Sunday, June 04, 2017

Can I call in sick on my day off?

A reader, Marie, works three days a week providing services at a health care center. As part of her work contract, she builds up sick time for which she can be compensated if she reports an illness. While Marie typically works the same three days every week, she has some flexibility to work on different days of the week.

Even though Marie has worked for the health care provider for almost a decade, she has never used any of her accumulated sick time or pay. She's always managed to remain healthy or, on the days she wasn't healthy she wasn't scheduled to work anyway. "Even though I could have put in for sick time on some of those days, I chose not to," says Marie.

A week ago, a patient visited the health care provider when Marie was working. Since Marie was on duty she met with the client to assess his needs for about 30 minutes.

"The client reeked of marijuana," writes Marie. When she asked him about the marijuana odor, he acknowledged that he had been smoking, but not on the premises.

"The odor was so strong, I began to get a headache," writes Marie. After he left, the receptionist asked Marie if she was OK since the receptionist also had noticed how strong the smell had been.

On her drive home from work that evening, Marie still was not feeling well, due, she suspects, to the strong marijuana odor that wafted through her office when she met with the patient. The headache continued to get worse into the evening.

Marie was not scheduled to work the next day. But when she woke up that next day, she was still feeling ill.

"If I still felt sick from the marijuana smell the previous day, would it be wrong to put in for sick time and pay for the next day, even though I don't usually work on that day?"

It would seem an unusual situation to put in for sick time and pay for a day of missed work when Marie had no plan to go into work that next day. Technically, if the health care provider she worked for didn't have a policy against it, I suppose she wouldn't be breaking any rules to do it.

But if the intent of the sick time policy is to compensate workers for days of scheduled work they missed because they were sick, then Marie might be taking advantage of a policy that was not intended to cover employees' illnesses on their non-work days.

Marie should certainly see a doctor if she is feeling ill. And she also might want to report the incident to her manager at work so they're aware of the situation.

But as far as putting in for sick time and pay is concerned, the right thing to do is to wait until her next scheduled day of work, see if she still feels ill, and decide then to put in for sick time if her headaches persist.

Given that Marie hasn't missed a day of work over the past decade because of illness nor has she put in for any sick time or pay, I suspect she knows that right thing to do. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Anonymous said...

While the problem presented today has facts that "seem" to support an excused absence, it would appear that "working" around the difficulties this situation describes is way beyond a "normal" work situation and qualifies as an "excused" absence, no matter how justified. There are just some work situations that do not lend themselves to "unusual" situations. Unless the questioner has a fabulous working relationship with those in authority, I just don't recommend taking advantage of this situation to ask for time off!

Charlie Seng

Azalea Annie said...

This is a no-brainer: If Marie worked Mon-Fri and woke up on Saturday feeling unwell, she would not call in and say "I don't feel well".

When one does not feel well on an off-work day, one does not ask for sick pay for that day. It's that simple.