Pros and Cons of Offering Unlimited Sick Days

Offering unlimited sick days isn’t a new concept. It’s something that’s been around for years, but only just starting to gain popularity outside of specific industries such as tech. While the prospect of having unlimited sick days is enticing for just about any employee, employers should think carefully before jumping aboard, or dismissing the possibility outright.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the merits as well as the potential downsides of offering unlimited sick days.

The Advantages Unlimited Sick Day Policy

Reduces presenteeism

Being only human, most of your employees are going to be sick or feel under the weather at some point or another – paid sick days or no sick days. When employees are offered a limited number of sick days, employees often feel compelled to bank their remaining sick days in case of more serious illness, or end up requiring more days than what they actually have. 

Either way, it inadvertently encourages employees to work when they’re not feeling well. Presenteeism is what happens when employers provide insufficient paid sick leave and equate more man hours with higher productivity. Chances are your sick employee won’t be very productive anyway, plus there’s the added risk of contagion if your sick employee comes to work on-site (the last thing any employer needs is a staph infection turning into a staff infection).

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Boost employee morale and productivity

Providing unlimited sick days is a way to show your employees that you care about them and their happiness, both in and out of the office. It should go without saying that happy employees help foster a positive work culture. But because unlimited sick days is still a relatively uncommon benefit among Canadian companies, this can help to build loyalty among employees as well. 

Those who end up requiring their sick days may also experience a variety of other benefits, such as an increased sense of belonging at their company, and an increased desire to contribute to their organization’s success in comparison to those who have a capped number of paid sick days they can take.

Less sick days taken on average

You may be surprised to learn that companies that offer unlimited paid time off (PTO) typically see staff using up fewer days than companies that offer a capped limit. According to Namely, employees at companies with unlimited PTO policies take on average just 13 days a year, compared with 15 days for those with traditional paid time off plans. 

 The Downsides of an Unlimited Sick Day Policy

Potential Abuse

While one would hope that employees will use an unlimited sick day policy in good faith, it does open up the potential of abuse i.e. overuse of the policy. If your employees suddenly start taking too much time off work, you may find yourself in a pickle. An absent employee affects workflows, project turnaround times, and team cohesion. 

Due to the unpredictable nature of health, it can also be difficult to accurately attribute the reason behind an uptick in sick days taken by individual employees as well as the overall average. While many factors can affect the number of sick days genuinely needed by your employees – personal circumstances, genetics, the severity of the year’s virus season, etc. – as an employer, it’s reasonable to want to be certain that the employee benefits you provide are used in good faith.

Loss of reward

An increase in sick days is a common benefit to offer an employee in a traditional company with a defined number of sick days. It’s a great way to offer a perk for high performance without incurring direct costs to the company. With unlimited sick days, naturally, offering additional time off when needed will no longer be an option. 

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Important things to consider

Here are some steps you should consider taking before jumping on the unlimited sick day wagon:

1. Evaluate your workplace culture

If an unlimited sick day policy were implemented, would employees feel reluctant to actually use them off out of fear of looking badly in front of management and colleagues? Would management feel less inclined to promote someone who took, say, three weeks off in a year due to illness than someone who took only one day? 

Consider your existing work culture truthfully in regards to the attitudes around taking time off: are employees encouraged to use their sick days when needed, or is it subtly disapproved? Are employees taking time for themselves when they feel under the weather, or do they plug into work anyway, despite the paid sick days available to them? If it’s the latter, an unlimited sick day policy likely isn’t the most effective route for your company.

2. Make sure you’re hiring the right people

If you’re hesitant about implementing an unlimited sick day policy because you think your workforce is going to abuse said policy, then you may need to re-evaluate your hiring process. If you cannot trust your employees, then you may want to consider the fact that your hiring process is not drawing the right people you want at your company.

3. Require medical documentation

One way to hold employees accountable for their absences is to require medical proof when taking sick days. Different employers opt to do this differently depending on diligence and comfort level; while some require a doctors’ note for each day taken, others ask for proof after a week’s absence. A medical note can be easily obtained through a virtual healthcare app such as Akira, which can be another valuable tool in an employer’s corporate healthcare strategy. 

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4. Continue to track employees’ sick days 

Just because you implement an unlimited sick day policy doesn’t mean that you should stop tracking your employees’ time off. Tracking time off will help you see how effective your new policy is, and how your employees are using it. You may see that average sick days have increased, or stayed roughly the same, or even decreased. Offering unlimited sick days is a policy based on mutual trust between employer and employee, but if an employee is frequently away without any sort of doctor’s note and their performance is suffering, for example, this is obviously important to know. You may even wish to introduce unlimited sick days on a trial basis, and review your policy after a defined period of time.

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