Sick Leave Creates a Dilemma

Last Updated Mar 18, 2008 1:34 PM EDT

Last week, Washington D.C. approved a new law requiring all city businesses to provide paid sick leave to their employees. This is a positive step for small businesses and low-wage workers (most large companies already have such policies in place for their professionals), but it reminded me of a particularly painful sick-leave dilemma at a small company where I used to work.

A very popular employee had to leave to care for a terminally ill parent. The company only offered two days of paid sick leave for this scenario, but management decided that people could voluntarily donate one of their sick-leave days to this employee to allow her to extend her stay. Many, many people did. A few months later, a very unpopular employee was in the same scenario, but few people anted up their sick-leave days for him.

Without intending to, management had turned this sick leave donation policy into a popularity contest.

Your Dilemma: You're the boss at this company, and your unpopular employee is left in a bad situation with no more donated sick-leave days, and can't afford to take unpaid leave. You feel responsible for helping to create this scenario that has only created more pain in this tough time.[poll id=25]Have an opinion on this dilemma? Leave it in the comments section.

Have a workplace-ethics dilemma you'd like to see in this poll? Email wherestheline (at)

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.