We don’t need new sick leaves. Period (Editor's Notes)

Simple sick days should cover employee needs

If you’re not feeling well, take a sick day. It’s really that simple.

But, as any HR professional knows, life is never simple when it comes to people and the working world. So it doesn’t actually work that way.

Because a minority of people tend to abuse any policy, employers have generally had to put a cap on the number of paid sick days offered — and even implement limitations on unpaid sick days to ensure they are properly staffed on any given day.

And because some unenlightened micromanagers think taking a sick day is a cardinal sin, some employees feel the need to trudge in no matter how high their temperature is, how contagious they are or just how awful they are feeling when it comes time to punch in. Or to overexplain when they physically can’t make it out the door in the morning.

Other staff play the hero card while contaminating every corner of the office. They think they get bonus points for showing up sick, despite the fact they just took half the office down with their self-styled herculean effort. 

All this navel-gazing over sick leave — whether you should take it, whether managers should question every absence, whether a doctor’s note is needed — has made a day off work needlessly complicated.

That’s part of the reason we see headlines like this one on Canadian HR Reporter’s website: “U.K. company’s plans for ‘period policy’ ignites discussion about menstrual leave.”

Coexist, a British-based community hub, is developing a period policy. It is exactly what you think it is — a special leave allowing women to tkae time off during menstruation. Here’s something I didn’t know until today —Japan enacted menstrual leave in 1947. Taiwanese female workers can also have a day off per month when “having difficulties” working during menstruation. 

I’m not writing this to be funny. And I’m not making light of period pain — I know it’s a very real thing, and a dangerous topic for a guy to opine on. But I’m pleading for it not to be added to the list of available leaves. Not because it’s not important, not because I think women need to show up at work while having severe cramps — but because that is precisely what sick days are meant to address.

And the story posted on our website touched on this. Lisa Kay, a Toronto-based HR specialist, told the Canadian Press that menstruation leave has the potential to raise positive and negative issues in the workplace. For one, it’s just an awkward conversation to have with your manager — especially if he’s a man, she said.

Plus, there are so many other ailments — migraines and arthritis, to name two, that are just as debilitating and could also require special leave. I have asthma. It sucks sometimes and I have taken sick days because of it. But I don’t need asthma leave. 

For the sake of employers, and the ease of HR technology systems everywhere, we don’t need to be adding new types of leave that can easily be covered by existing sick days.

Period pain is a justifiable reason to take a regular sick day. It doesn’t need its own status. The same goes for mental health days — those are sick days too. 

A sick day should be simply defined: “A day off for an employee who is unable to work because of an ailment.” Period. (No pun intended.)

A cold. A migraine. The flu. Anything short of a bad hair day can all be lumped under a sick day. We don’t need to get complicated about it. 

I believe employers generally shouldn’t ask why a worker is off — a simple “I’m sick” should suffice. I don’t want to engage my employees about whether it’s a cold, the flu, a mental health situation or menstrual cramps. It doesn’t matter why, it just matters that they take time and come back 100 per cent.

Does it mean we need more sick days? Perhaps. I’d rather have that debate than to spend time looking at individual ailments and determining whether or not they are worthy of a special leave designation.

Employees who abuse sick days can still be rooted out and dealt with — but let’s keep in mind that they’re the minority. Most people don’t max out their sick leave — so let’s keep things simple. HR is already complicated enough.

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