The sticky business of sick leave

What kind of ‘sick’ is sick enough to warrant taking a sick day?

Penelope WhitsonSo having gallivanted round Europe for a few weeks, admiring Belgium’s giant cockerels and rejoicing that Dublin has a hairdresser named ‘Roots by Ruth’, I was hit with a 12-hour delay so my trip home took 36 hours. Consequently I find myself a trifle jetlagged. It might be a first world problem but it still hurts, okay? Editors need sleep, too.

Despite the lack of sleep, I’m back in the office because I’ve run out of days off. Also, my colleagues were demanding their duty free Jaffa Cakes. Is my work suffering because I feel like I’ve been on a three-day boozing spree with ad executives from the 1960s? It might be.

Jetlag, like a hangover, is harder to deal with the older you get. I’d rather be at home not thinking instead of sitting at my desk trying to wear my smart face with confidence and aplomb. However, surely turning up half asleep means I’m a better employee than the workmates we all have who take sick days for the smallest thing, yes?

As I sit here struggling to think, I have to ask, what kind of ‘sick’ is sick enough to warrant taking a sick day? Can I take one for jetlag? If I’ve been away for work I could probably do so and not have my coffee spat in by irate colleagues. But if I’ve been on holiday? Tanned workmates complaining that "the trip home from the Maldives was so exhausting" doesn’t usually result in sympathy.

Did anyone else read this article on why if you have a hangover you should take a sick day and not get slammed by your boss? I’ve turned up to work with a hangover, as I’m sure a tiny percentage of you have. Not my best day’s work, trying to pass off three Powerade bottles on my desk as a supermarket deal instead of the magic elixir I need to get through the day.

As I made myself sick, why should I get time off? Probably because I’m not actually achieving anything. But should I get paid? Surely it’s a bit unfair on those colleagues who don’t abuse their relationship with the local pub? But what if they take lots of sick days anyway and I don’t?

I have called up saying my hangover would prevent me from working before. It was suggested that next time less honesty was preferable. I like to think that any subsequent sick days had people suspecting I’d woken up in another city wearing only a spangly leotard after a night of carousing with circus performers. Or similar.

In Japan apparently women can take days off during their period. I can’t see this taking off in New Zealand but I’m intrigued by it. Would the potential embarrassment of having to say you had your period outweigh the fact that as you’re doped up to the hairline on friendly old Nurofen and counting down the hours till you go home to seduce your hot water bottle you’re not actually getting much done? And if women get time off for this, should men get an equivalent? What would be the equivalent? Is there an equivalent? Don’t you dare suggest man flu.

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