Can You Use Sick Days for Vacation? What You Need To Know

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 17, 2021

Published January 13, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Sick days are a benefit that many employers provide to keep their employees healthier. However, not everyone needs these sick days throughout the year. If your place of employment offers sick days, you may wonder if you can use them for other purposes. In this article, we discuss whether you can use your sick days for a vacation along with the different types of sick day policies you may find at work.

What are sick days?

Sick days are days you can take off from work when you are sick and still get paid for that day. Many places of business offer their employees sick days, for their own health and that of the other employees. Sick days are different than vacation days in that you have the right to use sick days when you feel sick, but an employer does not have to let you take vacation days.

Can you use sick days for vacation?

It depends on individual circumstances. Sick days differ from vacation days, which you're supposed to use for any other reason you need a day off. However, some people rarely get sick and so their sick days go unused. This leads to wanting to use your extra sick days as vacation days.

However, vacation days are supposed to give you a break from work. If you use a sick day for vacation, you may end up still thinking about work. So, even if you can use your sick days for vacation, it's not always the best idea to do so.

Related: The Do's and Don'ts of Taking a Sick Day

Different company policies

The specific policies at your place of work impact whether you can use sick days as vacation days. If you're unsure of what type of policy your job has, you should consult with a manager or the HR department. You can then find out more about what type of paid off days you have and when it is appropriate to use them.

Here are the most common types of sick day policies that you may find at your job:

No sick days

Under this scenario, your employer does not offer any type of sick days. This means if you miss work, you do not get paid for that day. A policy like this is most common for part-time employees. To take a day off of work, you would need to sacrifice your wages for the day. People in this scenario should try to include missed days from work in their budget, just in case they get sick.

A set number of sick days

The next possibility is a set number of sick days, which is one of the more popular scenarios for many employers. For example, your place of employment may offer each employee 10 sick days each year. If you do not use these sick days, they do not roll over into the next year. These days are separate from your vacation days, which the company offers you another set number of.

Unlimited sick days

Some companies are now shifting over to unlimited sick days. With this plan, you can take off as many days per year as they need to due to illness. The company is placing its trust in you to be honest about when you're sick. You get to decide what constitutes being sick, whether you are feeling physically ill or mentally exhausted. However, should you use this system extensively, the HR department may require a doctor's note to confirm your illness.

Sick days vs. PTO

The last option an organization might provide is paid time off (PTO). PTO is a combination of vacation days and sick days. The company gives you a set number of days you can take off each year, and you can decide whether you want these to be for vacation, sickness or another reason.

Another common feature of PTO is the ability to roll over unused days into the next year. This means if the year is ending, you don't need to take days off just to avoid losing those days. Some organizations put a limit on how many days you can roll over to the next year, so it's beneficial to consult with HR to figure out how many days you get to keep.

Read more: Sick Time vs. PTO: Definitions and FAQs

When to use sick days

Here are the situations in which it is generally acceptable to use one of your sick days:

You're sick

The primary reason to use sick days is when you are ill. The reason businesses offer sick days is not only so that you can rest but so that you can avoid infecting others in the office.

If you are feeling even a little sick, it's typically okay to take a sick day to be cautious. However, if your sick days are limited, you may want to save some for later in the year in case something urgent arises.

Read more: How To Write a Sick Day Message (With Examples)

Family emergency

Another acceptable reason to take a sick day is when you have a family emergency. For example, if your child has to stay home from school because they are sick, you may not be able to go into the office. Sick days are typically taken on short-notice, meaning you can use one when a family member is sick and you need to be home with them. If you know in advance that you need to be home for something, then it may be more appropriate to take a vacation day.

Mental health

The last reason you can take a sick day is when you need a mental health break. If work has become overwhelming, or if you have another challenging event going on in your life, you may need a day or two break from work. Mental health has become an increasingly popular reason to take a sick day, as more companies are invested in their employee's work-life balance.

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