Proper Use of Sick Days

Dear, Anita,

I feel like I am coming down with the flu. But I have used up all my accrued sick time and I really can’t afford to be off without pay. What should I do?

Another reader asks:

Is it legal if I call in sick to take my elderly mom to the doctor? She doesn’t have a car.

Dear, Flu-ey Louie,

english bulldog with  hot water bottle - suffer a migraineOver half the companies in the U.S. offer their full-time employees paid sick days as a benefit. Many of these businesses use an accrual formula that allows workers to earn a certain number of hours per pay period, and many have a use-it-or-lose-it policy about carrying over sick days into the next calendar or employment year (check with your HR department). But the goal is to have a system that allows sick employees to take care of themselves and keep them out of the workplace. Presenteeism – attending work while sick – often costs employers as much as absenteeism! If you go to work sick, and infect three co-workers, who don’t stay home and infect three more co-workers… well, soon the whole office is down for the count. Here’s a video on how to avoid the flu:

To decide if you should go to work or not, ask yourself three things: 1) Are you contagious, 2) Would you be a danger to others (a groggy airline pilot, for example), and 3) Would you be productive? If you are just sneezing or have a stuffy nose, you’re probably good to report for duty. Just be sure to wash your hands often during the day. If you have a sore throat and ache all over, stay home. A fever can also be the deciding factor. Check out WebMD’s “Too Sick to Go to Work?” cold and flu quiz.

Louie, if you can access your e-mail and work documents from home, offer to do this so you will technically not need to use a sick day.

Dear, “Mom’s Taxi,”

Portrait of a handsome male chauffeur sitting in a car saluting a passangerI can’t give you an exact answer about whether you can use a sick day to drive your mother to the doctor, because I am not privy to your company handbook. Some companies reserve paid sick leave for the employee or their immediate family –
meaning spouse and children. Whether or not that extends to your parents (if you are not your mother’s primary caregiver) can be a gray area.

I like the trend toward giving employees PTO (paid time off, or personal time off) that combines sick time with vacation and personal days all in one big bucket rather than sick leave with rules and regulations about how time can be used. After all, employees are mature, responsible adults. Hopefully, they will have enough self-control and foresight to not use all of their personal days in the first quarter for that round-the-world three-week vacation and save some PTO for the proverbial rainy day.

Readers: Do you go to work when sick? Has an ill co-worker ever given you the flu?

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. skooterswife
    Feb 07, 2014 @ 12:27:41

    I was some what surprised that “sick days” needed to be addressed. I realize that we are all different and have different situations/needs. The bottom line is, I have worked for a number of employers (temp and perm) over the last 40 years and most did NOT offer PAID sick leave. If I were sick enough to impact others or my quality of work would be reduced, staying home was the solution. In my opinion, it would have been unfair to expect full pay for less than full work. If my illness could cause others to get sick and miss work, staying home was the solution. I guess I thought this was a “common sense” issue, but missed time for “monthly cramps”, a “headache” is on the rise! An employee was hired to be at work and actually produce. If one is not there, the work has to be done by someone else. Being paid or not should not be the deciding factor. It is the nature of the illness and the overall impact to the business.



  2. Carlene Byron
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 11:30:32

    A long-time SHRM member confirms that sick-day use today is less than half what it was when he began his career more than 25 years ago. At that time, men took about 6 sick days a year, women about 4.5. Today, the average is about 2. Presenteeism? Counting as a “day worked” 30 minutes of telecommuted email responses? Any thoughts?



  3. Elizabeth Bennet
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 09:49:20

    The Family Medical Leave Act allows many employees to take time off to care for sick relatives. You won’t get paid, but it protects you from losing your job.



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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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