The Death of Sick Days

Nov 27, 2016 • By • 163 Views

By Tricia Drevets

You could have had an unexpected late night out. You could be experiencing jet lag after a mini-vacation. Your child could be sick and need you to stay home.  Perhaps you just can’t face a day at work for a myriad of other reasons.

So you make the decision to call in sick. However, you end up spending your day of freedom worrying about the consequences and hoping it won’t work against you later when you really are sick.

Fortunately, the time-honored tradition of “sick days” is nearing its end. In fact, many companies are not offering sick days in their benefits packages at all. Instead, they are offering a more flexible approach to paid personal time off.

What a minute, you may say. Don’t companies have to pay me for time off when I am sick? Not necessarily.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are no federal requirements for paid sick leave. Companies that are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specific medical situations, and in some cases, this time off may be paid leave.

However, many companies throughout the world have chosen to offer paid sick days as part of their benefit packages for full-time employees. That policy is what appears to be changing as we move further into the 21st century.

Why? The reason is what you might expect. Many employers feel that an allotment of paid sick days tempts workers to be dishonest. In other words, when faced with a set amount of paid days for illness, some healthy employees pull a Ferris Bueller and take them off anyway.

A survey last year by Harris Poll for CareerBuilder  found that almost 40 percent of employees admitted to taking sick days when they were feeling well during the past 12 months. About one-third of the online survey respondents gave a doctor's appointment as an excuse. The real reasons respondents gave on the survey were lack of sleep, the need to run errands, bad weather and the simple need for a break.

What is the most popular month for employees to call in sick? You guessed it – it’s December. January and February come in second and third respectively.

When asked if they feigned sickness during the holidays, one in 10 respondents said no, but those that did said they took those days off to spend time with friends and family (68 percent), to shop for gifts (21 percent) or to decorate (9 percent).

Interestingly, a separate Harris survey found that about 80 percent of co-workers think their colleagues are lying when they call in sick.

What is the solution to the dishonesty that sick days can generate? According to many HR professionals, the answer is a flexible policy of allowing paid personal days that employee may use as they wish. Paid holidays remain separate from personal days (also called paid time off or PTO) as part of the benefit package.

Karen A. Young, author of Stop Knocking on My Door: Drama Free HR to Help Grow Your Business, says that that the name change from “sick” to “personal” days encourages honesty in the workplace and may even increase productivity.

“It’s a matter of semantics, but calling them ‘sick days’ as opposed to ‘personal days’ tends to make employees fib,” Young states. “Sometimes we all need a mental health day away from work. From an employee relations standpoint, there is a stronger sense of freedom if I have time to use for personal reasons.”

What about the employee who does not use his or her personal days? Most companies allocate only a certain number of days for personal time. If a worker does not use them all in the given time, one option is for the company to roll them over to the following year. Another possibility is to reward the employee for attendance by offering a cash bonus or additional vacation days.

Dr. James D. Levy, an expert in employee relations, wrote in an article for Business First that there are basically three employee types when it comes to workplace attendance.

  • a small percentage of employees who are rarely – if ever -- absent because of illness. These workers may even come to work when they don’t feel well.
  • the majority of workers who use a few sick days each year
  • a small percentage of workers who use all their sick days and usually take additional time off because of illness.

According to Levy, it’s the third group that can affect workplace performance the most. A flexible PTO policy may help cut down any sick day abuse, since employees are able to make own decisions about using their paid time off.

Most employers surveyed claimed to trust their employees; however, some admitted that they do check out sick day excuses, according to the CareerBuilder survey. Of those that ask for proof of illness, 67 percent ask to see a doctor's note, and 49 percent call the employee.

If your company does have “sick days,” and you do call in sick, be mindful of what you post on social media. The survey found that 33 percent of employers surveyed have discovered that a “sick” employee was lying by checking their social media accounts, and 26 percent admitted they have fired an employee because of that dishonesty.

About the Author

Tricia Drevets Tricia Drevets

Tricia Drevets is a freelance writer and educator who specializes in business and communication topics.

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