Carrying on from the interesting discussion which started on Terri's thread:

I'm very intrigued.

Will's point: [quote]Someone's going to make up for the sick person's absences, why should I lean more heavily on people who are more reliable? [/quote] is what my team leader head says when I'm doing my job and covering for someone who is sick.

However, the I think the UK culture is that people get sick, and we should pull together to cover for them.. for there but for the grace of God! We don't hold sickness cover as a benefit, it's a right - although an improvement on the minimum state provision is a benefit.

You're also unlikely to be able to sack someone just for being sick.

Are these two very opposing attitudes the only ones towards sickness absence, or are there some middle grounds practiced anywhere else?


WillDuke's picture

Don't get me wrong, I recognize that people get sick. And I recognize that people need time off work. Sometimes we all get sick of work!

With the Vacation / sick plan, if they don't get sick but want to use the benefit then they we either force them to lie and to be less reliable and call in for the sick time without planning, or they can forego the benefit. Under the PTO plan, they can say they need a day off next week and the team can prep for it.

If a person is offered 2 weeks of vacation (10 days) and 3 sick days, what's wrong with offering that same person 13 PTO days instead? Same time off, same benefit, but if they don't get sick they can plan those 3 extra days making less impact on the company and their peers.

wendii's picture

So what happens if someone plans their 13 days, takes them all and then gets sick? Can you only use your sick days from last year?

And what happens if you need more than 3 days?

(who is very curious today!)

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="wendii"]You're also unlikely to be able to sack someone just for being sick.[/quote]

Where I work (UK Local Government) sickness, especially repeated, is treated pretty much as a disciplinary offense. If you have 3 periods (of any length) or 14 days (in any number of periods) of sickness in a 12 month period then you are given a written warning. If you have another 3 periods or 14 days in the following 12 months then you get a final written warning. If in the 6 months following a final written warning you have two more periods you are taken to a final case hearing to be dismissed. We've had at least one sacked for having 10 sick days in just over 2 years.

The result of this has been an increase in sick days as going sick, coming back and then going sick again (because you came back too early) is treated as two separate periods of sickness, even if they are separated by less than a full day so once people have gone sick they've tended to 'take the rest of the week to make sure' and people have come in when they really should have stayed home resulting in them infecting others in the office.

There was a short article in today's Guardian (3rd item in WPM on page one of the 'Office Hours' section) about sickness and work. According to a survey by SimplyHealth 71% of people report that ill health reduces thier enjoyment of work, 67% said it impacted their productivity but 52% reported coming into work when sick.

On a tangent, item 2 in the same column reported that a survey by the Chartered Management Institute has indicated that 84% of directors struggle to prioritise work. Presumably the other 16% have read Drucker (I'm currently on my third copy of "Effective Executive" this year, I find myself 'lending' copies to managers and never seeing them again, this time I hope to get past page 88 so the last copy I loaned out i just immediately went out and bought a replacmeent without waiting for the borrower to not return it).


WillDuke's picture

[quote]So what happens if someone plans their 13 days, takes them all and then gets sick? Can you only use your sick days from last year?
And what happens if you need more than 3 days? [/quote]

1st, we allow you to stockpile PTO time, if you're so inclined.
2nd, we don't expire PTO time, but do have a cap on how much can be stockpiled.
3rd, we allow employees to "borrow" time if they need to.
4th, we allow people to "cash in" their PTO if they need to. This helps people who have a lot of time and want a vacation but don't have the funds for it. They cash some in and take some off.

We also have a policy for maximum PTO time to be used at once. (We're a small company and really couldn't handle someone being gone for the 6 weeks of stockpiling we allow.)

Finally we recognize that a policy is good, but there are always exceptions. Thankfully nobody here has been seriously injured or ill where they'd need more time than that off.

To steal a phrase from some guys I respect, "It's all about people." We flex and bend to take care of our staff. Two employees have been with me over 7 years. (Company's 10 years old.) A third has been with me for 8, though he moved out of town for family reasons and then later came back. We're only 8 people counting myself, that's half the staff over 7 years. I'm very proud of our retention. I place a lot of the credit on the fact that we treat people fairly and respect them.

garyslinger's picture

[quote="wendii"]You're also unlikely to be able to sack someone just for being sick.[/quote]

Right-to-Work States are a wonderful thing if you have someone "abusing the privilege"...

I'd also like to take issue with sick time being a right, and not a benefit - I absolutely subscribe to the "but for grace, there go I" theory, but it really isn't a [i]right[/i]. We're paid for the work we [i]do[/i]. If you're not at work, well, you're not [i]doing [/i]work.

I've just moved to a PTO-centric company, and it's my first. I like it, and from what I've heard, there's a whole lot less abuse of the system that I know there was at my gig a couple jobs back (multi-national corp.).


jhack's picture

BLUF: Sick days should be unlimited, and not pooled with vacation.

Vacation is important; most people need a break, and they typically come back recharged and rejuvenated.

When you pool vacation and sick time, you force people to make decisions at the margin: come to work sick to preserve a planned vacation? Ask for extra time off? Borrow against the future?

Most people want to do the right thing (I think Will pointed this out in another thread).

Sick days are unplanned, under any system. Sick days are not evenly distributed amongst your staff. Some will use more than others. The only reasons I can think of to pool sick days with vacation are:
1. you don't trust your employees.
2. it's easier than telling people that life isn't fair when they complain about the other person taking more sick time.


stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="jhack"]Sick days are not evenly distributed amongst your staff. [/quote]

And any one employee's sick time won't be evenly distributed in time. You can go for years without a sick day then get exposed to something nasty that knocks your immune system about and suddenly you've had several weeks off over 6-12 months, you'd better hope you've got an understanding boss who realises that anyone can have a run of bad luck.


garyslinger's picture

[quote="jhack"]BLUF: Sick days should be unlimited, and not pooled with vacation. [/quote]
I can't wait to see Will's response to this - a small company (what was it, 8 employees?) should cover someone for an "unlimited period"? I'm sorry, but that's... Well, crazy comes to mind. Sorry.

When someone's off sick for ten days, for instance, other people are picking up that slack. Possibly having to cancel their own vacations - and yes, in my time, I've been in a situation where there was a three-man team, one was sick, and one was scheduled for vacation; they had their vacation canceled to maintain two-man cover due to volume of work.

My views - I /do/ think that PTO should be increased some as you stay with a company - so you get more time to "Play" with if it comes to it. But the core point - if you're out for a week or so sick, and then you want to take another two weeks off as vacation? Sorry, not this year. Yeah, it sucks to be sick, and I feel for you, but, being only slightly flippant, this is business, not charity.

If you /must/ have an allocation of sick days, I've also been places where it's "bought back" at the end of the year if it's unused. Possibly an acceptable middle-ground?


terrih's picture

One thing I forgot to mention is that there is also a provision to create a PTO "pool" for someone who is stricken with an illness that will keep them out a while--people with unused PTO can donate some of their time to that person.

That would hopefully take up the gap between whatever PTO they might have and the time when short-term disability would kick in.

WillDuke's picture

What an interesting discussion.

John - are you suggesting unlimited [b]paid [/b]sick leave? Or are you suggesting that if someone needs the time off they should have an unlimited amount of time to recover without having to worry about their job?

If the former, it's financially impossible for a small company to do. For the latter, it seems like a common example would be maternity leave.

(Now, before I get lambasted, I'm not suggesting that pregnancy nor maternity are equivalent to being sick. I'm simply saying that the logistics of the situation are the same from the point-of-view of the organization. I'm talking about an employee being away from work for an extended period.)

I don't think legislation is the right way to go, but it's a place to start a discussion. In our state a company has to hold a person's job for I think 3 months of maternity leave. But only if that company has 25 or more employees. The state recognizes that the burden of holding a job for an extended period of time for a small company is just too great. (I could be wrong about the numbers, but I know they're more than I have.)

Now, would I hold that job? I suppose it would depend on the job. If it was a tech position then we could probably run lean for 3 months. Service levels would suffer, relationships with clients would suffer. Overworked employee's morale might suffer. Revenue would suffer. If the tech was good enough to make up for that in the long run then I'd do it.

If it was the office coordinator, where there's not another person or group of people to pull together to cover, we would be in an impossible situation. It takes a month or two to train someone new, but we couldn't go 3 months without invoicing, accounts payable, reception, ordering, etc. My best case scenario here would be to see if they could work 1 or 2 days a week, possibly from home, on very specific tasks. Then I could supplement with a temporary worker for reception.

Honestly, the employee would have to merit that level of commitment. The person I have right now does. But previous holders of that position didn't.

Okay, so that's the situation with a great employee. Now let's say I've got a guy that I just hired and he calls in sick the first week. And he's sick again the 2nd week. And he's sick again the 4th week. Let's say he's got 2 weeks of sick in the first 90 days. Then he says he needs 3 months off for some serious operations. This guy has no "right" to me damaging my business for him. The thought itself is appalling.

So, no hard and fast answer from me. It's situational, and "It's all about people."

jhack's picture

Yes I mean paid. Of course I don't mean unlimited forever. In my post on the previous thread (which I should have carried over) I added the point that after 5 consecutive days, it becomes short term disability and is therefore covered by a separate insurance policy.

And I do understand that for small firms it could be a hardship (again, I mentioned earlier that my firm was large, but forgot to repeat that point).

So maybe there are other ways for small firms. Perhaps time off with a guarantee to return...Don't know.

But having people cancel their vacations because they were sick? That's just not right.

Finally, the elephant in the room: single payer systems, political solutions, etc. Forcing every small employer to solve this is an unfair burden on them (right, Will?). I'm not a policy expert and I don't know what to do there, but clearly this is a big issue.


tomas's picture

This is a topic fraught with unintended consequences. The bottom line is that employees are human, and will sometimes suffer infirmities that affect their work performance. This might take the form of total absence, or just a reduction in their output over a period of time. As managers we need to try to manage this to achieve the optimal result for the business and our employees.

Overly restrictive policies or policies that encourage employees not to take sick leave run the risk of causing them to come in when they are sick, with the result that they infect everyone else and have a much greater impact than if they just stayed home for a couple of extra days. Or you hide the extent of the problem as staff turn up but are not productive.

Health is also not a one-way street. Managers have a duty to ensure that their workplaces are conducive to good health. Its a tad unfair to ask people to come (via crowded public transport) to work in air-conditioned buildings with poor ventilation, in close proximity to other people (who turn up to work because of draconian sick leave policies) for long, stressful hours with inadequate breaks and then seek to penalise them because they dare to get sick. I'm all for individual responsibility but it makes no sense to ignore the reality that work environments can have a major impact on people's health.

I'm sure everyone here provides a healthy work environment for their staff, but not all workplaces are healthy. We have had a case here where over a number of years a "cancer cluster" has been identified in a workplace where an extremely high percentage of female workers have developed breast cancer. In that case, management ignored and denied the problem for years until the evidence was so overwhelming they have had to move employees to another building.

wendii's picture

Oh you are so going to freak when I tell you this!

In the UK:

SSP is paid to employees who are unable to work because of sickness. SSP is paid by your employer for up to a maximum of 28 weeks. SSP is not paid for specific illness or treatment but to all employees, who are incapable for work and who satisfy the conditions for payment Even if it is your first day of work with a new employer and you become sick part way through the day you may be entitled to SSP.

It's not the same amount as salary would be - although many companies top it up so you do get full salary for 28 weeks and then half salary for 28 weeks.

And maternity leave - is a whole year here + 2 weeks paternity leave and parental leave during the baby's first 5 years and the parents are entitled to ask for flexible working arrangements.

Compared with some of the countries in Europe our employment laws are hardcore. When I lived in Germany if you were given bed rest, some one came to your house to make sure you were in bed!

What's interesting about this debate is does the UK stifle small businesses like Will's? Every time the government puts out new suggestions or changes the small business community says that they can't take any more - and till now I've always thought they were wrong not to give employees what we have collectively decided was fair. But 'knowing' Will as we do, I'm beginning to see another side.


TomW's picture

[quote="jhack"]BLUF: Sick days should be unlimited, and not pooled with vacation. [/quote]

Do you mean you would pay someone who was sick for 60 days out of the year? (not continuously, just 5 days out of a month, say every Thursday and the last Friday)

If so, watch for my resume ;-)

jhack's picture

Tom, the answer is: Yes.

Perhaps it's the people I hire or the business we're in, but I've never had an issue with abuse of this policy. I'm egotistical enough to believe that working for me is more fun and rewarding than watching Oprah.

Some take more sick days than others. Some stay home when they could probably come in. Some come in when they should definitely stay home. C'est la vie. My team members are not looking for a free ride.

And, I'm always looking for great people. Please do send your resume. :wink:


PS: I know this policy may not work in some industries (Food Service, for example) as well as others (Software development).

rwwh's picture

[quote="jhack"]BLUF: Sick days should be unlimited, and not pooled with vacation.[/quote]

That is how it works in The Netherlands. And: if an employee is on holidays and gets sick, he can call in sick and his holidays do not count until he is healthy again.

terrih's picture

That's one of the reasons my cousin wants to move back to Amsterdam. She lived there for about 10 years (she was born & raised in Omaha).

She's watched a sister die of a rare autoimmune disorder, a brother die of cancer, and her mother go through cancer treatment, and through all this her mother has continued to work as much as she possibly could because she can't afford to lose her job. (Her father died 40 years ago.)

So she wants to go back to Amsterdam where if she comes down with cancer or something, she'll be taken care of, and I can't really blame her.

I've been supporting my husband for several years... he finally got approved for SSDI disability this past summer, but it wouldn't be enough to live on by itself... if I lost my income altogether, I believe we'd be choosing between his meds, or Alpo for supper. (Although there are of course other services that would kick in if it came to that.) And we are NOT living high on the hog by any stretch.

I dunno what the answer is. :(

terrih's picture

p.s. For those outside its market, "Alpo" is a brand of dog food.