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This year’s unused sick days become next year’s personal days

Experience is often a manager’s best education. Such is the case for a two-physician, six-staff orthopedic surgery practice in Rhode Island. The manager, who has been with the office for 20 years, has found that the best way to prevent the last-minute sick calls is to allow staff to carry their sick days over to the next year. But instead of transferring as sick days, the time becomes personal days to use however they want.

She made that change almost 10 years ago. As in any office, she says, sick calls always came in at the last minute and left the office short-handed. And with a use-it-or-lose-it policy, there was a surge of absences at the end of the year. Making matters worse, Mondays and Fridays, which are the office’s busiest days, were the most tempting times for people to be out.

The carry-over system ended that, and to everybody’s satisfaction. For the office, there’s full coverage for all positions; for staff, there’s “a bonus” of added personal time. Each employee starts the year with five sick days and ends by taking the unused days into the next year. Thus, staff can potentially add as many as five days to their vacation time. She finds that most people carry over at least three days, and one staffer who has been there since the carry-over began hasn’t taken any sick days at all. The manager asks staff to request the personal time at least a week ahead so she can cover the work, though usually they arrange the coverage before making the request.

There’s more to the picture: an added a provision to prevent unnecessary call-ins around holidays. To miss the day before or after a holiday, staff have to get the absence approved in advance or bring a doctor’s note verifying illness. Otherwise, they don’t get paid for the holiday. With most holidays falling on Monday, the following day is invariably a “Monday-Tuesday day” with twice the work, so the office needs the full coverage. However, that enforcement follows common sense. If a staffer is obviously ill, the doctor’s note is not necessary. But having the provision in the handbook allows the office to enforce it if there’s doubt.

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