Saturday, February 26, 2011

Unused sick days: use 'em or lose 'em

I’ve never worked for the public sector, except indirectly. I work, I earn money, I pay taxes on that income, which supports public employees, among other things. Most public employees do important jobs for their communities, but too many of the perks they get are beyond my comprehension. Not having to pay more than a small percentage for health insurance, for example. And getting money for unused sick days.

This latter just staggers my imagination. To me, sick days are for when you’re sick. They’re to protect workers, not be backdoor paydays. The recent case of Tom Kinton is an egregious example of the sick day system run amok. Don’t get me wrong. Tom Kinton was the consummate professional at MassPort, both before he became head of the Authority and during his stint at the top. But he exemplifies the problem with sick days. His retirement package, (retirement pay of $200K per year is a very generous one, by the way,) is fattened by nearly half a million dollars in unused sick days that he’ll receive as he departs his post next June.

Before you say there oughta be a law, I should point out that there now is. Now state workers can only cash in a fifth of their unused sick time, something which probably wouldn’t happen in the private sector either. But Kinton and others have been grandfathered in to the 100% cash-out. WBZ’s Jon Keller has done the arithmetic and pointed out that preserving the benefit for some 700 workers grandfathered in because they were hired before 2007 will cost the state $16 million.

There’s a mentality on Beacon Hill that a) we don’t want to change anything, but b)if we absolutely have to, we won’t have it apply to anyone who is there right now. So change comes very slowly indeed.

Some people want a “use it or lose it” approach to sick days. You get so many days each year to be sick and the calendar starts over the next year. But, if a person goes for years without taking sick days and then develops a serious, perhaps life-threatening illness, that worker should be able to carry over the time in some way. But that doesn’t mean taking it out in cash if you leave the job without having been sick enough.

Kinton is top-level management, so this isn’t a union issue. But it’s a public sector entitlement mentality like this that feeds public exasperation with unions, especially the public worker unions. Cashing in unused sick days is enough to make you, well, sick.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.


  1. If an executive in the private sector retired with an extra half million, the only two questions would be 1)why is the executive being so reasonable, when typically executives in the private sector leave with many times that amount, and 2) if it's not illegal, why should anyone have a beef?
    I envy they guy myself, since I had to leave about a year of sick pay behind when I retired from my public sector job. But this was all done out in the open. Everyone knew what the rules where when he took this job. This executive played by rules that everyone knew about: he should be compensated accordingly.
    Bob Gardner
    Randolph, MA

  2. I worked for a company that had unlimited sick time. (You had to bring a doctor's note if you'd been out for thee days or more, assuring that it was ok for you to return.) If people were sick, they stayed home and got better. They didn't have to guess if they were sick enough to take a day off. There were no sick days to carry forward.
    The fear that people would abuse the system never materialized. Even the relatively small risk of abuse was outweighed by having a healthy workforce.
    Vacations are different because they are regarded as part of compensation. Most companies now limit the amount of vacation you can retain, typically two weeks.
    Serious, long-term illnesses can be and are covered by disability insurance plans separate from sick time. People shouldn't have to juggle sick time. It's bad business policy and bad personal health management.

  3. Paying for unused sick days encourages workers to come in sick just so they can cash in at the end of their employment. Using sick days legitimately then becomes a penalty because others are being rewarded for good health or for coming to work sick. Wouldn't it be a good thing if we treated employees as professionals who stay home when they are sick. Should abuse of the policy occur, let the employer or supervisor deal with it on a case by case basis.

  4. I don't have a problem with employees banking their sick days, or vacation days for up to 2 years, but beyond that, they should either lose them, or get them bought out on a sliding scale, not face value, and definitely not at current earnings. Actually, employees should be required to take vacation time each year because an employee without time off becomes a tired employee, prone to errors, injury, or both, neither of value to a business.