Taking Leave

If you're considering taking leave from work, it's best to understand company policy and know your rights first.

Introduction

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify which decisions need to be made when you're sick and scheduled to work
  • Identify which decisions need to be made when you're using vacation or personal days

Staying home from work

woman visiting the doctor

There are many reasons you may need to stay home from work. For example, you may get sick, need to attend to personal errands that can't be taken care of on the weekend, go to doctor's appointments, or attend a function at your child's school.

Some employers allot their employees a certain amount of paid sick, vacation, and personal leave days per calendar year. They may also offer some paid holidays. However, with only a certain number of days off per year, it can be difficult to determine how, when, and under what circumstances these days should be used.

Some employers simply allot leave days—employees can determine how and when they are used.

Using sick days

Scenario:
While at work on a Tuesday morning, you notice that you're beginning to get a headache. You take some aspirin and hope it goes away. By lunch, your headache has gotten worse and you're beginning to get body aches, accompanied by the beginnings of a sore throat. At the end of the day, you drag yourself home, take some more aspirin, and go to bed early. On Wednesday morning, you wake up showing the same symptoms, except now you're congested as well. Do you call in sick?

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether you should call in sick.

Before you call in sick, consider the following:

  • Do you have sick benefits? If so, how much sick time do you have?
  • How sick are you?
  • Do you need to see a doctor in order to get better?
  • Do you have an illness that's contagious, such as the flu or pink eye?
  • If you go to work, is there a chance that you may get even sicker and may have to miss more than one day of work?
  • If you went to work, would you be unproductive due to the illness?
  • Can you take over-the-counter or prescription medication that will make you feel better?
  • If you do not have sick benefits, can you afford to miss a day's pay?
  • Are there any consequences that might result from taking a sick day?

If you have decided to stay home sick, do the following before you call your supervisor:

  • Figure out whether you have any work that someone will have to do for you.
  • Review your employer's procedure for calling in sick.

When you speak to your supervisor:

  • Tell your supervisor you're not feeling well and need to take the day off.
  • Inform your supervisor of any responsibilities that will need to get accomplished by another coworker.

General guidelines for using sick time

  • Use it only when necessary.
    It can be tempting to use your sick days when you're feeling slightly run down or work-weary. Resist the temptation to call in sick under these circumstances. You never know when you'll get an illness that causes you to be out of work for several days. In many organizations, it's considered unprofessional to use all of the sick days allotted to you.
  • Know how much sick time you have.
    Think twice before you decide to use a sick day. Again, you never know when you may need them.
  • Know the procedure for calling in sick.
    If you will be out of work due to illness, make sure to follow your employer's sick policy and procedure. There is no excuse for not calling your supervisor when you're sick. In an emergency, make sure a family member contacts your employer.
  • Some employers prefer you to call in sick, while others don't.
    Some employers will send you home the minute you show up at work with a cold, while others don't expect you to ever use sick days that are allotted to you. Most employers' policies fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Always use good judgment when using sick days.

Using vacation and personal days

Scenario:
Your young child brings home a note from school stating that students are putting on a special presentation to which parents are invited. You notice that the presentation is scheduled during your work hours, but you'd really like to attend. Plus, there are several errands you haven't been able to take care of recently. Should you take a personal or vacation day?

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether you should use a personal or vacation day.

Before you take a personal or vacation day, consider the following:

  • Do you have any personal or vacation benefits? If so, how much do you have?
  • Why do you need to use a personal or vacation day?
  • Do you have a trip scheduled?
  • Are you simply tired or burned out?
  • Do you have things to do that can't be accomplished after work or on the weekend?
  • Is it a religious holiday?
  • If you do not have personal or vacation benefits, can you afford to miss a day's pay?
  • Are there any consequences that might result from taking a personal or vacation day?

If you decide to take a personal or vacation day:

  • Figure out the best time to take leave so no one will have to do your work for you.
  • Follow your employer's procedure for scheduling vacation and personal days.
  • If possible, ask your supervisor at least two weeks in advance.
  • Inform the supervisor of any responsibilities that will need to get accomplished by another coworker.

Taking extended leave

couple holding an infant

There are circumstances that may cause you to have to take an extended leave from work. The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, was enacted by Congress to help employees balance work and family responsibilities by taking reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, FMLA "provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that group health benefits be maintained during the leave. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers, and promotes equal employment opportunity for men and women."

Valid reasons for taking leave under FMLA include:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Provides information on employee eligibility, including valid reasons for leave, employee and employer notification responsibilities, and employee rights and benefits.
  • The Employee's Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act: A free, downloadable ebook published by the U.S. Department of Labor that provides user-friendly explanations of how the act works and how to request FMLA leave from an employer.
  • Book: The FMLA Handbook: A Union Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act by Robert M. Schwartz