Sick Days vs ‘Sick Days’ in Remote Workplaces

A study that asked 1,000 respondents about their time-off and sick day policies since the onset of the pandemic reveals that although 67% of employees said there weren’t any changes made to their time-off policy since switching to a remote structure, 18% said their employer has become more strict as a result of the switch. 

Since starting remote work, 60% of employees said they have taken a sick day, while 31% said they’ve taken an “unofficial” sick day. Translation: They took a day off due to being sick without informing their supervisor. 

The latter kind of sick days will likely only become more common as remote work becomes the norm, since many organizations tend to focus on tasks rather than tracking hours. If someone is able to manage their workload in a way that they feel comfortable taking a day off without informing someone, it can be an easy way to take some time off and recuperate from an illness without having it tracked as a sick day. (This despite 57% of respondents saying they were required to sign an agreement defining new expectations and policies around working remotely.) 

Right or wrong, working remotely allows more flexibility to take time off without going through standard PTO protocols. 

Of course, employees have a variety of reasons why they take sick days — especially in the remote work era. Forty percent of respondents said they’ve taken a sick day to get things done around the house, 39% said they’ve taken a sick day due to a family emergency, and 38% have done so to run errands. 

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Meanwhile, opinions on the appropriate circumstances for taking sick days were much different than the actual reasons employees cited for taking them. For instance, recovering from surgery — as opposed to running errands — was cited as the most appropriate reason for taking a sick day while working remotely (71%). Encouragingly, 65% of respondents also said struggling with mental health was a valid reason to take sick days while working off-site. (Notably, 54% of respondents said that they’re in favor of a monthly mental-health day allotment from their employer.)

Given the various “legitimate” and “illegitimate” reasons for taking sick days, it’s also worth pointing out that 63% of respondents said that their employers view taking sick days with sympathy. However, 33% said they felt as though their employer views sick days suspiciously. Maybe for good reason.

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