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Cough Cough… Mandatory Sick Days?

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My co-worker came into work a month ago with a nasty flu. When we asked her why she was there, she said she had burned through her vacation time over the holidays and couldn’t afford to take the time off.

We tried our best to defend ourselves from her coughing, sneezing, and wheezing through plenty of hand washing and Lysol spraying, but one by one, we watched as the entire department came down with the flu… followed by the surrounding two departments within two weeks.

Despite my best efforts to protect myself like Rene Russo in ‘Outbreak’, I was sidelined by the bug and lay on the couch for three days begging my husband to take me to the ER because death was imminent.

I can be a little dramatic when I’m sick.

One of my coworkers has a husband who is undergoing cancer treatment and his immune system is weak. When she ultimately came down with the virus, she had to wear a mask in her home, sleep in a separate bedroom, and use a different bathroom to protect her husband.

California is working to pass legislation forcing companies to give between 5 and 9 sick days a year to employees. Studies indicate that employees are unable to afford time off and come in to work, spreading the flu.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think my company is to blame for the fact that I’m laying on my couch praying I don’t get pneumonia…again, but I wonder if this law would make a difference.

Then again, I’m not a fan of government involvement in anything so I have mixed feelings.

What do you think? Should the states mandate sick time so folks like me stop getting sick from infectious co-workers?


32 Comments

  • Reply jaye |

    Wait, your company doesn’t offer ANY sick days? Or did she use them as vacation days?
    Your question is a good one, as your company undoubtedly lost a lot of money due to her bad choice. As anyone who’s had the flu knows, it’s very unlikely that she did anything but get everyone else sick while there with the flu.
    What really strikes me is that she made a very ill-considered, selfish and possibly dangerous choice. I can’t get past that!

  • Reply Tracy |

    A lot of companies give what is called Paid Time Off (PTO), which is supposed to cover vacation, personal days, and sick time. However, they may not give more than two to three weeks of that.

  • Reply Money Beagle |

    I don’t think this should be a legislative issue, but companies should craft policies that make it advisable to stay home versus coming into work. It can be tough to balance that. The way our company handles it seems to work out good. We have two ‘banks’ of personal time. One is good only for the calendar year. The other accrues time with each check and you can keep up to a certain amount of time in there no matter the calendar time. This gives employees flexibility to manage their time and keep time available in the event that it’s needed. Quite honestly, companies should realize that crafting such a policy would be an investment in their own business, as having lost productivity certainly isn’t helping their bottom line if everyone is home sick.

  • Reply jolie |

    We see the effects of this at school as well. We will have children too sick to be at school, but are sent because their parents have no sick days/ can’t take time off, or there are no alternate child care arrangements. I’ve been there. I feel their pain. However when you see a child laying on their desk like death warmed over, throwing up from flu or hacking their lungs out, it makes one wonder. It only takes a day or two of this before you see half the class out due to illness.

  • Reply Shannon |

    I don’t think it should be mandated, but it would be nice if common sense would be part of company policies. If you don’t have the time left to take, your manager should make you go home without pay for a day or two, without any further consequences to your job. I don’t get any sick time, I only have personal leave. This year in particular is a b*tch, because i’m having a baby. So, the time i take off after the child is born, is all unpaid (there is no maternity leave here, only FMLA) unless i use my own PTO to cover it. That means i can’t afford to take a single day off before OR after the baby comes for me to be sick, or my kids to be sick. I absolutely HAVE TO BE at work. As it is, there were will be at least 3 weeks i’m out without any pay at all. It’s ridiculous.

  • Reply Melissa |

    This is an issue of company culture. If you are given three weeks of vacation time, one of it should be set aside for sick days. When a manager is reviewing requests for time off, they can make darn sure that the employee has sufficient time off banked to stay home when they have the death flu.

    If circumstances arise and the individual does not have any sick time available, the manager should allow that person to go one or two days negative and make up the time in the following vacation period.

  • Reply Starr |

    unfortunately, hoping that a company will have “common sense” is wishful thinking. They’re happy to not offer paid time off for sick workers. Legislation and enforcement are required for businesses to unilaterally care about their employees. And making people go without pay…makes me wonder if other posters have never experienced abject poverty when going without pay could mean no food on the table. Even one day’s pay.

  • Reply Char |

    My company’s policy is pretty awesome. It does not give a set amount to sick days so you can use as many days as you need – obviously within reason (in fact I am using one today). They do track the number of sick days you take but as long as you do not go overboard then you have nothing to worry about. I think part of the idea is so you don’t force yourself to come in sick and infect others.

  • Reply Jen |

    What Starr said… We shouldn’t have to legislate this, but sadly it looks like we do, from a public policy health perspective. I wonder, though, is a compromise solution could be made. Instead of passing a law requiring companies to give X amount of sick leave, perhaps there’s a way for the government to offer incentives for companies to offer sick days?

    The downside of this is that by saying employers must offer 5 sick days/year, then employers who have a liberal sick day policy might end up reducing the number of sick days. For example, where I work there are no sick days, just a policy that says if you’re sick, stay home. If you’re taking a lot of sick days then your manager can take action such as requesting a doctor’s note, etc. But, we can also work from home, so that helps make it easier for the employer to allow people to stay home.

    Also, after the H1N1 scare, my company became very, very concerned about spreading viruses, so culturally, people want you to stay home.

  • Reply Nicole |

    Just because you give people sick days does not mean they won’t come to work when they’re sick. The “sick days” will just become “vacation” for some people to be used for fun stuff rather than sitting home sick.

    I worked at a company where the philosophy was, if you’re sick, stay home. It was with pay and there was no limit. In my first 3 months there, two women were out sick at least 15 days each. Since I provided their backup support, I didn’t stay with the company very long!

  • Reply Jen B |

    Too many people are reluctant to use their PTO appropriately, both because they’ll have no vacation time left to use for relaxing, and also because a lot of places will cite you for absences, even if you have good reasons. My workplace is a hospital, and we obviously shouldn’t come to work sick. They actually encourage us to stay home when we’re sick – there are posters up everywhere with that message during flu season. But if we call in sick, a little form gets filled out and put in our file – if we get more than 4 of those in one year, it gets brought up in out annual review and we don’t get a raise. Punishing someone for being sick is pretty unfair, especially when the company makes a big show of telling employees to stay home if they’re sick!

  • Reply Beth |

    Legislation shouldn’t be necessary since not having whole departments come down sick in a week is in the company’s best interest. But apparently companies, like people, can make poor decisions.

    Having your livelihood tied to being exposed to a highly infectious disease is a public health issue. So perhaps instead of laws, state’s and districts could support their local public health offices so that they can work with companies to create better sick day policies. At a minimum, supervisors/bosses should be able to send someone home with pay if they are really sick, just to prevent others from becoming ill. An entire workforce becoming ill cost the company a lot more than a few extra days of paid leave.

  • Reply Makky's Mom |

    To add briefly to Jolie’s comment – that is exactly what happened by my little girl a few weeks ago. I volunteered in her class on a Thursday and there was a little boy in class that was very sick and should not have been there. I came home and told my hubby about it and said “M better not be sick in 4 days!” Well, guess what, Sunday night she started complaining of a sore throat – which started a 12 day battle with that virus followed by a 5 day stay in a children’s hospital with pneumonia and IV antibiotics! Thankfully my little girl recovered just fine but it was undoubtedly from that little boy’s attendance at school that day! Apparently, half her class was off sick for the whole week the week after that boy was in class with the flu!

  • Reply Shirley |

    Ten years ago I had just started a new job and found myslef surrounded by everyone coming to work sick, coughing over the cubes and in conference rooms. It was a new enviornment, my immune system was taxed and I got very ill. This was enough to trigger an auto-immune desease: Rhuematoid Arthritis. Now I am challenged to stay well and rested. If you are sick, please stay home.

  • Reply Ashley @ sunnysideshlee.com |

    I do think mandatory sick days should be implemented. I have a friend that has Rheumatoid Arthritis and really can’t afford to get sick because of her medicine, her immune system is shot. So when she gets taken down by a cold, she gets taken down hard. Working in close proximity to someone that has a nasty virus could literally make her sick to death. I think if you have the flu, stay home!

  • Reply Brianne |

    You said, “Then again, I’m not a fan of government involvement in anything so I have mixed feelings.”

    That’s a pretty strong statement. Do you want the government to pave your roads? Send a truck when your house is on fire? Keeping toxic chemicals out of your food? Keeping companies from dumping whatever they want into the air you breathe and the water you drink? Protecting our borders from foreign intruders? Paying you short-term disability for 12 weeks when you give birth?

    Where do you draw the line?

    And yes, your company should have sick leave. I thought only restaurants and Walmart were that harsh to their employees.

  • Reply Louise |

    no sick days? I’m constantly amazed at the conditions workers in the US have. Over here we get 4 weeks annual leave and 2 weeks sick leave as a basic condition. Some jobs have more ( I get a total of 7 weeks annual leave).
    I am just gobsmacked yet again!

  • Reply Lilly |

    Honestly? I live in Sweden and i´m horrified.. We pay ourself for the first sickday, and then the company pays 80% of you salary for the first two weeks. After that it gets a little bit complicated, but overall up to six months (if you have a valid reason of course)isn´t a problem.

  • Reply Shannon |

    Brianne…just FYI, the gov’t does NOT have to pay you 12 weeks of short term disability for when you give birth. It varies by state, but only companies large enough to require FMLA still only have to pay you 5 weeks for a vaginal delivery and 7 weeks for a c-sect. You can take 12 weeks OFF, but none of that is paid by the gov’t. Short term disability is paid by your employer, and sometimes by you, if you have to pay per paycheck to have short term disability. The gov’t only protects your right to return to a job.

  • Reply Marianne |

    We recently signed a petition within our company to encourage the owner to put a conservative sick day policy in effect. In our case, there are a few times a year when we work extremely long hours for about two weeks at a time and it always happens that if one person has a bug around that time everyone will get it because our immune systems are weakened. The last time it was the owner himself who spread it all around. In our case it can be extremely discouraging to work long hours three days in a row and then lose all your overtime because you were sidelined for the last two days of the week.

  • Reply rosie |

    I have to admit I also am constantly amazed at the conditions US workers have to endure. Where I work you ‘earn’ basically one sick day per month, these sick days can be accumulated and used as needed. If you just have the sniffles and will only be staying home for a day or two then it is no big deal (providing of course you do not have a pattern of absenteeism). If it is going to be longer then you just go to your doctor get verification of your illness and notify your supervisor as per policy. I just recently had to take 2 weeks sick (I was almost hospitalized for pneumonia). Because of our sick policy I was able to stay home and ‘keep my germs to myself’. When I returned yesterday while my co-workers were happy to see me, they were even happier I had stayed home. Only one of my co-workers happened to get sick and that was from his child (who got sick when in daycare and another child was there sick).

  • Reply Brigham |

    No, do not legislate new laws requiring sick days. Just get everybody on the Dave Ramsey (or other) plan to get out of debt- then they can afford to stay home for a few days when they are sick because they are not drowning in debt.

  • Reply Dylan |

    I’m in Canada, and while I’m glad the company I work for has paid sick days for when people really need them – I think there’s a fair amount of abuse, too, which is perhaps why some companies are wary of having such a policy. For example: A coworker of mine takes at least one sick day nearly every single month. The fact that she gets paid while I do her work, over and over again, irks me.

  • Reply Kevin |

    I agree on having mixed feelings about laws guarantying sick time. When laws are passed, jobs disappear, or unexpected costs to employees increase. However, it’s gotten to the point that many workers are afraid to call out sick, for fear of losing promotions, overtime, vacation time or even their jobs.

    Coming in sick IS spreading germs and making others sick, but it’s easy to see why people do it.

  • Reply Beks |

    Brianne – The short answer, I think government should have very little say in my life. On a side note, I receive no disability. My maternity leave will not be covered at all by the government… and I’m OK with that. I pay for disability insurance and I will use that. Your tax dollars won’t be paying for me – and that’s the way I like it.

  • Reply ellen |

    I worked for a company with generous leave policies for the US – you got 40 hours of sick time per year which doesn’t go very far if you also use it to stay home with sick children. The first year you only earned 2 weeks of vacation. Short term disability covered the workers but not family illnesses. Yeah – we’d stay home if we needed to, but during deadline week we all had to be there. Chronic illness would get your fired – we live in a “right to work” state.

  • Reply Andy |

    We have 23 days of leave every year, anyway we like to use them – planned, sick or personal. You accrue so many hours (6.2?) each pay period. The pro side is – if you don’t get sick in a year all 23 are vacation days. The down side is, people come in sick ALL the time because they have used all their leave for fun things and not saved any leave days for emergencies.

    We are a large company with a very generous leave policy. I feel as though as an adult you need to be responsible for budgeting your own time. If you know you have 10 days of leave accrued you should probably only use 7-9 of them for planned vacation, leaving you a fews days for “just in case”. However, it seems to be the norm to never save any time for emergencies.

    I feel as though matter how generous your company’s leave policy is there will always be those that come in sick anyway.

  • Reply Jen |

    You know, thinking more about it, I keep coming back to the woman whose husband had cancer. I’d hate to think of what could happen to him if she brought home a nasty bug! I also think about a former colleague who had cancer – she died a few months ago, far too young – but because of the type of cancer she had and the treatment for it she was able to work for several months at a time. She also had to be out for a bit, but anyway… There are cancer patients who are able to work, and are encouraged too because maintaining as normal a life as possible is better for their outlook, which in turns helps their recovery. So, what happens if you come to work with the flu or a nasty cold and pass it on to them?

    When I first started working I would come to work sick – I didn’t have a sick day policy to fight with – just my work ethic. I grew up watching my mother go to work sick. After a while, my employess clued me in – they didn’t want me there when I was sick because they didn’t want to catch what I had! They told me to stay home. Now I do, now that I realize that it isn’t just me who suffers.

  • Reply fd |

    the idea that in a developed country (especially) you would put your own health at risk or others’ because you’re afraid you can’t afford to not be at work is horrifying to me.

  • Reply Manuel |

    America is funny about this, isn’t it? Where I grew up (Germany), one gets 5-6 weeks vacation and sick time isn’t regulated, i.e. if you are sick, you stay home, no penalties against your vacation. People have gotten more careful about taking sick leave though because whenever there are layoffs, if you took a lot of sick time, you’d be at the top of the list. Now that I am in the US, my personal policy is that unless I am absolutely dying, I am going to work, in part as a protest to my companies PTO policy. I get 3 weeks PTO, which is laughable, my wife and I usually take one 2 week vacation to Europe each year, and I need the last week for one-offs to take care of things throughout the year that can only be taken care of during the work week.
    This law is a good proposal, but I’d go a step further and mandate that no company is allowed to cut vacation time / existing PTO as a result of it. These days should be in addition to what you already have, not as a substitute.
    Americans spend too much time at work as it is, yet we still fall behind, maybe it’s time to workers more time of their own and see productivity go up as a result.

  • Reply Marjory |

    When I was a young Canadian girl, sick days and vacation days were different. You got two weeks of vacation a year and 1 sick day per month of employment up to a maximum of 10. After you had worked for 10 months, you had 10 sick days.

    When you took a sick day (because you were sick), the number decreased to 9 until another month had passed when it went back up to 10. You didn’t get 10 per year and you couldn’t use them just because you felt like picking up your dry cleaning. They were only for being sick. (I think you might have been able to use them for child sickness too but definitely not for extra vacation or puttering around the house time).

    The trouble with the situation today is that Americans don’t have sick days. They just have vacation. You should have sick days – period.

    And Dylan, that girl who takes her ‘sick’ days every month is probably in violation of company policy. I’m surprised someone hasn’t required a doctor’s certificate by now. Where I worked, they certainly would have asked for it.

  • Reply Jack |

    I hate when workers come in sick. The company I work for offers 5 sick days a year and you can carry over unused days up to 20 accumulated days. Last year I was able to carry over 3 but haven’t been able to the years before because of one particular worker who is a workaholic and selfish and has actually spent the day at work with the stomach flu…vomiting….in the office trash can. That person is no longer with the company and I was able to carry over days. I am one who believes if you are able, stay at home, at least one day and don’t spread your germs. Companies are so greedy and think they are getting more out of their workers by requiring them to be at work at all cost. We all know how well we work when we are sick.

So, what do you think ?