This week I have been dealing with my mortality. Is being in good health an inalienable right or not?
I found it pressing to learn in America many people are not allowed paid Sick Days even if they are full time employees. If you get sick on the job, you go to the job and you do the job.

The reality, for a surprising percentage of the U.S. population, is more like the 19th century. Nearly half of all full-time private sector workers in the U.S. get no paid sick days. None. If one of those workers woke up with excruciating pains in his or her chest and had to be rushed to a hospital — well, no pay for that day.

For many of these workers, the cost of an illness could be the loss of their job.
The situation is ridiculous for those in the lowest quarter of U.S. wage earners. Nearly 80 percent of those workers — the very ones who can least afford to lose a day’s pay — get no paid sick days at all.

If you work in the food preparation industry or if you care for the elderly, the
chances of you getting paid Sick Days are slim. That means our food
supply and the infirm elderly are most at risk for the active
transmission of viruses and germs.

There is an effort to create a Federal law requiring any business with
more than 15 employees to provide seven paid Sick Days a year for every
Small businesses are, of course, wailing and fighting to defeat paying
sick people for not coming to work — and we’re certain to see another
bloody battle between the “Haves” and the “Have Illnesses.”

If you are in the United States, how many Sick Days do you get a year
as part of your full-time employment package?  Do you use all the days
every year?
If you are not caught in the American system of medicine and healthcare
— how are Sick Days handled where you live?

Do you get paid to stay
home and get well, or are you required to attend to your job in — In Sickness and in Health, ’til death do you part? — no matter what ails you… and we wonder why so many people are married to their jobs!


  1. Hi David,
    In the city where I live kids are rewarded for attending public schools, so even if the flu is going around, you can expect they will be there. This policy was enacted because the local schools get state funds based on attendance.
    If a high school student has a “C” average, and no days missed, they are excused from quarter finals.
    In my opinion, this serves to further lower the standard of public education.
    I realize this comment is a little off the subject of your article, but I had to throw my two cents in.

  2. In the UK there is no limit in most places and sick leave is paid. If you start pushing your luck some places will call you out on it, some won’t. The former are usually better places to work ;).
    When I worked in Oz I got 17 days paid sick leave per year. I found that to be a less efficient system as there were a lot of people who just treated these as extra holidays.
    Here in Sweden it’s usually unlimited, although there is no pay for the first day (presumably to stop the “duvet-days”.)
    As a contractor who only gets paid when he works I rarely call in sick, and now that I work from home as well it’s even less often as I don’t have to worry about infecting other people at the office.

  3. I work for the US government. We get 4 hours of sick leave per pay period, which is a bi-week. At 26 pay periods a year, we get 104 hours of sick leave a year. In addition, we can carry over any unused sick leave not just into the next year but can hold on to the hours until we retire. Under the retirement system I am in, I cannot collect on that sick leave once I retire. But I am not year familiar with the retirement plan provisions to know how the sick leave balance will affect my retirement.
    We can use the sick leave to stay home while we are sick or to go to doctors’ appointments. We can also use it to take a spouse, parent or child to a doctor’s appointment.
    I know some supervisors who had over 3000 hours of sick leave available when they retired. They are in a different retirement plan, but I don’t know how their sick leave balance affects their retirement.

  4. Mike!
    That’s fascinating. I like the UK system a lot. You’re going to have to explain “duvet-days” to our international readers! 😀
    I, too, work on my own so I’m “here” all day every day no matter what’s going on — I don’t infect others, but sometimes it can be good to disconnect a little bit to try to heal up — but that soon becomes roundly impossible.

  5. Hiya Manny!
    It’s so good to hear from you again. We have missed you!
    My wife works for the state of NY and she’s under a similar plan as yours. You can “bank” Sick Days but vacation days you either use them or lose them.
    You can also “give” your sick days to others who run out.
    The idea of banking sick days is important in case you are hospitalized or get really sick. Those sick days — counted in hours — quickly get devoured by the minute.
    At the time of retirement you can’t get paid for those sick days — you have to use them — so most people with incredible hours of banked sick time sort of “retire early on sick leave” for a year or so before their official retirement date. It seems silly to me, but that’s the way you play in the system and I guess that’s better for the mind and body than being bed-ridden for a year with a terrible illness…
    One previous employers of hers would pay you for the Sick Days you did not use at the end of each year. Some employees banked around $2,000.00 USD on that plan — but they came to work sick during the year to infect everyone else. The boss didn’t care, though, because they were coming to work…

  6. Hi David,
    It is a crazy policy. The poor standard of public education in my area has severely handicapped the business arena, as many major manufacturers have chosen to go elsewhere.
    Further, it has driven many middle class families to seek alternative education, such as homeschooling or private schools. There are three private “prep” schools here that are very expensive, but some work multiple jobs just to send their kids there.
    In addition to lowering the standard, I think the attendance policy sends the wrong message to the kids: achievement is not important, your health is not important!
    Let’s all go to work, even if we’re on our death bed, and further drive up the cost of health care by not taking good care of ourselves.

  7. Why isn’t education valued where you live, Donna?
    I agree we work too much in America. The standard vacation allotment is 10 days. Other countries mandate by law up to 30!

  8. Hi David,
    In my opinion the rich people who control a lot of what happens in the town throw their weight behind the prep schools I mentioned. (Incidentally, they are outstanding schools, with campuses that resemble small colleges. They consistently turn out scholars.) These people are highly educated and they do value education.
    Meanwhile, the public schools struggle with funding year after year, but I wouldn’t blame the low standard solely on lack of funds. There is too much emphasis on high school athletics.
    When I taught several years ago, I was under extreme pressure to pass kids that did not deserve it, especially those that were involved in athletics.
    The emphasis in the public schools is not where it should be. Academics take a back seat to winning football teams.
    It may get better, as they hired a new superintendent last year. He has a tough job ahead, as there have been decades of misplaced priorities.

  9. Hi Donna —
    I argue if you don’t value public education, you don’t value education — you only value “gated education” — where a price tag determines the “goodness” of the schooling you’re paying for while claiming to support education.
    I agree athletics have been given too much importance in the public schools system — but for many poor students the only way they see out of their sorry lives is to become a sports star and to win a scholarship at a college somewhere.

  10. Hi,
    I am from Ontario and I left the job with about 10 sick days unused. Each time I had to use my sick day, I did get paid. In my department, there were no strict criteria for using sick days. I did use it to go to a doctor’s appointment or whenever I was not feeling well.
    The number of sick days per employee at my former workplace is depended on his or her seniority. The longer you are an employee there, the more sick days you can use.
    When I started the job, I was not allowed to receive full benefits until the probation period was over (which is usually the first 9 months).
    I talked to some colleagues who are in their late 30’s and 40’s and they were not satisfied with these benefits from my former workplace. I am 25 years old and my conversations with them were enough to make me seriously focused on my future, my well-being and my health.

  11. David,
    We are allotted a certain number of PTO (Paid Time Off) days, based upon years of service, that are accrued per pay period and are to be used for sick leave, vacation, appointments, personal days…whatever. My employer does not distinguish between hours for paid vacation and paid sick days, they are all the same and lumped together.

  12. Hi Sonja!
    I’m glad to hear from you again! Thanks for sharing how your workplace works.
    The state of NY offers different ways to compensate workers in addition to sick days and vacation:
    Personal Days = You aren’t sick, but you have to get pre-approval to be off. If you don’t use them you lose them. If your pet is sick or if you need to go to the motor vehicle office you use a personal day instead of calling in sick.
    Flex Days = If you work Overtime or if you choose to work on a holiday you can “spend” that day later as you wish with pre-approval.

  13. David,
    Not really sure why they did that.
    We have a couple options for unused PTO. We can carry them over to the next calendar year to a maximum of 600 hours. We can also “sell back” unused PTO, to a maximum of 80 hours, but only at a rate of 50% of our wage. Selling back sounds kind of stupid to me, but I guess if you need cash, you need cash.

  14. About personal days and flex days, I did get both of these from my workplace.
    But that is not all…..days for when you need to go to funerals, days for when you have to go to courts, and a few more.
    Well, that’s an interesting topic. It’s good to know what’s the system is like in each state and country.

  15. Thanks for the extra detail, Sonja!
    Some US employers are kind about jury duty while others are not — that’s why there are so many federal workers on juries — they can serve jury duty for as long as the system needs them and they will not lose their job or any pay.
    I don’t think we get special days off for funerals. You’d either have to use a personal day or a vacation day.

  16. 😉
    Actually I first heard of duvet-days from a US company.
    That’s when the world gets a bit much and you just want to stay in bed and pull the duvet back over your head 😉
    I know all too many people that take these on a regular basis!

  17. David,
    No, as far as I know you cannot “share” your PTO time with others.
    Yes, PTO must be scheduled in advance as much as possible. Obviously if you are using PTO because you are sick, you will not be able to put that on the calendar. 😀 But if you are using it for vacation, you have to give plenty of notice; two weeks is the norm.

  18. Hi David,
    I’ve never taken a sick day, so I need to check to see how much time I have. I do know how much vacation time I have, but it’s interesting that I’ve never thought about the sick days. I assume I have some, but since I’ve never had to use them, I should check.
    When I worked at the grocery store, I had a perfect attendance award because I never called off. (I went home early a couple of times, but I always showed up).

  19. It’s interesting to look at Manny’s comment because my dad works for the federal government. He works a lot during certain times of the year, so he ends up getting a lot of comp time. When I was in high school, I remember my dad being around the house almost every day during one December because he built up so much “use-it-or-lose-it” comp time.

  20. Hey Chris!
    That’s wild you’ve never taken a sick day! Wowser!
    Love the story about your dad. There’s a guy I know in one office who refuses to take any vacation during the year. Union rules say YOU MUST use your vacation days after building them up for three years — so once every three years, nine weeks before the “New Year” starts in July — the bosses kick the guy out of the office for nine weeks to keep the union happy. 😀

  21. Hi David,
    When I used to work full time in India, we were eligible to get paid holidays including sick days after a successful completion of our probation period, and as far as I can remember we could accumulate it till a certain point of time over years.
    I also remember I was sent home by force after the inauguration of a new branch as I worked for almost 24/7 for the launch; at that point I was one of the newest employee – was not eligible for 7 days long paid holiday – but I almost got kicked out from the office to enjoy that break!!! Fun!!!

  22. Hi Katha!
    Thanks for the view from India!
    Most US companies have probation periods ranging from 30 days to a year before union protection kicks in — the NYU adjunct union has a FIVE YEAR/TEN SEMESTER probationary period!

  23. Probation period is uniformed in govt. organizations – those are unionized too.
    Probation period varies in private organizations, not all of them were unionized either – ours were 90 days – I guess.
    I was sent home for 7 days just after a month, it was done with such a subtlety that I didn’t realize for a long time that I got it for free – I never thanked my boss!

  24. David, you asked about if you could share your leave with your co-workers. In the federal govt., you cannot share your sick leave. However, for annual leave, you can “donate” leave to those who are eligible to receive leave donations from others. Those who are qualified leave donor recipients must have a serious medical condition or is taking care of a spouse, child or parent with a serious medical condition. They register with the HR office, who puts them on a list of recipients. Many employees choose to donate leave they would otherwise lose if it’s not used by the end of the year.

  25. David,
    My high school had that policy, but a C average is really low. We had to have at least a B+ (85 or 87 and above, don’t remember) and have only one absent day that semester. And this was per class, so if I had a 90 in one I didn’t have to take that one, but if I had an 80 in another I’d have to take it. It didn’t really make sense to go in if you were really sick – I mean, it’s only one day off for the exams. And the one day usually was enough to keep people out of school when they were ill. It was more of an incentive to keep my grades up, at least for me.
    And I think the whole exam policy isn’t necessarily good for education, considering that most people try to cram the night before anyway. But it’s not like I have a better solution. I just think that allowing people with high enough averages and good attendance out of the exam is more like a reward for doing these things than a sign of bad education in America. But a C average is really low. I think the only thing that will truly improve education are more good teachers who actually care about educating students, and a renewed interest in education in our society.
    I’ve never worked a full time job long enough to qualify for sick days, and most of the part-time jobs I’ve worked don’t have them. When I worked at Macy’s I’d just go in sick. If I was really sick they’d tell me to go home – but I needed the money too, so it was usually a toss up about whether or not I’d go home. And those stupid policies are so complicated, it would take a lawyer to understand them. I think its a good law. Everyone gets the flu sometimes.

  26. Thanks for that extra information, Manny! I think it’s great that the healthy can donate “leave” to those who are really sick.

  27. Hi Stacy —
    A “C” average is not low. It means “Satisfactory” but somehow in the mindset of American education it has come to mean a “low grade.”
    Most students are “C” students — and to move above that middle you need to be outstanding and to extra work in the further depths. Too many students wrongly equate showing up to class and minimally doing the work with an “A” grade.
    We’re talking about grade inflation and it is pernicious. When a “C” is a “low grade” and everyone gets “A”s and “B”s that equally nullifies the higher grades because they have been cheapened by the corruption of the Bell Curve.
    I am reminded of the problem at Harvard where something like 98% of the students have a straight “A” average — and Harvard claims they get the best students so they all deserve those perfect grades. The point they’re missing, however, is that grades are representative evaluations of individuals in groups. Even at Harvard most of the students should be “C” students in order to give the truly excellent “A” students the space they earned and deserve to shine.

  28. David,
    Thanks, I’ve heard about grade inflation. It seems like most of the institutions I’ve been at the grades still mean something – at least, the difference between a C,B, and A anyway. I think a lot of teachers are willing to pass students pretty easily, or when they should have failed, but they tend to stick with C, B, and A differences. Most of the people in my high school probably had C’s, with a mix of B’s. It seems to depend a lot on the teacher teaching on how much grades reflect actual performance. I should have been more specific, I think C is low to be allowed out of exams. I think it should be a treat for performing better than average, not something that somebody just coming to class and doing minimal effort can do. And I also consider it a low grade for me – but when I get one I tend to deserve it and expect it, because I wasn’t actually putting my full effort in.
    The Harvard thing is a bit overboard – they have a reputation to keep up, which is probably why they do that. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a college course where everyone got all A’s 0_0. It just doesn’t seem possible, even if you are supper smart or whatever, you sometimes have other things going on. I can’t imagine almost every student at Harvard is always putting that amount of work in for every course all the time. Seriously, I only know one person with strait A’s and she barely leaves the house, and follows all those study tips. Like actually studying long before the exam, color coding everything… I’m just not that cool. (Speaking of health, it’s not healthy to do that. Youth is crazy today, sometimes. I’ve never seen this girl relaxed.)
    Do you think that teachers should grade classes giving out a particular number of A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and fails? Or do you think we just need a reworking of what these grades mean?

  29. Stacy!
    Thanks for the clarification on the meaning of a “C” grade for you.
    I agree the Harvard thing is ridiculous — but when you’re dealing with any private university and schooling costs are over $50,00.00 USD a year — there is an expectation the students have that they are buying their way into power and prestige and that means excellent grades in their minds.
    One place I used to teach English — an excellent, private, religious university in New York — fought against grade inflation and in a class of 30 students no more than 1.2% of them should have an “A” grade if that grade is to have any meaning in the overall scope of the intention and purpose of the school. Now that’s pressure! The students pretty much knew though, that in the English Department it was “impossible” to get an “A” so they were tempered to that fact even though they’d try everything in their power to get a better grade beyond just studying and doing the work.
    To answer you grading question we have to first ask if students are competing with each other, with themselves or their future potential…

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