Balancing act: It's tough to lose the sick-time 'security blanket'

Published: Monday, Nov. 14 2011 1:00 p.m. MST

After 13-plus years working for the same company, you find that you've collected many things.

During my time at the Deseret News, I gathered many, many tearsheets from the newspaper. This made sense during my first few years as a reporter, when the Internet was still relatively new. I needed clips of my stories as a kind of personal reference library.

However, when the time came for me to leave my job, and I discovered this treasure trove of yellowed newsprint in the drawers of various file cabinets, I decided it was time to throw most of it into the recycling bin. (My wife will tell you that I still kept far too many old clips, but I couldn't be expected to toss EVERYTHING!)

Another thing I accumulated during my years at the News was not as tangible, but it was important, nonetheless. And I wish I could have taken some of it with me.

What constituted this mystery collection? Why, sick leave, of course.

As I've mentioned before in this column, I almost never took a sick day during my first eight or nine years at the News. Mostly that's because I was fairly healthy, but on several occasions I was sick and still went to work.

I know going to work when you're ill is a bad idea, but it made sense to me at the time. I usually was part of a small team, and my absence meant another reporter or editor would have to do double-duty. I didn't want that to happen, so I'd get the best over-the-counter medicine I could find and work through the illness.

While I was more likely to take a sick day during my last few years at the News — partially because I was getting older, but I hope also because I was a bit wiser — I still didn't come close to using up all of my accumulated sick leave.

In fact, when I left my deseretnews.com job in September, I had more than 500 hours of sick leave available. Five hundred hours. That's more than 12 workweeks, or three months.

I hoped I would never need that much sick leave, but it was nice to know it was there. It was like a security blanket. I knew that if I ever did get sick — like the year I missed the entire week of Christmas with pneumonia — I didn't have to worry about taking unpaid days off or trying to come up with some other arrangement with my employers.

But then I moved on to my new job, and I left that security blanket behind.

While I was sorry to leave all of that unused sick time on the books — I guess I'll just consider it a donation to my old workplace — it didn't bother me that much. I knew I would soon start accumulating paid time off at my new job, and I didn't anticipate taking many vacation or sick days during my first few months.

Then the unexpected occurred. We found out last month that my dad has stage II kidney cancer. Next week — just a few days before Thanksgiving — he'll be in the hospital having one of his kidneys removed.

I want to be there to support him, my mom and my sister, so I decided to take some time off and go back home.

And then I remembered that I don't have that security blanket anymore.

I wasn't sure how my supervisor would react to a request for time off. After all, I've been on the job for less than three months. I feel like I've been working hard, and I'm starting to get the hang of things. However, I haven't been there long enough to earn any special treatment. I wouldn't have blamed them for saying I couldn't go.

Fortunately, I work for and with great people who were very understanding of my situation. As a result, I've got my plane ticket, and I will be able to take the time I need to be there for my dad. I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity, even though my security blanket is gone.

Working through this challenge has me wondering whether I'm just extremely lucky to work for the company I do, or whether any business would react the same way. What do you think? Have you ever faced a situation like this? What did you do? How did your employer react?

I'll share some of your stories in a future column.

Meanwhile, I'm busy stitching together a new security blanket of sick leave, one hour at a time. Too bad I can't make it out of old newspaper clippings.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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