Proper Use of Sick Days

Dear, Anita,

I feel like I am coming down with the flu. But I have used up all my accrued sick time and I really can’t afford to be off without pay. What should I do?

Another reader asks:

Is it legal if I call in sick to take my elderly mom to the doctor? She doesn’t have a car.

Dear, Flu-ey Louie,

english bulldog with  hot water bottle - suffer a migraineOver half the companies in the U.S. offer their full-time employees paid sick days as a benefit. Many of these businesses use an accrual formula that allows workers to earn a certain number of hours per pay period, and many have a use-it-or-lose-it policy about carrying over sick days into the next calendar or employment year (check with your HR department). But the goal is to have a system that allows sick employees to take care of themselves and keep them out of the workplace. Presenteeism – attending work while sick – often costs employers as much as absenteeism! If you go to work sick, and infect three co-workers, who don’t stay home and infect three more co-workers… well, soon the whole office is down for the count. Here’s a video on how to avoid the flu:

To decide if you should go to work or not, ask yourself three things: 1) Are you contagious, 2) Would you be a danger to others (a groggy airline pilot, for example), and 3) Would you be productive? If you are just sneezing or have a stuffy nose, you’re probably good to report for duty. Just be sure to wash your hands often during the day. If you have a sore throat and ache all over, stay home. A fever can also be the deciding factor. Check out WebMD’s “Too Sick to Go to Work?” cold and flu quiz.

Louie, if you can access your e-mail and work documents from home, offer to do this so you will technically not need to use a sick day.

Dear, “Mom’s Taxi,”

Portrait of a handsome male chauffeur sitting in a car saluting a passangerI can’t give you an exact answer about whether you can use a sick day to drive your mother to the doctor, because I am not privy to your company handbook. Some companies reserve paid sick leave for the employee or their immediate family –
meaning spouse and children. Whether or not that extends to your parents (if you are not your mother’s primary caregiver) can be a gray area.

I like the trend toward giving employees PTO (paid time off, or personal time off) that combines sick time with vacation and personal days all in one big bucket rather than sick leave with rules and regulations about how time can be used. After all, employees are mature, responsible adults. Hopefully, they will have enough self-control and foresight to not use all of their personal days in the first quarter for that round-the-world three-week vacation and save some PTO for the proverbial rainy day.

Readers: Do you go to work when sick? Has an ill co-worker ever given you the flu?

Need some job advice? Anita Clew is happy to help. Click here to Ask Anita.

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Responding to Reference Check Requests

Hi, Anita:

I received a call from a company requesting a reference for a former employee on my team. What am I allowed to say and what information should I keep confidential?  I want to be as professional as possible while being honest. Thanks.

Dear, Reference Check Responder:

More and more companies are requiring that reference checks be performed before bringing on new employees. It is a great way to get the inside scoop on an employee that you are interested in hiring and serves as a great second opinion that you are making the right or the wrong choice.

Many employees/job seekers are under the impression that it is illegal for their previous employer to disclose anything besides the dates of employment, salary information, and job title. Though it may be your current company’s policy to disclose nothing more than dates, pay, and title, there are no current federal laws in place that prevent additional employment information from being disclosed to potential employers. Each state’s laws are different so it is best to check the Department of Labor for your state to make sure you are within the protections of the law.

reference

Keep in mind that there are laws against defamation of character (slander and libel) or invasion of privacy that you must be very careful not to break. It is important that you give an accurate description of the employee in question but an exaggerated and personally charged negative reference should be avoided. Not only can it open the door for potential lawsuits, but it may also damage your credibility and professional image to peers outside of your company.

Some simple guidelines that will help you:

  • If you feel a question is too invasive, you can politely say that you are not at liberty to discuss this topic due to your current company’s policy.
  • Give responses only to questions that you feel comfortable answering.
  • If the employee left the company on bad terms, I would refer the call to your Human Resources department. These colleagues are trained to handle these situations properly.
  • Avoid giving detailed information of an employee’s negative performance.
  • Only comment on your direct observations of the current or former employee’s performance. Hearsay should not be relied on or involved in your description.
  • Medical conditions and other personal health information should never be discussed.
  • For your protection, keep a log of all reference inquiries that show the date, name of employee, name of reference requestor, and name of prospective employer company. This document should be placed in the former employee’s folder and be made available upon request.

In any situation, personal or professional, always use your best judgment. Never feel like you have to divulge more information than you feel comfortable giving. Each company is different and may have a standard procedure for handling reference requests. Always consult your supervisor or Human Resources department for additional information.

Good luck!

Anita

Readers:  What are the most difficult questions that you have been asked by a reference requestor? Have you ever had a former employee ask for a reference that you felt you should not offer?

Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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