Sixty-eight percent of U.S. workers in the private sector receive paid sick time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But some workers are more likely to have access to sick leave than others. For example, 93 percent of managers have sick time, while only 46 percent of workers in the service industry can say the same.
Generally speaking, employers have a lot of latitude when it comes to sick time. There’s no federal requirement for paid leave, and only a few states have enacted laws protecting workers’ access to this kind of paid time off. Your employer can also make it more difficult to access sick time by requiring a doctor’s note for illness-related absences.
Bottom line: your sick leave experience will vary, depending on your industry and employer. To get a sense of which workers have the toughest time getting leave, we reached out on social media to ask people for their stories.
The Website Factory Never Closes
So, one time I was pulling 18-hour days trying to fix a mess of a website before it launched. I wasn’t getting paid overtime. I was however suffering from some bad hip pain that I didn’t know the source of. I put off going to my doctor until after the launch.
When I got diagnosed with an IT-band issue, I started doing physical therapy either before work (which meant leaving my house at 6 a.m.) or at lunch. Occasionally I’d take a late lunch to meet my therapist’s schedule.
My boss eventually started getting huffy at “all the time” I was missing when I didn’t have a 100 percent open schedule for whatever he needed me to do last-minute. Didn’t matter that I’d put my health on the back burner and couldn’t walk without pain during the website launch. It just mattered to him that I was always available 100 percent of the time.
– Charlotte, Copywriter
Sorry, Your Job Is Too Important for Sick Days
Due to my type of job, if I have to call out on a storm day or during any event that may generate a lot of calls, I have to go to my doctor three towns away and obtain a doctor’s note. Kind of a deterrent.
Sucks when you feel like death and you have to shower and go to the doc instead of staying in bed and dying with dignity.
– Maddie, 911 Dispatcher
This Is Why Teachers Leave Teaching
I got reamed, at a teaching job, for taking all of my sick days when I had CANCER. I neither went over my allotted days, nor requested any special accommodations. One can partially see why I’ve been turned off from the field of education.
– Tina, Jewelry Designer
'I got reamed, at a teaching job, for taking all of my sick days when I had CANCER.' - A former teacher
The Real Sickness Is Office Gossip
Not me, but my husband. His supervisor was convinced that he was faking a sinus infection, so he made DH bring in a doctor’s note. In 25 years working there, he’s only ever had to bring in a doctor’s note one time and that was when his doctor put him on light duty.
And the supervisor spread the rumor that he was faking illness far and wide. DH had been to the doctor and gotten several prescriptions, and he was happy to take a note in. He even ended up taking even more days off than he planned to at first because his doctor didn’t want him to go back to work too soon.
When he got back to work he met with his supervisor and then also went directly to the plant manager to deal with the rumors that his supervisor was spreading.
– Connie (Her husband is an Operator at an electric plant.)
I was told that visiting my daughter (sick with pneumonia) in the ER on three consecutive days was “bad optics” because I had only started one to two months prior.
– Matt, Art Director
Nurses Aren’t Allowed to Get Sick
Many years ago, I worked for a REAL JERK!
I’m a nurse (so was she) and I had been up all night throwing up. I had no idea if it was food issues or a bug, but I felt a strong obligation to not share it especially with my elderly patients. (Pretty sure it was a bug.)
She thought I should come in anyway, since I wasn’t running a high fever. I had chills and was exhausted from NO sleep. Unsafe to function, much less drive! (And this was home health where I would be driving all day.)
I argued with her and only when I said that perhaps I should just quit did she back down. It did not matter to her that I might spread germs unnecessarily to my patients.
Too many horror stories with this jerk. I didn’t stay there long after she took over. I don’t think she lasted very long either.
– Caroline, Registered Nurse
The Sick Day Spies Are Everywhere
My worst sick day story ever: Years ago, I had strep throat and laryngitis and took a sick day. It happened to be a day after a long weekend in the winter and I had traveled that weekend. I always used to leave sub plans on my desk in those cases just on the off chance that I hit a storm delay or something and wasn’t able to make it back.
Two weeks later, I got a letter in the mail from my administrator summoning me to a meeting and also suggesting that I might want to bring a union rep with me. Another teacher had heard me joke to a parent the Friday before my sick day, “Maybe I just won’t come back from vacation!” and filed a formal complaint saying I abused my sick time.
Because I had sub plans out, it was thought to be “suspicious.” The administrator conveniently had no memory of me teaching the rest of that week with little to no voice and wouldn’t tell me who filed the complaint. It was humiliating and definitely made me question who I could trust among my colleagues.
– Mary, Teacher
24 Hours for Giving Birth
I went into labor with my second child on the first day of a new semester.
My husband called the college where I was a professor to say I wouldn’t be in and why, and was told that since I wasn’t “sick,” I couldn’t take the day off.
He (fearfully, holding the phone at arm’s reach so I couldn’t harm him) relayed the message.
So, I called from the hospital bed, in transition, and explained the situation to them. Ultimately, they decided not to fire me for missing the day so long as I returned the next day to teach and advise students (which I did).
– Anna, Biology Professor
The Manager Who Was Also Secretly an MD
My very first “real” job was at a bank that prided itself on customer service. I wasn’t feeling well at work one day, and had a fever and a horrible pain in my lower back.
My mom called the doctor for me, and the doctor said that it sounded like a kidney infection, and that I should go to the ER.
My boss said that I was “too young” to have a kidney infection, and if I left, there would be only one person staffing the bank (in the evening, with only one drive-through window open), so I needed to stay and finish the shift. Which I did.
Then went to the ER and got admitted for a kidney infection.
– Diana, Writer
Just Tell Your Baby Never to Get Sick
This has to do with sick days that my boss anticipated I would take when my child was born.
I was at the beginning of my second trimester when I told the director and assistant director of the library at which I worked that I was pregnant. After congratulating me, they asked what my plans were regarding work once the baby was born.
I said I planned to come back. The assistant director, herself the mother of four or five daughters and grandmother of one granddaughter, said, “Don’t expect any special treatment when your baby is born.”
I asked what she meant, and she told me I shouldn’t expect to take off when my child was sick.
– Kay, Career Development Specialist
And a Bonus Story, Also From a Library Employee
In my last library job, all of my “sick days” were taken when my kids were sick.
I had a horrible cold but went to work every day and my coworkers were giving me major side-eye and making comments about how I should go home.
I couldn’t! My sick days were not even accruing yet because I was so new, and I was already taking, basically, unpaid leave to take care of my kids.
It was a terrible feeling. I wanted to stay home and rest, but I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. It was so stressful that I ended up with an infected sty (GROSS) in my eye. I stayed all day at work with, literally, pus coming out of my eye (GROSS) until I could leave and go to the emergency walk-in clinic, where I sat feeling terrible that I was missing bedtime with my baby and stressing about when I would get a chance to pump.
And after all that, my boss was still annoyed that I missed work the next day due to my pus-y eye.
– Margaret, Librarian
Names have been changed to protect contributors. Stories have been lightly edited for clarity and style.
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