Would your employees prefer sick leave or paid time off?

by | Apr 26, 2017 | Employee Management, General, Our Blog, Policies, Retention | 0 comments

Time off is important to help employees rejuvenate.  It helps them be more productive when they are on the job, and a good vacation policy can retain good workers.. But vacation is only one of the reasons why employees might miss work. A recent article in The Washington Post discussed employee opinions about the relative value of sick leave versus paid time off. Which would your employees prefer? And which policy would work better for your business?

Paid time off

Some employers are establishing a pool of PTO for each employee so workers have more flexibility in how they use their time off.  In particular, families dealing with child care and/or elder care might need time off in case of the illness of a family member. Paid time off gives them the opportunity to be with their family member if they need to do so without sacrificing vacation days.  It also can make for a more honest relationship between employees and their employers. When employees have multipurpose PTO they aren’t tempted to fake a cough and sore throat on the call-in line just so they don’t have to use vacation time to keep a sick child home from school.

Healthy people also can benefit from a policy of paid time off, because if they stay well they can use the time for extra vacation days or other personal purposes. This can backfire, however, when the whole lump of PTO is assumed to be vacation time. Then when sickness happens the employee will be reluctant to eat into “vacation” time.

Sick days

Close up portrait of sick woman blowing her nose

Proponents of sick day policies say that they appreciate when colleagues stay home when they are ill. When you can only have a sick day off when you are sick, you are less likely to spread disease around the office.

In many companies sick days that are unused can be carried over from year to year.  This means that in the case of serious illness, surgeries with long recuperation times, etc. individuals will have enough “banked” sick leave that they won’t have to lose vacation days or pay while they are off.

Companies also impact employee perceptions about sick time vs. PTO by the manner in which they implement sick leave policy. Your business might require a physician’s excuse for an absence in excess of a certain number of days in a row. Or you might invoke the need for a doctor’s note once a certain number of days have been used so far this year. You might also seek a doctor’s excuse when you notice patterns in the absences (an employee is often absent Friday or Monday, for instance). Just be sure that you are complying with privacy laws.


Since most employees are relatively healthy it’s unlikely that they will use all of their allocated sick days each year. Wellness is good for employees and good for your business, and PTO can be used for preventative care. If you choose to implement a PTO bank for each employee, however, it is pretty likely that they will use all of their available time off every year. Generous PTO policies can create problems with productivity if individuals aren’t required to get advance approval for their PTO time.

Whichever policy you choose to establish, it is important to apply it consistently across your organization. You need to establish criteria for the approval of PTO days, and/or the triggers for the requirement of a doctor’s excuse. In the midst of doing business and achieving workplace goals, life happens.  And you are best to be prepared for it.