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Employees Abusing Sick Days November 4, 2007

Posted by Tariq Ahmed in Managing Employees.

Studies have shown that when a company offers paid sick days, employees will use 85% of the sick days, regardless of how many are offered. Following that trend, you may have noticed a strange virus that only inflicts your staff on Fridays or Mondays. Common sense dictates that if your company offers a “use it or lose it” policy, chances are employees are going to use them.

Many companies keep vacation & sick days separate, with the argument that if they were combined, you’d have to pay for all the days, vs. sick days that hopefully won’t be completely used by everyone in the company. Many other companies are going the other route by combining vacation and sick days into 1 PTO pool. The PTO pool doesn’t have to equal vacation time + the sick days your currently offering, but a happy medium based on actual usage perhaps. Regardless of the #, since it will be less than the previous total pool, you can expect some grumbling amongst the ranks.

The Sith feel the benefits are well worth it:

  1. Employees will no longer have to lie to their manager about their Friday flu.
  2. Other employees who are working hard won’t feel resentment to the employees that abuse sick days.
  3. Productivity will be much more predictable and organized as PTO time will be planned vs. employees scrambling to use up sick time during key times.
  4. Your employees health will miraculously improve.


11/12/07: As a follow-up CNN.com coincidentally has a non-scientific poll asking users if they’ve abused sick time. and 60% are saying they do. THAT’s SAD! And the type people who would even read CNN are probably more affluent/progressive types of folks (vs the general population).
CNN Poll on Sick Time Abuse



1. Leena - November 5, 2007

Thant right

2. Ramila ramchandani - November 5, 2007


3. David - November 5, 2007

I have to disagree, slightly (first, see my disclaimers, below),
The third option many companies employ is to not have sick days, and treat them as an “on needed” basis. These can be intimidating, because HR manuals will mention vague terms like “persistence” or “recurring” absenteeism. The idea is that if you are sick, you should take time to recover, otherwise, you come to work. It’s a part of the peer-pressure concept, and gives management / HR wide discretion when dealing with employees.

This method works best in companies with salaried employees, with no unions/workers associations and in “right to hire” states (here in the U.S.).

The idea that employees health will improve if they have don’t have sick days is just incorrect. There will be less absenteeism, but health won’t improve. Employees will just drag them selves to work – sick – and infect everyone else.

They won’t be productive – after all, they’re just there to stop from being docked a vacation day – and will take longer to recover, because they are stressing their bodies instead of resting themselves.

The real problem – besides employee griping – with combining the days into one pool is the sense of entitlement. Lets say, for example, we have 10 vacation days, 2 personal days and 5 sick days – or a combined 17 days. Employees, right or wrong, will see this as 17 vacation days, and no sick days. People will plan their vacations around 17 days and will just come to work when they are sick. Maybe they’ll leave early, but show their face so everyone can see what a hero they are. Heck, it could even work AGAINST management, if the employee wants to say “I’m so loyal I even come to work when I’m sick” during an annual review.

Your suggestion doesn’t solve any of the 4 points mentioned – most of us can’t just call in and “schedule” a vacation day the morning of anyway, so we’d still lie about being sick. And if you REALLY want to stop resentment amongst “hard working” employees, switch to an incentive based model, where bonuses are paid, and employees get extra vacation days for not using sick days.

Just MHO.


Disclaimer: I work for a company that provides corporate health/fitness solution
Disclaimer 2: I am a manager, overweight, unfit, and when I’m sick, I work from home

4. Darth Sidious - November 5, 2007

David, thanks for the response!

If you give 5 days of sick time.. 4.25 will be used. If you have 10 – 8.5 will be used, if you have 20 – 17 will be used, etc…

In fact other studies show that during an employees first 90 days probation that most companies have, they take 0 sick days. And once they’re past that, all of a sudden their immune system is perpetually faulty.

This suggests that sick time is scheduled (aka abused).

But if you’ve got some sniffles and a cough, people can deal with it. The competition doesn’t pause just because you’re not feeling well.

Also, if you start mapping when people are sick, you’ll find that 95% of them start on a Friday or a Monday. So either the employee is scheduling it, or the viruses are, because there’s only a 40% chance that you’ll be sick on a day that’s against a weekend.

Definitely agree with incentives; but if you can work, work… If you can work at home, that’s fine. But businesses shouldn’t have to suffer on Monday’s (when most sicknesses occur) just because employees partied too hard over the weekend.

As for people coming in when sick, just so that they don’t get docked. From the Sith perspective – that’s what we want. At least we’ll get SOME productivity vs no productivity.

The Jedi won’t stop from executing uprisings just because we’re not feeling well.

An interesting article for those interested:

5. David - November 7, 2007

Darth, Since I’m pretty sure I’m out of your Jedi choking range, I’ll disagree with your once again (knowing each time may be my last time).

I agree that if you have 5 sick days, you’ll treat them as de facto vacation days. No arguments there. You previously stated:

“Also, if you start mapping when people are sick, you’ll find that 95% of them start on a Friday or a Monday.”

Are you speaking factually, or was this from personal observations, from your Death Star construction days? I agree that the “mental health” day would be a Monday or Friday, but I have never seen any data that suggests that people call in “sick” mostly on those two days. I’m guessing it would be slightly higher, but not 95%.

True, there’s no place for fraud, but I suspect, at this stage, businesses KNOW when they set a bank of sick days, they know what they’re getting themselves into.

When I talk about people coming in “sick” I actually mean sick, and not hungover. I personally believe these people are a negative in productivity – they do absolutely nothing themselves, and get others sick, to further reduce productivity.

I just wanted to point out a 3rd option, but I realize it won’t work in every situation. Habitual absenteeism should be dealt with, but on an individual basis.

It really does depend on your attitude towards sick days. If you assume they are only there for people do use as vacation time, then you’ll always see them as a bad thing. Some people, however, do get sick, and have sick family members to care for (using sick days for that is legitimate in a lot of states, and may become federal law soon).

Implementing your solution will neither make the company more productive, improve employee health nor improve moral, but it will ruin the fun for squelcher’s – if that’s the objective, then I’m all on board.



6. Darth Sidious - November 7, 2007

Davo; a GREAT comment, and I appreciate the time you’re taking to shed another perspective on the challenge.

In the Galactic Empire we had this feeling that most sick days seem to occur backed against a weekend – particularly Monday’s. Of course all sick days, like any organization, are recorded in HR so we went back and started analyzing what day of the week they fell on.

Low and behold, 95% of sick time began on a Monday/Friday. E.g. if a sick day was on a Tuesday, but the Monday was also taken – we’re counting that as part of the sick day beginning on…

Now we’re not suggesting you come in with a 104 degree fever, and we think it’s fine if you’re nose is an open faucet and work out of your crew quarters on the Death Star so that you don’t infect everyone else, but we’ve seen people take time off for simply being under the weather, allergies, etc…

Originally we thought maybe there is a logical reason for this. So we searched the EmpireNet and found various studies that had similar conclusions.

The biggest thing that gets me is how *NO ONE* is sick during their 90 day probationary period.

So, Vader’s proposal is to do what many organizations already do and lump it all into one PTO. Use it for sick time… Use it for vacation, do whatever you want with it. It would be very interesting to see if recorded sick days drop if switched over to such a system.

From the business perspective, it adds a stability factor in that at least vacations are planned for. And I know your premise is that you can’t schedule when you’ll be sick, but our theory is that there’ll be less sick days taken off.

Which I believe you agree with, as you say people will just come into work sick. But, if you’re well enough to come in, you should be coming in anyways – regardless of how the vacation/sick time policy works.

The Sith believe that merely being “under the weather” with some sniffles and a cough is not enough to warrant burning a sick day.

The Jedi however are the exact opposite. They believe even if you’re not feeling happy, you should take the day off so that you can find inner-peace and become one with the Force.


7. Darth Sidious - November 12, 2007

Coincidentally, CNN.com has a Quick Vote poll on if people have called in sick when they were perfectly healthy. ** 60 ** are saying yes. More proof that this is abused.


8. Reginald - January 18, 2008

I am sorry I did not find this tread when it was hot. I am the Executive Director of a very small nonprofit (3 employees). The pay is average – around 25K for coordinators, 30K for directors, and for me 40K. (It is now 46K due to the annual 3% raises). Here I came up with a generous time off to compensate for no Health Care or 401K. Our company gives –

1 week vacation for 1st and 2nd year staff, 2 weeks for 3 years and above.

12 Personal Days to be used as you like – You earn them 1 day per month. – This covers sick days and if your car needs to go to the shop or whatever comes up.

5 days off for Thanksgiving and 5 days off for Xmas.

5 Holidays (New Year, MLK Day, Memorial, 4th, and Labor Day.

1 Birthday

I think this is too much and I feel this is the best time to make a change before our staff starts to grow as I think it will as some new funding comes in. What is your suggestions?

My Program Director/2nd in command

9. Jennifer - May 1, 2008

I work for a company that gives UNLIMITED sick days. Those who abuse them, do not last long because they are not generally the type of people that fall into the category of high performers. When you have a specific number to shoot for, you will try to hit it. When you know you can call in sick whenever you want, you don’t really pay attention to how many times you call in sick, you just call in sick when you need to. I had to look up how much sick time I took – 2 sick days in the last six months and I am in no way unique. We tell people to go home when they are sick – we don’t want what they have.

10. Darth Sidious - May 2, 2008

Jennifer, you make a very valid point. The bottom line goal of management is to get results through your people, so those who are sick every 5 minutes won’t be getting much results done.

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