Organizational Wellness

8 Good Reasons for Employees to Use Sick Time

Feb 21, 2023
Last Updated Jun 10, 2024

Achoo! Great… someone is sick at the office again. 

We’ve all had days working across from a sick colleague — hearing them cough, sneeze, and sniffle all day long. You wonder if they really should have come to work today, but maybe they had no choice.

According to the BLS, 68% of civilian workers get fewer than ten days of paid sick leave per year, and 20% have less than five. Your colleague could have used all their leave time, or if they’re new, they may not be eligible yet.

Despite the pandemic, there’s still no specific paid sick leave laws in the U.S. While some states may have their own requirements, companies are often left to make their own decisions about whether to offer paid sick days, and when employees can use it.

If you’re looking to implement a sick leave policy, this post is for you. Here are some common scenarios to think about, when employees may need to use sick time.

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What is Sick Time?

Sick time, also known as sick leave, refers to the paid or unpaid time off work that employees can use when they are ill, injured, or need to attend medical appointments. It's a crucial aspect of employee benefits, ensuring that workers don't have to worry about losing income when they are unwell and need time to recover or seek medical attention.

Eligibility for sick leave often requires a certain period of employment, varying by company policies or local or state laws. Some employers offer a set number of sick leave days per year. Others have employees build up sick leave over time — this accrual of sick time typically occurs over time based on hours worked, such as earning one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. 

Employers may require documentation, like a doctor’s note, especially for extended sick leave periods. Policies regarding the carryover of unused sick time and any caps on total accrual differ by employer. State and local laws also play a significant role, with some states mandating paid sick leave while others do not. Understanding these components helps create a supportive environment that prioritizes employee health and productivity.

When Do Employees Use Sick Time?

Employees can use this benefit for personal illness, injury, or medical appointment. Many policies extend this benefit to care for sick family members. Here are eight great reasons for employees to use this critical wellness benefit!

When They Have a Contagious Illness

When someone has an infectious illness, like COVID or the flu, they should stay away from work to avoid spreading the virus and putting their coworkers at risk. The sick employee also gets to rest and recuperate, so they can come back to work fully recovered.

It’s particularly important for employees who work in close contact with people—like hospitality and healthcare workers—to take time off when they have a contagious illness. They could pass that illness on to their patients or clients, who may be much more vulnerable than they are.

If They Have an Illness or Injury That Affects Their Work

When someone has an illness that affects their ability to work, it is important for them to take sick leave until they can work as normal. Say an office worker has a migraine. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to stare at their computer screen for long periods. Similarly, if a construction worker has a broken arm, they won’t be able to do their work safely.

Working with an illness or injury doesn’t just impact work quality—it can also make the employee’s condition worse. If an employee has an injury that requires time off to recover, they should get a doctor’s note that explains how much time they’ll need and why.

To Attend a Medical Appointment

Employees should also take sick time when they need preventive medical care—like getting a flu shot, visiting the dentist for a check-up, or seeing their doctor for regular tests and screenings. These appointments all help employees stay healthyin the long run.

Many companies allow employees to take sick leave hours rather than full days if they need to miss work for a medical appointment.

To Look After Their Mental Health

Taking a sick day is not just about taking care of your physical health. It is also important that employees can take time off for mental healthreasons—especially considering how many are overwhelmed. According to the APA, 27% of adults in the US say that “most days they are so stressed they cannot function.”

Using sick time for a mental health day can help reduce employees’ stress and anxiety levels. So giving employees time off to look after their mental health can prevent stress from spiraling into burnout and other serious medical conditions.

If They Are in the Hospital

Taking a sick day when an employee has been hospitalized is essential for their health and wellbeing. They may be in the hospital to receive a medical diagnosis, recover from an accident, or to receive  scheduled treatment for a known health condition.

But whatever the reason, being in the hospital can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. And even for scheduled treatments, hospital visits take time. Employees will likely lose several hours just waiting to be seen. By taking a full sick day, they can focus on their healthcare without the added stress of worrying about how much work they’re missing.

When Their Child is Sick

If an employee’s child is sick, they may need to stay home from daycare without notice. Parents who work in an office may struggle to find a last-minute babysitter. Taking sick leave or paid time off may be their only option to care for their child.

Even if that employee works from home, it can be extremely difficult to do their job properly while also caring for their kid. Not only is it emotionally draining to have to manage both at once, but it can also lead to fatigue, stress, and even burnout

Taking a sick day when their child is unwell allows employees to focus on their child’s needs without juggling meetings and work deadlines at the same time. Additionally, if your employee’s child has a serious illness, parents can normally take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per calendar year to care for their child under the Family and Medical Leave Act(FMLA).

To Care for Another Family Member

Many employees don’t just take care of their children. More than half of adultsin their 40s are part of what’s known as the “sandwich generation,” meaning they provide care for their children as well as aging parents. Employees may also have a sick family member other than their parents who needs their care.  

It can be difficult for employees to care for their loved one and keep up with their job. Say an employee’s grandparent, sibling, or domestic partner has been hospitalized. They may need to take time off to attend doctor’s appointments with them or help with the recovery process. Taking a sick day in these circumstances allows employees to focus on the needs of their family members without any added work stress on top.

To Take Family Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Actlets eligible employees take time off work for family and health-related reasons—including pregnancy and childbirth, adoption, or because of their own serious health condition.

Under the federal law FMLA, employees can take 12 weeks of unpaid, protected leave for family or serious medical reasons. Depending on where your company is based, there may be additional state laws you need to follow when providing employees with family leave.

How (and Why) to Track Employee Sick Leave Usage

Tracking employee sick leave is a critical part of any employer’s policy. These policies are meant to help improve employee wellness and nurture job satisfaction by allowing them to take paid time off work when feeling unwell. Tracking your employees’ sick leave will help you spot health trends, manage resources wisely, and provide support where it’s needed. 

For example, employees who experience work stress due to organizational issues were found to be twice as likely to take sick leave, according to a study published in the BMC Public Health journal. Knowing your employees' stress points and allowing them to take time off when sick without worrying about receiving a smaller paycheck will help you foster a healthier work environment.

Here are some ways to effectively track your employees' sick days.

Step 1: Establish a Clear Policy

Start by setting up a clear sick leave policy that outlines how and when employees can take sick leave. This makes it easier for everyone to understand and follow the process, reducing the administrative burden when somebody does use their sick time. The policy can include how to report a sick day, whom to notify, and any required documentation, such as a doctor’s note. 

Step 2: Implement a Digital Tracking System

Using a digital tracking system can make monitoring sick leave more efficient. Tools like BambooHR and TalentHR automate attendance updates and simplify the process of identifying trends and managing records with less paperwork. 

These platforms can integrate with other HR tools, making managing employee benefits and entitlements easier. You can also maintain accurate records effortlessly and focus more on supporting your team.

Step 3: Conduct Regular Reviews

Periodically reviewing your sick leave data can help you understand how your employees are using sick leave and identify any unusual patterns that might indicate underlying issues, such as workplace stress or unresolved health concerns. For example, a sudden increase in sick days during high-pressure project periods may indicate excessive stress levels, while frequent short-term absences in specific teams might suggest burnout or other work-related issues. 

These reviews can be conducted monthly, quarterly, or annually and involve analyzing the frequency and duration of sick leave across different departments and teams.

Step 4: Offer Anonymous Surveys

Consider using anonymous surveys to better understand why employees take sick leave. These surveys can shed light on hidden aspects of the workplace, such as stress factors or health risks that aren't obvious just from looking at sick leave data. 

For instance, you might include questions that let employees safely disclose if they're taking time off due to workplace stress, physical discomfort, or mental health reasons. This way, you can gather candid feedback and uncover insights that standard tracking might miss, helping you support your team more effectively.

Step 5: Arrange Return-to-Work Interviews

Holding return-to-work interviews after employees come back from extended sick leave can strengthen your team’s health and cohesion. These conversations serve as a touchpoint to see how the employee is doing and look into the reasons behind their absence. 

More than just confirming they’re ready to dive back into work, these conversations can uncover ways to ease their transition and provide necessary support, such as adjusting workloads or modifying workspaces to better accommodate their needs. This direct feedback helps create a supportive environment that fosters a smoother reintegration.

Paid Sick Leave: One of the Most Valuable Benefits for Employees

If companies only learn one lesson from the pandemic, it should be that the benefits you offer employees make a huge difference in their lives. A generous sick leave policy goes a long way in helping employees build healthy habits and thrive in your workplace.

Wellhub can help you foster a happier and healthier workforce, with access to dozens of gyms and health apps. Need help planning your employee wellness program? Speak to one of our Wellbeing Specialiststoday!

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!

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Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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