Fix My Job: Benefits

“I feel like crap… but I don’t have any sick days!”

The flu. A bad back. A crushing headache. Even when we do our best (okay, almost our best) to eat right, exercise and stay healthy, we all get sick sooner or later.

If you’re under the weather, should you go to work anyway? Physicians, public health officials and labor experts all agree: No. The workplace is no place for a sick person. You won’t do a good job, you’ll put others at risk and you’re likely to stay sick longer if you don’t take time to get well.

But what if your boss—you know, the person who signs your paycheck—doesn’t agree? What if you—like four in ten private sector workers—don’t have any paid sick days? What if your workplace culture insists that “everybody shows up, no matter what” and your boss likes to brag, “I’ve never taken a sick day in 20 years?” Then what?

  • Push back against the pressure:  If you are not well enough to do your job, you should seriously consider staying home. No matter what your boss or co-workers say, you may not be doing yourself or anybody else any favors if you drag yourself into work when your body is begging for rest.
  • Proceed with caution: Absent a union contract that specifies sick leave policies, your employer probably has no legal obligation to provide you with paid sick days. Also, if your boss believes you are abusing sick time by staying home too often, it can be a reason for discipline or discharge. If, however, you have a chronic illness—such as diabetes or a heart condition—your employer may be required to provide “reasonable accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This might include a modified work schedule for doctor visits or medical treatments.
  • Report to your supervisor and document your illness: Even if you really feel like s***, drag yourself out of bed long enough to call your boss and let him or her know you can’t make it in. Most bosses take a pretty dim view of people who don’t show up and don’t call; no reason to give yourself this extra headache.If you can’t make it to the doctor while you’re off work, write down your symptoms. These records could be helpful if your boss challenges your reason for staying home.
  • Talk to your co-workers: Everybody gets sick (even bosses!) so everyone has an interest in reasonable sick time policies. If others in your workplace are concerned about this, find a way to join together and share your ideas with your boss or supervisor. As with almost any workplace issue, your employer is more likely to respond to a group complaint, and you ordinarily have more legal protection  when you act together.
  • You’ve got some rights—and you may be getting more: The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for unpaid leave, in certain circumstances, to care for yourself or a member of your immediate family. FMLA, however, typically does not cover minor illnesses, such as colds, ear infections or upset stomachs. See Fix My Job on FMLA to check when this might apply to you.Also, labor and public health advocates have been lobbying across the country for laws to require paid sick leave, which is a huge benefit for working families. The state of Connecticut and the cities of Portland (OR), San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., already have laws on the books. Proposals are under consideration in several other jurisdictions.


<< Back to Benefits