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Your Take: Sick Day Shenanigans?

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SickThe other day, I was reading a Business Week article about companies hiring sick-day bounty hunters to check up on people out on sick leave and it gave me the idea for today’s Your Take question:

How many of you have taken sick days when you weren’t actually sick?

According to statistics in the article, “57 percent of U.S. salaried employees take sick days when they’re not really sick—a nearly 20 percent increase from statistics gathered between 2006 and 2008.” I haven’t taken a illegitimate sick day in the last three years (I work for myself so it’s hardly a feat) but in all my time at previous employers, I think I’ve only ever taken four or five sick days total. I can only remember one of them being illegitimate because I wanted to add another day to a weekend.

Now that I’m older, I don’t think it’s OK to lie and tell your employer that you’re sick when you’re not actually sick. With many employers your sick time and vacation time are rolled into one number, sometimes called PTO (paid time off), so it doesn’t matter whether you’re actually sick or not. In the end, you should be rewarded for performance and if you’re able to perform then it doesn’t really matter how much time you actually spend in the office.

Have you ever lied about being sick to skip out on a day?

(Photo: tudor)

{ 37 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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37 Responses to “Your Take: Sick Day Shenanigans?”

  1. live green says:

    I really like the idea of having it rolled in with time off instead. The only people it really benefits are those who take a lot of time off and encourages people to stay home even if they could come into work. The reason they abuse it because they feel that they are letting it go to waste if they do not use it. Why not just provide a few extra days of vacation and let employees decide what they want to do with it?

    • uclalien says:

      Companies do this because most people won’t use all their sick days, whereas, vacation or flex days are guaranteed even in the event of a layoff. It’s a smart business decision on two accounts: (1)employees aren’t paid for any unused sick days, so it saves the company money, and (2) it discourages truly sick employees from coming into the office and causing an office epidemic.

      As a potential employee, the key is to weigh sick days less heavily than vacation days when comparing job offers (assuming you can get multiple job offers in this economy.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I’ve never had a job where I got sick days, so this has never been an issue for me. If I wanted a day off without using a vacation day, my employer lets me make up the extra hours. (Since we don’t get paid for overtime).

  3. boggled says:

    i haven’t called in a “mental health day” though I’ve been tempted.

    i work in an understaffed office where a lot of people work tons of extra unpaid hours and there’s no way they could take all the comp time they’re owed.

    but my sense of duty gets my butt out of bed and into the office even when I would rather not.

  4. Traciatim says:

    I have a couple of times in the nearly a decade I’ve been here. The main problem I find is that I rarely get sick and they have a policy that you can only roll forward a couple years worth of sick time. Eventually you get to a point of ‘use it or lose it’ so if I’m entitled to have the days off and get no benefit from not taking them, why not take days where I’m just not feeling up to par to recharge a bit?

  5. Melissa says:

    My old job didn’t really have a formal policy regarding sick days – or at least I never found it posted in our handbooks. I asked our HR lady and she said we had a max of 15 sick days per calendar year. Wow. In a span of 2 years working there, I used 4 sick days. 3 that were extremely legitimate (debilitating case of the flu), and one that was so-so legitimate (extremely hungover). I usually felt guilty taking sick days because we were encouraged not to use them unless we absolutely had to. I suspect a few people used them to stay home with sick kids instead of using vacation days. Not sure I really agree with this.

    Now I work for a company that simply offers PTO days – no sick days. I’d say this system definitely keeps everyone honest, but can be a bummer if you do get legitimately sick for a week and have to blow your vacation days on it.

  6. Alex says:

    I used my sick days to stay home with a kid. But it is absolutely official and one of my benefits I like.

  7. cubiclegeoff says:

    I used to work at a place that had PTO time, and it kept the guilt away. Now I work at a place that just calls it personal time and I use it whenever I have a dentist appt or anything, or if I’m sick.

    I think everyone needs mental health days (that’s at least what my mom called it on days that I wasn’t sick, but just needed a break from school), and taking time to get that rest improves morale, productivity and happiness overall, so I’m for it. I would probably feel less okay about this for people that work at companies that have an open sick day policy (where you can take all the time you need), since this is easy to abuse.

  8. James says:

    In some cases, rolling everything together into PTO causes people to show up at work sick, claiming “I’m not going to waste my vacation time.” Net result — everyone else in the office comes down with the same thing and productivity suffers.

    • ziglet19 says:

      I agree. My company has PTO, and people DO come in sick, because they don’t want to burn a day staying home in bed that they could use for vacation later. Not a good deal for the rest of the staff…

  9. SoonerNATX says:

    I have only been employed (out of college) for over 2 years now and I have only taken a half day. I wasnt feeling well and I wouldnt have gotten anything done at the office.
    However, i did take my laptop home and continued to answer emails. Nowadays, so many people can work from home that it only makes sense for them to telecommute to work if they suspect they have something.

    • SoonerNATX says:

      accidently hit the post button…

      I just have a hard time understanding that a company actually has so much of a problem of people abusing sick days that it actually makes sense to hire someone else… just to track them.

      Heres my question though: Wouldnt it be best to reduce benefits rather than pay someone $75/hour for 3 days only to fire the person you are paying to watch? If you’re having that much trouble… reduce the benefits (its cheaper).

    • tom says:

      Agreed… I haven’t taken a sick day in a while because I can work virtually.

      When I did take a sick day every now and again I definitely wasn’t sick, it was a “mental health” day.

      Also, sick day policies are antiquated. I have about 2 weeks of vacation, but 2 months of sick time accrued. It’s pretty ridiculous.

  10. TheDuke says:

    My company provides a number of paid sick days to employees. However, employess get considerable bonuses (we are talking 15%-17% of your salary) based on meeting certain amounts of billable time in a year. Since sick days take away from your ability to reach the billable quota for that hefty bonus this effectively encourages people not to take the fake sick days.

  11. zapeta says:

    My last employer had sick time separate from vacation. Most people were pretty honest and only took sick time when they were sick, but we had very generous amounts of vacation time so most people didn’t feel the need to take sick time as vacation. The benefit was that people who were sick stayed home rather than making all of us sick. I know that if I worked at a place where I had PTO and sick/vacation time came out of the same pool I’d go to work sick to save the vacation days.

    • Shirley says:

      My employer had the same policies and that was how it worked out there.

      However, any sick day pay (40 hours per year) that hadn’t been used by the first of December was given to us in a separate check in the second week of December. During that same week week we would also receive a Christmas card with a bonus. They were great people to work for and with.

  12. eric says:

    In my case PTO is rolled into one so this doesn’t really apply. I definitely have friends who took an extra day or two off though.

  13. Tiffany says:

    If I didn’t take an occasional “mental health day” (unscheduled day off)I would blow my top…maybe at work. I think it’s legitimate. How can you “police” sick time off, without requiring a doctor’s note or some other type of verification? And then how personal or invasive are you getting?

    Your mental health is just as important as your physical health…you ever heard of “going postal”? What if that person would have taken a coupla sick days instead…

  14. marc says:

    I no longer work in an office environment, but I used to hate it when those who were sick came to work. And yes I took sick days for sickness and mental health days. Living in the area I live, colds and flu seem to come with late Fall, Winter and early Spring.

    As an employer, I send sick employees home. That is the reason I have sick pay for them. I cannot afford to have others become ill. I do not expect them to work from home. I want them well. If they have ill children, I expect them to be with them.

    Plus this has a terrific impact upon morale! This is one area the bean-counters can not measure, but I can. It shows up in quarterly reports, the end of the year and more.

    Just read this December 14, 2010, synopsis of a recent study:

    A study was recently published where wireless transmitters were placed on 788 students in an American High School for one day. From the study:

    “The researchers outfitted each teacher, student and staff member at an unnamed American high school with credit card-size gadgets that transmitted and received radio signals every 20 seconds during one day.

    The devices logged more than 760,000 incidents when two people were within 10 feet of each other, roughly the maximum distance that a disease can be transmitted through a cough or sneeze.”

    http://news.stanford.edu/news/2010/december/track-flu-spread-121410.html this link will take you to the actual study report.

    Draw your own conclusions, this was one day’s measurements on 788 people in a somewhat closed environment – a High School.

  15. Jeff Liang says:

    I think a company would only hire an investigator if this was a habitual problem with the employee. There’s no reason to do this if you take 3-4 sick days a year(legitimate or not).

  16. govenar says:

    I don’t even use up all my vacation days each year, so I wouldn’t have a reason to take fake sick days.

  17. freeby50 says:

    Employers should just pool vacation and sick days. Then there would be no problem.

    I honestly don’t have a problem with people playing hooky once in a while. I see no harm in it. If sick days are unused and not pooled with vacation then healthy people end up working more cause they are healthy. Hardly fair to them.

    Yes its unethical to lie to your employer. I’d just give a vauge “I’m not up to working today” and relax at home.

  18. freeby50 says:

    My employer actually does not count or track sick time. SO theoretically we could take whatever amount of sick days we need. But we have generous vacation. I’ve yet to see anyone abuse the sick day policy and more often we see people who are sick coming to work. I wish the sick people would stay home. Too many A types at my work. ;)

    • govenar says:

      That’s basically the same as my employer. Unlimited sick days, but most people don’t take many.

  19. Blair says:

    Regular “mental health days” were the only way I was able to put up with a past job. If your job makes you sick, I see no reason not to take sick days. Ideally you’d just quit and go to something better but…

  20. pudge says:

    I have no idea what my company’s policy is these days. When I’m really sick, I stay home. I don’t abuse it though. But, I have no problem with taking a mental health day once a year. And only when nothing much is going on.

  21. uclalien says:

    Ironically, only once did I take a sick day at my last job when I wasn’t sick…and it was to attend a job interview.

    Let me explain. My employer typically required advanced notice if I was going to take a vacation day (a few weeks or more). Well…when it comes to having an interview, you usually only have a few business days, at most. Since telling my employer that I was interviewing with another company wasn’t a realistic option, the only alternative I had was to call in sick.

    • pudge says:

      I’ve done that, too. What else can you do? With that kind of vacation day policy at your workplace (advanced notice of a few weeks or more), I don’t blame you for looking for another job!

  22. Bug says:

    I am a supervisor, the employee earned 4hr of PTO per month. In a year they can earned 6 days off for sick or pto this can accumulate over the years. I have some employee that have 600 to 700 hours total. I also have several employee that have none or take the 8hours as soon as they build them. Several time in one month I have as many as 5 people out at one time. Try finding someone to replace them to run your area. It is a headache because your quality goes down and you production goes down. It makes a big different if you do not have a offices job or a 9 to 5 job.

  23. Shaun says:

    Sometimes a “mental health” day is required and I think employers should be understanding to a point. I certainly don’t endorse slacking off and indiscriminate usage, but a couple of days a year when you really need them should be fine. With luck, you will return to work with renewed vigour!

  24. ReVeLaTeD says:

    Problem is productive employees vs. non-productive employees.

    A productive employee is one who works until the job is done – or at least, until it’s sufficiently calm to where he/she can feel comfortable taking a day or so. Even if that means doing with out.

    A non-productive employee is one who will take every opportunity to take days off even when they’re not really doing anything to warrant such.

    I am the former. I currently work with the latter.

    My co-worker basically takes every Monday off that is a football night, and some Mondays where he is hungover from the weekend, and then every so often he’ll just take two or three days off to “rest”. Mind you, he doesn’t do a quarter of what I do. I work on 4 customer accounts at the same time, with 3 others less frequent, and I have more overtime because of it. Whereas he sits in the office browsing the web/Facebook instead of offering to take some of the workload so it gets done faster. My workload got so high I had to do a second extension on jury duty because I didn’t want my customers to get neglected. In an 8 hour day, he works about 2. That’s not acceptable when we tell our customers that we’re there for them within 1-2 hours. I’ve never been able to take a vacation, never been able to take many sick days because I worry about my customers not getting taken care of and then I take the heat.

    Now he gave notice to the company and he’ll be gone at the end of this week so I’ll be on my own with all ~50 of our customers (40 or so of them we hardly ever hear from). Even worse, because now I definitely won’t be able to take time off for any reason, and the jury duty is coming back around in April. I don’t know what I’m going to do there, the company pays up to 20 days of jury duty, which almost guarantees I’ll get called onto a jury and be stuck there for weeks not being able to assist customers. Frankly it worries me.

    It definitely is a management problem, but so that people understand, the “shenanigans” discussed here are due to non-productive employees who abuse time off that in my opinion should be unpaid when used in excess or during times of customer need.

  25. Glenn Lasher says:

    At my current job, absolutely none. They have a very generous sick-day policy (basically there is no hard limit) and a generous (by US standards) allotment of vacation days (2 weeks for new employees, up to five weeks with seniority; I am currently at the four week level) so it tends to lead to questions of why you would want to abuse it.

    It can backfire, and some employees have been dismissed for using it excessively. In order for that to happen, though, you have to be a pretty serious outlier without explanation. They generally don’t prompt for explanations, but if you are an outlier, you might get asked for one.

    At one previous job, we had an allotment of combined sick/vacation days. They reset (i.e. were lost) at the end of the year, and so it was frequent that we would make statements near the end of the year like, “Hey boss, I’m going to be sick tomorrow. Does that work for you?” The supervisors were usually pretty good with this.


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