Sick days are stupid

July 13, 2009 · 15 comments

Federal employees receive some pretty awesome benefits. Time off is definitely one of these perks. Employees with 0-3 years service get 13 days off a year, 3-15 yrs earn 20 days a year, and 15+ yrs earn 26 days off a year. In addition to vacation days, each employee is granted 13 sick days per year. Pretty sweet right? Well maybe it is, but I need your help to decide.

I have been on “Team USA” for just under two years, so I earn 13 vacation days and 13 sick days each calendar year. That’s 26 full days off each year! That’s pretty freakin’ generous if you ask me. I don’t know for sure, but I believe the government time off allotment is significantly better than most private companies. I’m having a little bit of a debacle though, and once again would encourage any input/suggestions.

What the heck is the point of a sick day? I understand the general premise. If you wake up in the morning and don’t feel well, call in sick, no harm no foul. But what do you do when you work from home? I’d have to be pretty darn incapacitated to not be able to work. Two years on the job and I haven’t needed to take a sick day yet. What am I suppose to do with all my sick time?

I know that I need to save up an “emergency fund” of sick leave in case I break a leg or something, but I’m having a little bit of a moral dilemma. Is it totally evil to use sick days when you aren’t sick? I would love to take some of my sick time and use it for frequent three or four day weekends. I could keep rambling about why I want to use sick time for personal reasons, but instead of boring you I’m just gonna open the floor for discussion.

How many sick days do you get per year at work? Do you ever “cheat” and use sick days as vacation days? At your work is it a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy? Am I going to hell if I call in sick, but am really going surfing? What the F am I suppose to do with 200 hours of accrued sick time, besides stare at it and wish I could use it!?

{ 15 comments }

1 Frugal Urbanite

I'm be willing to bet that 90% of the US population has used a sick day when they weren't ill (my mom referred to them as 'mental health days'). Don't try to use it on a Friday or Monday though as that makes it obvious and be prepared for HR departments that check up on you.

I don't know about your department, but I know Mr. can donate sick time to people who need it. When his work buddy needed major surgery after only a year on the job, Mr. was able to donate a day or two to help out. Quite a nice way to earn a little good will from fellow employees in case you need a favor later.

2 Josh

Here in Australia the same thing happens. We're by law given 10 sick days a year. If you don't use them in the year then they're gone for good, they don't accrue. Yeah the system cops some abuse but it needs to be there.

This is kinda off your topic, but it's a very good point you made about the those in the public sector getting better benefits than the private sector. This is something that gets me fired up everytime I think about it, and it's about the Superannuation system here in Australia. Superannuation is kinda like your 401k plans there in the US, a retirement savings plan. Here in Aus if you earn wages/salary your employer must pay 9% of your gross wages into a superannuation fund every 3 months. E.g If I earn $10,000 before tax in a 3 month period my employer must pay $900 of their money into my super fund I think it's a great system. For some reason though employees in the public sector may receive 13% or even 15% of their gross wages/salary paid into the super. I mean like WTF!? It's not a huge percentage difference but we're talking $000's over a working lifetime. This higher rate of superannuation the public sector workers receive is funded directly by taxpayers. I'm not sure how this double-standard came about but when I become Prime Minister over here that'll be the first thing I change. Oh yeah, and I'd make more public holidays :-)

3 Denis M

I work for a state university & we get 22 vacation days and 13 sick days per year-all exempt employees regardless of length of service.
I've actually used my sick time when I am sick or injured (ankles & shoulders from playing sports :/)

4 laura

I have a love/hate relatiomship with my company's policy; employees get 15 PTO (paid time off) days for their first year, 20 for 2-5 years, and 25 for 5+ years. However, PTO is all-inclusive; they don't seperate sick time from vacation time. It's like don't ask, don't tell. It definitely has its perks, namely that I can call out any day for any reason and they can't question it, but it also means that NO ONE stays home sick – it'd be using up precious vacation days.

When I worked for companies with normal sick time policies, though, I was totally comfortable calling out for a pretty minor hangover. So I'd plan to use them illegitimately just by enjoying myself irresponsibly the night before – it's like putting a weekend right in the middle of a week.

5 Donnie

The way my company does it: 2 weeks vacation for new hires, and they have a blurb about sick time, but there is no specified number of days. I think this discourages people from using it unless they really are sick. Since everyone is salaried anyway, you still have to do your work, you just have to make up for your sick time on the other days.

My old company did the PTO thing, and nobody ever called in sick. They did give new hires 3 weeks to start, though.

6 Jessie

Generally speaking – don't take the sick time if you don't need it. What happens if one day, you get SICK, I don't mean *cough*cough I don't feel well – but truly sick! What if you need surgery? Then – your trusty bank of sick time will be waiting for you.

Your well and truly lucky that they actually let you acrue sick time! Where I work they allow up to 12 sick days a year before you don't get paid when you take a sick day. But it doesn't carry over – you don't get to keep it….

so – don't go surfing – yeah, it sucks – but that's what being a 'grown up' is all about.

7 MPP

Oh totally jealous of all this time off! I get 5 sick days and only 10 vacation days. *hangs head* I don't know if it's ethical, but I have definitely taken "mental health days" for things like attending the Inauguration, or when my sister came to visit, or when I wanted to beat DC traffic and travel on a Friday morning…. wow I sound like a terrible employee….

8 Alan @ Saving For Serenity

My company gives 3 weeks (15 days) for vacation, and 16 days for paid sick days. If you don't use it at the end of the year, they'll pay it out. Does your company have a similar option?

For example, one guy didn't use any of his vacation or sick days, and then essentially got paid for 6 weeks worth of work at the end of the year. The taxes on it were brutal, obviously, but it still might be worthwhile.

9 Rebecca C

Um, where can one apply for said government job? I'm not secret agent material, but I can do wonders with duct tape and a paperclip!

I work for a 'private non profit' that is federally funded and the benefits here are, in a word, crap. I do get 15 day vacation and 15 days sick leave, but if you use the sick time, you get reprimanded in your annual review. Did I mention I have been here 12 years? I can't afford the health insurance and we get 35 cent raises a year if we are lucky. So enjoy every perk you get, and save your sick days for when you have baby ninjas. You'll need it. Totally non related, your savings account makes me weep.

To answer the question why am I still work there, I live in a town with a population of a nearly extinct species. My work is 1/2 mile from my house. the nearest city to find work in is an hour away. And the unemployment rate in this county is 15%. And nearly that in the surrounding counties. So there is no where else to go without adding at least two hours to my workday and away from my babies. 8.5 hours is bad enough.

If your super secret government agency ever invents time travel, could you go back about 14 years ago and punch me in the face before I had all my debt? Thanks.

Wait, what was the question? Oh, yeah, do I cheat with sick days. Nope. Because if I did God would afflict me with the eppizudict for lying. And I'd get fired. Thats the downside of working so close to home.

10 Kelly

I don't get sick days being a mom, but my hubby does. There have been times when I'm sick (especially while I was pregnant with my 3rd or 4th that he took off so I could get a day of rest)

In fact I think they have a similar policy that someone mentioned above where all the days are together. So he gets paid vacation, paid days off (think Christmas), and sick days. They have to be used in different ways (IE sick days can happen anytime, vacation has to be planned), but it's rare he uses it all up. He usually saves a week around the holidays which is nice.

But heck yeah, people use sick days all the time for things other than being sick.

11 MoneyFunk

LOL. I think all of us use our sick days as vacation days. I just hate the guilt that is associated with taking sick or holidays off.

Like "OMG! I have so much work sitting on my desk!" "Oh, but I need to do X for Ms X"

Hello? There is so much more to life than work! I really need to remember that. And then when I do ask for vacation… "well, only if your work is done". Hello?!?! I work my arse of at work for this company and nobody really appreciates it. Oh, I could keep ranting. LOL.

I really need to work for myself!

12 Dolly Iris

TIPS to a successful "sick" day aka surfing

1- Make sure coworkers don't know about blog

2- If you are going to take off Monday start acting sick Friday.

3- If you have coworkers on Facebook do not post pictures of you hanging ten while supposedly in bed with chicken soup. This goes for status updates as well.

4- Do not bring up fun surf weekend in conversation with coworkers

5- Have a good time you only live once.

6- Don't make it a habit.

7- If possible book day off instead

13 Dr. Faith

YEAH Academia!

No set sick days and no set vacation days. Just don't be gone so much that the boss notices. =)

If I were to guess, I'd say since last August I've taken off around 40 vacation days and probably 3 sick days. But then I also work 10-18hr days, 5-7 days a week – so I suppose it is a trade-off. But I like that I can work hard, play hard. It makes the vacations all the more rewarding. =)

14 Mom (not yours)

You posed an ethical question, and ethics would tell you that sick days are for sickness, not surfing. How would your kids at youth camp feel about you if they knew you were conning your employer? And eventually, abuse of benefits will lead to those benefits being negotiated away.

15 negative_net_worth

I think many people use their sick days potentially inappropriately. I know there were (are?) plenty of government positions where when one retires, they are paid for unused sick and vacation time that has accrued over the course of their career. I've known people who have received several extra months' salary this way!

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