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?

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RELATED POSTS:
Proper Use of Sick Days
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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?

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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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