I feel like death right now. I’ve sneezed so many times today I think my head is about to explode. I got home super late last night because I was volunteering with my High School outreach program Young Life. If you’ve caught the news, I’m sure you’ve heard So. Cal is freakin’ hot. In fact, yesterday was the hottest day EVER in downtown Los Angeles. Hottest day ever! For Young Life last night, we decided to take 60 inner-city high schoolers to the beach and set up a humungous slip and slide in to the ocean. It was the most glorious thing I’ve ever seen. But now, I’m regretting being so active yesterday. My body aches, my head kills, and my nose is flowing like the Amazon. I need to get myself one of these things to combat it…

Anywho, I feel way to terrible to write something for you all today, so I’m gonna post up an old article I wrote about sick days and time off. It’s pretty interesting I think, so if you didn’t see it before make sure to check it out.

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?  (hah, looks like I’m eating my own words right now)

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!?

p.s. I promise I’m legitimately sick right now 😉



  1. Phew, just caught up with a weeks worth of reading from while I’ve been away! There were a few more of your posts i could have commented on, but I decided to not be stalkery and stick with todays!

    I’m going to comment from the very confused UK perspective. You see, if we are sick, we take a sick day. There’s no limit to the number we are allowed to take in one year, as you can’t tell how often you are going to be ill. If you are off for more than a couple of days, it is normal for you to need to bring in a note from your doctor when you get back.

    I am also a bit surprised that you consider 13 days to be a generous holiday allowance. If the sick days were included, then OK, but as they aren’t – yurk! I have 25 days plus about 14 public holidays, and that’s from my starting date. You earn more days the longer you stay here as well, but I don’t know the exact amounts. that’s quite generous (my fiancee only has 20 days + PHs), but I work for a company which used to be government owned, so the extra days come from that.

  2. I’m a provincial Canadian employee.

    I’ll have to echo Victoria’s sentiments above. I have 15 days vacation and within a few years, I’ll be getting an additional 5 days. Also, I have 130 sick days. Six days at 100% and 124 at 75%. That being said, those 124 sick days are for long-term illnesses and of course require doctor’s notes and stuff. Our sick days also cover time needed to see the doctor too.(I lost track of vacation days.) I suppose the difference is attributed to US vs Canada vs UK from being a neo-liberal capitalist state to the others being more of a welfare states.

    Personally, I’ve never used a sick day as a vacation day. Mostly because I get sick often! I actually need my sick days. What can I say? My antibodies suck. 🙁

  3. Man. I am sleepy. Typos everywhere. What I meant to say was:

    -Six days at 100% pay and 124 at 75% pay.
    -(I lost track of how many holidays we have.)

  4. can you use your sick leave as personal or mental health days? because you know, sometimes you just need a break!

    at my current job i get no sick days or vacation for the first year, and after that i get 3 days vacation and one sick day.


    at my last job (government job) i was only a part time employee (NAF), but got considerably better benefits as far as time off and sick days. i did call in once or twice when i wasn’t really sick, but only after they denied me time off twice when my family came to visit (i was in stationed in germany). figured they deserved that one.

    anyhow, to answer your question, calling in sick when you are not is wrong, but if you are stressed and need a break, i think it’s fine. people need time off just to chill/destress!

  5. I don’t get any paid sick days. I can certainly “call in sick” if I’m sick, but I won’t get paid for it, so I think seriously hard about whether or not I truly am incapacitated enough to give up $300 to call in sick. As for vacation days, I get a lump sum payout which is equivilent to 10% of what I earn each year. I believe it would equal about 5 weeks of vacation time if I were working fulltime 8 hr workdays, which I’m not.

    Personally, I’d like to see a distinction between a “sick day” and a “personal/family day”. When one of my children is vomitting and NEEDS their mother (ya, dad’s are ok, but when the puke is flying – ain’t no one like mama to soothe away the sick tummy!) I’d like to be able to call in absent for family reasons. I do not like to call in sick when I am not truly sick and do it very rarely – only when one of my children is sick, which ultimately I am sick with worry and stress so in reality I am actually too stressed (sick) to work so it isn’t a lie. I do not use sick time for additional vacation time. To me, that is morally unethical. However, a “mental health day” isn’t a crime if you really need a day to decompress.

  6. I believe your NOSE is flowing like the amazon… :o)

    In my company it’s called PTO (Paid Time Off) and we use it for vacation/sick/mental health days.

  7. I took a sick day once. I left to go to Urgent care in the middle of the day because I had shooting pains. When I put a sick day on my timecard (I’m salaried). I was told to remove it and work extra that week to make up the hours. That is the only sick day I ever took in my life through all my crappy part time jobs too. And precisely why I don’t take them unless I’m going to die at work. Its completely frowned upon at nearly every private corporation.

  8. Like Jane, I get “paid time off.” It doesn’t matter if I’m sick or if I’m taking vacation. It’s all from the same pool. My PTO is based on how much I work; I get something like 5 minutes of PTO for each hour that I work. so the more I work, the more PTO I get. The only stinky thing is that I don’t get any automatically paid holidays. I have to use my PTO for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and any other day that the office is closed — or I don’t get paid.

  9. For the first commentor from UK – this was Soviet’s system as well, I miss it here:)
    In short, the answer is – yes, I do take sick days for short vacation (as in “mental health stay home”, or to add on to a long weekend). No, I don’t feel guilty at all. I am never sick. These days are built in to my pay. I don’t have enough vacation days. I am taking off to recharge, because otherwise I’d stop being productive at work.

  10. Also, some private corporations have systems that detect people that use sick days on Mondays and Fridays and put you on a probation ‘watch list’ for a certain amount of time. Totally not kidding. If you end up being sick on a Monday/Friday more then 1-2 times in whatever predetermined amount of time you will be officially under review. A file prints out every time card period and some poor person has to go through and review it. My work was like that also and let you know another way to convince you not to take sick days. I am willing to bet other corporations have the same system and might advertise it to their employees.

  11. I can use sick time for medical related appointments. If I have a scheduled doctor or dental visit, I can request to use 3 hours of sick time to attend the appointment. Also, when you get to retirement age, you can possibly convert the accrued sick time to service time – but check with HR for that. You may start to use more sick time when you start to have baby ninjas. You may need to attend appointments with wife ninja or have to take baby ninjas to the doctor yourself.

  12. My company does have a standard sick day policy, but it’s not strictly enforced. Our office is quite small, so if someone takes an inordinent amount of sick time, believe me, it’s noticed. If you call in sick 3 days in a row, you have to bring in a doctor’s note. I personally don’t use sick days if I’m not sick; I don’t want to be accused of “crying wolf” when I need a legitimate sick day.

    My husband is an hourly employee, so if he’s doesn’t go into work, he doesn’t get paid…. we gotta cop us some sweet government jobs!

  13. I am a contractor and do not get any PTO, any time I take off is on my own dime. I do however also work from home and have a flexble schedule. As long as I work 160 hours in a month I will get my full pay. I do not make extra money if I work more hours. I therefore make sure that I work as close to 174 hours per month every month. If you are disciplined (I am) this works out very nicely. During the summer when my children are out of school I work 4 day weeks so that we can take lots of mini-vacays. When my children are in school I typically volunteer at one of their schools for half a day each week. Even with this schedule I usually end up with anywhere from 4 to 20 hours over at then end of the month so I just take those hours off during the last few days of the month. For example, this month I will be taking half a day on Wednesday and all day on Thursday off and since the end of the month falls on a Thursday I am going to go ahead and take Friday off as well.

  14. Since at my job I’m paid by the hour, I can take off whenever I want but I’m costing myself. I do however receive 10 vacation days per year where I get paid for 8 hours worth of work. Am I the only one who thinks that picture of the toilet paper dispenser is hilarious. I laughed for at least 20 minutes. I could have used one of those things a couple weeks ago.

  15. Feel better. I get a total of 10 sick day and 3 personal days from my company a year. I have call in “Sick” and really just take a mental health day when I need a break from the day to day stress of the job.

  16. I live in British Columbia, Canada and am a full time employee in a non-union position. I’ve always heard that Americans generally don’t have very good benefits and now I see it’s true. We have 11 paid statutory holidays per year. I am in the 0-3 years category at work and I also receive 20 paid vacation days, 10 paid personal days (cannot be accrued) and as many sick days (also cannot be accrued) as I need – total = 41 paid days off. As per a similar post above, I would also need a doctors note after 3 consecutive days of illness. If you are sick more than 10 consecutive days, short term disability kicks in and after 30 sick days, long term disability kicks in. We also get paid days off for bereavement, marriage, moving, funerals, jury duty and family illness. Because everything is covered, nobody takes advantage of this system and most people average 3 – 5 sick days per year. We can also take time out for medical appointments with no penalty – just advise your supervisor. We also have between 80 and 100% coverage for all medical and dental expenses for staff and their immediate families. This was a godsend when my daughter needed major dental and orthodontic work. You probably dont’ want to hear about our amazing pension plan.
    I also think that whether you work from home or not, if you are sick, you need to stay in bed or the hospital bed and recover.

  17. Hi. Long time creeper, first time poster.

    My wife and I both work for a large non-profit/charity (opposite coast from you, Ninja). I am a salaried employee in IT and my wife is hourly as a secretary.

    Salary and hourly workers get different amounts of vacation to start and have different charts for increases for years of service. Salary jobs start at 20 days of vacation (I know, I’m spoiled) and hourly get 10. After a 90 day probationary period without benefits, everyone gets 3 personal days, 12 sicks days and about 13 holidays (sick/vacation accrue monthly, personal are per year- use em or lose em). Our handbook says that we *must* use sick time “when available” for absence due to our own OR family illness or health related appointment.

    As for me, I will be saving my sick days when possible. Twenty days vacation is plenty, especially since my wife only has 10 and I don’t get sick often. Besides, if I accumulate 50 days of sick time, they start paying me 50% each year for the balance (they “delete” anything over 50 at the end of each year and pay you half for it).

  18. I work part-time for a major retailer and they use the PTO system. Doesn’t matter what the reason is, you just use your hours as you want them. I don’t accrue any since I’m a seasonal employee, but that’s how the system works.

    To all you Canadians:

    Those benefits sound amazing! But when you’re sick, how on earth do you deal with that horrible socialist health care system you have going? 😉

  19. I am an hourly paid employee with a union, in Alberta. I “earn” 4 hrs of sick time per each month worked, so I guess that adds up to 48hrs a year or 6 days.

    I’m also a single parent – so I dont use my sick time for myself – I save them for when the kiddies are sick, and I have to stay home with them.

    And yes, it sucks.

  20. I have about 20 days, but most people don’t take any. Calling in sick means working from home (ie, they are logged on and check their voicemail) in case something urgent pops up.

    The only time I’ve used all my sick time is when I had my 2 kids. It somehow gets rolled into your maternity leave/short term disability benefits.

    I’ve never called in sick to play hookie. It’s just not done in the private sector jobs that I know of.

  21. I teach so I too get the 13 days a year (3 personal, 10 sick). We have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy at school, and I was told when I was hired that “mental health days” count as sick days 😉 .

    I’m saving mine up for maternity. Six weeks of paid time. Right now, I have 12, so I’m hoping to end the year with 7-10. That will make my baby-making happen in the next two to three years. If I were you, I’d save some up for baby times. Paternal leave! I’m all about it.

  22. I’m a SAHM – no time off for me! Actually, that’s not entirely true. On the rare occasion that I am totally non-functioning sick, my hubby will take a sick day and stay home with me to watch the kids. He can still check emails and do some of his work, just not the lab work. Fortunately his company is big on “work-life balance” and staying home to take care of family members who are sick count as legitimate sick days for them. After 12 years on the job he has 20 vacation days per year plus holidays. His sick time is almost unlimited; I think he can take 250 sick days per two year period. It’s obviously meant to be used for people who are undergoing things like chemo, and thus far people have not taken advantage of it.

  23. Are you a union member? Government unions are very powerful and provide nice benefits such as paid sick days. In the service industry and in a union, we do not get sick days. Not only that, we earn points every time we call in. Twelve points within a year and you can look for another job. It’s because of this many of my fellow union members obtain FMLA to avoid getting points and piss off the company and make their coworkers work harder.

    In regards to your morals and ethics, I say if you get sick pay as a benefit you can use it however you want because your boss is not too concerned, otherwise you would get a point system like us.

  24. I think it’s morally wrong to take a sick day when you are not sick.

    Even worse (and believe me, your coworkers will comment on it, maybe not to you) to take days to have long weekends, extend long weekends or holidays. It’s morally wrong. You may think you get away with it, but it’s that sort of behaviour that will, in the long run, eat away at your work ethic and your desire to work.

    That said, I have no problem with occasional mental health days. But you mustn’t then take yourself off to the beach to rejuvenate. If you are well enough to go to the beach you are well enough to go to work. If you call in sick, you must stay at home and act as if you are really sick. If you have a genuine mental illness and are off sick under a doctor’s care and have a doctor’s note, you can do whatever your doctor orders, including going to the beach or running or shopping or whatever. The other good reason for not going out/on vacation on sick days is that you will get caught. I’ve seen it happen too many times to coworkers (even in large cities of over 2 million people) to think that you’ll get away with it. In fact just last week, I called in sick for work and a supervisor commented that he’d seen me walking off from the bus stop and was surprised to find I wasn’t at work (because I was fully dressed and out of the house when he saw me). Because I’d taken the train, and was waiting for my connecting bus when I realised I wasn’t fit for work. And no, he doesn’t live close to me – it’s just one of those things that happen.

  25. I don’t think it’s morally wrong for a few reasons. First, those days off are built into the system; you’re not cheating anyone. Why is it fair that my good immune system means I work more? What if my co-worker is a big baby & takes off for a cold, whereas I stolidly work through a cold? Why should I get punished b/c co-worker wears gauzy shirts in October & gets sick when it is clearly getting cold? It’s part and parcel of a large system/business.

    And then, is it use or lose? Can you cash in unused days at the end of the year? Or cash them in for retirement purposes? Clearly I raise more questions than I can answer.

    I do agree that if the sick day policy is strict, you can be caught if you’re not smart – beware the Facebook! But it’s about trust – if you usually go above & beyond at work, your boss won’t care why you’re taking leave.

  26. I too work for a public entity so we get lots of vacation & sick time, but I do use my sick time, mostly because I am legitimately sick (I’m the type that’s pretty much useless on days I’m sick, I can’t think straight and any work I do is questionable!!). We’re also allowed to use it for time off to doctors, dentists, etc, which helps to chip away some of the hours (especially months like this one where I had 3 dentist visits in a 3 week span). I am in the camp that believes mental health days are totally legitimate reason to use a sick day, so long as your boss understands that and you aren’t having to straight up lie constantly (being able to just say “I don’t feel well” isn’t necessarily lying, to be clear). My boss is completely hands-off in regards to asking why and what’s up (in fact I usually volunteer the information just because I feel bad about being out) but we have another manager here who will literally call people back to see why they’re sick and feel them out (although I’d bet that isn’t in line with our employer’s policies or our union’s desires). So honestly, if I had a bunch of time saved up like you do, I’d take a mental health day or two, but more importantly, I’d actually NOT work on days that I am sick (like you are right now) just because I’m a firm believer in your body’s need to rest while sick, and for me, work stresses me out and causes me to exert energy that I really need to save up when I don’t feel good!

    Hope you get better fast!

  27. As an hourly worker, I am also in the PTO pool. As a result of schedule and departmental culture, newer employees may request to have their PTO for vacation, but requests are more often denied than approved. Is it fair? Not at all. As a result, we now have quite a few repeat offenders for calling off frequently. A perk I had looked forward to in my new position was vacation time. Too bad it isn’t truly there… I personally feel terrible calling off if not acutely ill, but feel the frustration of not being allowed the vacation time I have worked for is just building. My work ethic keeps me from calling off, but this is not a work culture I will be able to stay in forever. PTO has maximum accruals, and after that point you just start losing it. So the only way to get your benefits is to call off. 🙁

    My employer offers the option of “selling back” 40 hours worth of PTO time annually which is how I will be able to make additional contributions for retirement funds.

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