When our financial adviser reviewed my assets in anticipation of possible retirement, he assumed (incorrectly!) that I would be “paid” for unused sick days. ..At the time, I had more than fifty of them.
“Well, then,” he advised, “if you won’t be reimbursed, then you must use them. When you go, you must leave nothing on the table.”
Sensing (no doubt reading in my body language!) my nonacceptance of what he was suggesting, he elaborated.
“Your employer figured in the cost of those sick days as part of the cost of employing you. If you had been sick, that money would have been paid to your substitute.
“Who do you think the school would rather have doing your job—you or a substitute? How many times did you go to work out of a sense of duty when you weren’t feeling great, and you could have stayed home?”
I smiled. “Many times!”
“You earned those days. …Take them!”
Did I? …I didn’t.
Although his words played loud and clear in my head every time I forced myself to go to work when I was tempted to call in sick, I heard my own voice, too, ringing out words, which in the past had criticized colleagues who did just what he was suggesting, justifying what they did on the “sick or not, sick days are my right to take” basis.
I disagreed. Sick days were a safety net, which I rejoiced in not having to use—the more I didn’t have to use, the healthier, then, I was. I didn’t want to take even one unnecessarily. Not just as a matter of ethics, but as selfish practicality—what if there came a time (as there did!) when I really need them over an extended period?
Maybe if I had been employed longer, with more unused sick days, I would have felt the same as other colleagues, who were disappointed when policies changed and there was a cap on sick day reimbursement upon retirement.
Would I have liked to receive a $20,000 check upon retirement, as did one of my friends? Yes, I would have! Might my perspective have changed at the specter? Might have.
Still, I like to think that my perspective would have remained as it is. I thank God I did not need those sick days. I’m grateful my employer provided that safety net. I do not feel cheated by not being reimbursed.
That being said, I can see that there are mixed messages.
On the other side of the issue, if employers pay for unused sick days, then, it seems to me that they are saying that I am wrong. Sick days are not a safety net which the employer extends, but a kind of salary-related escrow account, which I am entitled to recover.
However, that thinking is tempered by other sick day realities. I needed physician-verification for sick days and was in jeopardy of being penalized–doctor notes not withstanding–if, in any one year, I used half or more of the allotted annual sick days. So were they really mine to use at will?
Maybe reimbursement for unused sick days is not so much tantamount to making sick days an escrow account to be recovered, as it is a kind of farewell bonus, a reward for staying healthy and sparing the need for hiring substitutes.
In my case–no matter. I am not receiving one cent in return for the fifty days I left behind. And, I console myself with having been healthy! And there’s no price tag I can put on that!
What’s your unused sick-days experience and perspective?