43 Comments

  1. At my office we are allowed to cash out unused vacation days when we leave, but unused sick days just vanish. This is probably good in that it encourages us to use them. I do tend to use mine. I can usually feel when my immune system is getting weaker and I will plan out my week so that I can get extra work done on four days and take one day as a sick day to rest up and recharge.

    I can see where the same strategy would not at all work for a teacher. Presumably you can’t just teach more on Monday-Thursday so that you can leave the substitute with a handful of movies on Friday. It must be a very hard balance to find.

  2. Marie

    I’m not a teacher so cannot respond to your comment but am curious about others responses. I work in higher ed within athletics and am not sure if I have ever taken a day off in 12 years of work. There’s definitely pressure, internal or otherwise, to go to work no matter what or you’ll be considered soft or lazy like you mentioned. A lot of that depends on your direct supervisor (head coach if you are an assistant coach). Right now it’s safe to say that I do not have a head coach who is family (or having a life at all) friendly.

    And I just have to say I CANNOT believe that you are not given any maternity leave. It is absolutely unforgivable.

    At my workplace at an Ivy League school I need to be working there for four years before I am even eligible to receive 6 weeks maternity leave. So good luck to you if you start working there at the age of 35 and your clock is ticking…

    • Marie, thanks for sharing your perspective. That’s really hard that you’re in a position where your supervisor looks down on any kind of work-life balance. And I haven’t given much thought to workplaces that put a threshold on when they offer paid leave. That’s so problematic as well!

  3. I really disagree with the notion that people can get reimbursed for not using sick days. It’s a recipe for disaster–you’re penalizing people who use sick days to recharge and come back to work healthy. If people feel like they have to hoard their sick days, they’re going to come to work sick. And then *everyone else* gets sick.

    In my past job I didn’t get sick leave since I was a contractor, so I was pretty incentivized to work when sick. Luckily I could work remotely if I needed to, but I still had to work with the stomach flu if I wanted to get paid for that day.

    • It’s a really complicated system. I imagine they incentivize it partly to keep people from using the full amount every year. But when I actually typed out the fact that it would take 24.66666 years to bank the two days of sick leave, it made me realize what an exercise in futility (and perhaps stupidity) it is. This year, I took 2.5 days. That’s more than I’ve ever taken. But I know I’m going to get dinged next year!

  4. I am fortunate that I have a job where I get ample sick leave AND work mostly on self contained projects. Not that my job isn’t important, but the rest of my department isn’t dependent on me being at my desk to get their work done. I take my sick leave pretty liberally, though I do like to keep about a week’s worth available. I’ve had a couple of bad colds that have knocked me out and have been really lucky to be able to take the time off to recuperate.

    I hate that going to school/work sick is encouraged. My partner’s son is gearing for perfect attendance for all of high school for the “chance” to win a free car (whatever that means. Is it a raffle? Pick a name from a hat? He’s unclear about the specifics). That means he goes to school sick and gets his friends sick and also spreads sickness to us. It is really irresponsible, in my opinion, especially since he is old enough to be left home alone during the day (he’ll be a senior next year.) Perfect attendance awards encourage the spread of sickness that is just unnecessary.

    When I worked in food service/retail we didn’t get sick days-which led to me handling food with a cold. I wish that employers would realize that sick leave actually makes for a more productive and healthy workforce.

    • Oooh, I hadn’t thought about the food service industry, Jax. That really is a tough one. I know it’s a big expense to offer sick leave, but you’d think with food…

  5. I don’t get sick days per say, everything is piled into “PTO” of which I get a fairly ample amount. I never understood people at work who would lose PTO every year. In my career, I’ve only lost 1 hour of PTO because of some bad calculations by yours truly. I take what I’m allotted and while some people say it might detriment your career – I surely haven’t felt that.

  6. Squeak

    I’ve been a reader for while, and maybe it’s pregnancy hormones or anxiety, but you have gotten really whiny. The “woe is me” undertones in regard to your present state is rather sad. I’m not a teacher but i work for an organization, that as far as i can tell, has an extremely similar maternity leave policy as your school. You’re going to be fine.

    • I’m glad you’ve been stopping by the blog for a while. And you’re right. There’s nothing unusual about our maternity leave policy or lack thereof. I think it’s sad, but not everyone agrees.

  7. We don’t officially have sick days in our office, but that’s because it’s a small office it’s acknowledged by everyone that if you are feeling under the weather you better keep yourself in bed and not come spread your germs. This works because we’re a small, tight knit group so no one is taking advantage of the system.
    As for vacation days, I get 3 weeks of paid vacation a year and definitely do not hoard them. You better believe I take full advantage of every single one of those days, even if it’s just to take a long weekend to chill on the couch.

  8. I only use about half of my sick/vacation days – for pretty much all of the reasons you mention – but I was also able to save them up and use them to extend my maternity leave. It will be interesting to see how many sick/vacation days I use next year, with no more babies expected in the future.

    Sorry to hear about the health issues – I can definitely empathize with health issues complicating pregnancy. Have you at least developed a pretty powerful immune system from being exposed to all of those germs? That was one of the best/worst parts of daycare – the kids got sick a bunch at first, but now have better-than-average immune systems.

    • I used to think I had a turbo immune system! I’m not sure what happened this school year. 🙂 I’m glad that you were able to extend your maternity leave with your days. And yes, I’m curious how your sick day/vacation time goes now.

  9. My employer has PTO, so there’s no designation between vacation and sick. It expires every year, but I do find that I tend to hoard it until the last few months. I’d rather end up taking a week off doing nothing than be stuck in a situation where I don’t have any PTO left and an emergency pops up. We can go into a deficit and it’s flexible enough that people work from home when sick, rather than take PTO. It’s a given that you’ll really only work a few hours total but managers are cool with it.

    • That’s a really neat system! It sounds like everyone can benefit from the flexibility. And it makes sense to hoard your days when you think about it like that. No one likes the thought of running out of something!

  10. I hate when ‘never takes a sick day’ is used to praise people. Gah.

    At one of my jobs I was literally the only person who did my job and had no backup, no redundancy. I had a crazy daily schedule and deadlines. To take a 2 week holiday they had to get in a temp. So I literally never took a full sick day or maybe even partial… they were always work from home days. The daily news had to go out.

    At the other 3 jobs I have been part of an actual team and have taken sick leave when needed. We get extra sick leave above the legal requirement here and I appreciate that. Even 10 days a year is not much when you think about it… a couple colds/bugs/flu can knock you out and if you have other health issues (my immune system sucks) or perhaps play contact sports that can get eaten up fast. One of my colleagues is banking hers as she’s paranoid about her kids getting sick and needing to take time off for them. My boss has already had to take a few in 3 months back post baby, and it’s been a bit of a vicious circle with things circulating around their household. Sick leave isn’t paid out when you leave a job either.

    • Oh, it’s the worst, but it’s a total badge of honor, no? Actually, at my first school district, teachers got perfect attendance awards at the end of the year in an all-staff meeting. We even got called up on stage for our plaques!

      That first job situation sounds so stressful to me. It’s amazing all the things you can navigate!

  11. When I was working, I did use sick days, but sparingly. If I came to work sick, it was because of responsibilities that could not be passed off. But overall I feel strongly that if you’re not well, you should stay home. We shouldn’t be praising and/or rewarding those who hoard their sick days, especially if it passes illness on to others in the workplace.

    Penny, I’m really sorry to hear you’ve been sick for so long, and I hope the treatments are helping. Please take care of yourself because no job is worth losing your health over.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Gary! I think I’m finally on the mend 🙂

      And yes. The guilt is real for taking time off and for showing up sick. It’s a really strange situation we put ourselves in (or our work puts us in!).

  12. I hoarded vacation days before retiring. I got paid an additional 4-5 weeks. We were allowed to carry over 44 days and STILL co-workers lost valuable days. I can’t imagine leaving time/money on the table.

    I’m sorry you’ve been sick, but even sorrier that you’re suffering from guilt over not taking the sick days. It’s difficult to make guilt go away — but try to let yourself off the hook.

    • That’s such a smart thing to do with your vacation time. Woohoo!

      And thanks! I’m feeling better…FINALLY! 🙂

  13. I definitely saved my sick days when I first started teaching. And I taught a lot of days when I was really sick – not just to save days, but the amount of work to create plans was overwhelming. I was put on bed rest for my first child with about a month to go – which burned a bunch of days. Luckily she was pretty healthy and I saved up days for a couple more years before child #2 came along! I was put on bed rest 3 months before he was born. As you know, I was feeling lousy for about a month recently too. I don’t have sick days now, so I went to work each day or I wouldn’t get paid. A couple of antibiotics later and I feel SO much better.

    • I’m so glad you’re feeling better now. And I’m glad (and a bit sad!) to hear that this was your experience with sick days, teaching, and having kiddos. It’s such a weird system. I’m glad to have the days for sure, but I feel so bad about spending them!

  14. Carrie

    I get paid if I’m sick but I don’t accumulate sick days (so I can’t hoard them). I think I’ve developed a super immune system after 23 years as a nurse. I’m very seldom sick. Last year I missed one day.
    When I had my children pregnancy leave was 6 months. Now pregnancy leave is 1 year here.
    I think it helps that we have decent vacation allowences. With statutory holidays and vacation time I get over 6 weeks a year off. This gives me plenty of time off to rest and recharge.

    • Oh, Carrie, I bet you have a superwoman immune system! And thank you so much for what you do as a nurse. I am in awe of our school nurse every day. I can only imagine how difficult nursing is!

      I’m glad that you feel like you’re able to rest and recharge. We definitely need people like you!

  15. kddomingue

    It really is a conundrum, isn’t it? I’ve rarely had a job where employees were given sick days. The closest that I ever came to having sick days was the last place I worked which gave their employees four PTO days per year and you had to be there six months before you began to accumulate any PTO and a year before you began accumulating your one week of vacation….two weeks kicked in at five years. It was brutal. And, while it was never said out loud, we were discouraged from taking our PTO….which, incidentally, did not carry over to the following year.

    Anyway, I had my “come to Jesus” moment when, after being sick for a couple of weeks, I finally broke down and went to see my GP. H examined me and then proceeded to read me the riot act. I had walking pneumonia. He told me if I didn’t go home and climb in the bed and stay there for a week, he was going to put me in the hospital where the nurses would sit on me if necessary. It took me forever to get over the remnants of that illness. But the “come to Jesus” moment wasn’t the pneumonia, it was the realization that I was following in my father’s footsteps. My father was a Dr. of Education at a university. He never used his sick days and only rarely any vacation days. He’d saved up an impressive amount. He got to use them for the two open heart surgeries that he had to have. Heart problems caused by stress, overwork and never taking care of himself when he was sick, never taking time off to relax. The toll you pay for not taking care of yourself when you’re younger is one you pay later in life when you’re older. Take care of yourself now because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

    Sigh. Doom and gloom done. Glad you’re on the mend!

    • That is such a powerful story! I’m glad you had your “come to Jesus” moment, and I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. It’s funny how I can be so forward thinking when it comes to money and absolutely sabotage my future self by running on fumes all the time. Thanks for the reminder!

      • kddomingue

        I’m glad you didn’t take it as as a “fuss” . I’m still battling residual problems from too many years of pushing through the pain/illness, toughing it out, keeping a stiff upper lip….you know what I mean. Sure I didn’t miss a day or week’s pay but the doctor bills later on waaaaay exceeded what I would have missed on any of those paychecks. And the doctor bills pale in comparison to the back and leg problems, reduced stamina. I’m grateful for my doctor reading me the riot act and bringing me to my “come to Jesus” moment. I’m grateful that I learned from my father’s mistakes instead of blindly continuing down the path he trod that killed him.

        Money is not a trivial concern by any stretch of the imagination. But our health isn’t a trivial concern either. And it just doesn’t make sense to trade one for the other….. there’s gotta be a middle ground somewhere, right?

  16. Maddie

    Use those sick days people! The new trend is for companies to do away with them and make everyone contract or strictly hourly personnel. This happened to me and I lost 45 sick days — poof — gone — vanished — all for nothing.

    Companies are required to pay you unused vacation, but not required to pay banked sick days

  17. I used to say “vectors of disease,”, but “spewers of pestilence” is so much better. Thanks for the new lingo!
    We don’t get sick days at all, so if we don’t work we don’t get paid. Worse, though, is that when we don’t work we have to call in a friend/colleague from a precious day off. So, there’s an understanding that it only happens in true emergencies (e.g. we’re patients in the ED instead of working there). Otherwise we’re expected to just tough it out and spread our germs around.
    I hope that you’re feeling back to normal soon and that the rest of your pregnancy is smooth sailing.

    • Oh, wow! I had no idea that you would have to just tough it out. Gosh. I have such respect for people in the medical profession. It’s unbelievable how selfless you all are. Truly!

  18. When I worked in higher ed, I had similar circumstances as yours. I’ve learned moderation. When an employee is bumping along with zero sick or vacation time, it looks bad. But if you never take a sick day, you are missing out on time you deserve (even if you have to take a mental health day once in awhile!)

    I’ve always appreciated PTO (Paid Time Off) so the employee has more flexibility on how they use their time off. If it goes unused- they get paid for it.

    Anyone have a bad experience with PTO?

    • You’re so right, Nick! I definitely learned about balance the hard way. I suppose summers are my PTO, right? 🙂

  19. I was super envious that your district allows you to trade in unused sick days for service, until I read that you have no mat leave. Our district has a generous plan for maternity/paternity leave. I wish I had had a permanent position when I had my little ones. I am grateful for my sick days with my health changing.

    I am glad you have the sick days now as you await the arrival of your tiny human

    • It seems like every district does it differently, huh? I guess you take what you can get! I am so thankful to have a fairly stable position. I definitely remember those RIF years like it was yesterday!

  20. At my government job, I was able to bank up to 240 sick days (plus 60 vacation days and unlimited comp time). When you left, you were paid for all of your banked time. I was a jerk and needlessly used many sick days early in my career. So upon leaving, I only had a year’s worth of time saved up (roughly $80k). I saw many coworkers leave with checks well over $100k. At my private-sector job, I got 5 weeks of PTO annually. And it was use it or lose it. But even then, I had a hard time using it all. I worked from home, so sick days were a non-factor, and our vacations and weekend getaways never required 25 days. I did have a boss, though, who forced me to use my allotted PTO. She was big on R&R and considered it vital to an employee’s overall productivity. I guess my views on sick time boil down to this: If you can bank them, be greedy. It’s foolish to walk away from free money. But if you’re actually sick, use them. No sense in endangering yourself and others. Thanks for another great post, Penny. You never fail to make me think.

  21. Bonnie

    Currently, I get three weeks of PTO to use how I want. My boss is pretty generous with working from home, so if I’m not deathly ill I will generally take advantage of that when I’m sick or when my kid is sick. I use up EVERY day, though, somehow! We need our vacation. Lots of people just give up days–we don’t get paid for days we don’t take–and that’s just dumb to me. It’s part of our compensation. My previous job had unlimited sick days, which I thought was great. No one abused it, but it was nice to be able to take a sick day when needed without cutting into vacation time. My job before that, I was there for a while, and I had 4 weeks of vacation plus 12 sick days. I took sick days when I needed them (and occasional mental health days), and again, I used up every day of vacation. Not sure what I would do if I could bank time. Personally, I’d probably still take the time.

  22. I’m a temp worker and my current project is the first time I ever had access to paid sick leave. (I have no other benefits). I take it. Usually to play hooky. I take them as mental health days when I need them. When I give myself a vacation, that just means I’m not receiving income.

    Once I work for my own business full-time, I won’t truly have sick days. I complete work for my clients in the time allotted, or I don’t. No work and no pay.

    • That makes sense. And honestly, mental health days might be even more important than physical health days, at least sometimes!

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