Is there an agency I should call?
August 29, 2008 5:18 PM   Subscribe

Labor Law: I work for a company in Texas. A friend of mine in another department called in sick this Wednesday and took the day off. She called in sick on Thursday too, but her manager told her that even though she had a fever she needed to come in anyway since they're working on an important project. Additionally, he told her that she would be working on Labor Day in order to make up for her day off on Wednesday. I guess I could understand this kind of behavior in exceptional circumstances where deadlines and times are really tight, but some parts of the company seem to be perpetually operating in "crunch mode" where taking vacation / sick days is a lot harder than it "should" be. She's not happy and is beginning to look for another job, but this had me wondering, is this behavior by the company legal?

My general impression is that both US and Texas labor laws are pretty permissive when it comes to time off, so this whole thing is a non-starter and it's basically a "You don't like it, work somewhere else" deal. But it would make me feel really good to call a state agency and leave an anonymous tip. Is there anything I should do?

I could go to HR, but I don't feel like they would be on my side and I wouldn't be anonymous. Our company seems to have a culture of "HR gets in the way of doing real work". A while back our company brought in some external people to manage HR stuff, and they did a good job at pushing for more holiday time etc for the workers, but they were replaced. Our new HR Department is someone who's been around the company for a long time and kinda shares the culture I mentioned above.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps I'm a workaholic, but "a fever" alone doesn't seem like a justification for two days off in a row.

My knowledge of the law is slim, and as you say the law on sick time itself is slim, but it usually boils down to "has the employer followed their own rules in place" regarding this incident. If her regular work hours include Labor Day as a holiday, what's their policy for changing schedules? What are their rules for making up sick time? Their rules for proof of sickness and/or the threshold for what is a good reason for taking a sick day?
posted by gjc at 5:32 PM on August 29, 2008

I'm certainly not an expert on the subject but Texas is an "employment at will" state, as long as you do not discirminate for one of these reasons:

National origin

Otherwise I'm not sure there is any legal reason why they couldn't require that person to come in? Again, not sure the true answer, just what I learned in a HR class given by a lawyer for my last job (in Texas).
posted by texas_blissful at 5:36 PM on August 29, 2008

It may make a difference if this is shift work vs. salary/exempt.
posted by rhizome at 6:11 PM on August 29, 2008

This may vary a bit by state, but in most states there is nothing that requires an employer to grant sick time to employees, absent a contract that provides for sick time. It is simply customary, based on the recognition that everyone will need it from time to time, and that it is simply foolish to allow a contagious employee to come in to infect others. But the law does not always prohibit people from doing foolish things.
posted by megatherium at 6:20 PM on August 29, 2008

As far as I've heard (not that far) Texas is tough in such situations.
I would like to throw out there that "a fever alone" is a perfectly reasonable reason to take off work. In many work environments in many states it violates health code to allow folks with "a fever alone" to work. Beyond this, a fever, especially one lasting more than 24 hours or recurring throughout such a period, can easily be a sign of a serious health problem.

I'm certainly no workaholic and I live in MA, which is pretty good about employees' rights, but I find the phrase "a fever alone" a little mind-boggling.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:35 PM on August 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

BTW - Labor law refers to the law dealing with unions - your question is about employment law.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:00 PM on August 29, 2008

"a fever" is a great reason to stay home, because "a fever" means you are either communicable or your body is trying desperately to stave off worse illness.

If a person is going to get better from even a minor illness, rest is part of the cure and employers should quit being such fascists about such things. People get ill. It happens. Unless it's part of a larger performance issue, there's no reason other than petty control issues and poor workforce planning for management to be quite so socio-pathic.

That said...your friend is likely out of luck, unless they have a communicable illness that the state is trying to control. DSHS is your best recourse - they have all the info on laws and regulations, and may have good news for your friend (or really depressing news, things being what they are these days).
posted by batmonkey at 7:17 PM on August 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

there are different requirements if she works as an hourly employee if i remember correctly.
posted by Kraki at 7:52 PM on August 29, 2008

I don't see anything enforceable here.
posted by Pants! at 8:07 PM on August 29, 2008

time to quit, both of you! life is too short to work somewhere where they don't care about your well being. you don't owe your employers work for the sake of your good health or your happiness.
posted by lia at 9:42 PM on August 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

life is too short to work somewhere where they don't care about your well being

Something that goes double in this case. Not only does your employer not care about your friend's well being, they don't care about any of her co-workers well being either if they want her coming in to work when she might be contagious.
posted by Good Brain at 12:13 AM on August 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Perhaps I'm a workaholic, but "a fever" alone doesn't seem like a justification for two days off in a row.

Sniffles aren't a reason to take 2 days off in a row - even a sore throat may not be sufficient...but a fever? A fever means you are truly, honestly, irrevocably sick. If you have a fever, you should definitely take as much time as you need to get over it - for everyone's sake.

....(you may be a workaholic)......
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:20 AM on August 30, 2008

A fever is a serious problem. Your friend should see her doctor, who will undoubtedly be happy to write a sick note.

Why do you people put up with this nonsense? You're not even talking about paid sick time are you? - just the right to stay home / seek treatment when you are ill. Both you and your friend should either join a union or find a better employer. Perhaps both.

Beyond that, you live in a democracy - get political.
posted by mr. strange at 2:23 AM on August 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

So, if the OP has an employment contract with sick days, how does that work?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:02 AM on August 30, 2008

"a fever" is a great reason to stay home, because "a fever" means you are either communicable or your body is trying desperately to stave off worse illness.


And not only for yourself. By going in you risking the health of anyone in contact with you, And god help any coworker who has an immune system problem. You won't even know who it is: they might have Hepatitis C. They might have lupus. They might be on chemo. They might be on steroids for something and won't even know they're infected until it's life threatening. You don't know, and it's unethical for you or your boss to risk their lives.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:49 AM on August 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

So, if the OP has an employment contract with sick days, how does that work?

Employers handle sick time in lots of different ways. If it's a unionized position, the contract handles how sick days are handled; if not, it should be spelled out in the company's personnel policies. (They do have written personnel policies, don't they? If they're just making it up on the fly, I second the notion that this is not a healthy place [both literally and figuratively] to work long-term.)
posted by harkin banks at 1:25 PM on August 30, 2008

She should go into work on labor day and puke in her bosses waste basket / on his desk. Then insist on carrying on the meeting / doing work. There are various ways to make sure you puke on time, google it.
posted by maxpower at 1:34 PM on August 30, 2008

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