Wouldn’t it be lovely to call in sick and take a vacation day? Maybe you are running out of accrued vacation days and feel burned out from working so hard (we’ve all been there!). Or maybe you feel that it is unfair that you never get sick. What I mean is… why should your co-workers get to call in sick for the slightest ailment while you stay healthy and suck it up when not feeling 100%!?
Hold on before you even consider this because legitimate sick time usage is a controversial topic. Sick days are meant to be taken when you are sick. No surprises there! You don’t need to be sick enough to have to go to the hospital. The need to stay home, rest, and possibly take medication while avoiding the potential to infect your co-workers is essential.
But what if you rarely get sick all year and those sick days are collecting dust? Don’t you deserve to take at least one “sick” day to rejuvenate your mind and body, even if it may involve a bit of fun time off? If only it were that simple.
First let’s review the paid sick leave basics. Your employer will typically offer one of four sick day policies. Which camp do you fall into?
Let’s call this option ZERO since having zero paid sick days is the same as having no sick leave policy at all. It gives you no ability to call in sick without giving up your daily wages, even when you are seriously ill. This situation is common among part-time workers in the U.S., especially those people who work in the service industry. Fortunately some U.S. states (see references below) are enacting laws that require employers to offer paid sick time to all staff.
Where does this leave you? If there is a bright side, when you are feeling in need of a vacation day and can afford the time off (the big “If”), just ask for it! Your ability to take a day off without advance notice will depend on your exact job and work environment. We all need to take a vacation day from time to time even if it is unpaid. Put unpaid sick and vacation time into your overall budget so you can plan ahead for it.
If you are comfortable in your current job situation which offers no paid sick time, take the opportunity to lobby your boss about it. Bring evidence for the wellness benefits of sick leave and how it can help keep all staff happy, healthy, and productive. It is even more important if you work with the public. No smart company wants to put their customers at risk from an obviously ill (and infectious) staff member.
Now if your job offers PTO where sick days are combined in a pool of days off alongside vacation days and personal days, you are already in the best position. You can take a vacation or sick day whenever you wish without worrying about running out of one or the other.
Of course you have to save a few “vacation days” as a hedge against the risk of needing a sick day later in the year. You never know when illness will strike you or your family. Have you gotten caught short by running low on PTO in the latter part of the year? It can be tough to have to decide between taking a day off for illness versus saving it for a planned vacation. I’m sure most of us would rather have the vacation day, but at what risk to our health and that of our co-workers?
Another feature of PTO days is the ability to roll-over accrued but unused days off from one year to the next. Does your employer offer that option? With a flexible roll-over policy, you are never forced to use up all your PTO as the year comes to a close. One idea is to plan for a big (bigger) vacation in January or February if rolled over a few just-in-case sick days because you stayed healthy.
Unlimited sick leave represents a work-life balance conundrum. Regardless of how often you fall ill during the year, you can day a sick day without worrying about running out. They are like unlimited but of course there are limits in place to avoid abuse. When your usage of sick days becomes extreme, your HR department may require a doctor’s note or further proof.
Taking a sick day for vacation purposes is not likely to be tolerated when you have “unlimited” sick time. Your employer is showing their trust in their staff by not putting explicit limits on sick leave. However that doesn’t mean you can’t ask to take a sick day when you are feeling overstressed and psychologically (and in many cases physically too) worn out.
The key is to ask your colleagues and HR staff for advice. Also consult your HR handbook to better understand the formal definition of sick as it applies to sick leave policy. Maybe your company encourages people to take reasonable time off for stress reduction and to recuperate from overwork.
The most common situation is having x number of sick days available to take each year. It is up to you if and when to call in sick throughout the year. Taking a sick day is the recommended course of action when you feel sick and need to see a doctor and/or get some rest at home. Again the point of the paid sick leave policy is to get well more quickly while not infecting others at work.
You may worry about running out of sick time, but what if you are generally healthy and end up with leftover sick days in a given year? Unfortunately rolling over sick time is not common, nor is being able to cash them in. Getting through an entire year without taking a sick day may feel like a major accomplishment, so why do we feel like we missed out?
When you have a set number of sick days per year without the ability to cash them in or roll them over, you may be incredibly tempted to turn one or two into vacation days. Should you even be thinking this?
This sick vs. vacation days question generates a lot of heated debate. Here are several examples of sick leave usage advice from around the web. How does this match up with what’s written in your employee manual?
> LifeHacker – How Do You Actually Use Your Sick Days?
> Ask A Manager – Is it wrong to take a sick day when you’re not really sick?
> U.S. Department of Labor – Sick Leave Law
> Salary.com – Calling in Sick: 7 Good Reasons, 7 Lame Reasons
So what if you catch something like a cold while you are already on vacation? Or catching something even worse? Can you legitimately take a sick day during your vacation?
I wish you could but my instinct tells me that once you have scheduled, approved, and left on vacation, you are on your own. You weren’t going to come into the office anyway so taking a sick day is just not done. You probably have an HR web portal where you input your vacation days in advance, so how would you change a “vacation day” into a “sick day” anyway?
On the bright side like all the advice we offer on VacationCounts, it never hurts to ask. Maybe your boss will feel sorry for you and offer a make-up vacation day for the weekdays when you were sick. Now of course you must have been really sick all day to justify asking. So consider asking nicely if you have lots of sick days left this year and manage to fall ill while on vacation.
While some may feel entitled to take their sick days for when they need mental and physical rest from work, using sick days for vacation time off is ill-advised. Did you call in sick but are actually having fun outside your home? You’ll feel guilty telling your employer that you were sick when your mind and body act otherwise.
Remember the definition of being “on vacation” is getting away from work and life’s responsibilities. It does not need to involve travel. When you are taking a sick day to play golf, lie on the beach, go shopping, spend all day at the movies, or stroll in the park (for example), you are clearly on vacation. Staying at home and playing video games, watching sports, or gardening out back is no different.
With social media as a public part of all our lives, it won’t be difficult for your boss to find evidence of your fake sick day online. It is hard to avoid being on vacation without sharing tweets, Facebook updates, and Instagram pics.
The smart policy is to follow the sick time off rules which vary greatly based on your employer as well as in which state or country you live and work. You accepted a job and agreed to their offer of pay and benefits in exchange for your productive time and effort. If taking a sick day for vacation purposes is strictly disallowed (what does your employee handbook say or don’t say?) then doing so is against written policy. It’s not worth losing your job over, but it never hurts to ask for permission first…
So what can you do with all those sick days when you really need a vacation day?
The VacationCounts advice is to use any technique imaginable to take more time off work. That means why not ask to convert one or two sick days into vacation days? If your company has zero written policy on that subject, there is a gray area to negotiate for creative use of paid time off.
As the year’s halfway point passes and you’ve used little or no sick time, why not talk to your manager to request sick time off flexibility? Do you still have most of your sick days in the bank, unlikely to be spent before they expire? Have you being working hard for months and even picking up the slack from your sick colleagues? This is the ideal situation where you can prove that you deserve a (not) sick vacation day.
Make the case for turning unused sick time into personal or vacation days. It is just like when you negotiated for more vacation days when you started your job. Speak to your preference for greater work-life balance and how time off leads to greater productivity and fewer actual sick days. Be willing to compromise by asking to convert only a portion of your sick days for vacation usage.
So there is no reason to be sneaky about using a sick day for vacation purposes. Plus if you get approval to take an “I’m Not Sick” vacation day, no one else even needs to know that you are not really sick except your direct manager.
Of course this blog is for entertainment only and I cannot offer legal advice. However when I started this business and wanted to learn more about employment and business law, I turned to the established legal publisher Nolo many times in the past. I like their large, easy to read format and the price you pay for their legal guides is always worth the knowledge gained.
Here are a few books that may help you tackle this subject in more detail if your job requires it. Most are available in both paper and ebook formats, whichever you prefer. Click the images to check them out (disclaimer: promotional affiliate links which cost you nothing to support this site).
Are you looking for real data to compare your employer-provided paid sick time policy with other companies in the U.S.? Here are a few studies conducted on this issue along with the push for a national mandate to provide paid sick days to all full-time and part-time workers.
According to their data, 81% of companies offered paid sick leave although they are looking at full-time employment only. Part-time and hourly workers are much less likely to be offered paid (as opposed to unpaid) sick time. For those having access to sick leave benefits, only 38% of new hires are eligible to call in sick before accruing the time off. As for unlimited sick time policy, 14% of employers offered a paid sick leave plan that featured no set number of sick days per year.
Comment below about your own sick days off policy at work so we can conduct an informal survey (but no legal questions please!). Share whether you are granted permission to take a sick day as a vacation day when you accrue excess sick days before the end of the year. We all occasionally need a day off to relax at home, get some fresh air, refuel our mind and body, or extend our weekend breaks, so it would be nice if all employers let sick days be approved for vacation use. Running out of actual vacation days is easy to do if you always take them throughout the year.
Leveraging sick days to your advantage, if you can make it happen at your job, is one more way to benefit from more vacation time off. Does this type of advice help you to maximize your time off? Join our growing list of newsletter subscribers who have committed to taking more vacation time off.
Disclaimer: VacationCounts is all about taking more vacation time off and work-life balance. As such this site never recommends doing anything that can get you in trouble at work or lose your job. This blog post, its author, and this website does NOT offer legal advice so be smart and consult a legal or employment expert if you need further assistance. Good luck!
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