they just ignore it hard enough, they can mitigate the impact by getting people numb to it. In the United States, we already had a culture of sending people to work with all sorts of contagious illnesses, and I think they really want to get back to that. They want it to be totally normal to be wheezing and coughing at your desk with COVID because they cannot admit that things that benefit workers actually help the business run more smoothly.

          It’s almost like they would rather hurt people than make a profit. They definitely want to make a profit and might even think that is their primary goal, but their behavior indicates they have another (potentially subconscious) goal of having the world conform to their vision. And in their vision of an ideal world, no illness keeps an employee home.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          The only explanation I can think of is that they’re furious we’re not robots.*

          *Actually it’s capitalism.

    2. RedinSC*

      That’s what I was thinking. CA still has this, so any of the employees at my office can tap into this.

      Plus, on top of that, if a person uses it all up, my office created a specific COVD sick time bank, so any additional hours wouldn’t come out of people’s sick pay.

    3. Hannah Lee*

      Massachusetts no longer has COVID specific leave, but it does have a Paid Family and Medical Leave program, that employees can apply to if they are sick and have exhausted leave, or if they have to care for a family member who is sick, or needs medical care.

      The hard part is that there are needs that fall through even those cracks, for example there used to be a child care provision in the federal COBRA relief package so that if an employee couldn’t work for x # of days because they needed to stay home with their kid because their child’s school or daycare was shut down due to a COVID outbreak, the employee was paid (80% of wages?) – this was outside of any employer paid time off, so didn’t impact those balances. But that safety net for COVID related childcare is no longer available.

      In the US at least a) we are very bad at prioritizing public health needs over short term economic priorities and b) the current government, institutional and individual behavior as though the pandemic is no longer a thing is outrageous.

      1. Overeducated*

        I am one of only two people in my workplace with children under 5, and others are *shocked* that our kids are still subject to 10-day isolation periods and two-week daycare shutdowns when it happens. Kind and flexible, but shocked. Everything has just absolutely gone back to normal in their lives. So yes, I agree.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Out of interest, how is this funded?
      Is it paid for by the State or are employers funding it?

      1. Hannah Lee*

        In Mass it’s primarily employer funded, but for small employers, I think the cost can be split between employers and employees … so basically it’s a payroll tax that feeds into a pool. There may be a government subsidy as well, but I’m not sure. Employers can opt out of paying into the pool if they have a private insurance plan that provides the same benefits.

  3. lilsheba*

    Gotta love the old USA, screwing over people, especially with anything health related, at every opportunity.

    1. ---*

      Yeah, I quibble with the framing here. It’s not that companies haven’t figured it out. It’s that they’re making the decision to disadvantage their employees. They could do things differently. They’re choosing not to. There’s a significant difference.

      1. Unaccountably*

        Exactly. This is a choice just like refusing to decouple health care and employment is a choice. America is very much about punishing people for wanting better lives.

      2. Koalafied*

        It is, if you can believe it, even worse than that. The board of most publicly traded companies has a legally binding obligation called “shareholder primacy” that means their #1 responsibility is to protect value for shareholders, and whenever there’s a conflict between that and another goal, protecting value for shareholders must take priority.

        This means even if somehow a sensible person who’s more interested in long-term health and being socially responsible gets put in charge and starts making changes that harm the company’s stock price, the board of directors would be not only within their rights, but potentially even obligated (depending on the details of the situation), to fire the CEO! The shareholders would also be within their rights to sue the board of directors for redress if they felt the board was failing to do everything in their power to maximize shareholder value, and a court could order the board to take particular actions to that effect.

        “…In a 2010 decision involving craigslist, rejecting a board’s refusal to redeem a shareholder rights plan, then-Chancellor William B. Chandler III of the Delaware Court of Chancery wrote:

        The corporate form … is not an appropriate vehicle for purely philanthropic ends, at least not when there are other stockholders interested in realizing a return on its investment. … Having chosen a for-profit corporate form … directors are bound by the fiduciary duties and standards that accompany that form. Those standards include acting to promote the value of the corporation for the benefit of the stockholders. The “Inc.” after the company name has to mean at least that. Thus, I cannot accept as valid … a corporate policy that specifically, clearly and admittedly seeks not to maximize the economic value of a for-profit Delaware corporation for the benefit of its stockholders …

        (Note that the overwhelming majority of U.S. corporations are incorporated in Delaware for tax/legal benefits, regardless of where they may actually be physically headquartered or employ most of their staff.)

        You may have heard of Certified B Corps – they’re a new type of incorporation legal framework that obligates/allows the board to consider other things like social impact as potentially higher priorities than share value. That’s the kind of reform that we need across all corporations (there are very few Certified B Corps actually in existence at the moment). Until we get rid of Shareholder Primacy, the system is literally designed so that if anyone comes along and tries to be less of a cutthroat capitalist, they’ll be stripped of their position and replaced with someone who won’t.

        1. COHikerGirl*

          I work for one of those B Corps. It’s been a bit of a change getting used to “we care about people”, but it’s also been great. If/when I need something, it’s fine. No guilt trips, no “when are you making this up”. It’s wonderful.

        2. John*

          I think the director could easily defend a more generous sick-leave plan as a way to save money/boost profits by reducing employee turnover. Hiring and training employees is expensive, especially with current conditions, and screwing your employees over by charging them money when the company itself made them sick is an easy way to have a high attrition rate.

        3. ---*

          I didn’t know this, Koalafield — what a despicable policy; what rot when capitalism is unregulated… This honestly turns my stomach.

    2. Migraine Month*

      Sure, but what’s the alternative? Robust public health infrastructure that covers people of all income levels, guarantees access to care, brings down healthcare spending, decouples employment from healthcare, and prevents medical bankruptcy.

      If it increases taxes on the rich and corporations, who would possibly want that?

      1. ---*

        Thank you — absolutely this. A system like this also allows for temporary hiring with financial help from the state in the case of long absences. Because it makes sense.

      2. ---*

        Ooops, completely wrong reply! I meant, good one, Migraine Month. Yup, sounds like a dystopian nightmare. Let’s never enact any of that!

      1. Willow Pillow*

        Yep, I live in Canada and spent the 7th week of a new job with workplace-caught COVID. Thankfully I’m fine, and my employer paid for my time off, but it still came out of my regular sick time.

  4. jane's nemesis*

    My employer (a private university in a capital city) renewed our pandemic sick time just a few months ago – 80 hours for everyone. Anyone who had used it since the beginning of COVID had it topped back up to 80 hours, and anyone who had started since the last time they distributed it, received it for the first time. I’m hoping they keep topping it up every year.

  5. Anon in Midwest*

    It’s really so messed up. I know a few blue collar friends who went to work knowingly after testing positive for COVID, because they literally can’t afford to stay home unpaid, and their employers didn’t offer any paid sick time at all. They felt bad for exposing their coworkers, but they had no options.

    1. kiki*

      It’s really absurd because having employees coming in and exposing others only serves to increase the number of employees getting sick and needing to be out, which creates even more capacity issues. That’s undeniably apparent, but it seems like most sick policies completely ignore this in favor of a short-term desire to not pay sick time.

    2. sofar*

      Yep. I have friends who have gone in, knowingly, with COVID, to restaurant jobs, the hotel they work at, etc. Some can scrape together a day or two off, but the fully recommended quarantine? Forget about it. They can’t afford it. And, in many cases, their employer already wrote them up for the 1-2 days they missed. Others require a doctor’s note with a test that’s NOT a home test. Which (sarcasm) TOTALLY makes sense, I mean why wouldn’t you want someone to go out into the world to and infect others to “prove” they have COVID?

      I think the most ridiculous case was my friend being told (to avoid being written up) to report to work in person, clock in, ask her manager to send her home, have her manager document she showed up and was sent home, clock out, and then go to the doctor to get a doctor’s note, and bring that back IN PERSON.

      My other favorite: My friend works admin at a chiropractor office. She had COVID and on Day 3, her employer told her to “stop testing and just come back if she felt OK.”

    3. rrr*

      I’m an hourly worker who gets 3 weeks (40 hours per week) (after 10 years!) of PTO, plus 8 holidays. No sick time, 1 day of bereavement (for a parent), nothing else. There really is no “sick leave” as you have to schedule time off in advance. I’ve used up all of my time off this year. My last 2 days of PTO I used to let myself recover just a little bit more from covid. I actually had misunderstood the contact tracers and I should’ve been home anyway one of those days. But since I didn’t understand, and was honest about what I thought was true, my boss insisted that I come in once I was no longer supposed to quarantine. So I used vacation because I still felt like I was probably contagious, nobody masks in my office but me, and I had spent the time “sick” taking care of an older parent who was also sick while still working from home. I didn’t exactly get a lot of recovery time. I also believe my boss gave me covid because of his obvious carelessness – and he is one of the two people in the company who really COULD stay home when sick and not worry about income. He just chose/chooses not to.

      I have to tell you, all things considered, I’d probably still take the time off if I get sick again, but it would be a fight against myself to do it. Even though my PTO renews soon, I do sort of feel like why should I lose it to protect people who clearly didn’t bother about me? If I’m not symptomatic, or badly symptomatic, I don’t know. I don’t like this about myself, but I’m at that point.

    4. Beth*

      I have several friends who routinely find themselves in the position of having a known exposure, or even the kind of mild symptoms that could be allergies or could be covid, and….they can’t test. If they do and it’s positive, their employers’ policies say they can’t come in to work, but there’s no more PTO available, so they’d be facing the loss of up to 10+ days of income. That’s the difference between making rent and not, so they literally can’t afford to test and risk an official positive result.

      It’s obviously a problem for work, but it’s also a problem for their personal lives. They basically can’t visit any high-risk friends or relatives. Any indoor and/or maskless gathering comes with a high-stakes “do you want to risk being the one that turns this into a super spreader event?” question. Events that require proof of negative test to enter (which admittedly are getting fewer, but do still happen sometimes in my area) are not open to them. Policies like this throw people’s entire lives into disarray, and then employers wonder why people are job hunting?

  6. Sylvan*

    I’m out of time off because I got covid this spring. No sick leave, no vacation, nothing.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I hate the habit of a single small “PTO” pool for both illness and vacation. I have IBS and also suffer migraines. If I have a single PTO bank I don’t get any vacation, only sick time.

      1. Former_Employee*

        The company I used to work for went to a policy like that and I thought it made sense. They pooled the vacation and sick time to give people the flexibility to use their time as needed or desired. That way, people who never get sick get more vacation and people who have medical issues don’t end up not being paid for time off while they have a bunch of vacation days sitting there because vacation days have to be scheduled in advance.

    2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      This is me. I just started a new job and while to me the time off policy is generous (my last job kept me under FT so I didn’t have benefits), I exhausted all of what I had accrued when my household came down with Covid last month and it accrues at like 12hrs/month so I’m kind of screwed for a while.

  7. Random Internet Stranger*

    I currently have negative hours of paid leave. I took this position 7 months pregnant and what they were able to offer me in the realm of parental leave was 3 weeks, fully paid, and then PTO. I didn’t have any PTO as a new employee, so they let me go into the negative. I ended up taking 9 weeks total and they were all paid (not fully), but at least my PTO covered the cost of my deductions and left a little to spare. So, if I got covid, I guess I’d just be in the negative more.

  8. Alex*

    My employer used to have 40 hours of paid COVID time for a positive test. They have now discontinued it because “we figure most everyone has already had it.”

    Dumb. Also this is a public-facing job where we could both contract and spread COVID. Nice.

    1. BEC*

      Well, it’s a good thing you can never get reinfected and that there are no new variants ever, because otherwise that would be really dumb.

      /end sarcasm

    2. Other Alice*

      My goodness. I’ve a friend working in a public facing role; his wife works at a hospital and they have two kids in school. He’s currently sick with his THIRD bout of Covid. They are all fully vaccinated and he’s always cautious masking up, he’s just unlucky and has plenty of opportunities to catch it at work. His workplace is notoriously terrible but he still gets to work from home when he’s not physically ill and he’s just waiting to test negative, because they figured they don’t want staff spreading illness to the public.

  9. Hiring Mgr*

    It’s not perfect, but more companies should turn to “unlimited” PTO where vaca, sick time etc is all combined. Not a panacea for sure but I haven’t had to think about saving days in over fifteen years that’s kind of nice.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Pre-pandemic, we’ve seen time and time again that this encourages sick employees to come to work because they’d rather use all their days for vacation. In theory it sounds good, but in practice I can easily see this encouraging people with COVID (or anything else contagious) coming to work so they don’t lose precious vacation days.

      1. Antilles*

        Also, the experience among companies which switched from “X days off” to “unlimited PTO” has typically been that employees take fewer days off with ‘unlimited’ systems than when they had a specific number of days.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          The best offices have unlimited but with say a three/four week minimum requirement to avoid that issue

        2. Mid*

          It’s also just a sneaky way to get around paying out PTO when people leave. My state mandates that people get all their PTO out when leaving their job, except if someone has unlimited PTO, because how can you pay for unlimited days?

          1. From the bathroom*

            It really is. My friend worked for a company that allowed accrual of up to 7 weeks vacation leave at her level. Most of the time it was paid out at the end of the fiscal, because not everyone could actually book time off to use it, unless specific purpose requested to carry over to the next year i.e. I’m going on sabbatical or I’m going to India for 2 months etc.

            They changed it to an “improved” version of unlimited PTO, which means no more payout. So everyone lost 7 weeks of paid time, and lost their buffer of VL if they were laid off. To make matters worse, if you took more than a week at a time or two weeks total in a year you would get written up for “abuse of PTO policy”.

        3. RandomCPA*

          I was worried about that at my own company, but when we switched I actually ended up taking more time off than I otherwise would have been able to. It all depends on the tone at the top and how managers message it. My boss gets on me if I don’t take time off, or at least have a plan to take time off some time in the future, for two months in a row.

    2. Ari*

      Either unlimited PTO, or unlimited sick time with accrued vacation time. My company just switched to unlimited vacation with accrued sick time, which I think is really weird – you can plan for vacation time but not necessarily for sick time.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        That is odd.

        I’m not sure if you can have it the other way around–I’ve worked with too many people who wouldn’t think twice about calling out sick if they had exhausted their vacation time and wanted another vacation/mental health day/etc.

        I’ve passed on jobs due to “Unlimited PTO” (because in practice there’s a lot of pressure for it to be *No* PTO, and by definition no rollover and no payout upon departure).

        1. Clobberin' Time*

          And the payout value of PTO is a strong incentive for companies to let employees actually USE their time off. It’s a stick that creates a real cost in fostering an atmosphere where employees are penalized (or think they will be) for taking time off. With “unlimited PTO”, that incentive is off the table.

          1. No Longer Looking*

            Not all states require that. OldJob (HQ in different state) changed their policy manual to state that they would not pay out accrued PTO, just before they laid a bunch of us off. They then discovered that the state my group was in required PTO payout anyway. It was a nice Take That moment for us.

            I’m still somewhat surprised that they made that choice given that they actually had a quite decent severance package for us (1 week per year up to a cap plus paid COBRA during those weeks).

            1. Clobberin' Time*

              The kind of people who think rug-pulling on PTO is a smart move are not the kind of people who carefully check beforehand whether it is legal to do so.

              Sure, not every state has paid-out PTO, but in states that do, the requirement is an incentive to allow employees to take that PTO. No doubt this is why California-based big tech companies are huge fans of unlimited PTO plans.

        2. BurnOutCandidate*

          I’m not sure if you can have it the other way around–I’ve worked with too many people who wouldn’t think twice about calling out sick if they had exhausted their vacation time and wanted another vacation/mental health day/etc.

          Legit. When my company was better staffed — we’ve cut into the bone to the point where a vacation day cripples production for a week — there were managers who would say something like, “Yup, Joe’s just accrued a sick day, because he called out sick.” It was an open secret that people like “Joe” were using their sick leave for a day off when they’d exhausted their vacation.

          Mental health days should be charged to sick, though. Mental wellness is as important as physical wellness.

          1. Nynaeve*

            That happens all the time at my job. The perils of hiring almost exclusively recent HS grads who still live at home and have no bills. But, they also have a very annoying policy of not letting you take Unpaid Time Off if you have any form of paid time off available. Scheduled a vacation in advance but only have sick time left in your bank? It gets used up. Had COVID 4 months ago and now need a day for appointments? Have to dip into the PTO if it’s still available. It effectively makes it only one pool. The only difference is that PTO is block granted and Sick Time is accrued. Maddening.

            *Add in the fact that they just switched everyone who’s salary to Unlimited PTO, but the hourly peons still have to work within the confines of their limited allowances, and lets just say lots of unpaid time gets taken no matter what they try to do to disincentiveize it.

          1. Anna*

            I suspect some of those countries have very different work cultures than the US, and that’s why it works just fine. In cultures where it’s expected that most people will take 3, 4, 5 weeks of holiday a year, having unlimited vacation works because managers expect and encourage people to take the time they need. In the US, a lot of people would get irritated if coworkers were taking more than a week or two of “unlimited’ vacation, and managers might stop approving it or penalize employees who take more. I think the background culture of both the company and the nation/region where it’s located make a big difference in whether “unlimited” leave of either can can really be beneficial for employees.

            1. Unaccountably*

              I knew a guy who worked in Europe for a year or two at a sort of affiliate of my old company. No lie, he left and came back to America because he was so angry and disgusted by his “lazy” co-workers taking a whole month off during the summer.

              Gumption must be a hell of a drug.

        3. Migraine Month*

          Eh, I worked for a place that had (generous) accrued vacation and unlimited sick days. I used sick days occasionally for mental health issues and frequently for a physical health issue, but I don’t think that there was an issue with people using it for vacation. If there were, I think it would have been addressed as an individual performance issue.

        4. Koalafied*

          My company has the same policy as Ari’s. I don’t pretend to fully understand it but I think it has something to do with being able to have the company’s disability insurance kick in and cover some of the employee’s pay after they’ve exhausted their allotted sick leave.

      2. PumpkinSpice4Ever*

        My employer gives us defined numbers of PTO days based on years of service, but they also offer unlimited sick time for employees. What this means in practice: if I go over a certain number of sick days in a shot (I think 5?), then I need documentation and eventually hit short term and long term disability. But I used a few days in May when I caught Covid and 2 days for a thrown-out back in March, and it doesn’t impact my PTO at all. If I use sick days again? It’s cool. At my employer, people don’t seem to abuse sick time, as far as I’m aware. It generally works out.

        1. Ellen*

          Same here! After having been at my employer for a while, it’s hard to imagine going back to a system where I’d have to budget sick days and decide if I’m sick enough for calling out to be “worth it.”

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Like any policy, it needs to be implemented well… From that same article:

        “none of this means that unlimited vacation policies aren’t the way to go. To the contrary, when carefully managed, they can be an enormously appealing benefit that helps to attract and retain great employees. The key, though, is that employers who want to try out unlimited vacation need to be thoughtful and deliberate about how they implement it.”

        1. AthenaC*

          I agree with you – my company has unlimited PTO and for anyone that’s had COVID-related illness, they just …. don’t work. They send an email to whomever they’re scheduled to work with and the team / group adapts. No one’s worried about PTO or sick leave balances.

          That said, my company also has a culture of encouraging PTO use and following up with people that don’t take much PTO, so people actually take quite a bit of time off at my company. Of the top 10 professional services firms in the US, at least one other firm has unlimited PTO, but at that firm, stories abound of PTO mysteriously never being approved so no one’s able to take PTO.

          So yes, the experience will vary quite a bit, but having the unlimited PTO really has been a lot easier to deal with for COVID.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          We recently had this discussion at my new job. I mentioned that the only way “unlimited” vacation worked is if management modeled healthy vacation time use – that is, took actual week long or greater vacations.

    3. Lacey*

      My employer just switched to this and I’m not at all pleased.

      There’s no official limit, but there’s also no official amount I’m owed.
      It was nice to know I’d banked a certain number of sick days in case something happened.
      Now they’ll just make me take fmla leave instead.
      I’ll have to guess whether or not my boss thinks the amount I’m taking off is unreasonable.

      And even though my boss seems convinced that someone is going to try and take 10 months to tour Europe and no one will be able to stop them – we all know that in reality people take LESS PTO when it’s unlimited.

    4. Heidi*

      No thank you. If I work a lot and am unable to take time off, I want to cash it out at the end of my time with that company. If it were up to some of my bosses, virtually no time off requests would be granted.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        If it were up to some of my bosses, virtually no time off requests would be granted.

        Yea. And if staffing is “LEAN” and your team can only really handle one absence at a time 180+ business days out of the year, it creates and encourages some awful interpersonal dynamics.

    5. Anonymous Koala*

      My partner’s company does this, and it was a nightmare when we were dealing with parental leave. “Unlimited” means there are no official guidelines for the many things people might need leave for – parental leave, Covid, long term care, etc – so it becomes a game of precedence-finding and individual negotiations with your boss/exec/HR etc. We ended up invoking unpaid FMLA for most of the time because the company wouldn’t agree that the “unlimited leave” policy (which covers vacations -_-) covered parental leave. My job, which has an official parental leave policy and protocols for invoking it, was a dream to deal with by comparison. Unlimited leave *can* be a good thing, but in my experience companies also use it as a pseudonym for “leave when/if we feel like giving it to you”, which really throws employees under the bus.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Yes it can definitely happen….I suppose ultimately if your company culture/boss doesn’t support vacations, parental leave, generous sick time, mental health and so on, the specific policy probably doesn’t matter.

        1. Anonymous Koala*

          This is one place where specific policies can make a huge difference, though. If my partner’s work had had an official parental leave policy (even if the policy was “we don’t give parental leave) we would have saved so much time and energy. And if there’s an official policy, an unsupportive boss or exec team has less bandwidth to stop employees from using benefits. Keeping things vague in an “unlimited” bucket often makes it harder for employers to ensure that employees are being treated fairly, uses up more HR time, and puts more stress on employees.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Delphine, my company had a form of that for a while.

        It may have just been the particular mix of employees, managers at that time, but it created a dysfunctional environment of some employees trying to game the system by taking unplanned days off as sick days (Fridays and Mondays were popular) and managers over-policing whether employees were “really” sick or just didn’t feel like getting up the day after a long weekend, big playoff game or on a warm sunny Friday in spring, sometimes hounding people with chronic conditions about repeated absences. We wound up switching to a pooled PTO for everything approach for hourly workers to take managers out of the “parental” role of deciding “are you sick? or are you ‘sick’? and letting adult employees decide for themselves.

        It’s still imperfect, as there are some employees who like to frontload a lot of planned (vacation) time off early in the year but panic as the fall rolls around and realize they have limited accrued time off available for pay if they need to take time off later in the year, other people who want any time off early in the year (for vacation, sickness, anything) not be paid, so they can ‘save it’ for later which causes issues with staffing, workloads etc. And then there’s the stress when employees for whatever reason have exhausted their available PTO for the year. (Employees are able to use PTO time before they’ve accrued it, but only time that would be earned that calendar year)

        It’s a small company with limited resources, so trying to set up a fair, sane employee friendly policy that doesn’t make the business unsustainable can be tough. Our state implemented a paid family and medical leave program a few years ago which helps, as did the federal FFCCA programs which helped with COVID related leave, and I’ve tried to keep employees informed about what programs they may qualify for. Plus we’ve got employer paid LTD that kicks in after 90 days for catastrophic illness/injury but any time off between PTO and LTD is currently pieced together – and on ‘hope the employee qualifies for the state paid leave program that employees and employers pay into’ or ‘could they afford, did they opt into the employee paid group STD plan?” shaky ground.

    6. NeedRain47*

      This has been discussed before here and I’m not going to go into it again, but this is really punitive to people who are chronically ill/disabled- they end up using all of it for sick leave and never getting a vacation which isn’t actually fair.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        It doesn’t need to be fair, it only needs to be equitable.

        Remember to consider the alternative view, what about those of us who almost never get sick and don’t have dependents and thus NEVER use sick time? If it’s split, we end up using only our vacation and working a lot more to cover for the needs of others to take off time for their children or illnesses. Also, unused sick time doesn’t get paid out when you leave, so where is the fairness then?

        1. NeedRain47*

          If you never get sick, good for you!
          It seems like you are hung up on the word “fair”, so let restate: It’s not fair OR equitable. People who are chronically ill aren’t “taking a day off” for fun. They’re ill. Equity would be getting the same opportunity to take an actual break. Do you actually think chronically ill people don’t deserve vacation?

          At any rate, this is why I said I’m not getting into it.

        2. Riot Grrrl*

          Sick time is not a reward. I’m sure that most people who end up using sick time (legitimately) would gladly trade it in for not having gotten sick in the first place.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            This. A day out with a migraine is literally a day of my life wasted. I would rather not have the migraine. Making me use my limited “PTO” for a wasted, painful day is vomit icing on the excrement cake.

        3. Gracely*

          Equitable would be everyone getting the same vacation time, and whatever time they need for sick leave.

          Equitable is not the same as equal. Equitable is making sure everyone has what they actually need.

        4. Clobberin' Time*

          Yes, it’s SO unfair that you don’t get to stay home from work to… suffer through a migraine or an inflammatory flare-up.

        5. ---*

          You’re really just making the argument for not putting a cap on sick leave here. And that’s what a lot of countries that are functioning social democracies do. It works, and it’s fine. If you’re sick, you take time off, and there’s no cap (just documentation). So there’s nothing to “lose” if you don’t get sick (which I never do).

          I cannot imagine wasting energy resenting my colleagues for being unwell. There is zero sense in capping something as unpredictable as illness.

        6. Claire*

          Never getting sick sounds pretty nice to me. This is like people complaining they didn’t get to take parental leave because they never had a baby/adopted a child/had a foster care placement.

        7. Anna*

          No, it needs to be fair. If you hardly ever get sick, your reward is that you hardly ever have to not feel well. If someone has a disability or a chronic illness, they need an accommodation at work for their medical needs, and that accommodation shouldn’t be that they get zero actual vacations, because everyone also needs non-sick leave in order to relax, spend time with family, and take vacations. I have no dependents (yet, that is. I’ll never have kids, but my parents are getting up there in age, and their health isn’t great, so I may someday need time to take care of them), and I still think it’s important to accommodate care leave for people who do.

          And if your work doesn’t pay out unused sick time, you could ask them to change that policy, rather than feeling that your colleagues having medical issues is unfair to you. The federal government will allow you to retire early based on accrued sick leave (and unlike annual leave, sick leave never expires, so I’ve had colleagues retire as much as a year early based on their sick leave). No reason you couldn’t ask your company to do the same.

        8. Autumnheart*

          This is why, when my employer switched to a use-or-lose, one-bucket PTO plan, I actually got MORE PTO time. We previously had sick days, but we are also allowed to WFH if we feel cruddy enough to not come in, but well enough to work from the couch. The only time anyone needed to take sick time is if they were genuinely too ill to even do that much. I gained 3-4 days of PTO when it was no longer separated into vacation time and sick time.

      2. Doug*

        I’m not really sure what difference it makes. Lets say you have a condition that means you take about a month off of work per year and your employer offers two weeks of sick leave and two weeks of vacation time. Either way you use the sick leave and end up burning through your vacation time.

        1. Anna*

          It makes a difference because if you’re out of sick leave, you have the option to take FLMA or temporary disability, rather than eating through all your vacation time, if you prefer it. If you have a combined leave pool, you’d have to burn all your vacation time to qualify for those other forms of relief.

          1. JustAnotherKate*

            I’m one of those people who never gets sick (and I don’t have kids/dependents), and I really like that my employer allows people to donate unused sick time to a leave bank. This way, if someone needs it to avoid going into unpaid, they have an option. I’m not sure if they have to burn out their vacation first, now that I think about it, but I still think it’s a good idea and donate regularly to the leave bank.

            (I understand leave banks have pitfalls — employees being pressured to donate, favoritism in the allocation of leave, etc. I still think it’s better than me having 400 hours of sick time while a colleague goes into the unpaid.)

    7. starfox*

      How do you make sure that doesn’t get abused? I have coworkers who miss frequently anyway unpaid, and I have to do their jobs on top of my own while they’re out. I can’t even imagine how much worse it would be if they were still getting paid while they were out.

      On the other hand, I would personally love to have unlimited PTO for myself, but I don’t want to take on even more work than I already do for coworkers being out!

      1. Myrin*

        I can’t speak from a US perspective but I’m in a country with mandated unlimited sick leave (vacation is completely separate from that) and the problem you talk about is a problem with management who lets obvious absue slide, not with the system in general.

        It’s one of these things that’s on par with “but what if people abuse the welfare system simply because they don’t want to work?!” – at one point, we as a society have decided that (to come back to sick leave) it’s more important for sick people to recover/stay home so as to not infect others/not be punished financially because they’re sick than to make absolutely 100% sure that no one ever takes advantage of the system.

        1. ---*

          Thank you — absolutely this. A system like this also allows for temporary hiring with financial help from the state in the case of long absences. Because it makes sense.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        Again, not in the US, but in my job, we have two types of sick leave. You have 7 days across two years that are “self-certified” and yeah, that could be abused, but…um, it’s an average of three days a year. Not really that big a deal. Then you have up to six months on full pay and another six months on half pay that requires a cert.

        So yeah, you could miss 6 months every four years on full pay, but only if you have evidence that you are genuinely ill. I think it’s a reasonable compromise, though I realise it’s not perfect and somebody could have a reason to need more than 4 days a year off but not something that would require a doctor’s visit.

      3. Anna*

        Your managers manage them, and if they’re abusing the sick leave system by taking time off when they’re not actually sick, they should be fired. And if the amount of leave the company needs to give employees to keep them safe and healthy puts an unreasonable burden on their coworkers, then your managers need to hire another person to do the job, so there’s enough coverage for reasonable sick leave, vacations, etc., for everyone.

        1. Susan*

          This assumes that companies have endless cash pools to be able to pay people who aren’t working / producing as well as paying to hire additional people to help cover the load for those out sick. They don’t. Can some companies do better with sick leave policies? Yes. But many are struggling to manage keeping their business going with workers who are producing less and less.

          1. ---*

            Right. This is where the government steps in. That’s how social democracies handle it.
            Also, which workers are producing less and less?

      4. Unaccountably*

        No system is abuse-proof. You have to choose between finding and correcting abuses as best you can, while recognizing that some will always slip through the cracks, or deciding that no one is allowed to have nice things because a few people can’t be trusted with them.

        The reason we have so few nice things, employment-wise, is that so many people have chosen to sacrifice having nice things for themselves in order to keep those nice things out of the hands of people who don’t “deserve” them.

        1. ---*

          This. The individualistic knee-jerk defensive reaction that kicks in in these debates blows my mind, like the comment above about it being “unfair” to have sick leave for others if you are someone who hardly uses it.

          Jumping straight to “but people will abuuuuuuse!” on these issues is so weird to me. Do people worry about police “abusing” their billions-worth of military-grade weapons? Because there’s an area where massive abuses happen daily. This? Health is a necessity. Let’s keep things in perspective.

      5. Koalafied*

        Essentially, you hire well. You do your best to hire employees who will operate in good faith and managers who actively manage. And you treat employees well enough to earn being treated well in return. As others have noted, you can’t completely eliminate the possibility of abuse without breaking the utility of the system for people who legitimately need it – instead you deal with specific cases of abuses as they arise.

        The other thing which is quite radical to say in a lot of workplaces, is that sometimes you might need to accept that less work will get done if there are fewer workers to do it. Obviously there are some fields where the work really can’t wait because lives/financial livelihoods will be at risk, and ideally companies/departments doing that kind of work will subscribe to a resiliency staffing model (with lots of redundancy built in) rather than an efficiency staffing model (as lean as possible, zero redundancy). But there are (IMO) way too many jobs out there where there is both an efficiency staffing model AND an unquestioned assumption that work is supposed to continue apace no matter what is going on with staffing at any given moment. I think we need to be a lot more willing to honestly ask the questions, “Who will actually be harmed if this marketing campaign gets pushed to next week? Who will actually be harmed if the monthly analytics report gets skipped for one month? Who will actually be harmed if we only publish 2 blog posts this week instead of 3?” We get so caught up in whatever metrics we live and die by that anything which might hurt the metrics is seen as unthinkable to actually propose doing on purpose.

    8. Mid*

      I’d like unlimited PAID sick leave, short term disability that pays more than 60% of my salary (I drained all of my savings and had to borrow money to cover my bills, and I’m still waiting to actually get the payout I’m owed from my disability insurance.) Vacation should have a minimum number of days off people have to take if they do truly want to have unlimited vacation time, but I’d rather get the payout if I’m unable to take my PTO.

    9. kiki*

      I worked at a company with unlimited PTO and really liked it, but I have to say I’ve seen it implemented wrong more often than I’ve seen it implemented right. To be done well, it requires actual strong management, clarity, and an agreement that employees will take a (relatively) high minimum number of days off (~4 weeks). Most companies seem unwilling or unable to provide all of those things, so when they do implement unlimited PTO, it usually ends up as “You will probably take about 2 weeks off. We may let you take more, but you’ll have to guess.”

    10. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Combining the two is very different from having unlimited PTO. I was working for a bank when they moved from accruing vaca and sick separately to combining the two (for a total of about 60% of our previous total). So it was combined, but it was sure as heck not unlimited.

  10. Antilles*

    To me, the real story here is that jobs are basically treating Covid as identical to the way they’ve treated other diseases in the past – flu season, cold season, etc.
    Everything you ask about in the article you could basically replace “Covid” with “flu” or “pneumonia” or “cold” some other illness and we’d be discussing the situation for how companies have handled it for years. “what if you come to work with ___”, “what if you got ____ due to traveling for company business, “what if you get ____ in your first month at a new job”, “what if you burn all your sick leave on ____ then get sick elsewhere later”, etc.

    1. MV Teacher*

      Personally, if I got Covid via work, I would file for worker’s comp. Might not be successful but would redirect some of the pain back to the employer.

      1. NeedRain47*

        Does worker’s comp cover pay vs leave time? I’m curious as to how this would work.

    2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I think part of the problem is that we’re used to the idea that serious illness brings immunity. Like, we don’t get measles twice (and really we mostly don’t get it once because vaccines).

    3. Elsajeni*

      I do think the fact that employers have put actual quarantine requirements in place for COVID is part of the issue here — if I get almost any other illness, it’s totally up to me how much time I need to take off for it. Maybe I should stay home for X days or until I’m entirely symptom-free or some other measure of non-contagion, but there’s no actual rule or policy that says I must. If I get COVID, though, my employer says that I must stay home for a minimum of 5 days, or longer if I have ongoing symptoms. Fortunately, I get a reasonable amount of sick time; I could do that 2 or 3 times before running out of my year’s allotment. But if you did run out, man, it’s really tough to be told both that you must stay home and that you can’t have any more paid sick days to make that actually feasible!

  11. Rage*

    Yeah, in Kansas we had some COVID leave but it ended June 30. And we just had another outbreak at our facility (we are a residential school for children/adolescents severely impacted by Autism) and a number of staff tested positive. I feel so bad for some of our newer staff who don’t have enough time accrued and have to quarantine.

  12. This Old House*

    I think the other piece of this that so many companies are missing is that the entire culture around working while sick has changed. Even if you don’t have COVID – you really can’t just go into work snarfling and coughing all over like so many of us used to. No one wants to be around that. I don’t think people need to stay home for every little sniffle, but I also don’t think sick leave allotments were designed to allow people to stay home every time that they have a legitimately unpleasant, symptomatic head cold.

    When my work mandated a return to the office – no work from home allowed – they also (to demonstrate just how much they cared about our safety, apparently) said that everyone should “stay home if you’re sick.” I asked if they meant the entire time we were sick – from the scratchy throat at the onset of a cold through the lingering cough a couple weeks later – and did we get enough sick leave to allow that? And if not, would there be any requirement that people coming to work symptomatic would need to have a negative test? And the response I got – no clarification on when they actually expected you to stay home when sick – was literally just “You can check your sick leave balance on [portal].”

    1. SpicySpice*

      And that’s if you have an office job. Anyone in the service industry is just expected to suck it up because their staffing model doesn’t allow for people staying home sick, or makes it unpaid when they have to.

    2. Purple Cat*

      the entire culture around working while sick has changed

      Except it hasn’t really. It temporarily shifted, but clearly, with policies like this, everyone will go back to infecting everyone because they can’t afford not to. All part of vulture capitalism.

      1. AnonforThis*

        Yep, there was talk in spring 2020 about allowing working from home with colds. Absolutely hasn’t panned out here.

    3. Not A Girl Boss*

      (This only applies to office workers who have the option to WFH)
      I do have to say I’m a fan of it now being somewhat politically correct to stink-eye people who come in dripping snot. It might “just be a cold” but what makes you think you’re so important that your in-person-office-time is more important than my health? I compete in a sport, and that “just cold” can set me back months. Nevermind people who are immunocompromised and have more serious consequences. Ugh.

      On the flip side, I had a really frustrating unwarranted 6 weeks WFH this year. I tested negative for COVID 5,000 times. But I had bronchitis that turned into asthma with a nagging cough, basically COPD. It was NOT contagious. I even got two different doctors notes saying so. I tried to go back to work after 2 weeks and taped the doctors note on my cubicle (manager had given me the OK), HR kicked me out because ‘people voiced concerns’. It took 6 weeks for the cough to go away and me to be allowed back to work. I have some work that I can only do onsite, so it was an enormous effort for my coworkers to cover for me for 6 weeks. Plus I got a hell of a neck cramp working from my couch for 6 weeks because I have no home office.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I agree, it’s complicated. There’s real psychological damage done by COVID and people who overreact to noncontagious symptoms are definitely coming from somewhere real – but we also have to keep living our lives, especially when we can prove we aren’t a risk to others, and it’s hard to do that when you’re being side-eyed or sent home the whole time.

      2. Agile Phalanges*

        I feel ya. I had a throat tickle for over a YEAR, during Covid-times. So many side-eyes when out in public. And on a trip via airplane. (At work, at least they were understanding when I explained the duration and what we were doing to try to diagnose it.)

        And the cause, after so many different diagnostic tests? (I had allergy testing, scope of my throat, upper endoscopy, swallow study, and I think more things I’m not thinking of right now. And tried various setups of humidifiers and stuff at home.) A medication I was taking had throat tickle as a known side effect. I had gone off it for a week as the first thing we tried, but apparently it takes going off it for a bit longer, at least for me. I found out when supply chain shortages meant the pharmacy didn’t get it in for a few weeks after I ran out. That turned out to be enough time that the mystery throat tickle just disappeared magically. So frustrating. But I don’t blame any of the caregivers–they all asked about that medication, and I was like “that’s the first thing we tried–didn’t help!”

        But yeah, Covid has definitely changed how we as a society view people with certain symptoms in public…

      3. Faith the twilight slayer*

        It’s not that my in-person office time is more important than your health. It’s that no one else is paying my bills except me, and if I don’t work I don’t have (insert necessary item here). Or, my boss thinks that no one gets sick, ever, so I’m going to be written up for calling in.

        Which I admit isn’t fair to people having to work with someone sick, but that’s the reality millions deal with every day. It’s really the fault of unrealistic expectations of an employer, but no one’s going to waltz into a C-Suite office and complain about it, so the sick person gets side-eyed and the horrible policies continue.

        1. Unaccountably*

          The poster did specify that she was talking about people who have WFH options only.

    4. Jenny*

      No kidding. I had COVID back in February and took one day of sick leave (I was still 100% work from home at that point). I was one of the lucky ones and COVID was basically the least sick I’ve ever been from a cold-like illness. I wouldn’t have had to take a day off even. A month ago I got a cold from hell (I tested multiple times for COVID, both at home and PCR and was negative the whole time). I was SO MUCH sicker than I was with COVID and took another day off. By this point we were back in the office one day per week and I worked from home on my regular day in the office and I got grief for it. I told my boss that no one was going to want to be near my hacking and blowing my nose and generally looking 100% worse than I did with COVID. Now this week I’m dealing with a relatively close contact with a positive COVID case and I’m not sure what to do. I’m testing negative. I feel fine. But I should probably stay home. And I know I’ll hear about it.

    5. AnonforThis*

      This was my thought. My (Canadian) firm has mandated hybrid working, with 3 days minimum in office. Which is more in office days than industry standard, currently, but the bigger problem is how the are handling minor illnesses.

      Current sick policy is:
      – if you have a positive COVID test, you work from home (unless you’d prefer to take off)
      – if you do not have a positive test, you can either come in of your scheduled days or take off sick.

      That’s it. Those are the options. Not to mention that we had a mandatory all staff day followed by a staff event-turned super spreader situation that took out most of the office in March and wiped out most sick days. Followed by the next staff event in June spreading COVID to more staff members – and they want us to attend events in August and September after making many of us sick twice and wiping out any sick time before the year was half up.

      But you know, yeah I’ll come into the office hacking up a lung and make the rest of my coworkers sick since I’m all out of options. Add to this that there are only two of us who have any inclination to wear masks anymore and it’s just so disappointing.

  13. Jessie*

    Although the state mandate for COVID leave ended, we decided to extent COVID leave for another fiscal year (which began July 1). Also we changed our policy last year and sick time is no longer on accrual. You get your full number of days at the start of each year. New employees get their full sick time after their 90 day probation period.

  14. KofSharp*

    My company’s covid leave policy was dissolved in March, just in time for me to test positive for the first time all pandemic.
    My boss was apologetic but “Well, I have no control over that.” There’s no discussion of bringing it back in light of the new variants.
    I had to use my PTO for the 2 days I wasn’t fully lucid, then worked from home for 2 weeks.

  15. Sloanicota*

    Obviously this isn’t the same degree of seriousness as a frontline worker being forced to either come in or go without pay – but I also notice that from-home workers are expected to keep working remotely through Covid now – after all, “it isn’t a big deal anymore, right??” It’s hard to take sick leave when you’re remote, because you could technically keep listlessly typing away from bed and still log into zooms, maybe just cameras-off. It stinks and I don’t think it’s going to help anyone recover faster :(

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      Yes, it totally stinks. I got extremely sick (not COVID) and literally fell asleep during a meeting I had to attend. I’m convinced that the lack of sleep this causes makes illnesses last longer, too.

      1. Hannah Lee*


        Rest and recovery from illness includes *cognitive* rest, time away from mental focusing, concentrating, etc.

      2. HigherEdAdminista*

        It absolutely does! There have been some studies that indicate that rest if protective against long COVID as well, but there is a real push for everyone to just keep working while they are sick.

    2. Aggresuko*

      Apparently one of the things that causes long Covid is working while sick :(

      A friend of mine’s dad got the bright idea to go work on the house they’re building while having Covid. I recited this fact to said friend. A few hours later, friend calls dad and dad was all “that was a bad idea.”

  16. O frabjous day*

    Yup, this is me. Got a new job in March and COVID six weeks later. I used up my one accrued sick day and had to telework through the rest if I wanted to get paid. I was grateful for that option but also resentful that I couldn’t just focus on resting and recovery.

  17. Xaraja*

    I get one week of sick time and two weeks of vacation, as one lump sum at the beginning of the year, and you can’t carry anything over. I got COVID in June and I was out for 6 days completely and logged in from home for about another week, only working about half days. I used 4 sick days and 2 vacation days for that, and since I took a vacation in April (by myself, to a single occupancy cabin in the woods that was contactless entry), I now have two vacation days left for the rest of the year. The last place I worked I didn’t get any PTO of any kind until I’d been there a year and then I burned that one week I got in that second year with a week in the hospital, so having a total of 3 weeks with a year and a half on this job felt generous until now. Sigh…

  18. Construction Safety*

    They took all my sick leave for the year in January. I was actually in the negative as my anniversary date is in February. Didn’t touch my other PTO. They really need to have a universal policy.

  19. Pascall*

    I ran out of PTO last year WITHOUT covid-related issues. If I HAD gotten COVID, I probably would have had to take a whole week unpaid- which would not have been workable, considering I live paycheck to paycheck.

    It’s definitely alarming.

  20. Rockyjeans*

    Colorado still requires employers to provide COVID leave and regular sick leave (Healthy Families and Workplaces Act)!

    1. mcfizzle*

      Yup – I’m very grateful for that, and (so far) I don’t think I’ve had Covid. Or maybe I did and I’m a lucky asymptomatic. Still, it’s a comfort to know those hours are there in case I get walloped at some point.

  21. Ann O'Nemity*

    Who else forces themselves to work when they should should be resting just because their allotted sick days aren’t enough anymore? I fondly remember the days when I could take a day off just to lie in bed when I had a migraine. Now I force myself to work even though it’s pure torture.

  22. NeedRain47*

    I’m always low on sick time b/c I have a couple of chronic conditions which aren’t terrible, but do mean I use a sick day every month or so.
    Recently I got covid while traveling to a work conference, but there’s still no covid leave anymore. I’d already scheduled vacation time for after the trip, then I had to use more vacation time b/c the county where I live requires a ten day isolation period if you’re still testing positive.
    Now I’m having to use yet more vacation time to pack my apartment for moving, which is what I was supposed to be doing in the time I had covid.
    I’m glad we get a generous amount of vacation time but it sure would have been nice to use any of it for, ya know, a vacation.

  23. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    It is happening at schools too, which makes me so angry.

    My daughter got COVID last year and missed the mandatory two weeks of school. She had other illnesses, with fevers. The school requires at least 24 hours with no fever before returning – I was not allowed to send her in by their own rules.

    I got a letter home at the end of the school year saying the attendance policy is going back to normal for this upcoming school year, and if my daughter has the same number of absences I could be reported to the police for allowing her to be truant.

    I was PISSED. I wrote a scathing email in response to the social worker, principal, and entirety of the school board. Because what that letter did for people who don’t have the means to fight, is scare them into sending their kids no matter what. They will send their child to school sick out of fear of being arrested.

    The pandemic isn’t over. People are still getting COVID. And this is the letter they send home, threatening parents with legal action if their child misses days again?

    I’m still mad about it.

    1. Anonymous Koala*

      That school is absolutely ridiculous and this story is begging for press attention.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m so glad you did that. What a terrible couple of years this has been for parents, that’s not how you handle things.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      My understanding is that schools are required to enforce the compulsory attendance requirements set by the state. Maybe they could have worded the letter better, but I don’t think the school has the option to not report the absences. Still, I hope your letter prompted the social worker and school leaders to work to push back on the state requirements, if they aren’t already doing so. I’ve also read that, in my state at least, it really helps if the school labels the absences correctly, as the truancy officers have some discretion in deciding which cases they pursue.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        The attendance requirements were not changed by the state the past few years. They were just ignored by most, if not all, school districts because of COVID.

        So, while it is a state and not county statute, the change to attendance policy approach and the letter are fully on the district and not the state.

        Also, the letter made no assurances of “case-by-case” basis for the threat, nor assurances about COVID absences. It stated a set amount of unexcused absences that trigger reporting and a set amount of TOTAL absences, including excused illness absences. So, according to their letter, even with excused medical absences, they could turn us over for prosecution should she have a long term illness.

        Would that actually happen? Would they choose to prosecute? Who knows. Probably not. But even an investigation is incredibly difficult to deal with – and even traumatic for some kids and families.

        The threat without assurances will 100% drive people to send their kids to school sick, endangering other students, the faculty, and staff.

        The policy and the letter are terrible and there is no excusing it

      2. J.B.*

        Well, schools are also required to meet the educational needs of parents with disabilities. Schools absolutely pick and choose what they put effort into.

    4. Wolverine as an ESA*

      That’s a perfectly valid concern to have. I don’t have kids, but work with people who do. One coworker was aware enough of how much his kids were out of school due to illness and covid exposure last year. One of the kids was out sick, enough that their teachers were getting concerned about the kid’s academic progress. At least he didn’t have to deal with the attendance office and truancy concerns, because there were likely other kids in a similar situation.

  24. Tedsmom10*

    I thank heavens that I am retired. I really don’t know how all the people working now are surviving. This is absurd.

  25. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    It occurs to me that Alison should write a version of this for the NYTimes or Washington Post, so as to reach more employers.

  26. greenius*

    This is a good article, but it didn’t mention another issue – discipline for unplanned absences. I have had enough PTO to cover the time I have needed to personally take off due to Covid exposures for my kids and myself (and the repeated daycare closures due to high exposure rates). However, if I don’t schedule it before my managers sign off Slack the day before I need it, it’s a strike against me. With the help of our retired parents and PBS kids, my spouse and I have mostly been able to maintain our work commitments through the 40+ days we didn’t have daycare for at least one kid… but because I took 3 days off last minute and left early 1 afternoon, I’m on an official verbal warning at work.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I can’t believe how dense employers are being about the situations people are still dealing with

  27. AnonyForThisComplaint*

    I am so very upset with my company today. Today I found out that our unexcused absences policy changed in the middle of Covid (and they never told us) to go from 3 unexcused absences in a month before getting a verbal warning (and further escalating to a PIP) to 3 unexcused absences in FOUR MONTHS. The majority of our employees do coverage-based work so I always felt like 3 in a month was fairly reasonable. What makes me even angrier is this includes things like an internet outage! Never mind if we actually get sick. Apparently they aren’t actually enforcing this new policy (or maybe only enforcing it on certain people), but this feels so very draconian. As someone who has literally thought about doing FMLA and getting accommodations due to my menstrual cycle, I’ve been seeing red since I found this out.

    1. Mid*

      That’s absolutely ridiculous. Especially since they consider things you can’t control as unexcused (like internet outages.) My work is not something I could easily do from a coffee shop due to privacy and security concerns. And, who can plan when they’re going to be sick? I’ll wake up with a migraine at 5am sometimes, having felt totally fine the night before. Or food poisoning. Or stomach bugs. And inconsistent enforcement seems like it’s a great way to get a discrimination suit against the company (because it always seems that inconsistently enforced policies seem to always follow discriminatory lines. Like my friend who is a larger bodied woman of color who is the only person in her company to have ever gotten written up for dress code violations, while wearing outfits that were by all accounts appropriate and allowed under the incredibly vague dress code.)

  28. Beebee*

    My work is pretty good with sick days (10 total) and I still wiped out a lot due to COVID. I’m not fully recovered and I wish I could take today off to rest but I will end up with no paid time off leftover if I do.

    Thankfully my job is one from home and my bosses have been great about me needing to take it easy. I feel for those who aren’t as lucky, not to mention the safety issue of having to work while you’re physically and mentally not well.

    A friend of mine who works in a care home lost all his sick days for a mandatory quarantine he had to do when exposed (he never had symptoms or tested positive). If he gets exposed again he just… isn’t paid for two weeks. It’s bad.

  29. Everything Sucks*

    Because people are running out of sick days, they only take them when they’re basically incapacitated. So they work when they’re ill, but obviously at a slower pace and possibly at a lower quality of work too. They try to work from home while watching young kids whose daycare won’t take them again until they’ve finished their quarantine period. Productivity and quality of work take more hits. Performance review rolls around: “Your output is down significantly from last year, and the quality of your work has noticeably declined. Our work from home policy only applies as long as your work isn’t affected. You need to be in the office every day until I see a turn around. No excuses”

  30. Ampersand*

    I HATE that this is Covid specific. Obviously, pre- treatment options we needed people to quarantine for Covid but that is no longer a requirement the way it was 2 years ago. I was hoping we would see more employers allow employees utilize WFH options and PTO for ALL types of illness and injury instead of making people wipe out their sick time. What if you got strep? Or a particularly bad seasonal flu? The point being, it shouldn’t have to be Covid for employees to need/want to stay home and be protected from unpaid time off or wiping out their PTO banks.

    1. Firm Believer*

      But if you have sick time, why are you suggesting you shouldn’t have to take it when you are….sick?

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        PTO isn’t sick leave, it’s sick plus vacation, so being out sick with Covid means you get little or no vacation.

  31. starfox*

    I get 10 combined sick and vacation days a year. I got Covid at the end of last year, and luckily I was allowed to work from home since I’d already used up all of my days. I’ve already used up all my days this year with a vacation. I’m allowed to take off unpaid, which I am planning to do already, and I really just have to hope I don’t get sick or if I do, I’ll be allowed to work from home again.

    10 days of sick/vacation pay seemed high at first because I was used to working jobs with no days-off pay at all, but now I realize how little it is! I do really wish we had more days off. A lot of people have mentioned unlimited PTO, which sounds great, but I already have coworkers out all the time unpaid… and I have to do their work when they’re out unexpectedly, so I just think this would be abused and having extra PTO for myself wouldn’t be worth all the extra work I’d have to do!

  32. Aerin*

    I am so happy my company continued its covid leave policy. I was able to take a full week when I got it in April. I could have taken longer (since I was still testing positive) but the following week I was on a more manageable rotation, although I still had to work from the couch because I didn’t have the energy to sit at my desk. The spouse did not have extra leave to take, but he also got paxlovid and was going nuts just sitting around, so he was fine just taking a long weekend to fight it off. (Which is good, because his company combines vacation/sick into one bucket, so it really limits the sick time he can take. At least we’re both remote!)

  33. RJ*

    Three weeks on and I’m still recovering from my bout with COVID. My husband who has only been at his job for a year had it a month ago and is still coughing. Thankfully, he was able to get a week off and I’m unemployed because this thing is horrid even if you’re vaccinated and boosted. I hate the fact that employers are now treating the pandemic as a past event when it is clearly still in the forefront, which continues the argument that the US is horribly behind in many, many workplace practices.

    Unlimited PTO policies are only as great as the company that implements them, per some of my network contacts who’ve switched jobs during the Great Resignation. Some, like others upthread, have experienced disciplinary actions due to taking time off for COVID in 2022. Others have had sudden restrictions placed on the amount of time they can take off. It’s a crapshoot.

    1. Lilo*

      I’m six weeks out and I’m still experiencing bouts of fluttering rapid heartbeat (yes, I’m seeing a doctor). This virus is messed up.

  34. Yoyoyo*

    I tested positive for COVID on my second day at my new job. Ended up taking a couple days unpaid and doing trainings from home when they were available. It really, really sucked. My whole family was sick but there I was, working, because I needed to get paid somehow. Oh, and we didn’t have health insurance because it wouldn’t go into effect until 30 days from my start date. We were lucky that nobody needed hospital care, but we did end up paying out of pocket for urgent care. That was fun knowing I was in for a lower paycheck due to the unpaid time off.

  35. HawkLady*

    My brother is in a blue collar job for a big multinational company. Tested positive for COVID and followed his company’s quarantine policy by staying home until 5 days after the positive test. No special COVID time provided and no more masking or mitigation at work. Did not want to use sick time as could be needed for doctor’s appointment or Illness of his 3 kids. He was not allowed to use vacation time because he had not previously requested this time off. He ended up taking unpaid leave. If the company wanted a policy to ensure people came to work contagious, they could not have done much better than this.

    1. Firm Believer*

      But if I’m reading this correctly, he had sick time, he just didn’t want to use it. Is that correct?

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        This is probably a situation where if you asked to take an unpaid day off for a doctor’s appointment or a child’s illness, you would get some kind of write up or points against you, but the company may be more “understanding” about unpaid time for COVID.

        A friend of mine works for one such company where an unpaid day off puts you at risk of receiving some sort of discipline points towards being fired.

  36. bitter millenial*

    The worst thing about people forcing themselves to work, in-person or remotely, is that studies are showing that “powering through” COVID and working increases the risk of developing long COVID. Which increases an employee’s need for sick time and accommodations over a much longer time span, from a purely cold-hearted, business perspective. When you’re sick, you need to be able to rest and recover, and it’s monstrous that our entire economy is set up to be so short-sighted as to only care about next quarter’s profits instead of anything even remotely long term. It’s why sick leave policies are so terrible, it’s why climate change is being ignored… anything that might make the next earnings report look even slightly bad has to be disregarded, even if it would help everyone survive and maybe even thrive long term.

    1. Riot Grrrl*

      Underrated comment. You’ve really hit the nail on the head here.

      It’s the way our economy is set up. That’s why I think solutions to this problem have to be deep, political, and systemic. I think a lot of people in this thread are talking about “uncaring” or “dense” employers as though some mid-level HR manager is in charge of capitalism. I think we need to be looking much deeper and figuring out how to tear the system out from its core.

    2. HigherEdAdminista*

      This is absolutely correct as well.

      So many people I talk to point to this as being one of the hardest pills to swallow about the pandemic, that there is no longer even a pretense of caring about people. Employers and governments are perfectly happy to see an individual used up until there is nothing left, and then they can be discarded. This has always been the case of course, but even the people you expected to pretend it wasn’t no longer feel inclined to do so.

  37. Florida Fan 15*

    My office has 6 people out today with positive tests & symptoms (none severe, thank goodness). Most of the staff have been here for years and have a good amount of leave accrued, and we’re able to telework, so it’s not as bad as some places. But still, this whole situation sucks.

  38. Bogey*

    The other side of this- employers who are dealing with lots of staff absences- is that paying for that time off is not sustainable for a small business that

      1. Marina*

        If it’s not sustainable to pay for staff absences, it’s definitely not sustainable to have your entire workforce out sick constantly because they keep infecting each other, or continually hiring new people because you’ve fired good workers for unexcused sick absences. Sick leave is a cost of doing business, like paying office rent.

        1. Riot Grrrl*

          Forgive me if I am misreading, but I detect a slight note of accusation here, as though the implication is that small businesses that struggle as a consequence of unusually high absenteeism have done something wrong.

          I would gently offer that small businesses typically operate at the edge of viability even in the best of times. There is often very little room for error. The pandemic came along and severely stressed those systems. The fact that small businesses weren’t in the best position to deal with a higher-than-normal level of absenteeism is honestly not the fault of small business in most cases. It’s that none of our business practices, none of our economy was built to handle this.

          I feel like what people in small business need right now is help, support, and creative ideas for dealing with a nearly impossible situation, not disdain for not being able to foresee an unprecedented global event that took nearly everyone by surprise.

          1. starfox*

            Honestly, thank you. I work in mental health… We can’t raise our prices… Insurance finds reasons all the time not to pay, and most of our patients are on Medicaid, meaning it’s illegal to charge them so the practice ends up doing work for free. We’re barely breaking even (and occasionally not breaking even), and no… the business cannot afford to pay everyone unlimited sick days.

            People in the comments section are so quick to blame the bosses making these decisions, but how can you pay for unlimited PTO when someone being out sick leads to a decreased revenue? The money has to come from somewhere.

            1. Mek*

              I always wonder this too. My husband runs a business that doesn’t make any money if his crew can’t work. We already exist on a razor thin margin – because he pays his crew as well as he possibly can. Where are we supposed to get the money to pay for a crew that can’t earn money? If we operate on a higher margin to build a cash reserve, we aren’t paying our crew enough.

              The easy answer is “raise prices” but we are competing against big companies that charge less than we do. The market will only bear so much.

            2. AcademiaNut*

              There may be fundamental issues with the viability of small businesses. If a business can’t 1) pay its workers a living wage and/or 2) allow infectious or incapacitated employees to stay home without bankrupting employees or driving the company out of business then the question is whether it’s a reasonable business model. I’m not an economist – I don’t know what the answer to “how can a small business compete with economies of scale?” is, but I do know “punish employees for being sick” isn’t working as a general strategy.

              The medical stuff is an entirely different kettle of fish than a for profit business, though, and is providing an essential service. The problems there can only be solved at government level.

              1. starfox*

                Yes, I definitely understand the argument that a small business shouldn’t be in business if it can’t pay a fair wage. But on the other hand, I don’t think that being unable to pay for unlimited PTO means that a small business shouldn’t be in business.

                I’m paid a wage that I actually think is more than fair, but I only get 10 days off sick/vacation leave a year (plus paid holidays). It sucks, not gonna lie, but if the business goes under, there are very, very few psychologists willing to take on people with Medicaid for obvious reasons. It seems really unfair to me to say my boss’s business shouldn’t exist because he can’t offer unlimited PTO, especially when it provides an essential service.

                1. starfox*

                  Well, we do get unlimited PTO, to be fair, it’s just not paid. I can take off as much as I want. Is that “punishing me for being sick?” I don’t think so… I chose to use all my sick/vacation days on a vacation, but that was a personal choice.

              2. Riot Grrrl*

                For almost a century now, the mechanics of small businesses have allowed many/most small businesses to achieve objectives (1) and (2). Then an unexpected thing happened that no one alive today has ever experienced while running a business. The thing that happened required some employees to take off an unusually large amount of time–an amount of time that no one had planned for, neither the employee nor the employer. Nothing was set up to deal with this.

                I think this is a difficult situation all around. No one is punishing anyone here, not in the small business space. Everyone is trying to figure out how to survive.

          2. Some Dude*

            Thank you for this – I’m so tired of the “if you can’t afford to pay your employees a living wage, you don’t deserve to be in business!!!” mentality from some folks in response to small businesses having trouble finding workers. I’m in the SF Bay Area – a living wage is like $50 an hour. The person who owns the small business is lucky to be making that, let alone their staff.

  39. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    I realize that not all employers offer it as part of their benefits package…but use your short-term disability coverage. Not all sick leave needs to come from accrued hours.

    It’s also pretty bizarre to expect all employers to operate at the same level of expense as a fortune 100. Unlimited sick time for all jobs? In what world?

    Our benefits absolutely need to be better, both in terms of employer provided and government sponsored. But good gosh, a dose of reality needs to go into these demands too.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Only 40% of employers even offer it, and it’s mostly high paying jobs so people who are least likely to have a problem with missing a paycheck.

      1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

        Yes, BLS reports 40% but their data set is incomplete as it requires individual employers to cooperate on reporting data. Surveys from benefit plan administrators report that it’s close to 80% of employers.

        California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico have mandatory insurance requirements. Just that is ~25% of both employers in the US and nationwide people employed.

        It is also possible to purchase coverage individually from your employer.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          Thank you for this. I’ve always lived in CA and I have always assumed that mandatory short-term disability was true everywhere, so NeedRain47’s comment confused me. (Yet another reason that I’m reluctant to move.)

        2. This Old House*

          Don’t forget that in NYS, at least, government workers are not covered by STD requirements!

    2. Firm Believer*

      Agreed. As many people as were taking precaution over the last three years, there were just as many who consistently put themselves in situations in which they were more likely to be exposed. There have to be some guardrails.

    3. Marina*

      My company offers 200 hours of pandemic leave, on top of PTO. It can be used if you’re sick, taking care of someone who’s sick, or taking care of dependents who’s school or daycare is closed due to covid.

      Productivity is super high. Sales are above expectations. Customer experience is great. It turns out, when employees are able to take the time they need to fully recover from sickness and focus on commitments outside of work when they need to, they do a better job when they’re working.

      1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

        I’m suspicious, at best, at this claim. 5 weeks of paid leave on top of accrued PTO far exceeds even the generous ‘socialist’ (that is, European) countries.

        If you do have this, great! If you don’t, I caution you from pushing wild claims. They hurt the cause for better benefits, not help or set an example.

    4. rrr*

      Short-term disability coverage (until recently – coverage has changed and I’m not sure how yet) only kicked off after 7 days out of work. And you needed medical documentation the short-term disability company would accept (think a LOT of paperwork). Usually, a hospital stay was a part of the requirements too. I have a chronic condition, and I have regular outpatient procedures that I miss time for – think 2-3 days out of work to cover travel, procedure, and recovery. Guess what? STD doesn’t cover that. I lose the hours (I’m hourly), make them up as best I can, or take PTO. Great for my health and well-being, right? I don’t think this type of STD would work for most people with COVID.

      1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

        This isn’t correct. The waiting period for STD depends on the level of coverage purchased. It could be as long as 14 days, it’s common to have a 7 day waiting period, or it could be no waiting period at all (all of my groups have this type of coverage).

        While documentation is required (this isn’t a bad thing, and really should be required for COVID PTO too), it’s not onerous. Showing a hospital stay to obtain coverage would be the exception, not the norm, and wouldn’t likely be a requirement for COVID.

        Intermittent STD coverage is very much a thing! If your plan has a waiting period, the intermittent days that falls within that first 7 or 14 days won’t be covered; but you very much can get a payout for days after that as long as they relate back to the initial claim. Again, the specifics will depend on your plan on how this works, and there is a maximum amount of covered time as it is ‘short’ term disability.

        1. Rrr*

          Well, I’m certainly not a professional, so I’d have to look at my old plans, but this was how they were always presented to me by the people signing me up. Maybe just lousy coverage (there were also pre-existing clauses, so even if intermittent std would have covered me, it didn’t for the 1st 12 or 18 months anyway.)? I don’t know. But I had major surgery a few months before covid, and the paperwork was onerous. And had to be filled out both by the doctor and my employer. Maybe it is just that I don’t know enough, but unless you are out for a long time, and have a supportive employer, it is hard for me to imagine doing this for covid.

          And that’s what it really comes down to, doesn’t it? A good, supportive employer will either get you what you need or at least help you get there- like with good std policies, or even by explaining things like intermittent std. Which might not be known to most people.

          1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

            I’m sorry for your experiences.

            STD is usually limited. Common limits would be 3 or 6 months, though California’s plan is 1 year.

            It sounds like you should have been looking at long-term disability coverage.

  40. cucumber*

    God this is horrendous. My company initiated an unlimited paid sick leave policy for COVID (separate from our annual two weeks of paid sick leave). If you send HR a positive COVID test, they’ll let you use leave until you get better. It doesn’t seem like anyone has abused the system and has allowed people to rest and recover without fear of losing income.

  41. Riot Grrrl*

    Being a smaller company (7 employees), we simply can’t afford “unlimited” sick days. There are only so many people here, and asking remaining staff to cover for a sick employee with no end in sight is also unfair. So we have “untracked” sick time. The idea is that there’s always another day if you need it. There’s no tally, no “account” of sick days whose balance is running down. However, it’s also not “unlimited”, meaning that if it goes on for a considerable amount of time and is putting undue pressure on those who remain, then it’s incumbent upon the employee and the manager to come up with a sustainable plan.

    So far it’s made for a decent compromise.

    1. toolittletoolate*

      Thank you for another perspective Riot Grrrl. Essential services are in the same boat–they can’t just not provide the service. If you depend on a bus for your transportation, then when drivers are out sick your route might just be canceled. You can’t just put off the work until someone returns from sick leave. Yes, there are some extra drivers (not now though–most transit systems are short a lot of drivers these days) , but not enough to accommodate much more sick time outages than already exist.

      Sick time has always been a touchy issue. No matter how much time an employer provides, virtually no one thinks it’s enough. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves why we seem to need so much sick time. (even before covid).

    2. kiki*

      I think that’s ultimately what “unlimited” sick days and “unlimited” PTO end up being in practice. I feel like unlimited is a misnomer because there is presumably some limit, it’s just not a strict number of days or hours. The flexibility can be beneficial to employees (it can feel great to take 16 days off instead of being strictly limited to 14), but the lack of definition can also cause more confusion, especially if management isn’t very strong (what will a manager do if one employee is taking vastly more PTO than their peers but being paid the same? Why can’t they take that time, though?)

      1. Riot Grrrl*

        Interestingly, we actually do not have unlimited or untracked PTO (by which I mean vacation or personal days). There is a fixed number of days, so everyone gets the same number, depending on tenure. It’s only sick days that are untracked. So presumably that answers the question of why someone got more than someone else–because that person was sicker. That’s not usually a prize that anyone wants to compete for.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I wish they’d use “flexible” rather than “unlimited”. There is a limit, but it’s squishy, based on circumstances like type of illness and coverage requirements. Of course, it’s nice if the unwritten limit is large.

    3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      My benefits package specifies we have “take what you need” leave and is careful to say that doesn’t mean “unlimited”. It’s a bit of a slice and dice of semantics but I get the difference. (And my company is great about actually letting people take it.)

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes, a lot of the discourse around this seems to forget about those “left behind” to keep the business running while people are out. Paid or not (or where it’s funded from, eg disability?) doesn’t ultimately change the fact that the remaining people still need to cover everything. Happened to me, couldn’t take time off when I got covid as I was the “backup” for someone who was already out, and I feel like it did drag on longer as a result.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Nobody’s forgetting about the people covering the work that needs to be done.

        The simple fact is that when business owners and shareholders fight to retain control over employees’ healthcare decisions, instead of voting for policies that would move us toward a universal model, the flip side of that coin is that for some businesses, those costs eat into their own operating margins.

        Vote to unpaid healthcare from employment. That’s what you have to do. Until that changes, small businesses frequently won’t survive. That’s the trade-off you get for business-friendly taxation, and a labor market that vastly over-empowers the employer over the employee.

  42. GarlicMicrowaver*

    Such BS. I work for a CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL with a crap PTO policy which makes you deplete your days if you are sick with COVID. Like, what’s the point of life anymore?

  43. JelloStapler*

    subtitle “Companies still don’t understand why people are leaving the organization”

  44. Chirpy*

    This. My employer stopped doing the mandatory paid covid leave the minute they could, which of course was before the giant surge last January when I caught it. So I’ve used all but 2 of my vacation days for the year on that, meaning I don’t get a vacation as I had a planned event that will eat that in a single weekend.

    So yeah, I’m currently at work despite feeling a little run down like I’m possibly getting sick, and while there’s a couple of things that it could be, I was exposed to covid last week. But since I have zero buffer left, and cannot afford to miss even a single day of work if I want to be able to pay rent (this job also has crap pay), best I can do is wear the good masks and work until I’m obviously sick.

  45. Meghan*

    I got Covid a week after I started a new job in February, so I had nothing and was not allowed to work from home. I tested positive on a Thursday, and my company was going off of the CDC guidelines, so technically I could have come back that next Tuesday. Except they kept telling me I had to stay home and come back when I got a negative test or was symptom free. The next Thursday my boss was like “well we really would prefer you to not come back until you have a negative test or are symptom free” and I went off. I cannot afford any more time off and we are now past both the company’s rule and the CDC guidelines for when I can return. You either let me come back on Monday or find some way for me to work from home, because I. CANNOT. Afford This.

    I came back Monday. And please note- I would not knowingly expose my co-workers to Covid and I was happy to comply with whatever parameters they wanted so I could return to the office. My nose is always runny, I was never going to be Covid symptom free. Luckily no one in my life caught it from me and I tested negative about a week after I returned to work.

    Also, we don’t get bereavement leave until you’ve been here for a year, and my dad passed away on Father’s Day. So it’s been quite a year for me.

    1. Yoyoyo*

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Your experience is much like mine, I got covid the first week at my new job and had to take unpaid time (and work from home as online trainings were available). I was simultaneously desperate for work because I needed to get paid, and annoyed that I was working when I should have been resting and taking care of my family who also had covid. And regarding the lingering symptoms, it took about six weeks for my cough to abate. I can’t imagine if I hadn’t been able to return to work before then.

  46. MeleMallory*

    I got Covid two days before I was due back to work from maternity leave. We only get 3 days sick leave a year, and I’d opted to use them at the beginning of maternity leave so I could stay home a little longer. Luckily I’m in California, so I get supplemental Covid sick pay, but if I get sick again this year, I’m SOL.

  47. Liz*

    Yup. We get 35 hours of sick time a year. I just had Covid that took me down for two+ weeks and I had to work through all of it because I couldn’t afford to use up all my sick time for the year because I have a medical procedure scheduled for the fall that will require several days off.
    Even though I work from home, I was sick! And a risk for longer term issues is to push yourself too much when you do have covid.
    I’m interviewing for new jobs. Because even if I had had the time to take off, there was no one to cover for me, which is a whole other issue.

  48. Witty Nickname*

    My husband and I got covid while on vacation on the other side of the country last month. We got it because our cab driver from the airport to our hotel apparently felt he had to work instead of isolate (we didn’t realize he was sick until we were stuck in the cab and our only option was to have him pull over and get out on a busy highway in NYC at 1 am). He should have been able to stay home and isolate, and it makes me angry that he couldn’t. (And I’m not blaming him for that – our system makes it so hard).

    Thankfully, neither of us had any issues taking the time off (I have unlimited PTO at a company that actually values work/life balance and thus doesn’t make it difficult to use. He is a contractor and had to take the time unpaid, but didn’t have to worry about losing his job because of it – thankfully we were able to absorb the financial impact of having to be in a hotel for an extra week, change our flights, and his unpaid leave. I had actually budgeted for such an eventuality as part of our trip budget, though I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary).

  49. Former Retail Lifer*

    We went from a grand announcement of 10 days of covid pay (when it was mandated) to those being quietly taken away (when it expired). We only start out with ten days of vacation time, two personal days, and no sick time. After FIVE YEARS we get five more vacation days. Even with my extra five, covid could easily take all my PTO for the year.

  50. Blue Moon*

    A timely post for me, as my whole family is home sick with Covid right now! I took the entire week off unpaid because I’m a medical provider and my work doesn’t lend itself to telehealth (plus I have two toddlers to care for).

  51. Ellen*

    Nursing home employee, here. I have paid time off hours to burn. I just can’t use them due to staffing shortages. I’ve worked through 3 outbreaks, still have to mask at work, am fully vaxxed and boosted, and have the support and gratitude of my management. I would also give a lot for a nap. In some ways, I envy the people that caught it. This all has exposed a lot of systemic weaknesses.

  52. Anonymouse*

    I’m not sure if this was mentioned in any other comment but in line with the lack of sick leave is also the confusing policies of notification for the Covid positive person’s coworkers. I think it can be on a company by company business but at my two jobs it’s been something like:

    – they notify you that someone was/is positive and you have like 5 days to see how you feel and encourage you to take a test by that 5th day if you want
    – and then that person will be out for 10 days or something

    It’s just like you find out that the person you were talking/working with 3 days ago had covid but the company had just been waiting for the test results. and now you do how math calculation to determine if/when you may be exposed which could mean that for those 3-5 days that company waited to notify everyone you could have been spreading it too. And i understand the nature of HIPAA and why you can’t tell who the positive person is but it makes it so much harder to determine if you should be concerned or not., though if you’re a small enough team, you know who it is). not to mention if you work an irregular schedule you only sometimes find out this all went down 2 days ago but how would you know until you came into work.

    It sometimes just feels so messy.

    1. Sandgroper*

      Until cases exploded in Australia each state ran a tracing program, where if you have COVID you sat down and told a tracer all the places and times you’d exposed someone else and then they would send out isolation or testing instructions. This was helped by the use of QR check in codes, where if you went to a cafe or a pub or shops you ‘checked in’. It really helped while it worked (over about 1,000 cases a day and the system broke down).

      Now they just change the rules on what a close contact is so that it’s nearly impossible to be one (three contiguous hours with neither party in a mask, indoors I believe is the current rule? Imagine how rapidly the schools rearranged their timetables around THAT!!!), so you don’t have to tell anyone. Half the people in my state have had a confirmed case reported to the dept of Health (over 1m people, population 2.2m) but we believe that there’s probably a good 3-400,000 who wouldn’t have known they had it (it was almost always ‘test on symptoms’) or didn’t log it. At least.

      It shouldn’t matter if you are a close contact. If you have symptoms get a RAT and test. If you don’t… carry on. If you are somewhere crowded wear a mask so if you are a ‘silent carrier’ or have any other plague brewing you keep your gross to yourself. In the future when this is fully endemic and no longer problematic then we could drop masks and only wear if sick, but right now with flu, covid, years of stored up RSV etc to get through it’s best everyone be sensible.

  53. Nancy*

    We should be advocating for better sick leave in general, not covid-related only sick leave. I don’t want people’s strep throat, flu, infectious bronchitis, etc. I am tired of people coughing and sneezing and saying ‘don’t worry, it’s not covid!” I don’t care what you have. Unless it’s allergies, stay home. Tying better leave to one disease was a mistake. Treat it like anything else and give people better leave in general.

    1. JustAnotherKate*

      Totally! IMO, the dividing line shouldn’t be “Covid v. non-Covid,” it should be “contagious v. non-contagious.” Test negative and still hacking and sneezing (assuming this isn’t par for the course for you with allergies)? Test negative and have a fever? Please stay home! I’m sure I’ve ranted about this before, but I’m surprised my eyes didn’t roll out of my head when a coworker emailed to say he had recently seen his brother, who had the flu, and he (coworker) was not feeling well, but he tested negative for Covid so “see you tomorrow!” Nooooooo germ boy, stay out of the office!

  54. Mim*

    My employer keeps reminding me about our vacation time carryover limits. Yes, I know. As I did last year, I’ll use just enough that I don’t lose any at the end of the year. But we’re not going on real vacations, and our sick time is a joke. So I’m going to hoard my vacation time as much as I can in case I need to use it as sick time. And in case we ever feel safe taking a real vacation — it would be nice to have some time still accrued. (As someone with higher risk for complications if I get covid, I kinda assume that I’m never traveling again. Good thing I’m pretty cool with staycations…)

  55. Jayne*

    All the pandemic has done is convince me that employers and bosses do not deserve workers. At all.

    They do nothing but screw us all over in every way possible: bullying, bad pay, insufficient (or non-existent) leave, illegal (or otherwise dodgy and/or undeserved) firings.

    I am so very, very done with all of it.

  56. Sandgroper*

    We are long term employers of a range of permanent and seasonal workers, with most staff choosing to work with us for literally decades. During the ‘season’ they can easily earn six figures (predominantly in incentive payments attached to tonnage processed), and off season the permanent staff earn about twice the award wage for their role. This means we get and retain good staff generally, and are seen as a highly desirable employer in remote areas (where employment opportunities are slim). Usually our ‘casual’ seasonal employees work other jobs in the down season as well, earning even more.

    The staff generally haven’t abused our leave policies over the decades, so most have very healthy leave balances accrued (sick leave of 10 days a year accumulates in Australia, it’s not ‘use it or lose it’ but saved year on year), and we decided that if that wasn’t enough we’d ‘gift them’ more. It was as simple as that. We didn’t tell them the details beyond saying “If you are out of sick leave and need to isolate and can’t work from home/alone then we’ll work it out”. Our staff know and trust us to know that’s all they need. They’ll be taken care of, as they have been in the past.

    That’s how you get good staff.

    How have our staff rewarded us?

    They’ve used sick leave when they’ve gotten COVID.
    They’ve rearranged their working shifts and hours around each other when various isolation and work from home dictates have been made that meant working together was complicated.
    The staff that have to travel to the city for various reasons rearrange their work for the week after they return to their country towns so they aren’t risking infecting other staff.
    Staff who can work from home do so when they want, without there being any need to ‘manage’ them closely.
    They’ve followed government and work policies on COVID management at their worksites.

    Treat people with respect, allow all manner of reasonable flexibility/don’t force people to work a specific way unless there’s a genuine need to, and expect reasonable effort and what do you know? People generally step up and respond like adults!

    Of course it’s not all been roses. We have come casual employees who have been a bit unrealistic in their demands (they want sick leave too, but refuse to give up their leave loading higher casual wages to become permanent), we’ve had to change our incentive payment scheme (because it was encouraging people to work when they should be isolating), but aside from that, with the goal being to ‘keep people working through the high pressure season as best we can, while not screwing them over’ has meant that we get the pick of staff in regional areas at a time when mining is literally sucking anyone with a truck licence and two thumbs out of the workforce.

    It’s incredibly challenging to find good staff in rural Australia currently, and yes some staff are bone heads, but generally if they are good and work well together, you can put them on as permanent and retain them by treating them with respect and paying them in not just wages, but flexibility and training.

  57. LovelyLibrarian*

    I started a full time job in January 2022, then promptly got covid. Not only had I not accrued any sick leave so I had to take the week unpaid, I then didn’t accrue any leave that month because “I hadn’t worked the full month”. Was I supposed to come to work with covid?? It feels like a lose/lose situation for workers.

  58. Advenella*

    I was going to comment and state that I was fortunate that my employer, a pretty decently sized healthcare organization, was still offering emergency Covid leave. And then they just announced that they’re rescinding it. Sigh. How incredibly tone deaf.

  59. Peppercat53*

    I have one bucket for time off, no separate sick time here. My company also requires me to use all my accrued PTO in the event I use FMLA even if it’s to care for a sick parent and not my own health issues. So I’m out of PTO because I had to take a week off to care for my step-father while he was in the hospital for treatment for leukemia after my mom passed away unexpectedly in April. Feels real great to get punished for doing the right thing for my family. Now if I catch Covid I’m screwed. If I have to go help him again due to health issues, I’m screwed. Oh but my company has an EAP program I’m encouraged to use…What would have helped me was to be able to keep my PTO to take for my own mental health dealing with all these hard changes and crises over the past 3 months. Some advice- get yourself a will or a trust no matter what age you are. Dealing with probate and an estate that didn’t have a will is expensive and exhausting for the people you will leave behind.

Comments are closed.