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I am wondering what is the best way to approach sick leaves when dealing with remote workers / telecommuters.

Is there an Additional Stigma?

What's the Difference when You're Already Home?

I feel like there's an additional stigma for remote workers: there's the fear of suspicion of co-workers that they're slacking if they take a day off even though they already work from the "comfort" of their home office, and the notion that they're already partly on leave anyways.

While working from home doesn't mean you're in your pyjamas with a cup of coco working with your laptop on the couch in front of the TV zith kids screaming around and chit-chatting with friends or relatives simultaneously (or at least I hope that's not the general case, but to each their own so long as you manage to work...), the naming itself of the "home office" carries with it the notion that you are already home. So it's not that far-fetched to think you could just sit at your desk and work at a slower pace, especially as "it's right there", you don't have the actual commute, and you don't risk spreading your germs around the "real" office and contaminate your co-workers.

Surely, You Can Drag Yourself to your Desk or Stay in Bed and Type, Right?

Plus it's not unusual for companies to allow people to work from home if they feel sick. Whether that's a good thing and a form of pressure is a different question, and it comes with known caveats, but as this practice exists, it makes it even harder to consider taking a sick leave for tele-commuters.

Of course we're not talking about a prolonged sick leave for a broken limb or a long-lasting condition that would require treatment and really impeach a worker's abilities.

So...

  • What are the general conventions on this?
  • What's acceptable for casual things, like a common cold, a flu virus, food poisoning or even a bad bout of allergies or other common conditions that may arise on the day?
  • Do you have a different tolerance for such cases, both contractually or unconsciously, as a manager or worker? Different processes or even different healthcare-related contract terms?

Personal Experience and Anecdotes

While the above is a general question, I've had some experience with this from both the worker's and the manager's perspective.

As a Worker

I've never been keen on taking sick-leaves in the first place but I've gotten used to the idea that I shouldn't contaminate my co-workers even if I strongly feel that I should keep working. Depending on the infrastructure of the company and security policies, I'd occasionally remote-work in these occasions.

Lately, I've been tele-commuting almost full-time. On the rare occasions where I felt indisposed I've noticed that I felt strangely guilty about requesting a day off. This may be partly due to my aversion for taking leaves, but the feeling is definitely stronger since I've been working from home, and it definitely wasn't for slacking off: when I request a day off, it means I'm in a really pretty bad shape.

Also, I almost invariably get a snicker or joke from co-workers - with whom I have a good working relationship - the next day about me just wanting to stay in bed or probably having to take care of some other business. It's a harmless joke once, but when 5 co-workers do it, and it happens on your next sickness request as well, there's obviously a pattern that feels like it's more due to resentment than to harmless office banter.

As a Manager

From the other side of the fence, I've felt that people reporting to me and requesting sick-days never bothered me, as everybody deals with being sick differently and you shouldn't expect the same behavior from everybody. I put sufficient trust in everybody, especially if I know they've got a condition and I'm happy with their work, even the odd ones who take a crazy amount of half-days off per year for things that are difficult to control or verify.

We all have stuff to deal with, and I'd rather believe it's best to let them handle it and come back happy to work than for them to stay there even if they aren't really sick but are in a bad state of mind to work that day.

However, when it happened that the request came from someone working remotely, I noticed myself that it did immediately cast the shadow of a doubt and I was asking myself if they were really sick. Which bothers me, because I don't like the idea that my mind is tricking me into considering them differently from on-site workers. Though maybe my mind's right.

closed as unclear what you're asking by CincinnatiProgrammer, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Monica Cellio, jcmeloni, Jim G. Oct 26 '13 at 12:36

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    TL;DR. Exactly what is your question, assuming there is one? – Masked Man Oct 25 '13 at 11:12
  • I Love it..."if you don't whine, nobody will examine you". But aren't the EU healthchare systems WAY better than the US? Everybody says so. I guess it depends on how good an actor you are in the EU. – Dunk Oct 25 '13 at 17:37
  • What is the process to impeach a worker's abilities? I'm curious. – Amy Blankenship Oct 25 '13 at 17:39
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    @haylem One thing to notice. Programming is more than just typing, thinking of logic, pros and cons of your solution, knowing what might get wrong, writing unit-tests, make sure you don't have security holes, etc. When person is sick, s/he can't really be as productive and whereabouts s/he is does not matter. – Leri Oct 28 '13 at 7:23
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    @haylem My point was that day-off for remote-worker (addressing to software developer) should not be treated differently from in-office workers. In both cases they take day off when their ability to think/solve problems lowers (unless it's fake day-off). – Leri Oct 30 '13 at 6:44
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I think a remote worker is inherently more creditable when reporting sick leave. After all, if they just wanted to goof off for a day, they have a better chance of getting away with it while getting paid than your onsite worker. You have to trust them more, why would you suddenly trust them less just because they say they are sick?

So, I would say there is less stigma for remote workers.

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    Actually an excellent - and well put - point... but unlikely all managers and workers would think of it. There's a big difference between something making sense, and something being known and understood. – haylem Oct 27 '13 at 23:24
  • I still have the same reservations about this being necessarily the right way to think of it from a worker's perspective (as the managers may not), but as this is what seems the most sensible and logical, and also what kinda proves that there shouldn't be a reason to see a day off as a bad thing (especially when rare), I'll accept this answer. Thanks. – haylem Nov 2 '13 at 12:26
  • I think you're more likely to encounter the opposite problem - believing that remote works ARE goofing off instead of working. That instead of putting in a full day they will do just enough to slide by and that the rest of the time will be spent watching kittens on youtube. Remote worker managers should know better. – jmoreno Nov 2 '13 at 17:02
  • At the end of the day, isn't all that matters is that their work is being completed? Most remote work jobs are merit based situations. It's quite easy to tell if someone is completing their work on time. – Andrew T Finnell Sep 6 '18 at 17:30
  • @AndrewTFinnell: not totally. While getting the work done is important, for an employee you want to have some idea of both how long it takes that particular employee to do it and how long it would an average employee to finish it. If they complete it in a day and report that it takes 2 then that’s a problem. If they are the office, that is easier to detect. – jmoreno Sep 9 '18 at 13:01
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I am wondering what is the best way to approach sick leaves when dealing with remote workers / telecommuters.

I feel that people need to decide for themselves if they can or cannot work. I trust them to make the decision that is right for their individual circumstances. If I sense that they are abusing it, then I deal with that. This holds true if they are in-office, or working from home.

If people are sick enough that they feel the need to stay in bed, then I wouldn't expect them to work at the office or in person.

But sometimes people have an illness that would be uncomfortable in the office, but tolerable if they skipped the commute and interaction with others and worked from home. In that case, I would expect them to work.

I work from home periodically, but I really don't get sick enough to take a day off. If I had to, I'd just "call in sick" and stay in bed.

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