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When Do You Call Out of Work Sick?

This article was written by in Career and Work, Health. 10 comments.


Looking back over my career, which for me started in non-profit out of college in 1998 and 1999, included teaching middle school and high school, transitioned into the finance industry, and eventually culminated in working for myself full-time, I’ve had an opportunity to consider my approach to “sick days.”

In the early days, I took as many sick days as possible. The organizations or companies I worked for had policies that guaranteed no fewer than a certain number of sick days. I didn’t normally take sick days to conceal the lack of a desire to go to the office; for the most part, I was sick as frequently as I took advantage of these days, usually several each month. And for me, being sick involved something like the flu or flu-like symptoms.

Perhaps I was exposed to unhealthy people more often because I lived in an apartment with several roommates, shared an office with other people who would go to work while they were contagious, or spent weekends with hundreds of high school students. Perhaps it was a combination of all the above. On most these days I formulated the courage to call a judgmental boss to let him know I wouldn’t be making it in, I was actually sick.

I never once had an employer ask for a doctor’s note, but I’m sure a few times in my first job with the non-profit I received a call from the office to check up on me. I was not calling out sick to go to a concert, I was not partying. If I called out sick, I was either sick or recovering. Every once in a while I would use a sick day for a personal recovery day; but when you work long hours seven days a week because the organization is under-staffed and over-reaching, I think that’s acceptable. Occasionally.

But as I got older, my approach to sick days — and possibly my general health — changed. When my schedule was no longer super-packed, I didn’t get sick as often. I moved out of the communal apartment and found a place with just one roommate — and a few years later, lived on my own. I was no longer exposed to hundreds of children each week. My need to take advantage of the maximum number of sick days allowed by company policy decreased, even though I managed to fill the rest of my at-home schedule with working for myself.

Also, the company I worked for began offering an opportunity for employees to work from home. Although this wasn’t the intent of the flexible arrangement was, I could occasionally work from home if I felt under the weather, and the more relaxed environment might have saved me from developing a more serious affliction each time.

Officially, the financial company I worked for did not want employees to come to the office if they were sick because of the fear of an ailment spreading through the office. Of course, this not a genuine concern of a corporate entity; the company policy was such to avoid the possibility of reduced efficiency among the employees. While staying at home in the event of sickness was the official approach, at the team level it was a different story. Employees were expected to come to the office as much as possible despite the threat of transmitting sickness to others.

Quitting the corporate day job and working for myself full time probably had the biggest effect on my health. By writing this, I hope I’m not tempting fate, but I haven’t really been sick since quitting my job. Perhaps I’ve felt sick enough once or twice a year to prevent me from getting everything done in a particular day, but that certainly isn’t the same frequency of immobilization as I was experiencing towards the beginning of my working life.

It’s also true that my environment is more isolated today than it’s been any other time in my career. I have no office to go to. I do not work with high school or middle school children. I see people only when I choose, and so perhaps I’m not exposed to many of the same infections I would be had I remained in other jobs. I don’t have a stressful schedule. I don’t have stressful deadlines unless I create them for myself. I have control over the way I live and work, which was less true earlier in my life.

And, in some ways, if I have to take a sick day, it affects my own bottom line. That was not the case in the past, though if my superiors and co-workers thought I was taking advantage of company policy — and I’m sure they did — it would affect my reputation at the office.

If you work in an office, when do you call out sick? Have you used employer-provided sick days to take care of chores or to take care of your children, or do you just call out when you’re actually unable to make it to the office? Do you try to go in when you’re sick to continue work?

If you don’t work in an office, do you find that you’re not getting sick as often? Are there other factors that contribute to your health, like being around children or other adults frequently? Are you motivated to be sick less often if you’re working for yourself?

Photo: Flickr/kodomut

Published or updated October 30, 2013. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Lance @ Money Life and More

I only call out when I am pretty sick because I fear it would look bad if I called out for a simple cold that made me feel like crap but didn’t show a ton of symptoms. I should probably use sick days more than I do currently for true sickness.

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avatar Barb

I work with a lot of former medical professionals and they’re pretty hard core about sending people home if you show up sick at work. I do tend to telecommute on certain days when I feel kind of sick, but don’t hesitate to call in sick when I do feel crappy or really exhausted. That translates to maybe 4 sick days a year.

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avatar Kyle

I only call in sick when I’m actually sick, for the most part. Every once in a while I’ll have trouble sleeping and stay home. I consider this being “sick” because I wouldn’t be able to get any work done anyway, so I might as well take PTO. I seem to have a pretty stout immune system and so very rarely get sick (it’s been probably 2 or 3 years now), but when I do get sick, I get it BAD.

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avatar qixx ♦1,890 (Half-Dollar)

I don’t get sick days in my current job. When i call in sick it is usually because of caring for a family member that is under the weather. Since i work in an office with one other person i am usually of to still work when i don’t feel the best. If i need a doctor i’ll call. If i don’t i’ll go in. Luckily for me i don’t end up at the doctor much.

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avatar Holly S

I can think of only 2 situations when I called in sick to work:

Running a fever of >100
Worshipping at the porcelain goddess (seated or kneeling)

Generally, in spite of having kids, doing scouts and working I used <2 sick days/year.

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avatar Kathy

When I was a federal employee we were allowed to accumulate our unused sick days and then add them to our total years of service. Hence, I didn’t call in sick very often. When I left the government and went to work for a small medical practice, my absence severely impacted other employees and taking off sick was really frowned upon, so again I didn’t use many sick days other than for some surgeries I had to have during that time.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦75 (Newbie)

Since leaving the 9-to-5 workforce in 2002 I became ill significantly less often. I assumed that has to do with fewer exposures to illness. Since leaving a very bad marriage my sick days decreased even further, which I attribute to (a) less fear and stress and (b) no one bringing home rhinoviruses to share with me.
Now I’m in a relationship but I’ve still escaped sickness. I attribute this to being happy! Also to the fact that my significant other is a pretty healthy guy.
Back when I did work full-time I tended to soldier through illnesses. Bad idea, I think. Now I’d advise people to stay home if they’re running fevers. If it’s just a cold and you have no more sick days? Please cough into tissues/handkerchiefs and use sanitizing agents on shared phones or keyboards, to reduce the chances of making your co-workers sick.

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avatar Chasa

I haven’t been truly sick in the last 10 years (defined as unable to leave the house/function). No flu, maybe a bad cold every other year, no stomach bugs. My company allows unlimited sick time (we’re French and it’s nice), so I end up taking a day or two of ‘mental health’ time every year. As someone above commented, every so infrequently I wake up and know I’m not going to get a single thing done, so I stay home w/ a vow to hit it hard the next day.

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avatar Cynthia

I think you might be right about needing more sick time for certain occupations. Teachers are exposed to a lot of germs. I’m lucky enough to be blessed with good health and a job I love. So I haven’t taken a sick day in over two years. That said, everyone around me is down with the flu so we’ll see how/if I’ve jinxed myself by bragging, LOL!

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avatar Harold J Forbes

My work allows us to use sick time for our own illness or illness of a dependent, and I end up using more days for when my SAHM wife gets sick than my own illnesses. I don’t get sick very often so if the day is for me it is more likely to be for a routine doctor or dentist appointment than a true illness.

My office does have quite a few people that seem to be prone to illness and soldier through because they have run out of days, but they at least try to stay to themselves and not interact with the rest of the team. The big BIOHAZARD sign we put on their doors also helps.

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