Sunday, May 11, 2008


Last month I wrote about a reader who wanted to know if it was OK to call in sick on a Monday because he had fallen ill over the weekend and hadn't been able to complete his planned chores. By Sunday night he was feeling better, so he wanted to use Monday to get the chores done.

My response was to say that, while it was his prerogative to take a personal day, it was wrong to call in sick when he wasn't.

A greater-than-usual response from my readers argued that I had missed the mark, maintaining that it's perfectly OK to call in sick if you want to ... even if you're not sick.

I'm not convinced. Sure, businesses could do a better job by simply giving people a certain number of personal days per year and letting them use them however they wish. But if sick days are meant for use when you're actually sick, shouldn't you be honest with your employer?

So I'm putting the question to my readers at large: Is it OK to call in sick when you're not really sick?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at

You can also respond to the poll about this question that appears on the right-hand side of the blog.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, you were (as you knew) right to maintain it was wrong to use a "sick" day to finish chores that the employee had not finished when earlier being "sick". First, let's face it, if the "sickness" was no more serious than to have recovered from it over the weekend, then it was not serious enough to have taken a sick day in the first place.

Second, this whole subject of personal days versus sick days is a spurious argument. Companies provide sick days so employees who are truly sick can take excused time off. The term "personal days" has no place in a normal work relationship. Do employees think companies can plan and accomplish the necessary work when employees "scam" the system by taking "sick" days without being justified? To me, it is all part of the new morality, in which employees think a company should even provide paid time off for family emergencies and even expect paid time off for fathers when the family has a birth! Again, such thinking ignores the monetary considerations, as if a company has built in financial reserves to pay this type of unjustified costs.


Gossip_girl said...

A good friend has a job where employees are given 2 extra sick days per year to be used for her wellbeing. The idea is that when her job gets too stressful, she then can take one of these days to ditch work and recuperate. She calls them her mentally sick days.
My husband has 5 personal days each year for the same purpose, and he works for GE.
Some companies have found giving employees an extra day off allows them to return to work refreshed and ready to concentrate on the job. To stipulate attendance when they are overstressed from their personal life and their mind is elsewhere can lead to multiple unproductive days.

Madilyn Bruening
Riverton, UT
I the read online column

Anonymous said...

It's not okay to call in sick when you're not really sick because it shows a lack of concern for coworkers. If one of my subordinates calls in sick, in normal circumstances I have no choice but to approve the use of leave - no matter how short-staffed it leaves the office. If they make a last minute request to use a personal day, I can decide whether to approve it based on how it will affect the operation of the office.

Now, it's possible that the person calling in sick won't affect anyone else- but why call in sick instead of taking a vacation day unless you either have no other type of leave left, or believe that the use of that leave wouldn't be approved?

Anonymous said...

This is why I am self employed. Somehow life has become a rat race where we live to work-- longer and longer hours, and more and more time is cars in rush hour-- instead of working for some purpose such as family or social good. We live to work instead of work to live.

This is toxic.

Right now my business is contracted as my usual clientele are regular working folks and they are afraid to spend. But this reminds me why I am still glad I am my own boss.

Anonymous said...

in my opinion, it's OK to call in "sick" for what some people refer to as a mental health day. if the man in the original example couldn't get his weekend chores done because he was sick on a saturday, he may feel unusually stressed out during the week, which could negatively impact job performance. i see no problem with him calling in sick on monday to take care of his chores.

i agree with one of the earlier posters: our country is work-obsessed. our work benefits are pretty meager overall, so if a company is going to give you sick days as part of the benefits package, i say take them. mental health is at least as important as physical health.

Anonymous said...

It is definitely not OK to call in sick when one is not sick. My many years of experience, in both non-supervisoray and supervisory positions, saw many abuses of using sick days as personal days. Most workplaces allow for a number of personal days, with or with out pay, to be used by employees by request. Sick days are just for that, sick days. I have seen many people abuse these over the years, and when they receive a work performance review, they wonder why the review is average or below.

It is a matter of self integrity. Lying is lying. There were times when I asked for a personal day off, and was refused. But, I did not later on call in sick to make up for it. I once had one of my staff, returning from vacation, ask if they could have an extra vacation day, or sick day off, to make up for two days that they were sick on their vacation. My answer was no. Has any one asked for an extra day of work without pay, to make up for a sick day with pay?

Richard Mariani
Brea, Calif.
Orange County Register

Anonymous said...

The bottom line is this is an ethical question. Was he sick? NO. Life goes on. His chores can be completed another time. His employer depends on him as well as his coworkers. If you lie to yourself how can you be honest to others? I hope people who call in sick don't really need those hours later. You never know what life will deal you. I do agree personal days are nice; a few "mental health" days IF you really need it could be considered sick days; but "a chore day". NO. Now think of all the people who don't have sick days. They manage. Chore boy can too.

msc wi

Anonymous said...

Of course, it isn’t right to lie about your health for your personal gain. In fact, it’s stealing from your employer when you are perfectly capable of working and he/she pays you as if you were there. Perhaps there would be less abuse of sick leave benefits if employers paid workers something for unused sick leave days at the end of each year or let them accumulate the time for a possible emergency down the line.
For those people who had major medical problems and therefore used all or most of their sick leave, well, life isn’t fair, but that’s not the employer’s fault either. Actually, I dragged myself to work when I was sick many a time (which was maybe not the right thing to do, since I could have passed on my germs to others). I just had to evaluate the risk of that against the demands of the job.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Read it in the Orange County Register. It is stealing from the employer to claim a sick day when you are not sick. In my opinion it is the same as if you were to come back from vacation and then demanded an extra 2 days because you had a stomach flu when you were in a foreign country. Just my two cents!!
Always happy to see your column. Tilly Alldredge, Laguna Niguel, CA.

Anonymous said...

At my employer, all time off is in one "bucket" so it doesn't matter if you plan to take a day off or have an unplanned / "sick" day off, it all gets subtracted from the available "Time Away from Work" balance.

My previous employer had separate "buckets" for sick leave vice vacation time.

In my present situation, it's not as egregious to "call in sick" as it would have been in the previous situation. That being said, it's still a lie if you're not really sick.

Jim Thomson

Anonymous said...

Mr. Seglin, I enjoy your column, and usually agree with you. Overall, I’m grateful that people have someone to turn to with issues sort of “up a level or two” from Dear Abby. That said…

Like vacation time, sick time is earned/accrued, although it is, by law, not paid out at termination. An employee should be allowed to use his/her discretion, assuming this isn’t a regular occurrence, and that co-workers and project deadlines won’t suffer, and it’s no one’s business if the employee was ill on Sunday and not Monday.

I’ve noted that many companies, like mine, have converted to a PTO (Personal Time Off) benefit, time an employee can take for vacation, sickness, whatever. When this policy is adopted, it’s no one’s business if the employee is sick, taking an extra day in Las Vegas, caring for a sick family member (wait, under the separate categories, would that be legally a ‘sick day’ or does it have to count as a vacation day?) or just wanted to sit around all day in his/her pajamas.

Pat from Long Beach CA

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your column which always stimulates thought and discussion. This was a clear cut answer for me. If you say you are sick and you are not, that is a LIE. It all comes down to the question of ethical behavior in your personal, professional, and spiritual life.
Employers who provide one bank of sick/personal, etc. days make it easier for the employee, and I sympathize with those who aren't in the situation - but truth is truth, and too many people are willing to split their ethics to suit themselves.
A reader of the Orange County Register, Santa Ana, California

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Seglin,
In response to your question, I think that sick days should be reserved for sickness. Personal days are for chores. If a large number of people are not honest with employers, then the employer may be forced to change his policy somehow, which would put everyone at a disadvantage. The people who are gaming the system are relying on the honesty of the majority of workers.

Yours truly,
Brenda Levy
Richmond, VA

Anonymous said...

I read the Orange County Register in Costa Mesa, CA. Sick Leave is for when you are incapacitated and unable to perform work. The thing that gets me the most about your reader was that his intent is to use the sick leave to do personal chores. Not to recover from not getting any sleep, or just the intense exhaustion that sometimes follows being sick. Taking sick leave for anything but being sick is definitely a no, no in my book.
Steven Edwards

Anonymous said...

Man, I must be really old and out of touch with the world today! Do we even have to ask whether or not it is okay to lie about our health to the organization who pays us to work for them? Sick days are to help people avoid loss of wages when they are unable to work due to illness; they are not part of vacation time. No wonder companies object to adding paid days off for other circumstances; they are simply added to the "entitlement". No, it is not okay to call in sick when you're not really sick.

Peter Wetzel
Orange, CA.

Anonymous said...

Hi...I was a nurse for 45 years. I always thought it was too bad that you had to lie when something special came up and that w as the only way
you could get the day off. Sick time and vacation should be melded
..used interchangeably. Be nice if you could call in and say
"I'm well but would like the day off".

Louise Bell
Laguna Woods, CA
Orange County Register

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Seglin,

I live in Seal Beach, California and read your column in The Orange County Register.

I am writing to comment about whether it is wrong to call in sick when you are not really ill. I definitely believe it is wrong to call in sick when you are not ill. You are not telling the truth. In one of my first jobs after college, I had a boss who stressed that feeling and it always stuck with me even though I had never tried to do that. I was rarely ill so I ended up with a lot of unused sick time. If you have children, then you are sending a message to them that it is ok to lie because that is what the person is doing who calls his or her employer to say he or she is ill when they are not.

Barbara Parks

Anonymous said...

I would like to respond to your follow up column on people using sick leave when they're not sick.
First off, I am horrified that this question is even being asked. In my line of work we are given both sick and vacation leave. The difference between this two should be obvious. One is considered a planned absence and the other an unplanned absence. Management is able to cover your responsibilities when an absence is planned. Why would normal thinking people not care about the impact of their actions on their fellow employees? Since I live by the Golden Rule I would not do to my fellow employees what I don't want done to me.

Secondly, companies don't have to offer sick leave. It is a wonderful benefit that should not be abused. I knew a man coming up for retirement that went out on stress leave to burn off a year of sick leave before retiring. The sick leave could have been used as time towards his years of service, but at a fractional amount. I was in my mid-20s then and remember thinking that he could have retired happily and never looked back, or he could be deceitful, go to a doctor on a regular basis to keep up the lie, and then go into Human Resources with his newest doctor's note every few weeks. While he believed he was doing the right thing so as not to get cheated out of what he believed was his, the truth is it was there to use if he was sick. He was a fortunate man in that he had never experienced a long, drawn out illness. Instead of being thankful for that, he was selfish.
I know that is not what prompted this discussion though. It was for one guy calling in one day. It's all the same. It is dishonest. And I still fall back on the Golden Rule. If this gentleman was the owner of the company, would he want his employees to call in sick when not ill.

And lastly, I was told from the time I was knee high that life isn't fair. Sometimes we get sick on weekends. Deal with it!

Veronica Ross
Garden Grove, CA
The Orange County Register