Suzanne Lucas

Why Your Employees Need Sick Days — and Unsick Days

We always want employees to take a sick day when they have the flu or come down with a stomach bug. It allows them to recover and keeps everyone else from getting sick. But what about using an “unsick day” to help prevent these illnesses in the first place?

The concept is gaining traction, and for good reason. Staying healthy is about more than just bouncing back from illnesses quickly, and employees need the freedom to take time off for preventive checkups, vaccinations or therapist visits. Unsick days allow them to keep up their health without eating into their time off — meaning they’ll still have PTO open to de-stress on vacation or a sick day to go to the doctor when they catch the cold that’s been going around.

How Unsick Days Benefit Your Business and Your Employees

Having unsick days means that employees don’t need to worry about making trade-offs — deciding between getting a colonoscopy, for example, and spending a long weekend camping. Bringing factors unrelated to health into health decisions only raises the chances of a wrong choice, and unsick days help remove that barrier.

Making sure your employees can and do take their full allotted vacation time is important for their health, too. Simply put, your employees need time off for their mental health. Stepping away from work allows them to come back rested, recharged and ready to work as productively as they can. The risks associated with burnout are far greater than the time “lost” when employees take vacation.

If you give your employees a generous PTO package, you may not see the advantage of allowing them additional time off for checkups. But there’s one more benefit to moving the time off you offer into separate buckets, with one marked for unsick days — it calls attention to preventive care as its own piece of the health care puzzle. Introducing an unsick time policy shows your support for your employees’ health and gives you the opportunity to reinforce the importance of prevention.

Setting Out Rules for Unsick Days

While some states, like Connecticut, require companies to provide sick days that employees can use for preventive care, most people are not covered by similar laws. Deciding to provide this benefit to your employees requires some forethought. As with any policy, you’ll want to establish rules for unsick time. Answer the following questions in your policy:

  • How many days or hours are available for medical use (in addition to sick days)? At a minimum, offer one full day that the employee can use in increments — two hours for a checkup, for instance. Two days would allow for even more flexibility.
  • Can employees use unsick days to take their children to medical appointments? Allowing this means that your employees’ children are less likely to be sick. Mom or Dad has to skip work when their child can’t go to school, so it may be better to give a couple of hours for a checkup than lose your employee for a week due to the flu.
  • Are all preventive appointments covered? While you want to include all procedures covered by a medical doctor, is chiropractic care or acupuncture included? Consider what you want your policy to allow.
  • Are therapist appointments covered? Remember, this isn’t a question of insurance coverage. It’s up to you to decide if going to therapy is an appropriate way to use unsick time, as mental health can have a very real impact on small businesses.
  • What’s the approval process? While most companies aren’t subject to HIPAA regulations, it’s rude and unnecessary for managers to pry into the purpose of every visit. If employees have time available, let them take it as long as it’s feasible for the business.

This isn’t one of those perks that’s likely to go unused or cost more than it’s worth. So start looking into unsick days today.

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