Are sick days an employment benefit or an entitlement? If we
define sick days, then that will help to clarify the answer. The
purpose of sick days is to enable the employee to maintain a
regular paycheck when too ill to report for work. If we accept
this definition, then it would be dishonest to use sick days for
other purposes such as going shopping or catching up on laundry.
We cannot help
getting sick. The workplace itself has germs. Most of us are
going to need to use some of our allotted sick days. Some
employees will use more than others. If you undergo surgery, you
might use all your sick days and then have to tap into your
vacation days or take time off without pay. Some employers will
allow employees to use sick days to take care of a sick child.
It seems there are
very few people who never take a sick day. Why is this? Some
people have excellent health and good resistance to germs. There
are probably other reasons, too. There are workaholics, and
employees with co-dependent tendencies. Perfect attendance is
rewarded on some jobs. If you value having another certificate
to hang on your wall, or if you want extra points to put on your
resumé, then striving for perfect attendance makes sense.
What happens when
employees come to work sick? They spread germs and then
everybody gets sick. In social service agencies, therapists
can feel obligated to drag themselves to work when sick. This is
because their patients and colleagues need them to be there. It
is not like the teaching profession. Teachers can draw from a
workforce of substitute teachers to cover their classes.
Therapists, however, generally have to burden colleagues to cover
their caseload. The only other alternative is to cancel
appointments. One or two cancelled appointments may be tolerable
for high-functioning patients, but therapists working in agencies
with a severe population will probably need to find coverage.
In addition to sick
days, most employers also provide vacation days, personal days,
and the federal holidays. How do these differ from sick days?
Taking a sick day must be justified by illness. Taking vacation
days or personal days is a decision, and federal holidays are
automatic. Perhaps this is why some employees regard sick days
as an entitlement. Sick days are looked upon as earned time to be
used in the same manner as vacation days.
This view is also
possibly acquired in college. If I remember correctly, when I was
in college we were permitted four cut days per class each
semester. There was no such thing as a sick day. It was called a
cut day and students could use these days for any purpose and not
be penalized. There were some professors who did not even care
if students attended class, so long as the exams were passed and
the term-papers completed. In some instances, you could actually
get an A-grade without ever having attended class.
Yes, I usually took
my four cut days. No, I was not always sick. I used those days
to study for exams in other classes, do research in the library,
and catch up on laundry. The concept of perfect attendance, so
highly regarded in the lower grades, carried no value other than
to be in class to listen to the lecture and take notes. College
students were expected to be mature enough to want an education
and to manage their time wisely.
If an employer,
however, makes a distinction between a sick day and a vacation
day, and if you have agreed to follow the rules of the agency
for which you work, then sick days are to be used only when you
are sick and unable to report for work. If you have grievances
against your employer, you will achieve only a temporary feeling
of restitution by taking sick days without justification. When
you return to work, the same problems will still be there.
My good reputation
is important to me. When I call in sick, I am really in bed sick.
I want to be able to look my employer in the eye when I return to
work, knowing that I have not betrayed my professionalism. If
some of my sick days go unused, then that's just the way it is.
What would be
another method for providing employee benefits? Lump everything
together. Put all the sick days, vacation days, and personal days
into one category. Let's call it earned leave. Employees
would accrue days off annually as usual, but it would all go
into an earned leave account. Employees could make withdrawals
from their account for any purpose, much in the manner of my old
college cut days. Employees would have to budget their earned
leave, saving some of it to allow for unexpected illness.
Employees who emptied their entire account would have to wait
until they earned more time before taking the next day off.
The earned leave
method would permit healthy employees to take advantage of
heretofore inaccessible sick days. Since all their days off
would be lumped together, it would afford them some added days
for vacations or other purposes. Employees who lie about being
ill, would no longer have a system that is open to abuse.
Some employees would
have difficulty adjusting to the earned leave method. If it
became a standard, however, employees would learn that budgeting
time is similar to budgeting their paycheck. You have to pay
the bills first, and then decide what to do with the remainder
of your money. Putting some of it in savings is a good idea.
The same holds true with earned leave accounts. Saving some time
for emergencies is a good idea. Having more time for personal
use would make life more enjoyable. (Written 10/02/06)
Until we meet