Sick Days

Picture 8Wes is sick. He woke up in the middle of the night Wednesday night with an asymptomatic fever. It was high enough that he had trouble sleeping until the ibuprofen kicked in. It was a rough night, to say the least.

Donnie stayed home with him yesterday for the simple reason – it was his turn. Nikki was sick last week and I stayed home with her then. His turn. Simple decision.

But last night? He started puking. Still running a fever. Today’s decision is not as easy. I get a set amount of days off a year and I’ve already had to use some for Nikki being sick, snow day, and a college visit day. Essentially? The month of January as not over and I have taken 20% of the days I get already for the year. I only have 8 days left for the rest of the year. AND IT IS STILL JANUARY.

(My first job out of college? I got 5 vacation days and THREE sick days. And those were STRICTLY enforced. So, I’m totally better off now than I was then. I couldn’t have done that at all with three kids.)

Donnie gets a lot more than I do, just from having earned extra time the longer he’s been with his company. He also gets “family care” days. So – in terms of who has more to spare? Him. All the time: Him.

But the other side? He gets paid more than I do. I worry about him causing problems at work taking too much time off. I don’t want to do that…obviously.

This is a dilemma households with two working parents face every time a kid is sick. And you never feel great about any decision you make. There’s always a con. Someone’s supervisor gets irritated, someone runs out of time off (I did last year), and then whomever goes to work? Feel shitty for being the crappy parent.

I’m just curious…how do you decide? Or are you like us…does it vary? Does it depend on the situation, who’s doing what at work, etc. Or is it an easy system, me…then you…then me…then you. What is your system? And please tell me someone runs out of time every year because – for any year I’ve been working? I’ve never had to carry over time. NEVER. I always run out. EVERY YEAR. And the crazy part? My family doesn’t get sick often. Hardly at all. But we still have to take time off for the periodic fever, or doctor’s appointment. With three kids? That time goes fast. How does your family deal with that?

26 Comments

  • J.A. from Amsterdam

    I realize I have a different perspective living in Europe but I am in SHOCK that you get so few days. The concept of limiting how many days a year you are sick is ludicrous to me (or your family, especially with kids), and FIVE DAYS OF VACATION A YEAR is almost a human right violation. Can you push for more days at work?!?

    • zoot

      It’s more than many people I know get! And I used to work in an office out of college where I only got 3 sick days! So, while I’d love to have more, I’m grateful I don’t have less 🙂 Donnie’s company is bigger and has much more forgiving policies that a company as small as the one I work for just can’t get away with. I don’t know how other countries seem to pull it off when we can’t 🙁

  • Tricia

    Oh how I feel your pain. I have one kid and I don’t know how we’d do it if it was multiplied by any more. Our situation is my husband gets 30 days off a year (and can carry over 30 — figure he always has about 60 in the bank). Before you think, “oh that’s *SO* much time.” If he needs to take Friday and Monday off, that’s 4 days for him and 2 for the rest of the M-F world. (Mind you, he’s been with his job for 20 years and he has always only gotten 30 days a year — it never changes. — Did I mention he’s also active duty? Oh, yeah, that too.) Now, I get nearly 3 weeks off a year — 10 vacation, 4 personal and 3 sick. No one cares if I take vacation or personal when I’m dealing with a sick, so figure I get 17 total days off (I’m a wee bit older and have been in my industry longer — so I demanded more when I was hired). But I’m sure you can see the math here — he has more than me…ALWAYS. However, have you noticed that when kids get sick which parent do they want most? Oh, yeah, mom.

    So, what do we do? I take all doctor’s appointments — I am better at them and they can be scheduled around my tighter time frame. He takes 90% of the random sick days — when he’s in town and can. So, there are times I’m it and all I can do is deal. I work REALLY hard to make “working from home” work out for me and I have a truly understanding boss. There’s been a couple of times I’ve just had to bring my kid to work for the two hours of stuff I can’t do remotely, and I just suck it up and deal.

    One of the keys I’ve learned is to be really open with my companies and explain how my family tries to keep the load fairly even. I was shocked when one of my bosses granted me double my time off for something and when I asked why he said, “I know you try not to always be the one to take off. I know that your husband pitches in often more than you can. Because I see you two working it evenly, I get it. Now if you were ALWAYS the one to deal with it, I wouldn’t be so generous.” From that point on, I have always explained why I am taking the sick kid and what my husband is doing to help share the load. Apparently, that makes a difference. (I think it makes companies think that the couple values BOTH the jobs and not just the man’s.)

  • Christina

    Wow, that is not a lot of time off for sick/personal time. I would feel forced to use vacation time for sick days. I work in a really small family owned company and they pretty much allow for the time off we need as we need it. I think we are supposed to have some set amt of days off but frankly it is not enforced. I have been considering leaving but the idea of the time off being so limited in other situations keeps me here…

    In terms of how we do things, our job is commission based so if we are not there we are not doing business (ie: making money). Generally we do it based on our stats for that month but my husband probably takes more of the kid’s sick days off than I do because of my current work schedule (I get Mondays off and I leave at 3:30 on the days I work so I can be at our house for the bus.) When I was working FT, we generally traded off and/or looked at our stats to determine where we were and who could more easily take the day off.

  • Melizzard

    Single mom here so it’s all on me. But I work from a home based office so when the kids are sick I’m still working.

    But I have to say that is one area where the company I work for absolutely gets it right. We all work off laptops and our phones are a crazy amazing VOIP system that you can take anywhere also – so in effect, any of us can work from any where and get our job done. No one has to use their (generous amount of) time off “Family First” is one of our core values and it’s not just lip service. I think more companies need to realize just about any “desk” job can be done from anywhere now and being at work isn’t limited by your location.

    One of the big reasons why I’ll have my 22nd anniversary there next week.

  • Shannon

    I’m married but my husband lives out of state, so it’s all me. My oldest had the flu last week and I had to leave her at home by herself (I went at lunch to check on her). I felt awful about everything. It absolutely sucks and I don’t know what the right answer is.

    On that note, I hope Wes feels better and the rest of y’all don’t get it!

    • zoot

      Shannon – that’s how I grew up! Because I was raised by my Dad alone, I was often left home when I was sick. It didn’t bother me, really, because mostly I wanted to just rest anyway. Don’t feel too bad when that happens 🙂

      (He didn’t even check on me at lunch! You’re doing better than that! :))

  • Kelly

    I’m a college professor so as long as I don’t have a class scheduled, I can work from home if my kid is sick. My SO and I used to each do a half day, but he recently took another job that is over an hour away and doesn’t have same flexibility so now it’s pretty much all me. The down side is that if I’m gone from campus too often, my students complain and I struggle to get everything done. Also, if I have a class, I can’t cancel it so I either have to pawn off the sick kid on a friend or relative for a few hours or bring her into work with me. We’re lucky that she’s not sick very often, but I will admit to (when she has a mild cold) dosing her up with ibuprofen and sending her off to school with the hopes that I can make it through my class before it wears off and the fever shows up.

    • zoot

      I have done that same thing before, just crossing my fingers no one touches a forehead. I know it’s awful, but what choice do we have some days, right?

  • Jackie

    In our house it is always me when it’s a surprise, mid-day sick kid because my husband is a teacher and has to get a sub before he can leave. When it’s a planned or day before decision its usually me too but my husband will stay if it’s a particular day that I cannot or if it’s a day that would be easy for him to miss. I get a ton of time off though ( 5 weeks) so I always have carry-over and I never have to take time off in June, July and most of August since my husband is off of work. My job is also flexible so I can work from home or make up the time….I already work much more than 40 hours per week (salaried) so I use a lot of “flex time”. Like today, I will be leaving at 2:30 to take one of my son’s to the doctor and I don’t have to take any time because I’ve already worked more than 40. Are you able to make the time up? If I didn’t have that I would use a lot more days!

  • Heather

    I get 21 days total per year for vacation / sick (I either work major holidays or take time for them – Christmas is not a given for me).

    I pretty much always take the first day. My husband has more ways to be accommodating but it pretty much always takes a day to get set up. If it is going to be more than two days then I work partial days around his schedule.

  • sally

    I like the idea of PTO days all lumped into one pot. If you use a great deal of sick time due to sick children, you get paid for it – but just have fewer vacation days to use. They don’t care what you use PTO time for – it’s just a set number of days you get off per year. Now I totally agree that sick, vomiting kids should not be at daycare – but where I used to live right next to their daycare, was a sick part of daycare, and any child who wasn’t horribly sick could stay there – I realize they all might not have the same illnesses and there’s a good possibiity of spreading different germs around, but for some parents who got no sick time, it was a viable alternative. Ideal situation would be for your company to allow you to telework on the days when you have a sick child, is that possible?

  • susie

    We both work at the same institution, and get six sick days on a revolving 12 month basis, so there is never carry over. We have a great flex policy, so it doesn’t matter that much (you just make up the time you miss), but I still worry about it looking bad when we are out during normal hours. Lately, it’s been whoever is being less productive at work goes home, regardless of time remaining – this usually means me, the pregnant/spacy one. I’m trying not to worry about it, but it’s rough sometimes.

  • Amanda

    We have to take vacation time for any days missed. I get three weeks of vacation and 40 hours can be carried over each year. But I never have any to carry. Between bad weather, kids stuff and a long weekend for actual vacation, my time is gone. Every 2 weeks I have to be able to go into work for 3 days out of the week. So if something comes up, I still have to go in and my husband deals with whatever is going on. Any other time I try to do it, though I feel bad either way. I am seriously, seriously trying to find a job that I can do from home instead. I’m over giving so much to an employer and getting nothing back. There are so many time I wish I could be with my family but work has to be done. Just can’t win either way.

  • Wendalette

    My company just changed policies from 3 weeks vacation and 2 weeks sick to 4 weeks PTO. They keep trying to insist that we’ve gained time, but all we see is that we’ve lost a week. Under the old way, some of us ended up using all of our sick for doctor appointments and sick days but still had all our vacation. Under the new way, with the same situation—well you can do the math. The new way really only benefits people who never get sick and can schedule their appointments outside of work hours (and obviously don’t have kids or have a SAHP). Those of us with kids (single parents or dual-incomes), not so much. ::sigh::

    Back to the point though…we just had our first child and right now I’m working from home until April or May which is when the baby can start daycare. Of all the things we planned for, this was the one thing we kind of overlooked.
    My SO just started a new job that also has NO flexibility, so I I’m going to be the one who takes all the time off for the kiddo’s appointments and sick days. I’m definitely going to run out of days if I can’t chedule weekend or evening appointments or multiple ones in a day. I’ll probably have to bring work home to be able to make up any time, though.

    On the bright side, we are allowed to take our days in hourly increments and make up time within the same pay period. And if it comes down to it, we can occasionally bring the kids in. It’s not the ideal place, but I can’t knock the flexibility for such a small company (maybe 100 or so people). Mostly it’s just a matter of communication.

  • Ali

    We’re lucky that we’re both non-teaching college employees, so we get really generous amounts of time off (without having to worry about cancelling classes). It’s still tough deciding who is going to take the day sometimes–there have been lots of sick kid days lately, and most times we look at our schedules together and decide who has a more cancelable schedule that day. We’ve also done several tag team days, where one parent stays home for the morning and then the other for the afternoon. that’s been great, because we can go in early (or leave late) and not have to use as much time.

  • Amber

    In December – January, my kids traded the flu. Twice. Daughter #1 got the flu, and just as she was getting better, daughter #2 got the flu. Then a few weeks later, daughter #2 got the other strain of the flu, and right as she was getting better, I got the flu. And then three days into my flu, daughter #1 got the flu again.

    This is our first week back on track, in fact.

    Anyway, my husband is a teacher at an alternative school for kids with severe behavioral disorders. Basically they can’t be in a mainstream school, even in the “special ed” type of classes. Taking the day off for him means getting a sub, and finding a sub who can handle his kids is pretty difficult.

    Meanwhile, I work in an office at a local university and have tons of sick hours to use. But SO MUCH sickness in such a short amount of time is really difficult to run by your boss over and over again. All that to say that I bear the burden of taking time off when the kids are sick. Like 98% of the time, I have to do it.

    It’s not ideal, and we had to have a talk about it when I pointed out that in the month of December, I worked a grand total of 70 hours and claimed something like 92 hours of paid time off. (Some of that was Christmas vacation, but still.) We’re going to try to do more trading, but I don’t think it’s even going to begin approaching fair. :-/

  • Jo

    Hubs and I get the same amount (same workplace) but I stay home 99% of the time. Honestly, I’m just better with the sick kids and he gets more stressed about the missed work.

    If you know the day ahead that you’re going to need the day, can you take home parts of a project and work from home and can they not count the sick day? Technology is so great, it should help you out!

    Good luck, and feel better Wes!

  • Liv

    I get way more time off than my husband (been at my company longer and my company is super generous with the time off) and we carpool so anything that happens during the day, I’m the one who leaves work cause I have the car and the time. If it’s a 1 or 2 day illness, I take off the whole time. Day 3, my husband takes off and we try to alternate after that so we both have time to catch up on work and spend with the kiddo. The kicker is that my job is way less important to our household finances and to be honest, not a very taxing/stressful job. But I could never stay home full time with our child because as much as I love him, I cannot do it and stay sane. So I am thankful he doesn’t mind taking on some sick days because that mental break is very much needed. I do feel guilty because when he misses days at work it’s more stressful for him to catch up (my boss is very understanding about family first) but my mental health honestly needs it. Also sometimes I get whiny because I always get the first days of the illness which are when the symptoms are the worst and then we are also house-bound which makes me stir crazy. The thing I do appreciate is that he always wants to be at the routine doctor visits. We schedule them on days when we can both leave work an hour early so we are both there to ask the doctor questions and help each other remember what the doctor says. I honestly don’t know how single parents do it but they have my full respect for making it work.

  • Kim L

    Due to my daughter’s ongoing health issues and the nature of three seven year olds & a 13 year old, I only freelance. It is the only thing that works for us right now. Money is incredibly tight and it can be hard but that’s just how it is now. I keep telling myself they are only little for a short time and this too shall pass.

  • Melissa

    I work for the school district so if the kids are out(snow days) then I have the day off too. I get nine sick days and two personal days. I am able to carry over as many as the sick days as I want but I can only carry over one personal day. My husband is self employed so I will be the one staying home. If he stays home that means one day with no income. My boss is an awesome lady who raised a family and so is great about understanding that kids get sick and stuff comes up. Both of my parents just retired and my dad drives school bus and my mom substitute teaches. If they are available they will take my kids so I don’t have to miss work. Having them help has totally saved my butt lately because I have been missing a lot of work for my own health problems so it’s nice not to have to worry about the kids.

  • Liz

    I get 10 days sick time and I’m not up to 15 days vacation time (it used to be 10 days). When my second child was born, I had to use all my vacation time for Short-Term Disability/Maternity Leave. He was born in Jan. and that year was very, very rough. The work rules have changed now for new mothers. We went in on ice/snow days when we really should not have.

    My husband works further away than I do, so if someone gets sick during the day, I’m the one who takes it. Then we do the turn deal, my turn, your turn, etc. Some of this is dependent on work load. However, for whatever reason, he ends up having more time at the end of the year than me and I get very not happy about it. His work is also male-dominated and I think he gets some pressure to have me deal with the kid situation.

    I’m able to do some work from home if needed, but I hate having that hang over my head while dealing with a sick kid. My boss is very flexible and supportive and I have some wiggle room.

    No one has mentioned this–I hate getting the phone calls from school/day care. You think that you are safe, you get the call and that turns everything upside down + sick kid. We have a 24 hour lock down too, so sometimes that equals mandatory 2 days out.

  • Theresa

    I get 13 days vacation and 10 days sick per year. We can roll the hours over up to 320 hours then it’s use or lose. Yah, right? I have never reached that point. Until 2 years ago it was 98% me that took off as I was the only one with paid leave. There was never a question who would be staying home or making that appt. Now my hubby gets 10 days vacation and 10 days sick. He is also salaried so if he runs a child to an appt he doesn’t have to use any leave. So we just base it on what is happening at the time. Often he wants to take off and I wont let him 🙂 I just got used to being the one who stayed home. So I just let him do all the regular appointments. I set them around his schedule and he handles it.

  • sharanda

    From my perspective you are very lucky to be in the position you’re currently in. I’m a single parent of three and ALL the responsibility is on me. When i run out of sick days I use vacation days or float holidays. There are years when I’ve used everything and my sick time off was simply unpaid. Come payday that really hurt.

  • Cate

    I’m a single parent too… SO GRATEFUL that I now have a job that actually gives me sick time! I could take all the time off I needed at my last job… but that meant they didn’t have to pay me 🙂 I am almost out of sick days too between kids and myself so I’ll be applying vacation if it comes to that.

    If I were in your position, I’d let my husband use his work-given time off. It is there for him to use! If he’s working for a company that throws all kinds of time off at you… then docks you for using it, well… that’s an entirely different problem.

  • Vicki

    I get no sick time. I can take off as often as I need to but I don’t get paid for that day. I do get 2 weeks vacation though. My husband gets many more sick days and sick with family days so he usually takes off if he can so we don’t miss out on pay but if he cannot take off we just cut back and do without a day’s pay. I do leave the older one home alone as long as it is run of the mill stuff like sore throat or fever and just call and check. My office is only 15 minutes away. There are no easy answers when both parents work. But I think we worry about it more than the kids do.