Unused sick days: use ’em or lose ’em by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog. Be sure to check it out.

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.

6 Responses to Unused sick days: use ’em or lose ’em by Marjorie Arons-Barron

  1. JoeS says:

    This practice has to be a sore spot with the citizens, and one of the reasons that public sector workers take so much heat for their benefits.

    Considering sick time as effectively “vacation” time is an abuse. And contracts that deal with “unused” sick time for public employees should be modified.

    Let’s assume the annual sick leave allowed is 15 days. I would propose that the amount a person has on the books be capped at (say) 30 days, or two years worth. With such a cap, the employer should offer a partially subsidized long term sickness insurance policiy to protect the employee for exceptional circumstances.

    And then considering the sick time “lost” by going over the cap of 30 days on the books, there could be an immediate financial reward for such good attendance. It could be a factor in determining a performance-based bonus each year, or it could be returned as a rebate, such as 1 day’s pay for every 3 day’s lost due to the cap – in the year that those sick days are “lost”.

    This would give the employee a measure of protection for catastrophic illness and a financial reward for good attendance, or consideration for sick time “lost”. But it would avoid the atrocious practice of the golden parachutes that build up over time.

  2. Margie says:

    To JoeS
    What a thoughtful idea. The one problem I see is that it takes so long for long-term policies to kick in…..several months, I think. But my information on that is old, and perhaps they’re writing – or can write – more flexible policies these days. Perhaps someone who knows can weigh in.

  3. Kim Scott says:

    “The district’s contract with the United Teachers of Lowell, which was signed in 2006, calls for the creation of a study committee to “examine replacing all or part of the sick-leave buyback program with a long-term disability program and/or examine options or alternatives.”

    Leary said the committee was never formed.

    Does anyone know why the committee was never formed?

  4. Dean says:

    The state will pay back 20 % of your sick leave when you retire. That is for the lower tier worker. It should be 90 days because that is when you long term care insurance kicks in for the state employees. From what I understand many people working for the state do not take sick leave (unless they have of course)because they look at it as an insurance if they get seriously ill. Not everyone for the state buys long term insurance. It maybe a very small percentage. Also, I guess it is how much does long term insurance cost. I think the older on get with a long term insurance the more you pay.

  5. JoeS says:

    There are both short-term and long-term “disability” policies available, the parameters of which determine the premium. An intelligent combination of sick days, short-term “disability” and long-term disability could provide adequate coverage, although maybe at a price. With some cost-sharing of premiums by the employee and employer a reasonable plan could be put together.