‘I Never Take a Sick Day’: Americans Talk About Reporting to Work When Ill

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The idea of a sick day as a day of rest, recovery and no email has become increasingly alien.

We reported last week that the phrase “sick day” is fast disappearing from the office vocabulary , as many workers fear making themselves unavailable, even to rest.

Steven Kurutz, a reporter for the Style section, wrote that for remote workers and those in the gig economy, the shifting definition of the office “is also making the sick day somewhat passé.”

Moreover, 45 percent of Americans have no paid sick leave at all, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Health Services Research.In the more than 100 comments on Mr. Kurutz’s article, readers talked about what it’s like to work while passing a kidney stone, undergoing cancer treatment and coping with other illnesses. Some managers described their insistence that sick employees stay home and rest.

Here is a selection of readers’ responses. They have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Please use the comments to tell us what the sick policy is like at your job and how it affects your choices when you’re sick. Editing a book while passing a kidney stone

Before I retired, I was a freelance writer. I remember a notable day when I did the tech editing for my first book, which simply had to be done. It was going to press in under a month.

I was working with the editor, answering his questions, while passing a six-millimeter kidney stone, which would eventually require surgery when it did not pass.

I was in significant agony, struggling to explain a complex technical topic coherently while taking pain meds. There was no “day off.” I was the subject-matter expert!

When you work for yourself — and make no mistake, freelancers are business owners — you work sick or well, or the project fails.

— Mary Tyler, Williamsburg, Va. Saving sick days to allot time for bereavement

In my company, they pooled sick time, personal time and vacation days into paid time off (P.T.O.).

Since I work at home, I never take a sick day unless I am really sick and can’t even sit at my computer. Except for the very last days when my wife was in hospice, I think I’ve taken one sick day in the last 10 years.

Being able to work at home and take care of her, take her to doctor’s appointments, etc., while saving my P.T.O. for when I really needed it in the weeks following her death, for our children, was very valuable.

— Michael Oliver, New York Working from home as a distraction from cancer

I was sick with cancer last year and continued working remotely part time almost through my entire five weeks of radiation treatment (which was in a different city).

I often felt sick, but work was the only thing that I actually had the energy to do — it was a great way to get my mind off my dire condition and a wonderful distraction. I didn’t work at all for one month. Now I’m back almost full time.

I feel so grateful that I have a job with flexibility and that modern technology makes it possible to still be a valuable contributor even when one is sick for an extended period.

— Tina Hilding, Moscow, Idaho Serving coffee and food while sick

I am a barista who has been going to work sick all week because we certainly don’t have such a thing as “sick days.”

One day last week I felt so bad that I just couldn’t go in. I hated calling out because I knew there was no one extra to cover for me that day. And my grocery shopping will be very light for a few weeks after losing a day’s income.

Thankfully, I still have health insurance through my parents (thanks, Obama!), unlike every one of my co-workers.

Two of my friends at work aged out of their health insurance in the last few months and I remember them both frantically scheduling as many checkup doctors’ appointments as they could in their last month of being insured, because who knows when they’ll be able to afford it again.

— Mary G. Batts, St. Louis

When I worked those food-service jobs, I had to show up regardless of illness. Missing a shift for illness was not allowed unless you had a doctor’s note.

But when your shift starts at 5:30 in the morning, getting a doctor’s note to excuse you from the shift isn’t exactly an option. And even then, that doctor’s note required a doctor’s visit, which is costly.

— Jennifer C., Kansas City, Mo. Fretting about whether to ask for time off

Sick days were a source of anxiety for me — was I REALLY sick enough to take the chance of annoying a boss or looking like I have variable commitment?

I far prefer working from home, laying down and napping a bit here and there. I’m not as productive as when I’m at 100 percent, but working from home when sick still lets me get the important stuff done versus doing nothing.

— Kelly Whitaker, Golden Valley, Minn . Working for a merciful manager

I work at a large company, and have a team of direct reports. More often than not, when they’re sick they will contact me to say that they are staying home, but will be checking emails and doing other work. I always reply that they should take the day off and rest, and NOT work.

Some employees just need their manager to tell them that it’s O.K.

— Cindy Collins, San Francisco

I work in human resources and insist when an employee is sick that they stay home and sleep/rest. We will call you if we have an urgent question. Employees still check their emails, I do also, but there is no expectation that they will do any work.

I firmly believe that you don’t get well by sitting at your computer all day, whether at home or work. And I won’t let a sick employee infect an entire office because they think they’re indispensable.

— Joan Wyly, Denver

I was unsuccessful most of the day trying to reach a colleague — phone, email. No responses after several messages. I was a little concerned, for he was quite conscientious about responding to my calls.Late in the afternoon I get a call. The caller was very apologetic. “Sorry, I couldn’t call you earlier. I am at the hospital. My wife just had a baby.”“Congratulations!” I replied. “Why are you even calling me! Please hang up. Nothing I have to say is more important than what you need to tend to.”Happily, the situation was tended to later without fallout. Some years later he has become a director at his company. Last I heard, he and the baby are doing well.— L.C. Grant, Syracuse, N.Y. A note to readers who are not subscribers: This article from the Reader Center does not count toward your monthly free article limit.Follow the @ReaderCenter on Twitter for more coverage highlighting your perspectives and experiences and for insight into how we work.

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