Sick-Day People

One of the perks of working for the federal public service is our cumulative sick leave benefits. We get 15 days of sick leave per year. We also get 5 family-related days per year (not cumulative) to stay home and take care of sick family members.

Statistics Canada tells us that federal public servants take an average of 16.2 of these days off every year – 12.3 in personal sick days and 3.8 in family related sick days.

So, the average public servant takes most of the sick leave they’re entitled to every year. Some even use up all their sick leave every year. Either public servants are a very sickly bunch or maybe, just maybe, they’re abusing this benefit a little bit. I know some who think they’re “sticking it to the man” by taking all their leave the instant it accrues.

Other people, like me, just save up our sick leave. I have around 8 months of sick leave banked. And no, I’m not one of those freaks who drag themselves into the office boasting about how they have fever, chills, violent diarreah and are throwing up every 10 minutes.  If I’m sick, I  stay home.  I don’t like it when people are sneezing and coughing all over the office, so I imagine others wouldn’t like it if I did it.

And, maybe once a year I might even take a day or two when I’m not exactly sick, but do feel the need for a rest.

But I  make sure I do it at a time when it won’t cause too much inconvenience to my co-workers.

Some people, on the other hand, deliberately arrange their sick days for when something big is due or when things are particularly busy at the office.

I don’t like those people.

There’s a guy where I work who does this. Whenever the going gets tough, he gets going. A few weeks ago, we were already down a few people because of vacations and training and stuff and he called in sick for the week. He sent an email on Monday and Tuesday saying he was sick and on Wednesday he sent an email saying he was going to be sick for the rest of the week. I  heard nothing further from him.  

 That left me to run the entire unit. Alone. For a week.

 It would have been really difficult to do with just two people. With just me, it was almost impossible. You’ll recall that I’m actually brand-spanking new in this job, right?

It was a completely insane week.  I only survived because of my astonishing fortitude, innate cleverness and by going for extra long runs every day.

And then.

And then he comes back the next week raving about the cool trips he took to Toronto and to his cottage while he was “off”. He even brought photos to show us!

A lesser person than I would have taken the electric stapler to his testicles, but I just gave him a withering look and said, “Not cool, dude.”

I guess these people think we all have the same don’t-give-a-shit attitude as they do and will just leave the work undone or fall behind in deadlines. I don’t think it actually occurs to them that we’re doing their work for them. Or maybe it does and they don’t care.

However, I’m confident that this sick-day abuse is going to come back to haunt them. If something ever happens – an accident, a serious illness, surgery – they’re going to need a lot of time off and then they’ll have to take it unpaid.

Also, absenteeism is looked at pretty hard as part of the reference check when you’re applying for new positions or promotions or deployments.

So, yuk it up ya’ll.


38 responses to “Sick-Day People

  1. I’m almost never sick enough to justify taking a sick day, but I take them in dribs and drabs along the way. A day here, a day there… one every couple of months as a “reward for good behaviour”, usually planned in advance to correspond with a relatively slow day at work. Each day carved out from the corporate monotony is a perfect little gem, and I relish each minute.

    Well, at least I did that when I worked for the Feds. Now that I’m a full-time student, I don’t dare take a sick day and fall behind in any course. I rather miss having the option.

  2. Seriously? He took a week of sick leave at a busy time then came back and showed photos of his trips? That’s crazy.

    I almost never take a real, honest to goodness sick day. I just end up working from home. If I’m really sick I might end up taking a nap for an hour or two in the afternoon, but otherwise I’m on the couch with my laptop on my lap, working away. Same thing when my kids are sick…I work from home, as much as I can.

    My husband’s work is the same way. There he was with THE flu a couple of weeks ago, fever spiking and coughing up a lung, working away through it all.

    It’s nice being able to work from home when we’re mildly sick, but the problem is there’s an expectation that you’ll work from home no matter how sick you are.

    And the idea of banking sick days is just bizarre to me.

  3. To clarify…what’s bizarre to me is that you can bank them for future use. Around here, we use them or lose them. To be honest, I don’t even know how many sick days I’m actually allowed in a year anyway.

  4. XUP, you are awesome. This view coming from a civil servant is unheard of.

    I get 7 sick days and 3 personal (which I would use for family members being ill). And I feel guilty if I have to take one for myself – which I haven’t in years. I have taken the occasional one for my kids.

    Oh, and those days aren’t cumulative.

    I believe whole-heartedly that it’s related to the environment you work in. My wife’s a teacher, I work for a financial institution. We come into contact with hundreds, if not thousands of people every year, so we’re “exposed” to varying levels of health. As a result, I believe our immune systems are healthier because of it.

    What I’ve seen in government employees is the opposite. They work in sealed buildings, with recycled air and they see the same people daily. Their immune systems might not be as able to handle something from the outside.

    I don’t believe for one second that public sector workers are more over-worked than private sector, so it can’t be stress related.

    It’s a theory, at least 😉

  5. We never had cumulative sick leave in the private sector but the federal and local governments do. I think cumulative sick leave is a great idea. It helps for later if you ever need it and if you don’t use them, you get paid when you leave or retire. But 15 days a year? and 5 family-related days? Wow. That seems an extravagant perquisite. But I like it. I think it’s the way things should be. As for vacationing when your peeps are stuck doing all of your work? Assholishness.

  6. Once or twice a year, when things pile up too much, I’ll call in sick, and take a “mental health day”.

    I don’t feel guilty about it, either. Because at times my job literally does make me feel sick. Anxiety chest pains, stomache ache, insomnia, you name it.

    I don’t go to the cottage or play golf. I usually spend the day napping and doing nothing, lying around the house, exhausted, trying to recover, even if just for one day.

    But as those who abuse their priviledges, I agree. It’ll come back to haunt them.

    Sure, they might be laughing now. But when the next round of lay-offs happen, guess how’s head will be on the chopping block first?

  7. We used to have cumulative sick days, but it was changed to 40 hours a year, with anything more being at the discretion of the supervisor. Several years ago, one of the guys that abused the policy ended up having to take vacation days when he was really sick. Right now he is out on short term disability.

  8. Susan – Ya, I do sort of the same thing. Not so much as a reward, more like when I do stay home, I really need to — like a little sanity break.

    Mary Lynn – I think when you’re sick you should focus on getting rest and getting yourself well. You do no one any favours by labouring through an illness. It will take longer to get better and you won’t recover properly and what quality of work do you produce when you have a fever? As fpr baking the sick days – what happens if you’re in an accident and need surgery or something and have to be off for 6 months or more? Do you lose your job? Lose 6 months’ pay? You can’t work from home if you’re laid up in a hospital. I’m very happy I have that as a fall-back. When we retire the days disappear though — we can’t cash them out like some places. So lots of people develop mysterious months-long illnesses in the year before retirement. Hmmm.

    Ken – Being in a monotonous bureaucratic grind can be very stressful. It’s certainly not high pressure or anything, but it does make you feel like running screaming from the building every so often. And I’m certainly not alone in having banked a lot of sick leave. Most smart people make sure they have a nice cushion of sick leave saved up, just in case. Also, everyone knows who the people are who seem to be sick a day or so every month and it makes a difference in how they’re viewed as employees even in the “all is equitable” world of government.

    LoLa – No, we don’t get them paid out when we retire. Employees have asked for that, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. They just disappear when you retire, which is why a lot of people take a lot of sick leave the year before they retire. They get their doctor to write them a “stress leave” note or something and they’re off for 2, 3 or 4 months – come back for a bit and then take a few more months off.

    Friar – “Lay-offs???” I’m not sure we have those in government. But your absenteeism pattern is definitely noticed and noted and will count for or against you when you’re looking for a reference for promotion, new job or transfer elsewhere. It’s one of the first questions that’s asked on the reference forms and there’s a handy electronic leave system that tracks your history which your manager can search through any time.

    Mike – That threat of rolling back sick days and/or making them non-cumulative is always hanging over us at contract time. I hope it never happens. I appreciate the benefit and think everyone in every workplace should be allowed time to get well. “Discretion of the manager” is a frightening term because some managers are real pricks and would rather have you at work with the flu than allow you a sick day.

  9. Not cool dude.

    Well said.

    As for me? I’m the only IT Guy so I am not allowed to get sick. I was sick on Tuesday, fever, headache, queasy. I wasn’t dying but I was not effective. So I went home for lunch to take a nap.

    But I spend the entire afternoon on the phone, working.

    I felt like crap on Wednesday, yesterday and I am still under the weather. If I had taken that nap and taken it ieasy I am sure I would be 100% now.

    Sometimes I hate where I work…. But I have worked for the government and I would never go back. I can’t stand all the “not cool dudes” taking advantage.


  10. I am pretty sure if I called at sick at work for a week and then came in flashing photos of my time off at the beach I would get fired.

  11. Yeah, you have to at least be honest with yourself about the sick days. My DH quickly used up his family-related days taking me to chemo and whatnot, so then he used his sick days for me too. And sometimes, he just takes a sick day for his own “mental health” which I think is totally legit.

  12. i hear ya loud and clear XUP.

    sadly, it’s folks just like that guy who give government workers a bad name! i work with someone who is EXACTLY the same.

    not only do they not give two shits that others have to carry their load, they are also the ones that NEVER offer to chip in when others are sick.

    been there, done that and really fed up…

  13. bad karma man – it will come back and haunt these people. god forbid you will need 8 months off xup, but you will have it if you need it. i’m also witnessing people taking advantage of this whole H1N1 thing and staying home because they “think they might be getting it and they want to rest and not infect others”. i don’t believe them. i used to be a pretty good scammer, and i know one when i hear one.

  14. I must admit to not being aware of any of this until that public service strike in TO that seemed to test the limits of the citizens sympathies for their insistance on keeping those previously unknown bankable sick days. Being self employed, I guess I can have all the “bankable sick days” I want.

  15. Eyeteaguy – I’ve worked with plenty of people who ARE cool, and I’ve never liked any of the jobs I had in the private sector so I think I’m here until the end. Next time do the nap, fool.

    Cedar – Ya, that would seem like the logical consequence. Ain’t nuthin’ logical about gov’mint though.

    Julia – I think mental health days are important. It sounds all sucky to someone not working in the public service, but instead of reviling us for our benefits we should maybe all put our energies into making all workplaces a little more humane.

    Raino – That’s the worst of it – giving us all a bad name. I don’t get too excited about it though because, like I said, I reckon they’ll pay for it eventually.

    Meanie – I sure hope I’ll never need 8 months off. And I had a paragraph in this post about the fabulous new H1N1 excuses, but it was getting too long so I took it out.

    Violetsky – Except you don’t get paid for your bankable sick days. Everyone should have that support in case of illness, I think. They’re instituting EI for the self-employed, so maybe some sick day support is next??

  16. I don’t get any sick days in my job, if I’m sick I have to work through it. I usually slack off and do the bare minimum knowing all the while that the work I’m putting off will be waiting for me when I get better, along with even more work.

    I can’t really complain though, in my job I can work in my jammies when there is a blizzard outside and when it’s hot and sunny I can work by the pool. The people I work for are flexible as long as I keep them happy.

    I’m a stay at home Mama!

  17. When I first worked for a provincial government department many years, I remember being faintly horrified at the entitlement the governmental types I worked with felt. Sick leave was more a supplement to your annual vacation leave than it was, well, sick leave. A benefit they were contractually entitled to and were damned well going to take full advantage of.

    I admit to missing sick leave a bit. As a contractor, I don’t get paid if I don’t work so I have to be at death’s door to stay home. It’s nice that in my current job I have a laptop so I can work from home if need be — I can sit in a cloud of Vapo Rub in my jammies and slippers with Kleenex stuffed up my nose and the cat asleep on my lap. (They frown on people doing that at the office, for some reason. Go figure.)

  18. Hey XUP – Folks like your co-worker are the minority who give the rest of we in the PS a bad name. It is important to understand that they are indeed the minority an do not at all represent the bulk of us who know what thes days should be used for.

    Plus, that dude has mega-bad karma comin`his way. He will get his due.

    For the record, I have been off for three days this week with the flu or a cold or Ebola… I dunno. Going to work was not an option. I would have infected innocents. I have about a gazillion weeks accumulated sick leave and I haven`t taken a sick day since the beginning of April.

    And I`m a manager responsible for 14 staff. And I encourage them to follow my example. Take sick days when sick. Don`t come in if you`re coughing up a lung or think you`re going to pass on your germs to others.

    But don`t freakin`hell pervert the extremely lenient system that we have.

    That`s my rant. Have a nice day. Cough, cough…

  19. “Lay-offs???” I’m not sure we have those in government”
    Big problem….I have a friend in another country that has HUGE problems with the bureaucracy of his government. In fact was able to actually SUE the government and won a HUGE cash settlement from them – beside the point – his theory on “laying off” bureaucrats is to line them all up against the wall and “lay them off” with an UZI.
    I won’t say that I am for that.
    But you gotta know that I am!

  20. Good for you for calling that guy on his nasty behaviour. It’s one thing to take a mental health day when you need one, or even to stay home and goof off when work is boring and you could have technically dragged yourself in even though you weren’t feeling great. It’s another to leave a colleague holding the bag and then brag about it.

    I’m just waiting for the swine flu “pandemic” to get going. I figure this will be an excuse for every slacker in club fed to disappear for months, what with them being sick and “morally obliged” to stay home. Then the kids will have it, and so will the spouse, and the babysitter. Etc..

  21. Reading this makes me so glad I no longer work. It really made things hard when someone called in sick. I only called in sick once when I actually was out of town and I felt racked with guilt for it.

  22. My SIL has been let go from at leat two teaching jobs, which are technically government jobs, for taking too many sick days. Her family is a sickly lot and a couple of weeks ago she and two of her kids had the actual swine flu. Although it’s incredibly rude to take off during a busy time if you are not sick, I can also see how people who are not sickly types might feel like it is unfair that they never get that extra time off. I’m not a sickly type but would sometimes take a sick day just to catch up on sleep. That was a rare occurence though because I somehow always had jobs where I was the only one that could do what I did. Maybe that’s why I hated working so much. It would have been nice to know that at least there was someone else there that could take up the slack. Even when I was actually sick, I could not relax at home because I knew they were all irritated and impatiently waiting for my return. Like someone else said, I’m so glad I no longer work!

  23. I can see why thay say job stress costs billions of dollars in sick leave every year.

    But often, it’s not the tight deadlines and long hours that push people’s limits. It’s the work environment itself…

    If you’re in a toxic environment, that can takes a bigger toll on your performance than putting in a few hours of overtime, or missing a few days because the flu.

    Sure, you might be physically at your desk 5 days a week, working. But you’re not that productive, because you’re constantly demoralized and harassed, and it mentally exhausts you.

    A flu is easy to fix. A dysfunctional work environment is not.

    Not unless you quit or change jobs.

    (Which, actually, is what I’m in the process of doing right now).

  24. Besty Mae – That’s a really tough job and you can’t ever afford to be sick. I remember those days very well.

    Louise – I think everyone should be entitled to take time off when they’re sick and take care of themselves and not be docked any money for it – including the self-employed. I’m not sure how that would work, but it seems like a humane thing. Contractors need to build in a certain amount of sick days when they bid for their jobs maybe?

    Trashee – I’m not sure if it IS the minority since Stats Can says the average federal employee takes 16.2 days in sick leave a year. For those like us who have tons of leave banked there must be a whole bunch who take every last day every year. 15 + 5 days – that’s an entire month of not being at work – not including your vacation days and other leave days, which is another month to 6 weeks. And another couple of weeks in statutory holidays and now you’re only at work 7 months of the year. Add in some training days and travel days…

    Lebowski – What was he suing the government for? And why do all your solutions to problems end in violence?

    LesterBee – (Are you THE LesterBee?? Welcome to the blog.) I think the swine flu excuses have already begun. One tickle in the throat and people stay home. Of course it doesn’t help that the media is making everyone paranoid about this flu.

    Linda – I know. I even feel bad when I have vacations booked months in advance and the day I leave something big comes up.

    Sean – Absolutely. And it’s not even karma, it’s just common sense that they’re going to find themselves in big poo sooner or later. (Welcome to the blog)

    Geewits – That’s one good reason why being able to bank your sick days is better. If we had to use them or lose them, I think I’d use them, too. I’d still try to arrange it around the workload and for days when I really need a break, though. And you’re right, it really sucks when you’re the only one who can do certain work. Then even your vacations aren’t any fun because you have weeks of prep to do before you leave and a huge pile of catching up to do when you get back. I can’t wait until I don’t have to work anymore.

    Friar – You’re so right. And I suspect that’s a big problem with the federal public service workplace, too. You’re a teeny cog in a big messy complicated wheel. Your work disappears into the black hole of bureaucracy so you never have the satisfaction of seeing an end product. It’s the same grind day after day. There are so many roadblocks put in your way to stifle any innovative, creative, imaginative thinking. And they’re forever reorganizing/transforming, so you never know where you’re going to end up next, who your boss will be, who you’ll have to supervise. I’m happy you’re moving on — have you found something better or just still looking? I hope you’ll be much, much happier in your new position.

  25. Correct XUP, but don’t forget that averages can be misleading. Outliers in any data set can skew a mean average by quite a bit. The data show that there are a number of individuals who take a disproportionately high number of sick days – whether legitimately or not. But often these are folks who are really sick and who have burned through their 100 or 200 accumulated days. But the result is that the overall average is deceptively high because of these individuals.

    The number of days also varies widely across departments. My department was one of the very lowest in days requested while others such as the CRA or (surprisingly) the School of the Public Service were much, much higher. I guess my perspective is somewhat coloured by the fact that my department is a workplace of choice, morale is pretty good, and employees by and large don’t feel the need to take unneccesary sick days.

    It also varies by classification. On average (I do hate averages) those in the lower paid categories took far more days than those in the higher paid groups.

  26. I concur with everybody here: your co-worker is a flaming idiot. Glad you said what you did to him, though.

    Teachers in my school district get around 15 sick days a year (the actual number depends upon whether or not you’re full-time and how long you’ve been employed here), which, like yours, accumulate over the years. We also lose them when we retire/ quit. I use them when necessary – and mental health days are very necessary when your job requires you to deal with people constantly! I know many teachers abuse them by calling in sick close to every report card time. (And of course our school district keeps track of who calls in sick and when – don’t those teachers ever think about that and the consequences of such a pattern?) So far, I have enough sick days built up that I could be sick for about a year and a half. I may need it in the future, I may not. But again like you, I’m grateful I have that perk, so I try not to abuse them.

  27. @Friar and @Lebowski, the government Does have lay-offs. The National Gallery just got rid of 13 people. They claim they don’t have the budget for them. They are even making some people take leave without pay. Of course, just before they did that, the highest-up directors paid themselves their “bonuses”.

  28. Sorry Julia… I didn’t know that a bureaucracy the size that we have had to lay off a measly 13 people. So what are we paying for a national gallery? I recall last time I was up in Ottawa the crying about how the “National Portrait Gallery” was going to be cancelled because NO ONE COULD BUILD IT WITHIN BUDGET! So they said screw it. The screams were incredible.
    The only growth industries in Canada right now are Marijuana and government. Sadly the pot industry pays very little taxes.

  29. Sheesh, 16.2 days average? Not among the people I know. Then again, somebody has to be giving the PS a bad rep.

    I used up a pretty good chunk of sick leave by taking a couple of weeks before each maternity leave, and another week each time I had a miscarriage, and I still have month upon month of it banked. I wish I could swap it out for the family related leave, which I run out of each year by about three months into fiscal.

    And that dude in your office? *shakes head* Yikes…

  30. Jobthingy – Yes, a big flabby ass.

    Trashee – Okay, now you’re getting into scary math territory and I’m closing my eyes and covering my ears and singing la-la-la-la. It’s not surprising though that the lower the category the more sick leave. The lower categories are mostly women who aren’t afraid to stay home when they feel sick AND need to stay home with kids a lot. Also, the lower categories might BE lower categories because they fnork the dog all day long and abuse sick days and stuff.

    Pinklea –All those sick days AND 3 months of vacation! And they still abuse it because they don’t want to do their grading on their own time? I don’t know about your report cards but ours aren’t even personalized anymore. There are 2 or 3 stock phrases and they just have to fill in the name. They have no real information beyond the grade anymore. (Sorry, whole other tangent)

    Julia – I’m actually surprised at this. In all my 18 years with the fps I’ve never known anyone to get laid off.

    Lebowski – I’ll let you duke it out with Julia.

    Dani – I’ve used sick leave during those years when the family related ran out early. My manager was always okay with that. Isn’t yours?

  31. Where was his doctor’s note? If he takes a week off sick, he’s sick enough to visit a doctor, pay the $25 and produce a doctor’s note.

    Outside the civil service, that’s what happens.

    Frankly, his manager should get on his arse about it. If he showed pictures around there’s witnesses, and he should be disciplined. Even the civil service has rules.

    Most companies I’ve worked for didn’t really have a sick policy. If you were sick, you didnt’ come in. If you were sick a lot, they started asking for doctor’s notes. If you were sick too much you presumably got asked to seek employment opportunities elsewhere. The few places i’ve worked that had formal sick days had regular whinemails come out from HR about people “managing” their sick time, using it all up, etc.

    As a matter of habit and principle, If I’m out 3 days in the same week, I’ll be getting a doctor’s note on the 3rd day. Not that it’s happened often, but I like to keep the upper hand when it does.

  32. I may be the only person you know who sent someone to jail for taking sick time they weren’t entitled to. The magic of military service 🙂

    When I was a new 2Lt, one of my Sergeants called in sick. Said he had a medical chit for excused duty. I thought nothing of it, it does happen.

    Well, it turns out the medical officer dropped by the station a few days later. He knew most people but hadn’t met me before because I was new. So he stopped by and introduced himself. Then he mentioned that he’d stopped by the search tower and didn’t see Sergeant so-and-so. I said that he told me he had a medical excusal. The doctor told me that maybe I should go have a look at it.

    So I drove down to his house, knocked on his door, apparently interrupting his beer and TV session. His wife knew immediately why I was there. He produced an obviously forged medical chit. His excuse/defence was that he didn’t think a 2Lt would notice. Nice. And I almost didn’t… if it hadn’t been for the medical officer making a surprise visit. Imagine putting trust in your senior shop supervisors.

    So I had him arrested, tried for malingering and “conduct unbecoming.” It came out at the summary trial that this was not the first time he’d pulled this trick. He was sentenced to 14 days in jail. Oops.

    Never had a problem with people calling in sick after that though.

  33. Squid – We do have rules. After 3 days you’re supposed to bring in a doctor’s note. Some managers enforce it, some can’t be bothered and just find ways to make the malinger’s life more miserable so he’ll go elsewhere for a job

  34. They should ask for them more. Dunno how it works in the public sector, but sick days are underwritten by insurance in the private sector. The insurance company wants doctor’s notes to pay out.

    So if the manager just says “s’alright” when you’ve been sick for a week, the company eats the cost of your salary while you’re sick. Submit a doctor’s note and the company’s insurance eats it. Consequently, managers are well motivated to ask for doctor’s notes. It’s not so much a matter of hassling the malingerer as it is “if we waste money on malingerers, I don’t get a bonus.”

    With the civil service, there’s probably no similar motivation – the taxpayers eat the cost either way and there’s no profit drive. Thus the only reason to ask for a doctor’s note is to annoy the “sick” person in that situation.

  35. Squid – Ya there’s pretty much no motivation to do anything in the public sector. I think compensation could demand a note. We have to enter all leave/overtime into an electronic system; it’s approved by the manager and then compensation has access to it in case they need to pay overtime or if more leave is taken that a person has, they are deducted salary for that day. They should also deduct salary for uncertified sick leave of more than 3 days in a row, I believe, but if the manager approves it they assume a note has been submitted.

  36. holy heck i’m not sure i would’ve been that calm with him. what would happen if a person didn’t do the absentee employee’s work. i’ve been in that situation more i care to count, and i think it’s connected to being an honest and conscientious person.

    i’ll never understand why people don’t just “do the right thing” on their own accord.

    i only learned a few years ago that government employees in the u.s. could pretty much never be fired and it peeved me.

    i fully agree that karma comes for us all in some form, whether we believe in it or not 🙂