Friday, August 10, 2007

Getting Honest About Sick Days

I called in sick today.

This was something of a fib, of course; I called in because in about an hour we're headed to Ann Arbor to see the GYN and oncologist. So shoot me.

Our organization follows an arcane system of calculating time off -- in a given fiscal year, if you don't use sick days they turn into vacation days, or personal hours, in a formula that I frankly haven't understood for the seven years I've worked there. And unused time-off days don't roll over into the next fiscal year, so there's an underlying message to "Use 'em or lose 'em."

We have vacation days, but given the immediacy of our situation it would have been bizarre to put in for a sudden, "emergency" vacation day. We have a limited number of personal days, but I tend to whittle those away hour by hour for things like my own doctors' appointments and other necessary personal "bidness" that I can't manage during my lunchtime. So withdrawing from my infrequently used bank of sick days seemed the most prudent thing to do in the circumstances.

Awhile back, on public radio, I heard a great audio editorial suggesting that employers get real about their employees' need to take time off for reasons that don't fall neatly into systematized categories, and just call all time off "personal time." Put it all into one big pot that an employee can draw on whether s/he's in bed with the flu, stuck at the mechanic's for a day with vehicle problems, planning a week off for a vacation, attending to another family member's needs, or just in need of a "mental health day"? What would be so hard about this? What would be the down side? It seems to me that it would protect employee privacy, which in turn would promote honesty -- if you don't have to justify or categorize why you need time off, you don't have to lie or equivocate about it.


hip2B said...

I have always believed that they should give us "time off" and not be specific about it. I never get to use all my sick time, cuz I'm not sick enough and they don't pay you for it or anything...just a waste of record keeping. I'll hop down off the soap box now.

P.S. an after-thought said...

Your suggestion makes sense to me. I suppose from the employer standpoint, they view vacation time as planned time, so they can make arrangements, if necessary.

A place I worked had a very limited number of sick days that were unplanned, to keep people from abusing it. But if you were really sick, ie to doctor or hospital, their days were generous.

The use it or lose it has to do with what they owe you. My husband's former employer didn't have that policy. In the early days of him being with that company, it was really hard to take all the vacation time (don't ask) so several employees accumulated a lot of extra time on their accounts. Well, if they quit, as he did, the company owes them a lot of money at the CURRENT rate of pay even though the days were accrued many years ago. That is very bad financial policy.

But yes, a person shouldn't always have to explain why they need time off.

Kim in KCK said...

Everywhere I ever worked, doctor appointments are a valid use of sick days. You didn't fib.

But I like your idea of the time off "pot". It really makes much more sense. I think that is how it is done at my current employer. I don't know for sure because I don't have benefits. I'm a part-time hourly employee, and I pretty much set my own hours so I adapt to whatever is going on in any given week.

Mary Beth said...

I couldn't agree more. It's my time, I earned it, who are you to keep track of what I do with it!

By "you" I mean "THEY" of course.

Scooper said...

At my lab we call what you're doing "family leave" which we deduct from our sick leave days.

MikeC said...

Up until a few years ago, my company did "call all time off 'personal time.'" Then, after the Big Merger, the new policy separated vacation time and sick time. I guess there's advantages both ways, but there's something to be said for just having "personal time."

Iris said...

I hear what you're saying, but I really like having my vacation and sick time separate. For me, this is because in places where I have worked that has had PLT (Paid Leave Time,) I've felt I've been shortchanged on both vacation and sick time. Also, I've been afraid to take actual vacation days for fear that I would get really sick and not have the time.