Sick Leave: The Other Vacation Time?

Ok, this idea has been burning a hole in the back of my mind.  I was talking to a person who is retiring shortly and he had accumulated about 300 days of sick leave at his job over a long career of being healthy and going to work most days.   Yet in the end he realized there was no reward for not using his sick time.  He basically gave away 300 days of his time he could have had off, for no increase in pay.  I joked with him that he should go on stress leave until his retirement date to try and use it up.

Yet that story brings up an interesting point, should you try to use your annual sick leave if you are given a set amount?  After all it is a benefit of your job, so why won’t you use it if you have access to it.

So out of curiosity I look up my company’s policy and realized it was actually fair.  I’m allowed to use sick time to attend medical appointments (including dental and eye) as well as take time off to look after sick children or my spouse.

With those parameters I could see using up my annual sick leave anyway, but I was just wondering what everyone’s thoughts were on this.  Is it ethical or just plain smart to try to use up your sick leave every year or not?  Is the odd ‘stress day’ a reasonable way to use up some sick time?

21 thoughts on “Sick Leave: The Other Vacation Time?”

  1. I don’t have a set “number of sick days”, and think such limits are ridiculous but in general of course you should. After all, some companies just call them “personal days”. Do you think the people with their names on the door don’t take “mental health days” too? Take all you can while you can, because the Man would have no ethical issue with laying you off, reducing benefits, moving you to the broom closet, or otherwise impacting your life at a moment’s notice if it were convenient for them.

  2. Is there a law in Canada/Ontario that allows one to carry those unused seek days from year to year, indefinitely? Or is it at employer’s will?

  3. My sick days accumulate with no limit, so by the end of my career it’s quite possible that I’ll have many months of sick leave accumulated.

    It might seem “wasted” in a sense, but it’s sort of like an insurance policy – if I get really sick sometime in my career (say, I need surgery followed by several weeks of recovery time), then I’ll be able to utilize my sick time and not worry about any loss of pay during the recovery. This exact scenario has happened to some of my coworkers, who were very glad they accumulated a reserve of sick days.

  4. I have only taken one day in 5 years and accumulate about 15 days per year. I don’t see them as an entitlement to use unless I’m sick and I hate to see others abuse the system. It is the people who abuse their days now that will be left in the cold if they have cancer or a heart attack in 20 years and don’t have that year of accumulated leave. (although, like those who make poor financial decisions, the system seems to shelter and protect them anyways)

  5. Perhaps I’m a lone voice in the productivity storm, but I don’t view the occasional stress day (or mental health day) as an indication of rampant abuse of the system. If it’s every other week.. then yeah, there’s something going on, but sometimes you just need a day to keep your sanity together. You’re not going to be productive (or not as productive) and your stress level is going to go through the roof… mental health is important to keep on even keel as well.

  6. We get up to 6 months of our accumulated sick days paid out when we leave, retire or get fired which acts as an incentive not to abuse the system but I agree the occasional mental health day should be allowed and benefits the corporation by having healthy, mentally refreshed employees. With today’s busy pace it is much better to take a day to decompress then to wait until you are completely broken down and then have to a week off. Employees shouldn’t however use up all there days in case of a major illness but the occassional just feeling crappy or I need to refresh myself should be tolerated. The 1% that abuse sick days are also the ones who don’t work very hard when they are at work so they should be let go or dealt with rather then making policies around the few.

  7. I think it depends on the industry you’re in. Where I work, we get 5 days a year and they do not carry over.

    I know nurses can accumulate their sick days, and then take them at the end of a career, or before a pregnancy, for example.

    I think they should be health days – can be used for medical appointments, sickness, relatives sickness’, stress, etc.

  8. I’m with guinness 100% on this one. Like hers, my company has no set number of sick or personal days. I take a sick day at least once every two months.

    I’ve seen enough people come and go due to layoffs at my company to know that they aren’t putting me 1st so I’m not going to go out of my way to get the “Perfect Attendance Award” when it means absolutely nothing.

    Besides, taking a “sick” day to sleep in, cozy up with the spouse and then make banana pancakes at noon feels WAY better when you didn’t have to burn a vacation day to do it. 🙂

  9. Like some others, I receive 6 personal days per year that I can use as I please – for being sick, sleeping in, attending appointments, or anything I please. They only caveat is that I can’t add them onto the end of a vacation as an extra day, and they don’t carry over year to year.

    I completely agree that mental health days are needed and deserved, and that you should take as many as you’re entitled to. Personally, I don’t mind the limits on sick days because I can take a day off for no reason at all and not feel guilty about it. Besides, it’s in my boss’ interest to see me happy and rested at work.

  10. Personally I love it when my co-workers take sick days when they are not really sick. It makes those of us who do not abuse the system look better. Most days I feel that showing up for work on time puts me in the top 10% of my company. If layoffs were to come I know that I would make the cut and it would be the abusers who do not. Taking unnecessary sick days is what I call a CLM (career limiting move).

    Oh yeah…one day illnesses are usually called hangovers.

  11. I take all my sick days, but generally save them toward the end of the year “just in case.” But we can’t accumlate them year-over-year. If we could, I’d rethink that.

    I call them mental health days, and they are just as important as a sick day.

  12. Legally in Ontario, you are entitled to 10 days of sick leave without losing your job. Your employer is not required to pay you for sick days.

    Now, my experience is that a lot of smaller companies will generally pay for five days of sick leave and will not roll days over to the next year.

    On the other hand, unions and middle and upper management seem to get real nice sick day packages. My wife (CUPE) gets 15 days paid with a roll over.

  13. I would recommend that you save your sick days for when your child enters kindergarten. At that point, the lovely little germ factories we call kids start bringing home every virus known to man.

    Then, you really do need the time off to recuperate.



  14. It is interesting that most people seem to think you should use up your sick time. I like the idea that they should be called personal days or something like that.

    @Ben – Actually in my personal case you attendance record is completely meaningless. I work in consulting where they lay you off depending if they can’t make money on your skills. How long you have been there or anything else is mostly meaningless.

    @Q – Ha! Try having daycare in your home and then tell me about germs! Even with proper cleaning you end up fighting a losing war.

    Thanks for the great discussion everyone,

  15. I’ve taken mental health days, sick days, hangover days (I know, I know, not a habit), homework days (once), and the rest I use for any kind of appointment. Employers are not allowed to ask what the appointment or sick day is for. I’ve only been here a year so I was using up my time as I earned it. 2007 was a rough year.

    I don’t feel like I need to save them up, because if I had to go on long term leave we have insurance for that.

  16. I guess I should mention, I am in a union, so we get a lot of benefits. I don’t abuse them though. Like I said, 2007 was a rough year.

  17. Wow, you are lucky you can use your sick leave to attend medical appointments. Most companies I know don’t encourage the use of sick leave. However, many employees do just take sick leave like it is vacation!

  18. I have worked for the Federal Govt for longer than I care to remember, and am left with the dilemma of what to do with my unused sick time prior to retirement. We earn 15 S/L days per year, these are “bankable”, however, these credits are lost as you walk out the door for the last time. The problem is, there is or never has been any kind of acknowledgment (no payment or partial payment, not even a pat on the back) for being a “good employee” if you leave with a S/L balance. The employer, in our case being Treasury Board, is the better for it. I have wrestled with this issue for years, and in this place, employees run the gamut of having thousands of hours of S/L “in the bank”, to those having none, either thru genuine sickness or abuse. I have talked to people on our negotiating committee, and their response is that S/L is “part of your pay package”, and you should use it accordingly. So, it is indeed a moral issue, however, it really does grind on you. Working for the Feds, it really comes down to: There is no reward for being “good” and no consequences for being “bad”. Maybe I’m just having a bad day, but I’m really leaning towards a “screw them” attitude.

  19. As a small business owner I have been trying to develop a sick day policy. My question to those in large companies it what happens when you are sick but have used up all of your days? Do you start into your vacation days or simply take unpaid time off. If unpaid time what is the consequence to too much lost time?

  20. Nancy,

    It depends. Some companies have a policy of using the sick time to bridge to short term disability while others don’t.

    I know my work we can use sick first, then exhaust all are other timer second or we could use their Plan B which covers situations like this but at reduced pay.

    In other places I’ve worked you could use up all your time and then you ended up on unpaid leave.

    It all depends on what you want to do. Good luck.


Comments are closed.