Mandated Sick Leave: Cutting My Vacation Days

I’m back, after losing my internet service for a week and spending yet another day home waiting for Verizon (which threatened to keep me home an additional day besides). With the continual outages on the phone old lines that run to my house, I’ve probably spent three days of the 20 days off per year I get waiting for repairs. And now members of the City Council propose cutting my days off from 20 to 15.

The City Council is proposing to mandate five paid sick days off per year. A fine proposal for firms which currently provide no sick days and no vacation. But there is no doubt on what the effect on me would be. Rather than 20 days off, my firm would start providing 15 vacation days and five sick days, which could only be taken if I were sick (and possibly only if I could produce a note from a physician). And I’ve probably only stayed home one day because I was sick in the time I’ve been biking to work. In reality, I would get 15 days off rather than 20 and five unused sick days, unless I were willing to start lying.

Why doesn’t the City Council understand this? Perhaps because their experience is in government, where lots of sick days are granted and lying about being sick is common. Most city workers don’t start at 20 vacation days and 12 sick days. They start at 32 “vacation days,” if they either don’t get sick or come to work sick, which many do to save their “sick days” for the beach.

How do I know? Remember, I worked in government for 20 years or so, and understand the mentality. The holy trinity is sick leave when you aren’t sick, overtime to do work that could have been done on straight time, and early retirement pensions, presumably with a well-timed “pension incentive” to allow retirement even earlier while (another lie) “saving the city money.” If the city publishes data on the average number of sick days taken by title, check it out. Last time I did the police weren’t bad, but the fire department, New York City Transit and teachers were.

How about those who don’t have a “beat the system” attitude toward sick leave? They end up piling up an enormous amount of banked sick leave, available if they have a serious illness when they are older. If not used for that purpose, the city policy is those with ten or more years in get paid 1/2 day for each sick day. That’s a fair incentive, since they didn’t lie and stay home getting paid one full day for each sick day.

Of course since nobody respects or cares about the sucker public employees who do their jobs, the unused sick leave payout is a favorite target of conservative commenters. They may be pleased to know that my six months of banked sick leave rolled from New York City Planning to New York City Transit, and because I had changed agencies (the latter now considered a state agency) the MTA refused to pay out when I left. Which is fine with me, as I have more money than the MTA anyway, and knew it at the time (although the MTA didn’t seem to).

This defect in the bill could be satisfied by exempting firms that offer a significant number of personal days, say 15 or more. The counter-argument for sick days as sick days is that people will come to work when they are sick to save vacation otherwise, but there is sick and there is sick.

I woke up this morning feeling tired, but I still got out of bed, rode to 6:45 am Mass on a bicycle, and then on to work. That’s a sick day for some, but now I don’t feel tired anymore. And lots of people would still come to work actually sick to save their sick days for vacation.