Sick Leave Is An Employee Benefit

Have you ever taken a mental health day?

Sick Time

Do you understand your sick time benefits? Are you scared to call in sick even when you have a legitimate reason? Sick time is a funny subject because most people have either no idea what they are entitled to and/or they’re to scared to use this benefit.

When you start at a new company you usually meet your HR guy or girl who will handle any of your questions regarding benefits, salary and the least popular but always prevalent labour relations issues and/or employee relations issues. So your HR guy or girl hands you a package that outlines your benefits with your company. He or she then runs down a list of frequently asked questions such as “How much vacation do I have and when can I start taking it?” or “How much am I covered for massage therapy?” The subject of sick time usually does not come up unless the employee specifically asks.

“Sick leave enables employees to take time off work when ill. It is not really leave for family obligations although it may sometimes be used as such” (HRDC definition of sick leave).

What I find funny about sick time is that it is neither black or white. Every company seems to handle sick days differently. Some companies make employees accrue sick time per week. For an example if an employee accrues 2.81 hours a week, at the end of one month they would accrue 11.25 hours, which is 1.5 days of sick time they can bank and/or use when needed. Some companies offer employees the opportunity to be off work for a set period of time for illness without loss of wages because it’s part of the flex benefit plan. To add to this grey area, some companies will even allow you to take sick time and not require a medical certificate.

When dealing with sick days there are two groups of employees; the abusers and the never users.

Overworked and Mentally Rundown

Now I’m not saying to go ahead and call in sick every Monday or Friday of the week. I promise you that HR and your boss will hunt you down and give you the thrashing of the century if you do. Well, you’ll at least get invited to a meeting and let’s just say it will be awkward for everyone so don’t do that. You also don’t want to abuse your sick time meaning take it whenever you feel like it. One day you may actually need to use your sick time for a legitimate reason and due to your over indulgence you may not have any left and would have to take unpaid sick leave. That would suck even if you get covered by Employment Insurance (EI). What I”m talking about is the days you aren’t really sick i.e. coughing, sneezing, have the flu, diarrhea, broke you leg etc. but are just mentally rundown and overworked.

We’ve all had those days, weeks or even months that seem to be CRAZY. You’ve worked long hours at work because for some reason someone thought you weren’t already busy enough and gave you more projects. Your spouse or the fact that you are single is just pissing you off. Your family members should all be put into a mental ward and to make things even worse your cat is making the weirdest noises you have ever heard when it uses the bathroom and you think it might be either dying or possessed by some evil power.

Scared Sick

It’s these times that you don’t want to use a vacation day because you just need a day to recoup. Laying in your bed for the whole day in your pj’s is not really a vacation. It’s a mental health day. Some bosses get it and some don’t. Some HR departments get it and some don’t. I totally believe in taking a mental health day or two a month. It’s a day that allows you to sleep in, relax your mind and muscles.

Employees forget that benefits are for them to USE. HR will try to scare you into never taking sick time but don’t be scared and start calling in sick and using your vacation time. I talk to too many tired people who think the office will crumble without them. The reality is that the office will be absolutely fine without you for the day or week. You just need to read and understand your benefits so you can use them to help you feel better.

The word benefit can be defined as something that promotes or enhances well-being; an advantage.

At the End of the Day

Employees need to take advantage of their benefits and start looking after themselves. Really read and understand your benefits. If you still don’t understand then ask HR to explain them to you. Most benefit packages are hundreds of pages thick and it’s a full-time job to read through the whole thing so why not get someone in HR to explain it to you. Once you fully understand how to use YOUR benefits you will be a happier employee. You will hopefully take advantage of mental health days and have no guilt the next time you call in sick.

Photo by: Joe Seggiola

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3 thoughts on “Sick Leave Is An Employee Benefit

  1. Debra
    January 17, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    A day or two a month, seriously? 24 sick absences a year you think is acceptable? As an employer, I find that highly unacceptable and cause for dismissal. I understand that leave policies are somewhat more generous in Canad and Europe than the U.S., but its unrealistic to think that employers can provide 12-24 days a year in mental health days PLUS a generous Vacation plan.

  2. January 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Hi Debra,
    If more employers were open to flexible schedules and working from home/remotely there wouldn’t be a need for mental health days. Also, as a HR Manager I see supervisors and executives taking advantage of their sick and vacation benefits. Often senior management will take half days or full days off and never code it as vacation (instead code it as a sick day or regular day as if they never left the office) and when they leave the organization they are paid out their generous vacation benefit that looks like they never used.

  3. August 28, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    Hi! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to
    him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank
    you for sharing!

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