Sick of Sick Leave? Consider PTO

Anita,

I’m in HR for a medium-sized company. I’m really tired of monitoring sick leave abuse. Our policy allows sick leave to be used for an employee’s own illness or medical appointments, as well as the employee’s immediate family. But it seems everyone has doctor’s appointments on Fridays, headaches on Mondays, and comes down with the flu during March Madness! It’s not fair to those of us who never take a sick day.

Dear “Policy Police,”

HR_HeadacheAttendance reporting, corrective counseling, verifying doctor’s notes, and meting out disciplinary action can take a copious amount of management time. My advice: Get out of the baby-sitting business by instituting PTO – one bank of Paid Time Off that combines vacation, sick days, and personal days.

Less supervisory oversight is just one of the advantages of PTO. Before making the switch, however, consider both the pros and the cons.

Pros & Cons of a PTO Policy

PRO: While private sector businesses are not required by law to provide paid sick or vacation time, most companies realize that offering PTO attracts and keeps employees, even more so than traditional sick/vacation/personal day policies.

CON: PTO tends to be viewed as one big vacation time bucket, so employees may take more time off than with a separate paid sick day/vacation day system. This could mean more staff coverage must be arranged.

PRO: Many companies find employees take fewer unscheduled sick days when they have the opportunity to plan and use PTO. Supervisors will likely get more notice of absences and find it easier to find coverage in advance than when someone calls in sick at the last minute.

PRO: No need to fake it! Employees like to be treated like adults rather than required to bring doctors’ notes. (And really, in this day and age, it’s incredibly easier to forge excuses than it was back in junior high when trying to ditch gym class).

Sick at WorkCON: People may come to work sick – spreading their germs – to save their PTO for a 2-3 week vacation. In the long run, this propensity could cause even more absences office-wide.

PRO: PTO can be used equally by all employees, including who get sick less frequently or don’t have to take time off for dependent appointments (whether child or parent).

CON: Like the unwise green protagonist in The Ant and the Grasshopper fable, some employees may use up all of their PTO for vacation time, creating a hardship when they or a family member becomes ill. (But adults need to accept the consequences of their actions.)

PRO: PTO is easier to administer, which can mean cost savings.

CON: In some states, the law treats PTO like vacation time when it comes to calculating final wages at termination. While companies generally are not required to “cash out” for sick time, businesses could end up paying out more for PTO.

One last California CON: If your company is in California, PTO may not meet the minimum level of benefits mandated by the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act (HWHFA), especially for part-time workers.

Readers: What do you think are the pros and cons of a traditional vacation/sick day policy versus PTO?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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RELATED POSTS:
Proper Use of Sick Days
Asking for Vacation Time
The Importance of Vacations

Workaholism: A Necessary Evil?

Hey Anita,

My wife is complaining that we haven’t taken a vacation in 6 years. But she doesn’t understand that I have to work non-stop to keep up with my job. Our kids are in sports and camps, and I can’t afford to be get lackadaisical. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and I need to keep pace with the pack. But my long hours are causing a lot of friction in my marriage. Can you give me some arguments to help me prove to my wife that not taking time off is the price of success in our modern business world?

Workaholism_InfographicDear, Marty Martyr,

National Workaholics Day was this past Sunday, July 5. Admit it – you checked your work email.

You are not alone. A hefty 79% of respondents to a Select Family web poll consider themselves workaholics. Gallup reports that while half of Americans work 40 hours or less per week, the other half work 41-49 hours (11%), 50-59 hours (21%), even 60+ hours (18%). The last thing I want to do is help you argue with your significant other, and these stats don’t measure success – only time spent. A Huffington Post article observes, “Many feel, with some justification, that a 40-hour week would be career suicide.”

Working hard is one thing; being addicted to your job is another. Workaholism is a pattern of long hours, working beyond expectations, and a consuming obsession with your job. Workaholics Anonymous has 20 questions to ask yourself to see if you are taking your commitment to your profession too far. Beyond the obvious (Do you work more than 40 hours a week?), there’s one that seems to apply in your situation: Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else [like vacation]?

Americans leave 429 million vacation days unused yearly, according to Oxford Economics, which noted that a heavy workload and peer pressure prevented some from taking their earned PTO. Heck, even the CEO of the U.S. Travel Association had trouble getting his employees to take more than $350,000 in accrued vacation.

There’s always one more call to make, one more email to answer. And, God willing, there will be one more day. Instead of trying to “finish” everything each evening, learn to be okay with leaving some tasks for the morning – or next week – and try to relax. The world, your industry, and your company will manage to muddle on without you for a week or two while you embark on that much needed vacation.

The consequences of workaholism are stress-related health symptoms, sleep issues, decreased productivity (did you get that one?), and an increase in work-family conflicts. If you continue on this exhausting path, you may just find yourself married to your job, and nothing else. Research by Dr. Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., reveals that workaholics are 40% more likely to get a divorce. Or worse, you could make your wife a widow. Those who regularly work 11+ hours a day are 67 percent more likely to develop coronary disease, according to a UCL study.

My advice? Have a heart and address your family’s vacation deprivation. To quote Harold Kushner, “No one ever said on their deathbed ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’ ”

Readers: How many hours a week do you clock for your job? Do you feel pressure to work more than 40?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

RELATED POSTS:
The Importance of Vacations
What Faking an 80-Hour Week Tells Us about Work Culture
Stop Rewarding Overwork
Rules for Requesting R and R
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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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Seasons Greeting From Santa Clews

Happy Holidays, Readers!

Old Miss Anita Claus is taking some time off to enjoy the holidays and partake in the fun of the season. Even though I won’t be posting until after the New Year, keep your questions coming! When I get over the food coma and fatigue from wrapping presents, I will come back recuperated and refreshed, ready to take on any tough questions you have for me.

I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday and look forward to seeing you all here next year. Until then, be safe, be smart, and be merry this holiday season.

Warmest Wishes,

Anita Claus

Rules for Requesting R and R

A reader writes…

Hi, Anita,

I am looking into taking a vacation this fall with my husband to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. For the dates we want to travel, I will need to take off 5 days from work. I am always nervous to ask for time off for appointments so a whole week has become very daunting. What can I do to ease my stress and get the time off with my hubby?

Dear Getaway Gal,

Every once in a while, you may run across the need to ask your boss for some time off from work. We all need a few days off to spend with family and friends, or a week off to celebrate an anniversary, or just some time away from work to recharge our batteries.  For some people, this is stress free and a no-brainer; for others, it can be full of anxiety and nervousness.

Couple_On VacationTo start, it is always best to present your request in writing. Many companies will have a template available for you, but if not, you can create your own or use a template such as this one provided by Microsoft Office. Fill this form out with your signature and date, and ask that your supervisor do the same, noting his or her approval or rejection. It will be helpful in case a discrepancy arises and your time off is contested.

Before you ask for time off, make sure you are prepared to answer any questions that may arise during the discussion with your boss. Evaluate and understand the current status of projects and your general workload.  Be mindful of the impact that your absence may have on your work and on those on your team.

Reassure your manager that you are prepared to take on any negative impacts that may arise as a result of your time off. It would be helpful to work out a plan with a co-worker to assist you when you are gone in exchange for helping them in the future. Try your best to come up with a great solution or an acceptable alternative course of action for issues that may occur Suitcaseswhile you are away.

Be aware of the amount of time that your employer has allotted you for vacation/sick days. Typically, it is not an issue for an employee to take time off as long as it is covered by the time given in your employment contract. If your need exceeds this amount, be prepared to explain clearly why you need extra time off, but remember that you do not need to expose all the details about your absence. You are entitled to maintain your privacy.

Finally, follow up! Just because you discussed it, got approval, and have it set in stone on your end, it can’t hurt to remind your supervisor as the date approaches. If you have a calendar that is shared with your boss, send an appointment request to be added to their calendar. Also one week prior, send out an email to your co-workers informing them of your upcoming absence to allow them time to get input or materials from you before you leave.

Readers- What are some issues you have run into when requesting time off? Was the stress of coming back from vacation worth the time off? I would love to hear from you.

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

-Anita

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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